Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is one of the best games on the Sega Genesis. Even in this day and age of ultra-high-definition graphics and complex gameplay systems, the near-perfection of Sonic 2’s simple yet elegant design remains something to be admired.
So, today I decided to have some fun and give myself a challenge: rank and rate, and review all of the levels in Sonic 2
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 – A Near Flawless Game
The SEGA we know today stands far and away from what the company represented in the early 90s: tons of attitude and character! And no game quite managed to reflect the company’s ethos more than Sonic The Hedgehog 2!
Above all, the release of Sonic 2 managed to cement the company’s name and that of its Sega Genesis home console in the annals of history. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 changed the rules of the game and achieved what nobody had been able to, i.e., challenge Nintendo for their video game supremacy.
In the process, millions of eager players fell in love with Sonic and his new buddy Tails as they romped at blistering speeds through colorful and engaging levels. After all, the success of Sonic as a franchise was not immediate. The loveable hedgehog had to earn his privileged position by fulfilling the lofty expectations of skeptics and providing players with new sensations.
When Sonic 2 arrived in homes across the world, the bar had been set high, yet the game exceeded the expectations of most. The SEGA Genesis got its biggest seller to date, and players everywhere got an outright masterpiece of game design.
Sonic 2’s gaming experience was tiers above that of the original game: Sonic not only looked better, he also controlled much more responsively through levels that were far superior to anything players had encountered before.
These levels were more complex, both in content and breadth, providing players with myriad opportunities to explore new challenges through Sonic’s newfound Spin Dash ability and boundless charm.
I remember clearly how completing each level and exploring every possible nook and cranny became an obsession for me and my friends. Few things were more exciting and rewarding than achieving new high scores and moving on to the next stage and its hidden wonders.
This is why today I’m going to take a stroll through memory lane and rank all 11 Sonic 2 levels for you guys. Join me after the break, for my thoughts, but first here are the levels we are looking at.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 Zones in Order
- Emerald Hill Zone
- Chemical Plant Zone
- Aquatic Ruin Zone
- Casino Night Zone
- Hill Top Zone
- Mystic Cave Zone
- Oil Ocean Zone
- Metropolis Zone
- Sky Chase Zone
- Wing Fortress Zone
- Death Egg Zone
There are also 7 special stages in the game where you can collect the chaos emeralds.
To access the bonus stage your only need to reach a star post after collecting 50 rings. We may come back to these special stages for another list. Right now we are covering the main 11 Zones in
Every Sonic 2 Level – Ranked, Rated, and Reviewed
Sky Chase Zone – Level 9
In spot number 11 I’m going to place Sky Chase Zone.
Sky Chase Zone in Sonic 2’s 9th level, and the first stage of the game’s three-part ending stages.
Unlike the game’s other levels, Sky Chase Zone features an entirely different game mode. During the level’s short duration, Sonic must fly high into the sky on top of the Tornado, a large plane designed by Tails, in order to hunt down Dr. Robotnik as he attempts to escape.
The stage is set high atop the clouds, which gives the Sky Chase Zone an atmosphere of spaciousness and dimension that is not present in the other 10 stages.
The stage is constantly moving to the right, similarly to various stages of the Nintendo’s Mario franchise, and Sonic and Tails must continuously maneuver themselves to remain ahead of this movement.
While this does provide the level with a degree of challenge that is different from ground-based stages, the idea falls short. Players can still spin, jump, and dash to defeat the various flying enemies that are thrown at them, but the iconic Sonic speed is missing.
While I applaud the game designers for taking a risk and including a very “different” level near the end of the game, Sky Chase Zone is shorter than most of the other levels, and it has the unfortunate privilege of being the only stage of the game without a final boss.
Death Egg Zone – Level 11
Coming in at the number 10 spot is Death Egg Zone, the game’s final stage.
Dr. Robotnik’s large Space Base, the Death Egg (an obvious nod to the Death Star of Star Wars fame) presents players with their final challenge.
The stage comes in so low in our ranking because, even though it presents players with not one but two bosses (the only stage to do so), it features zero platforming challenges and provides very little opportunity to do what Sonic does best.
The Death Egg Zone is divided into three sections:
- The first is a very short and straightforward path towards the first of the game’s final two bosses.
- The second section of the level is the fight against Dr. Robotnik’s secret weapon: Mecha Sonic, a robotic version of our blue hero who has quite an arsenal of moves and attacks.
- The final section of the stage is the confrontation with Dr. Robotnik himself, as he pilots the imposing Death Egg Robot.
These fights are very challenging, especially because the stage has no rings to collect, as well as the fact that both bosses have some very impressive and aggressive move sets.
However, just like with Sky Chase Zone, Death Egg Zone does not provide the archetypical Sonic experience. Plus, defeating this level means that the game is over, and that is never a good thing in my book.
Wing Fortress Zone – Level 10
The next level on our ranking of the Sonic 2 stages is Wing Fortress Zone, the game’s penultimate stage.
Wing Fortress Zone takes place immediately after the events of Sky Chase, as Sonic and Tails intercept Dr. Robotnik’s escape to the Death Egg.
Wing Fortress Zone is a difficult stage and fits very well in the game’s overall level progression. It is chock full of complex obstacles for the player to maneuver around, as they make their way to the end.
Expect plenty of retractable floating platforms, flaming jets, launcher traps, etc. This is probably the single deadliest stage in the game, as far as my personal experience is concerned.
The stage concludes with an exciting boss encounter with Barrier Eggman. In this battle, the player will have to survive a ruthless laser attack, maneuver around dangerously spiked platforms, and other pitfalls. Once defeated, the boss will make way for the player to enter the game’s final level.
Wing Fortress Zone is an adequate stage, albeit a bit frustrating.
Emerald Hill Zone – Level 1
If you’ve played the original Sonic The Hedgehog game you will most likely forever associate your adventures as Sonic with the verdant hills and tropical beaches of its first level, Green Hill Zone. Well, Sonic The Hedgehog 2’s first zone, Emerald Hill Zone, is heavily inspired by that level and that is why it sits at the number 8 spot on this list.
Emerald Hill Zone is a fantastic level, with some astute gameplay and design choices to ease players into the frenetic world of Sonic The Hedgehog 2.
A curious bit of trivia is that this is the first zone in the franchise to feature the iconic corkscrew tracks that we have come to associate with Sonic. I still vividly remember going into and coming out of the first corkscrew in the game, rushing forward at a blistering speed and smiling from ear to ear.
There are plenty of hidden passages and enough obstacles to engage the player and propel them forward into the rest of the game. This means that Emerald Hill Zone is arguably the easiest level in the entire game, and it features the easiest boss. For this reason alone, I can’t place it higher on the list.
Casino Night Zone – Level 4
The next level in my ranking of all Sonic 2 levels is the fourth stage, better known as Casino Night Zone.
Casino Night Zone takes place, as the name aptly suggests, at night and is themed after a colorful and brightly lit casino. A large city can be seen in the background as Sonic zooms around, and the stage relies on a “Neon Las Vegas” aesthetic to entice the player.
Another important design element is the traditional pinball machine, with many of the stage’s obstacles and pitfalls reminiscent of the mechanical elements of a pinball table.
The stage is divided into two sections: an upper level with straightways and direct paths, and a lower section with meandering tracks and hidden alcoves. Despite the frenetic nature of the stage, in my experience, this one was one of the “slower” stages in the game due to the various obstacles such as the pinball-themed bumpers or the casino-inspired slot machines that rewarded the player with varying quantities of all-important rings and encouraged a more methodical approach.
The boss at the end of Casino Night Zone is probably one of the most memorable: Dr. Robotnik operates a claw machine that drops explosives and is protected by a powerful electric field.
I remember that this boss in particular was frustrating and took me countless tries until figured out the strategy of using Sonic’s Turbo-Dash move to shoot up the sides of the room and hit Dr. Robotnik from above.
Metropolis Zone – Level 8
The next level in this ranking is level number 8, or Metropolis Zone as most of us remember it.
Metropolis Zone is a fantastic zone, which stands out for two reasons. First, it is the only zone in the game to feature three full acts, making it one of the longest stages. Second, it is one of the only stages where some frustrating enemy placement can feel unfair to an unprepared player.
The obstacles set about by the game designers included some truly ingenious artifacts to test your skills as a player. With white knuckles and gritted teeth, I spent many an afternoon and late-night maneuvering my way around giant screws and bolts supporting steel towers, massive crushers and floating conveyor belts, steam traps, and grinding cogs.
Metropolis Zone is also littered with tons of the game’s most aggressive enemies. These guys would unleash both rapid and precise slicing and punching attacks that made finishing the stage unscathed very, very difficult.
As if the level wasn’t difficult enough, the boss at the end of the third act is outright maddening. This is one of the tankiest and most frustrating boss fights in all of Sonic 2 simply because the boss is so difficult to hit and damage.
The zone is full of atmosphere and plenty of opportunities for awesome Sonic action; however, I personally feel that the difficulty balance is a bit off, which can be too frustrating.
Oil Ocean Zone – Level 7
The deep orange hues that color Oil Ocean Zone, Sonic The Hedgehog 2’s 7th level, as well as the headbanging kick-ass soundtrack give this memorable stage the number 7 spot on our ranking of Sonic 2 levels.
Resembling a large deep-sea oil platform, Oil Ocean Zone is a no-nonsense level full of give-it-to-me straight Sonic action. A couple of clever and memorable elements set this stage apart from the rest of the levels in the game.
For starters, this level has a second-chance mechanic for players who fall off the many platforms. The titular oil covers the surface of the ocean underneath the platform and prevents Sonic from drowning in the waters below. As long as the player keeps hitting the jump button, Sonic will be able to bounce off the oily surface of the ocean, creating ample opportunities for white-knuckled comebacks.
The second thing that sets this stage apart is the fact that it is significantly less linear than the rest of the game. There are multiple instances where the obstacles in the level shoot you back and forth across the stage. This means that if you are not careful, you may end up losing your bearings and end up not knowing which way is the right way.
Chemical Plant Zone – Level 2
Next, we find the game’s second level, Chemical Plant Zone.
This level is not for the faint of heart. There are plenty of obstacles in the stage that require some fast thinking and sharp reflexes. Chemical Plant Zone is arguably the fastest stage in the entirety of Sonic 2 since there are a couple of instances where, if you play correctly, you may end up “outrunning” the screen!
In the second act there is a challenging gameplay element that further elevates the skill ceiling of this level: Mega Mack, a bright pink chemical sludge, floods the stage creating a “make-it or break-it” situation for players which can be outright punishing for those who are unprepared.
I love the challenge, however, and the only reason why this stage is not higher on the list is that it, unfortunately, shares its tileset with another stage.
Hill Top Zone – Level 5
Hill Top Zone, the game’s 5th level, is my third favorite level in Sonic 2 and one of my favorite zones in the entire franchise.
The level takes place high atop a mountain with bright scenery painted in vivid colors. With its bright blue sky, deep green trees, cyan surfaces, and orange canyons, playing Hill Top Zone over and over again is one of my fondest and most clearly-remembered childhood memories.
From a gameplay perspective, the zone is a ton of fun to navigate. While not a fast zone by Sonic standard, there are plenty of very smart design choices strewn throughout the level to keep players engaged at all times.
For example, the stage has a well-balanced mixture of open spaces and tight cave corridors. Some sections contain dangerous lava pits, while others contain gentle slopes and gradual curves. Plenty of springs and seesaws dot the level to help players get around.
The boss is difficult but never frustratingly so. The soundtrack is upbeat and fits the mountainside scenery very well. In my humble opinion, this is one of the most smartly constructed stages not only of this game but of the entire 2D platformer genre.
Aquatic Ruin Zone – Level 3
I think we can all agree that level 2-2 in Super Mario Bros. was a defining moment in the video gaming industry. Here for the first time, a superbly polished game took us to the depths underneath the ocean and presented us with a brand new world of gameplay possibilities.
My second favorite level in Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is another equally important underwater level: Aquatic Ruin Zone, the game’s third stage.
Aquatic Ruin Zone is a close-to-perfect video game level because it hits on every level. Players are presented with an engaging and challenging obstacle course set in a colorful and vibrant environment that rewards player agency.
The tileset for Aquatic Ruin Zone is based on a crumbling set of ancient ruins hidden in a dense forest thicket that is split down the middle by a deep blue lake. This division impacts the gameplay and level of challenge, so a player can choose to take the easy route or a harder more challenging route.
While it gets progressively harder to pull off as the stage progresses, players looking for a laid-back experience must stay above water at all costs. Going underwater in Aquatic Ruin Zone will present the player with a set of distinct obstacles that significantly elevate the level of difficulty; such as having to keep track of your oxygen levels, lest Sonic drown.
I can’t pretend to know which path you will prefer, but I can guarantee that whichever path you choose, it will be fun.
Mystic Cave Zone – Level 6
My absolute favorite level and highest-ranking stage in my list of all Sonic The Hedgehog 2 levels is level number 6: Mystic Cave Zone.
The stage, which is set in a dark cave lined with rocky structures and dotted with man-made railings and posts, is a creepy, intimidating, and highly atmospheric stage that stands as one of the best video game stages of an entire console generation.
Getting through Mystic Cave Zone will require a methodical and measured approach because this is one of the most trap-laden Sonic stages ever. Thankfully, there are always several corridors to choose from, which greatly expands player agency and provides players with plenty of opportunities to improvise and adapt.
Speaking of traps, Mystic Cave Zone is filled with deadly rocks, blocks, spiked chains, giant crates, vines, pendulums, and rackety wooden ledges that fall apart beneath Sonic’s feet. Perfecting my playthrough of this stage became an obsession of mine, as each death posed an opportunity for the betterment and for tackling the deadly track.
Few games over the years have been able to provide me with the thrills that Mystic Cave Zone once gave me.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 Level Select Code
Want to try out one of these levels without playing through the whole game? Here is the code to select any level you want from the main menu.
On the title screen move down to the “Sound Test”. Then play sound 19, 65, 09, 17. When you hear the chime of a ring being collected, press Start to return to the title screen. On the title screen, select 1 Player then hold A and press Start. Your level select menu should appear.