5 Of The Best Sonic the Hedgehog Levels – Make Sonic Great Again!

Remember when Sonic the Hedgehog was actually pretty great?  Pepperidge Farm remembers.  I should point out that I’m from the UK and have no idea what Pepperidge Farm even is.  Anyway!  Sonic used to be great in the Mega Drive era.  Then 3D happened and pretty much everything went to pot for the blue blur.  Hurtling along at high speeds worked well in 2D as fine control was less essential when dealing with a flat plane, but the switch to 3D made precise control more important and much more difficult to do at high speed.  Things like a homing attack helped, but quick movement and sudden camera cuts made controlling a high speed hedgehog quite challenging.

Sonic the Hedgehog
The Sonic Twitter account is still a bit mental.

That’s not to say there weren’t any good stages in the 3D games, it’s just that most of them were a hard to control mess.  With Sonic Mania here now (and my not having enough time to play it yet), I thought I’d look back at some of the Sonic games I’ve played and pick out a level from each of them that I found memorable and enjoyable.  These are in chronological order and are from games in the series I’ve played.  I’ve made sure to include a couple of 3D levels as they weren’t all appalling, honest!  Oh, and Sonic Generations isn’t allowed as they’re mostly redone versions of ones from previous games.  On with the show!

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog Logo
Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

Labyrinth Zone

Ahahaha.  Just kidding.  No.  No way in hell.

Green Hill Zone

Yes it’s the obvious choice, but this is as memorable to me as World 1-1 in Super Mario Bros.  The bright colours, the catchy music, and the pace to the level.  Everything combines to make this a fun level and a great introduction to the character and the core of the game.  We have loops, simple enemies, and a silly boss to take down at the end, as well as access to the Special Stages if we can hold onto 50 rings by the end of the acts.

Sonic the Hedgehog
The iconic first stage of a franchise

This is one of those Sonic levels that recognises that the speed is one of the best aspects of the game, and it avoids dropping hard to predict obstacles and limits the slower paced platforming sections.  There were other great levels in the game, but this is the one that will stick with most players.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 Logo
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (1992)

Chemical Plant Zone

I could throw a dart blindfolded at a Sonic 2 level dart board and hit a fantastic stage without any trouble.  The vast majority of the levels in Sonic 2 were brilliant, but the one that stuck with me (other than Emerald Hill Zone, but I can’t just pick all the opening stages) most was Chemical Plant zone.  A far cry from the first world, this toxic facility is filled with purple water that can slow down the careless player significantly.  There are multiple paths to taken with plenty of opportunities for high speed sprints along with those iconic loops.  Plus those tunnels that send you hurtling around the levels!

Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Second game, second stage. To be fair though, almost every stage in this game was excellent.

This is one of the stages I would play repeatedly to get better and better times.  I can’t remember exactly but I think I managed to finish act 1 in under 45 seconds once I’d figured out the best route.  To my mind, that’s when Sonic is at its best: a level that’s enjoyable enough to make you want to strive for your personal best.  Normally I avoid water levels like the plague, but avoiding the water is part of the fun in this one.  It’s nice to see this one make an appearance in Sonic Mania.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles

Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994)

Sky Sanctuary

Sonic 3 & Knuckles was great.  Slotting the Sonic 3 cartridge into the back of the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge turned it into one super long game with additional features.  I can’t think of any other game that did this, but I could be wrong.  In a similar vein to Sonic 2, there are a lot of good levels here, but I’ve gone for Sky Sanctuary.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Whilst speed can be an option here, it’s pretty easy to fall to your death if you get careless. Good reactions, memorisation, or taking your time are the order of the day.

This is a bit of a slower level than others being as it’s a late game zone.  Unlike most late game Sonic levels though, this one is bright and colourful. The music is excellent and the multiple paths that levels in later 2D Sonic games tend to be known for are even more prevalent here as the level takes place over multiple tiers accessed through teleporters.  The boss is good fun and the end of level dash up a collapsing pillar looks great.  A rare good stage that goes against Sonic’s strengths.

Sonic Adventure 2

Sonic Adventure 2
Sonic Adventure 2 (2001)

City Escape

Yep, I’m skipping Sonic Adventure.  Looking back, most of those levels were pretty poor, although Emerald Coast had it’s moments.  Like the whale bit.  Anyway, I really liked most of the Sonic stages in this game.  Some of them were really hard to control, and most of the bosses were awkward to fight, but there were some fun ones to play.  City Escape is the obvious one for so many reasons.

Sonic Adventure 2
Rolling around at the speed of sound…

It plays to the usual idea of first levels in a Sonic game: fast paced, bright colours, and a catchy soundtrack (if you’ve played it, I know you’re singing it to yourself right now).  From a fun “skateboarding” section at the start, to grinding rails down staircases, culminating in being chased down by a truck.  It used pacing well, with slower sections to take down enemies followed quickly by another burst of speed.  I loved that in Sonic Adventure 2 you could come back to the level with newly acquired items to find new routes.

Sonic 06

Ahahaha!  Are you kidding?!

Sonic Unleashed

Sonic Unleashed
Sonic Unleashed (2008)

Rooftop Run

I like Sonic Unleashed.  Sure there “Werehog” stages were weird and constantly having to talk to other characters got in the way of the gameplay, but the Sonic levels were actually pretty good fun.  You didn’t have to worry about stretchy arms for one thing.

Sonic Unleashed
Whilst the 2D sections were better for the most part, the 3D parts weren’t bad compared to some of the other efforts in the franchise.

Rooftop Run was an insanely fast paced stage that rapidly switched between 2D and 3D sections.  Tons of loops and grinds, plenty of enemies to burst through using your dash, a great soundtrack (seriously, it’s one of the best ones) and fantastic visuals.  It’s a shame that more of the game didn’t make use of this style.

There are tons of Sonic levels I’m a fan of.  Star Light Zone, Sky Chase (controversial!), Icecap, Metal Harbour.  Researching for this I found loads of Sonic games I hadn’t played before (mostly handheld ones) which I plan to rectify where possible!  What are your favourite Sonic stages?  Is there one I’ve missed?  Let me know!


20 thoughts on “5 Of The Best Sonic the Hedgehog Levels – Make Sonic Great Again!

  1. everyone always talks about chemical plant being the best zone in sonic 2 but i never ever really see anyone bring up how awesome wing fortress truly is. it’s one of the best examples of how to do a next-to-last level in a game ever – the tension, the attention to design, the music, everything.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was pretty damn tough at points, but a great level. They tried to bring back something similar with Flying Battery but I don’t think it landed in the same way. I quite liked Sky Chase too, just for being something a bit different.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I always enjoyed a bit of Lava Reef Zone but then again I had a lot of fun with every zone in Sonic 3 & Knuckles.

    I can’t say the same about Sonic CD, though; that game had some awful level designs and enemy/hazard placements.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t thought about Lava Reef. That was a really satisfying level to play with great use of sound effects (the music immediately comes flooding back to me too) making everything sound solid and chunky. The boss was quite creative too.

      I remember playing Sonic CD on one of the Mega Drive collections. The intro and time travel mechanics were memorable, but the levels just weren’t that memorable to me. Maybe I just needed to play it for longer.


  3. SA 2 has just about all of my favorite levels in it. I still love going back to that game constantly.

    1. Crazy Gadget (SA2) I really loved that level and it was so tricky as a kid
    2. Crisis City (2006) I loved the theme that played here and it just made the level feel epic
    3. Green Hill Zone (SA2) It was so satisfying to unlock this level and the wait was worth it
    4. Radical Highway (SA2) It was a great way to kick off the Team Dark story and felt like a nice counterpart to City Escape
    5. Green Forest (SA2) The level just felt nice and balanced and the forest is underused in Sonic games.

    I’m looking forward to getting more epic levels in Sonic Forces. The fire intro level already seems like a top contender

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m probably going to sound completely predictable here, but my favourite level in any Sonic game is Casino Night Zone in Sonic 2. I have such fond memories of it and absolutely love the music there. Sonic 2 as a whole is pretty fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A friend of mine suggested that one too (also Mystic Cave for the music alone) but I always found Casino Night a pain to get around due to all the bumpers and flippers. Love the theme of the stage but that aspect annoyed me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yes, I totally know what you mean. There was one part that I always, always had trouble with in the second act. To describe it would be futile, but it takes some special finagling to get through it every time.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t play Sonic Heroes, I hear very mixed things though. Tends to be quite polarising from what I hear.

      I’ve been playing Sonic Mania this weekend and am enjoying it so far. The remixed music is great and the fan service is fantastic (Chaotix cameo). Mirage Saloon is certainly my favourite so far.


  5. Good post! My first contact with Sonic was with Master System version of Sonic, followed by Sonic 2 version. Always liked first level, Green Hill. After that, didn’t play Sonic games for a long time, until a bit of Sonic 3 (emulated, not proud of those days) and again the PSN version of original Sonic (I think it was free with PS+). Recently I started Sonic Generations and I had a great time with it, but I still have to finish it. And even if it isn’t a proper “Sonic Game”, I truly love Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed was great. I loved that there were so many cameos in it too. I know everyone always talks about Mario Kart, but it’s a kart racer that deserves a lot of respect too.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Marble Zone is hands down my favourite all time zone. I loved the music and the Greek/ Mediterranean inspired landscape was gorgeous. Other favourites of mine include Casino Night Zone from Sonic 2, Marble Garden Zone from Sonic 3, Windmill Isle from Sonic Unleashed and Press Garden and Studiopolis Zones from Mania.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marble Zone was really cool. It slowed the pace down a little and forced you to be a little more careful. I mentioned Casino Night in another comment; I love the theme, the music and slot machine aspect but all the bumpers and flippers made it a pain for me to navigate.

      There were so many good stages in Mania! Press Garden was gorgeous but my favourite was Mirage Saloon. Great music, varied level design and a Chaotix cameo!

      Liked by 1 person

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