Sonic’s “Special” Stages: Part 3

Previously on RetroHate: When you are dropped into a Special Stage in Sonic the Hedgehog, your first reaction will likely be one of sheer confusion. “Where am I? What is this? Why am I falling? What is that in the background? Birds-no-fish-no-turtles-no-WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE!?! AM I ON ACID?!?”

“So yeah, I hate Sonic 3’s Special Stages too, but not quite as much as Sonic 1’s. They may be more mechanically sound and offer more a challenge of skill rather than luck, but when they make me PHYSICALLY ILL, well, I think I am justified in my hatred.”

sonic waddle

Well here we are again, talking about Sonic’s “Special” stages. Previously I discussed my hatred for Sonic 1’s floaty, twisty, psychedelic acid-dream Special Stages as well as Sonic 3’s gut-wrenching, rolling-hill spin-fest Special Stages. Today we’re moving onto a lesser known Sonic game with Special Stages that are not only disorienting but mechanically broken. Yes ladies and gents, I’m talking about Sonic CD.

Sonic CD, aside from having one of the worst Sonic game names and coming out on a doomed system add-on, was basically a direct sequel to the original Sonic the Hedgehog (as opposed to Sonic 2). Many of the sprites, level assets and designs were taken directly from or built off of the original Genesis game. The game did incorporate some of Sonic 2’s enhanced gameplay features, such as the “standing spin-dash.” One thing entirely unique about Sonic CD was its Special Stages.

sonic acid

This stage is so trippy, my capture program started hallucinating

In Sonic CD, when you had fifty or more rings in your possession at the end of a stage, a giant ring would appear, similar to the original Sonic game. If you jumped though this ring you would be warped to 3-dimmensioanl, flat landscape with a Mario-Kart-esque race track laid out on it. You would then be tasked with destroying six UFOs hovering around the track within a time limit.

Like many of Sonic’s previous Special Stages, this sounds simple enough on paper, but in practice it’s a completely different hedgehog. You see, these Special Stages predated Sonic 3 in having a 3D landscape where you controller Sonic from a third-person perspective. Unlike Sonic 3 though, controlling Sonic in these Special Stages was all but a haphazard, broken mess. Sonic waddles about (yes, he actually does waddle) like he’s drunk and has all the speed and turning radius of a semi-truck. If that didn’t make things hard enough, but using 2D sprites to represent 3D object on a 3D plane, means depth perception gets smacked upside the head and tossed out the window. Timing your jumps and direction in order to hit a UFO (which moves around by the way) is nigh impossible.

But the game doesn’t stop there, oh no, it has to screw with the player even more. That racetrack I mentioned? It’s not just for show, Sonic can only travel “top speed” while on the road; if he runs onto the grass or into water his speed drops dramatically. Then of course there are traps, walls and bumpers to halt or hinder your progress because crappy depth perception wasn’t enough to deal with. Oh, did I mention there’s a time limit? Because THERE’S A TIME LIMIT!!

People always talk about how great the “classic” Sonic games are, but no one ever mentions the Special Stages and for good reason; they suck. They’re either half luck, gut-wrenching to look at or completely broken. Or some combination of the three.