Special Stages, also called Secret Zones, are a series of six extra levels in Sonic the Hedgehog (1991). The player can access these levels through the Giant Rings which the player can summon at the end of the first or second act of the game's first five Zones by holding fifty Rings. Each successive Giant Ring that the player enters will take them to the next Special Stage, regardless of whether or not they successfully collected the Emerald in the one prior.
In each of the Special Stages, the goal is to reach the end of their rotating mazes and collect one of the six Chaos Emeralds. Collecting all six Emeralds unlocks the good ending of the game.
The Special Stages are mystical and colorful dimensions with mazes whose perimeters are bordered by flashing square blocks. The background features floating bird models with clouds which change to floating fish models with large bubbles.
Upon entering a Giant Ring, the player is sent to the Special Stage after their score from the previously cleared Act is tallied. Within a Special Stage, the playable character is constantly using the Spin Attack while the maze constantly rotates in a 360 degree angel. However, the Spin Jump is still usable, although Sonic can only jump when he has a solid object from which to do so.
As the Special Stage's maze rotates, the player has to navigate the tunnels using . At the same time, the direction of the gravity in the Special Stage changes according to the maze's rotation (although Sonic will always fall downward from the screen's perspective), which the player can manipulate using the Reverse, Up and Down blocks. Like in normal Zones, Rings float around in the Special Stages' passages, although they cannot be lost like in normal Zones, as no hazards are present. Collecting fifty grants a Continue, and collecting one hundred gives an extra life. Some Ring formations also help lead the player through the Special Stages' mazes.
The player's goal in each Special Stage is to reach the end of its maze. Along the way, the player has to avoid touching blocks with Goal signs which make the player exit the Special Stage. Upon reaching the end of a Special Stage there will be a Chaos Emerald, usually surrounded by Color Blocks. These blocks will disappear if the playable characters touch them enough times. By touching the Chaos Emerald, the player exits the Special Stage with the Emerald, and the Special Stage's result screen showcasing Ring Bonuses will be depicted. The game then progresses to the next Act of the Zone.
Blocks of Special Stages
|Goal||Flashing blocks that can be found in small wells in row formations. Touching one will transport the player out of the Special Stage without the Chaos Emerald.|
|Bumper||Objects similar to the ones from the Spring Yard Zone. They do not grant points, but will repel the player after they hit it.|
|Jump Stand||Red and white blocks that come in two variants. The first one works like a normal square block that blocks the player's path. The second is transparent and intangible, but will usually turn solid after the player passes through it.|
|Up and Down||The player is able to control the camera rotation speed by touching these blocks. The Up block increases the rotation speed, while the Down block decreases it.|
|Reverse||Smacking these reverses the camera's rotation.|
Special Stage information
|No.||Emerald color||Total Ring amount|
Getting all the Chaos Emeralds changes the cinematic ending of the game after clearing the Final Zone. Should the player complete the game with less than six Chaos Emeralds, Robotnik appears after the credits, where he throws the six Chaos Emeralds around with the words "Try Again" next to him.
If the player gets all six Chaos Emeralds from the Special Stages, the result screen reads out "Sonic got them all." The cinematic ending also changes to Sonic arriving in Green Hill Zone where the Chaos Emeralds will emerge from him and rotate in the air before disappearing, leaving the Zone full of new flowers. Afterwards, the player sees Robotnik repeatedly stomping on the word "End" in anger.
- There several leftovers and unused sprites that are not used in final version of the game (see Beta elements sub-article). Many of them include six different "Zone" blocks that mark each area, an unknown W-block and a collectible extra life block. All of these can be found with Debug Mode.
- The 2013 re-release of the game for the iPod and Android features a seventh Special Stage with the turquoise-colored Chaos Emerald. The only way to enter this Special Stage is by activating the Level Select code, edit the Chaos Emerald count from six to seven and then enter to the Special Stage from the Level Select menu. Collecting the seven Chaos Emeralds in the re-release enables the Super State of Sonic, Knuckles and even Tails.
- If the Max Emeralds is left at 6 and the player plays 06 in the Sound Test before selecting Special Stage, the player is treated to an incomplete Special Stage with the blocks spelling out "custom".
- In the Sega Genesis Collection, there is a glitch: if Sonic collects an Emerald, the typical emerald sound will not be emitted.