The Special Stages in Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles have their fair share of secrets. Let’s take a look.
First of all, if we’re gonna be talking about the Special Stages, it would be nice to be able to play them at will. Unless you have an emulator and the relevant save states on hand, that can be bit tricky. Even though the game has a Level Select, there are only two slots listed for the Special Stages, so how can you get to them?
(We’ll be using the combined Sonic 3 & Knuckles throughout this article.)
Fortunately, there actually is a way to access any specific Special Stage from this Level Select screen. First, enter both the Level Select and Debug Mode cheats. Now, highlight “Sound Test” and use ← and → to choose a number from 0 through 7. This is how you specify the ID of the Special Stage you want to play. Then highlight “Special Stage” either 1 or 2, for Sonic 3‘s or Sonic & Knuckles‘ Special Stages, respectively. While holding A, press Start and the Special Stage of your choice will begin.
Choosing an ID higher than 7 will just loop around – 8 is the same as 0, 9 is the same as 1, and so on. The attentive amongst you may have noticed that 0 through 7 is actually eight Special Stages, even though there are only seven Chaos Emeralds (or Super Emeralds) in the game. That’s right – just like Sonic CD, both Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles have a bonus Special Stage that’s not accessible through normal play.
Sonic 3‘s is a spiral gauntlet that will test your patience and – as it reaches its dizzying conclusion – your reflexes.
Oddly, its palette is different in Sonic 3 alone, but it’s the same stage.
The first one is too low contrast, whereas the second is eerie, bordering on nauseating. I wonder why the change?
Sonic & Knuckles‘ 8th Special Stage is a riot of Orange Spheres, protecting a tiny cluster of Blue Spheres in the centre.
The Chaos Emeralds awarded by these stages don’t have any effect – they don’t summon Ashura, nor transform Sonic into Super Duper Sonic. I guess these stages were made because the developers were particularly enamoured with the whole Blue Sphere thing, and were just making some fun tricky layouts to play. Given the fact that locking Sonic & Knuckles on to Sonic 1 makes nearly infinite Blue Sphere stages, I’m gonna guess that somebody somewhere liked them maybe a bit too much. I can’t blame them; they’re probably my favourite Sonic Special Stages, too.
Have you ever noticed something a little familiar about the colour schemes in the Special Stages in Sonic 3? Each one corresponds quite neatly to one of the 7 zones (counting Flying Battery in its original position between Carnival Night and Ice Cap). Of course, the Special Stages aren’t made out of many colours, so in particular they match up with the colours of their zones’ sky and ground tiles.
Given how perfectly they line up, it’s extremely improbable that this is mere coincidence. It’s odd though – any Special Stage can be accessed from any zone, so why bother making them correspond? Were they at one point intended to be tied to each zone, like the Sonic Advance series later explored?
In any event, the idea of matching the palettes up seems to have been abandoned by Sonic & Knuckles, because I just don’t see how (all of) these fit without really stretching. It seems to go well starting with Mushroom Hill, but then goes somewhat awry.
Although I could see how maybe the bonus 8th one could line up with Doomsday Zone?
Regardless, the matching Sonic 3 ones are pretty cool, because an attentive player could have deduced a missing zone between Carnival Night and Ice Cap without ever having to pull off the notoriously difficult Level Select cheat.
And finally, a little bit of unintentionally funny “Engrish” from the Sonic 3 prototype that was
sadly caught by testers. The Blue Spheres are called “Blue Balls” (ブルーボール) in Japan – check the manual if you don’t believe me – and according to game tester J. Pataki, the “Get Blue Spheres” imperative we’ve all seen countless times originally read “Get Blue Balls”.
However, in one of the Sonic games, Sonic had to hit a
lot of blue balls. The game screen said “Get Blue
Balls” and our (mostly male) testing team sniggered
all over the place, as will happen, because that was
just funny. The text was later changed to “Blue
See Yuji, it pays to work with a partly English team! 😛