In this stage, you'll race through the course collecting Rings. You'll need a set number to pass through the checkpoints placed throughout the stage. If you don't have enough Rings, the stage will end. Press () for a Spin Jump, and () to boost Sonic and Tails's speed as you make your way to the finish line.
— Opening instructions, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II (PlayStation 3)
Special Stages in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II are a series of seven extra levels. To enter these stages, the player must be holding at least fifty Rings when reaching the end of one of the first two Acts in a Zone and jump into the Giant Ring that appears there.
Similar to the Special Stages in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, these Special Stages involve Sonic and Tails running down a half-pipe course littered with Rings which must be collected while avoiding obstacles to pass checkpoints and earn a Chaos Emerald. Collecting all seven Emeralds lets Sonic transform into Super Sonic and changes the game's ending.
When entering a Special Stage, the player's perspective is switched to behind the playable characters, who are constantly running down a flat-domed half-pipe course. The objective in these stages is to collect a specific amount of Rings to pass a total of three checkpoints within each stage successfully. In gameplay, the playable characters can only move sideways and perform the Spin Jump to avoid obstacles. Also, by pressing ///, the player actives a boost that attracts Rings and increases running speed.
Along with Rings and Super Rings (the later of which grants ten extra Rings), there are two types of obstacles in the Special Stages which appear in groups. The first of them are Bombs which cause Sonic to lose ten Rings upon contact with them (in Single Player mode, Tails will not lose Rings if he is hit by a bomb, but he will in Multiplayer mode). The second type of obstacles are electrified, light-green diamonds that slow the player down upon contact with them.
Special Stages feature different gimmicks for collecting Rings. Stepping on Dash Panels automatically sends the playable characters forward through strings of Ring at high speed, while Springs send the playable characters up on another half-pipe above the primary one, which usually contain more Rings. Also, when passing through a yellow arch, it activates a separate mode where a set number of brighter Rings appear on the route. Each of these Rings are worth the same as a normal Ring when collected and will remain in the player's possession after the mode ends, although collecting them all awards the player with an extra twenty Ring bonus. Also, an additional feature for Sonic and Tails is activated by touching an item called the Combination Dash. These icons create a rainbow-colored glowing rope between Sonic and Tails that will pick up any Rings between those two characters. This rope only lasts for a short while however.
If the player collects enough Rings to pass each checkpoint, they will receive a Chaos Emerald. Unlike in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, Special Stages do not contain time limits, but the game will reward the player with Ring and Time Bonuses, the latter of which is based on how long it took the player to finish the Special Stage. Getting a total score of at least 10,000 points grants an extra life.
Special Stage information
|No.||Emerald color||Ring requirements|
|Checkpoint 1||Checkpoint 2||Checkpoint 3|
If the player has not collected all the Emeralds at the end of the game, the screen with Eggman's flying monitor tells the player to try again. Conversely, if the player does clear the game with all the Emeralds, the game will skip Eggman's screen and proceed straight to the main menu.
- The Special Stages are entered in the same matter as their predecessors in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I.
- Although these Special Stages are based on the Special Stages in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, there are many gameplay mechanics in them which are taken from the Special Stages in the Sega Saturn version of Sonic 3D Blast, including the Dash Panels, tough-curved half-pipes, tunnels and corkscrew loops.
- The way Dash Panels automatically guide the player are similar to what the Dash Panels in the Special Stages of Sonic Rush do. Also unlike the Special Stages of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, running up off the edge will cause Sonic to leap above the half-pipe instead of run along an invisible surface, which is how the Special Stages of Sonic Rush treat the edges of the half-pipe.
- The rope mechanic featured in the Special Stages is similar to the Ring Power mechanic featured in Knuckles' Chaotix. Sonic and Tails also used a similar mechanic in the Sonic Crackers prototype.
- In the iOS/Android version of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II, some of the obstacles in the Special Stages have been removed.