Tag Archives: Sonic

Great Levels in Sonic History; the Snow Zones

The obligatory snow level in any platform game is a cumbersome beast, often taking the form that is most perfectly designed to destroy any fun that you might have been having up until its arrival. Generally filled with an abundance of ice patches to unfairly throw your character into the nearest ravine, and endless amounts of water to either clumsily navigate through or freeze to death in, the sight of the next world full of its own clichés is normally a welcome relief. Yet this is not so in the world of Sonic the Hedgehog, where ice worlds have produced not just one, but several shining examples of great gameplay and excellent design. So here’s three of the best; a selection of levels you really shouldn’t be giving the cold shoulder to…

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 – Ice Cap Zone

Ah, the original and perhaps best ice level there is… Well, it’s the original if you disregard Icy Isle in SegaSonic the Hedgehog, but since nobody cares about that game I think we can safely get away with that. You knew that the Ice Cap zone was going to be a good time the second the level began, with your explosive exit from the Carnival Night zone landing you on a snowboard that twisted you down snowy hills at high speeds, before crashing down into the caves below. It may have only been brief, but it was something that was cool in both a literal and a metaphorical sense.

However, it takes less than a minute more of playing this zone to realise its initial awesome moments were not alone, with many other enjoyable features readily and rapidly shining through. These include moments such as riding giant blocks of ice down almost vertical slopes, only ending your journey on them by smashing through some nearby walls, to the rush that comes from hitting one of those pendulum platforms at high speed and soaring high into the air. It’s not all just for show, either, with many of these elements and others actually providing some interesting platforming challenges – such as breaking ice blocks with a spin dash to open up organic staircases to the areas ahead. In short, from the caverns of the first zone to the open air of the second, it’s just really fun to play from start to finish.

Sonic Ice Cap 2

I think you get my point. (Source; www.videogamer.com)

There is one key element that finishes the package, however, and is almost integral to making any good Sonic zone into a true classic – the music. A strange chilled out beat (pun intended) that still holds a sense of excitement and mystery to it, it really brings the level together. It remains one of my favourite Sonic tunes to this day, and that’s certainly no mean feat.

Diamond Dust Zone – Sonic 3D Blast

Sonic 3D was always a bit of a strange game, considering it was Sonic’s first real foray into uncharted territories that weren’t completely 2D. It was met with mixed reviews due to its gameplay and design, but in reality it was by no means a truly terrible game. It too had great moments just waiting to be found, one of these taking the form of the Diamond Dust zone. Sure, it had the annoying cliché of slippy slidy ice everywhere, but elsewhere the level was pretty great – giant leaps off cliffs were common, struggling up icy rivers was a slow but rewarding challenge, and even the ice itself would often propel you to high speeds down steep hills and off many a wall, like some sort of demented frozen pinball.

The traps of the stage are also notable for both being clever and a bit bonkers – one of the enemies you have to kill, for instance, is a spinning snowman who is going absolutely overboard with the act of firing snowballs from his hat. Another snowman enemy will cut out the middle man that is the bullet spam, and simply explode into a shower of ice the second you get near it – neither enemy really makes sense, but it’s fun to see, so who cares? A bonus point is also rewarded to the zone for the moment you realise that several of the spike traps throughout the level can actually be shattered with a spin dash, simply because the brittle spines that they consist of are made of ice. If that doesn’t sell it to you, the music is once again a brilliant affair, capturing the spirit of the level perfectly. Some people may bemoan this level and the game it’s in, but it will always hold a special place in my frozen heart.

Ice Cap – Sonic Adventure

No, you’re not reading that wrong, and I’m not talking about the same zone twice in a row – this level may be called Ice Cap, but we’ve left Sonic 3 far behind and entered the adventure era at high speeds. Yet compared to the original, this Ice Cap zone starts off very subdued – with very little music and only the howling of the wind to keep you company, you’re left to navigate your way across ravines and up snowy cliffsides by hopping from icicle to icicle and spring to spring. It’s decent enough, but to be fair it’s not anything that approaches something resembling a classic – Until you walk down one frost filled tunnel and smash an inconspicuous looking wooden board…

Sonic Ice Cap

OH GOD RUN AWAY (Source; SonicWikia.com)

All of a sudden, everything changes. Suddenly you’re snowboarding away from an avalanche to the tune of a nifty guitar riff and some funky jazz-like beats, in a moment that could pretty much define the adventure era as a whole. But it doesn’t stop there, oh no! The snowboarding continues, throwing in wide open plains to cruise through, massive jumps to throw yourself off… Oh, and the occasional bombing run from the enemies flying overhead. Sure, it doesn’t control perfectly and doesn’t even last that long, but for those few minutes it’s just stupidly exciting entertainment from start to finish, and it’s that which makes this zone truly into a classic.

The one that leaves you cold inside – White Acropolis – Sonic 06

Oh course, I feel like I can’t really end this list without pointing out the one snow level in Sonic that pretty much spits in the face of the rest, with its abysmal controls and awful design – Sonic 06’s White Acropolis. Yet the less said about that the better, especially when everything that is wrong with it can be pretty much summed up in about two minutes.

Even with the existence of the Acropolis, there’s no denying that ice zones in Sonic are generally pretty cool affairs – in fact, no matter which you play and when you play them, you could say they are capable of leaving you with chills up your spine…


Great levels in Sonic History; Flying Battery Zone (Sonic 3 and Knuckles)

So imagine you’re playing the latest Sonic the Hedgehog game. You’ve blasted through the general formula every title follows by now – the lush, tropical Green Hill Zone setting that threw you into the adventure in a joyous burst of colour. Then came the obligatory water-logged zone, seeing you desperately seeking air bubbles before the ominous countdown started. You’ve probably raced through some sort of cave or underground system at some point too! Either way, you’re nearing the end and find yourself on Eggman’s flying airship. The music is pounding furiously, the action is furious and you’re enjoying that classic feeling of taking down the ship from the inside, overcoming all the odds in order to create that one spectacular fireball. It’s one of the highlights of the series – getting through everything else just to win in a true David vs. Goliath fight. Good, no?

Now imagine that entire scenario taking place at the start of your adventure.

That’s what the Flying Battery zone does in Sonic and Knuckles – just one zone in and you were met with the stunning site of the ship above, engines roaring, creating a truly imposing site. And then Sonic jumped up, and suddenly you were flung into battle upon this amazing ship – tumbling around it’s mechanisms like a pinball, defying the laws of gravity and causing all that mayhem that you would expect at the end of the game. It was even better if you had Sonic 3 attached, because even though that meant entering the ship was no longer one of the early zones, the ship had still menaced you from the very beginning with its barrage of bombs at the end of Angel Island. Therefore, to finally get up there and take on this threat, and not have to wait until the very end to do it, pumped you up before anything else had even happened.

The Flying Battery zone was an adrenaline fuelled slap in the face, not just for the sheer awesome design and feel of the place, but also for those tiny bits of level design that just stick in your head. Remember delicately hopping around platforms under the ship, where one mistake equalled death? Or weaving your way past spike balls being flung through the air by massive magnets? Or jumping on to one of those animal capsules for the first time only to find the sudden unexpected shock of an enemy ambush? The place was filled with little thrills like that in quick succession and accompanied by the most electric of tunes, not only making it feel like you were indeed battling against a mighty airship, but making you want to push on to see the conclusion…

Not pictured - actual flying batteries.

Not pictured – actual flying batteries.

…And what a conclusion. First up is a nice little nod to the sky fortress boss of Sonic 2, with Eggman desperately trying to blast you with a giant space laser in the ceiling, its charge-up sound being surprisingly menacing even to this day. With each shot your window of free space to move closes and closes, and with no means of destroying the thing all hope seems lost… Until the entire ship starts blowing up around you, and suddenly you’re in a mad dash to escape the floor rising up to crush you as everything rumbles like crazy. And then, just as you take a breather as you escape on said floor, the REAL boss suddenly drops in from nowhere, swinging around like crazy, spike balls and flame shots ready to end you a a moment’s notice. Beat that and it’s a mad dash out the side of the escape ship your floor was connected to and down into the next zone below. It’s just a cascade of moment after moment of excitement, cool moments and brilliance, and one that only those with a heart of stone could fail to enjoy.

The strange thing is, I never see many other singing the praises of this place. The the default choices of the Green Hill zone, the Sky Sactuary zone, and so on always seem to get the praise that they really do not need. So here’s one for that forgotten place – that coolest of ships and zones, and a level I will never forget and always enjoy playing – the Flying Battery zone!

Great levels in Sonic History; City Escape (Sonic Adventure 2)

Rolling around at the speed of sound, got places to go…

Ok, let’s cut to the chase straight away – there’s a reason why City Escape is such a good Sonic level, and one that will bring a nostalgic glint to the eyes and hum to the lips of most gamers. That damn music. From the second that bass lick hits your ears before Sonic himself has even hit the ground, it’s amazing. Then the lyrics kick in, and before half the level is even done you’re bopping your head along to the tune. Give it a little while and a few more play throughs, and you’ll even be singing along, which is far more of a guilty pleasure than it really should be. Whatever magic fairy dust was floating around when Crush 40 made this track, it certainly did its job very well.

Yet to say City Escape is a great level simply on the basis of its soundtrack would be a massive injustice, because the level itself is pretty cleverly designed, never mind fun to play. The opening cut scene deserves a special mention for setting the scene – Sonic’s wanted by the police, has just made a daring getaway, and is now diving down to Earth strapped only to a piece of metal. It’s cool, it gets the blood pumping, and when you take control and start boarding down the steep streets, it’s highly entertaining.

This first segment is not only exciting, it also goes out its way to look cool and show the game is all about fun. For instance; hitting a car in reality should halt you instantly, ruining the momentum. Here, all it does is send the car smashing into all the others, sending them all flying

like skittles in a grand display of gleeful carnage. And don’t forget the ramps – hit the peak of them, and with a simple button press you’re sent spinning merrily through the air, collecting all types of treats along the way. Sweet.

Sonic boarding

You will play this and never get board. Get it? No?

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and you end up on your feet and wandering the streets and parks of the city. But even then you’re still thrown sweet little moments – that first time you grind down one of those twisting staircases, rolling under a wall to find yourself suddenly flying down a road at top speed, and of course the now-almost Sonic classic of running down the side of a building, complete with cheeky little camera spin just to add to the effect.

Yet it’s not only cool, it’s helpful! There’s Omachao, the slightly annoying tutorial guide, floating around in some places ready to scream advice at you, but there’s no need to ever trigger him. For the most part you’re left to your own devices, learning how to spin, dash and smash everything that lies in your path. The game even starts to give some glory to the daring at this early stage – shortly after learning how to homing attack from enemy to enemy, you’re left with a line of them hovering over a pit. There’s no need to go for it, but if you do, a nice little dose of points is your reward – very helpful for getting those elusive A ranks.

Even after all that, though, the game crams in one more defining moment – running full pelt away from a giant truck determined to make you into a hedgehog pancake. It’s a pretty simple sequence – it’s simply a case of holding the stick down and never stopping. Yet with the truck filling your screen and smashing everything out your way like skittles, it creates yet another memorable moment, and one that certainly raises a smile.
You may think this whole sermon steers way too much into the territory of just gushing about the level and ignoring its faults, and maybe to an extent you are right. But if you have ever played City Escape, you should remember how good it felt to do so that very first time, and how revisiting the level never really felt like a chore. And, of course, you should remember the music…

I’ll make it through from me to you, follow me!