Special Stages in Sonic the Hedgehog (8-bit) are a series of eight extra levels. To enter them, the player must be holding fifty to one hundred Rings when running past the Bonus Panels that appear at the end of the first two Acts of each Zone. It should be noted that holding more than one hundred Rings at that point will reset the player's ring count to zero and grant an extra life instead of sending the player to the Special Stage.
Special Stages in Sonic the Hedgehog feature a night-themed background with a large yellow crescent moon and differently-sized stars. The terrain tiles are purple with numerous differently-colored Springs, Bumpers and colossal pillars set everywhere.
Upon entering a Special Stage, the player will find Sonic bouncing around the area by numerous Springs. From when entering them, the Special Stages have a time limit; 1:00 on the Master System version and 2:00 on the Game Gear version. In a Special Stage, the player's objective is to reach the Bonus Panel at the end of the stage before the time runs out, all while obtaining points via Rings. Like in regular Zones, collecting 100 Rings in a Special Stage grants an extra life, but it will also reset the Ring counter.
Special Stages include several features. They have a number of bouncy yellow and green pillars, Bumpers, and Springs whose bouncing height depends on their color: Green Springs bounce the highest, yellow Springs bounce with medium-height and purple Springs bounce the lowest. The Stages also have floating Video Monitors containing either extra lives or Continues. The fourth and eighth Special Stage also include Flippers for launching the player.
There are a total of eight different Special Stages, but only the first four include a (mostly) linear level design. The fifth Special Stage is like the first, but with moving purple platforms which also appear in the last three Special Stages. These plaforms make completing the Special Stages much tougher. Although Special Stages are mostly optional, the final score at the end of the game will be affected by how many Special Stages the player has cleared perfectly (clearing one Special Stage adds 50,000 points to the final score).
- In the first and fifth Special Stages, one of Ring formations (where the Continue monitor can be found) form the word "SEGA".