Sonic Mania came out last August to massive acclaim with many fans begging for a sequel. But one element of the first game that many fans were sour on were the returning stages. 2/3rds of the game’s zones were taken from previous classic Sonic titles. They had completely new layouts, however, so they felt new, it was just the style that remained the same. If we ever get a Sonic Mania 2 this very same thing might happen again and with that in mind, we decided to pick some classic Sonic zones that we would be ok with getting a reimagining. The rules were simple, only one zone from each of the classic games.
One of the benefits of Sonic Mania’s returning stage was how they in almost every case managed to improve exponentially over their original counterparts. Nowhere is this more clear than with Lava Reef Zone, a level that most people hated in the original, that has now come back as a pretty decent level with a dynamic second half. With this in mind, I would love them to tackle another hated stage, Labyrinth Zone, and see in what ways they could improve it.
I’ll admit these next two aren’t that creative but they are popular stages and I think at least some of the returning stages should be fan favourites (like how Mania 1 had Stardust Speed Highway and Chemical Plant Zone). So I chose Casino Night Zone from Sonic 2 and Sky Sanctuary Zone from Sonic and Knuckles. These were the only two classic stages to appear on the console version of Sonic Generations that have not come back yet so I think we can justify seeing them here.
Going back to Sonic 3 now I went with another massively popular choice and chose the Ice Cap Zone. This zone will appear again below in other staff members lists so I won’t make their reasons redundant and just say that one Sonic staple that Sonic Mania lacked was a snowboarding section. So what better stage than the one that started it all.
Finally, I went with Wacky Workbench Zone for Sonic CD. Apart from Stardust Speed Highway, I don’t think Sonic CD has that many memorable levels but this stage at least fits the same role Metallic Madness did in Sonic Mania, an endgame level that fits the robotic factory theme we always get with Sonic titles. I’d rather the new levels that the team creates be based on unique ideas so using classic stages to keep the quota up is a better idea in my opinion.
I’m of the opinion that a Sonic Mania sequel should focus on brand new Zones, as the team’s wholly original environments like Studiopolis are sublime. But if they must pull from the past, I hope they make a conscious effort to avoid revisiting Zones that have already been revisited.
One Zone that instantly fits that bill is Sonic 1’s Spring Yard. Sonic 2’s Casino Night beautifully codified the go-to template for a casino zone, so much so that its thematic predecessor is criminally overlooked. It is nice, however, that people don’t seem to frown upon Spring Yard as they do with, say, Marble Zone.
On that note, I strongly considered Collision Chaos for the Sonic CD spot, especially since it has the honor of serving as Metal Sonic’s introduction, but I ultimately preferred Spring Yard’s music and there’s nothing else in Sonic 1 that would innately excite me. However, although CD was intended as “more of a CD version of the original Sonic,” it still spawned the unique Quartz Quadrant, a personal favorite.
Sonic 2 was a tad trickier, as I knew fan favorites like Casino Night would be honored here and people would throw rocks at me if I suggested Hill Top. Instead, I elected to pick a wild card, the overlooked Hidden Palace. Given the history that Zone stores, and given how Taxman and Stealth have hands-on experience remaking the elusive labyrinth, it’d be fun to see it as a prominent part of a brand new title.
Sonic 3 is where things started getting harder at first glance, and I initially considered choosing one of its multiplayer Zones. However, while seeing those fleshed out could be novel, I ultimately had to pick the predictable Ice Cap, even if they have to omit its original theme for legal reasons. (And in that scenario, allow me to publicly state that I’d be fine with them remixing one of the musical themes from IceCap’s Sonic Adventure incarnation.)
Finally, I have to close my section here with Death Egg. This is a Zone that’s never truly been forgotten, with the Star Wars homage receiving direct nods in titles like Sonic Generations, Sonic 4, and even more awkwardly in stuff like Sonic Battle and Runners, yet it’s a perfect battlefield to close a game.
I admit, my main criteria for choosing my zones for Sonic Mania 2 was the music. How couldn’t I buy such a rich collection of good old timeless 90s tunes? But I also tried to keep aesthetics and level-design in mind. So I chose Marble Garden Zone over Ice Cap Zone from Sonic 3, not only because I really, really like the music, but also liked its Level-design and the ruin aesthetics, which was almost missing in Sonic Mania. Actually, Marble Garden is my Most Wanted from all of them, so having this back would be very neat. But having Sandopolis Zone back from Sonic & Knuckles as well would be also very cool. I always love the Egypt setting and having a stronger emphasis on that in a revised Sandopolis Zone would be neat.
For Sonic 2, I wanted Mystic Cave Zone back. But then I saw that Cart Boy chose Hidden Palace Zone and now I want it as well. I think a fusion of Mystic Cave Zone and Hidden Palace Zone would be perfect since they kinda share the level theme. One zone for the price of two, a perfect deal for me.
To be very honest, I had a hard time with Sonic CD because not many Zones really stood out to me. But I think I would like to have Collision Chaos Zone back as my “Casino”-themed zone. With its pink grounds and all the LED-stripes, it has a very strong 90s-vibe and having a 90s-embracing style really fits Sonic in a good way.
With my choice of Sonic 1’s stage, I’m cheating a tiny bit. At first, I had Star Light Zone as my Sonic 1-choice, but I wasn’t really feeling it (Especially since Stardust Speedway is the superior Star Light in every way). So instead of choosing a level from the Genesis-Version, I rather want a level back from the Master System-Version of Sonic 1 and that’s the good old Bridge Zone. And I think a Sonic Mania 2 could add more to the concept of a zone full of bridges. It might even result into a brand new zone, but this would be fine with me as long as they keep the melody from the original Bridge Zone.
But as cool as returning levels are, I want to emphasize how much I would prefer a “brand-new” Sonic Mania. Means no returning levels, just brand-new zones for Sonic to explore. The Sonic Mania Team proofed with Studiopolis Zone and Press Garden Zone how capable they are of creating brand new experiences.
Rather than choose a Zone from either the Genesis or Game Gear version of Sonic the Hedgehog, I’m instead opting to buck the trend by going with Sunset Park Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog Triple Trouble. First of all, the levels in either version of Sonic the Hedgehog are a little uninspired by today’s standards (with Nirbion having already taken my favourite, Bridge Zone), and then there’s the fact that Sunset Park is one of the most iconic Game Gear Zones, from its extremely catchy music to a unique locale and memorable boss fights (if somewhat difficult for the uninitiated). I would absolutely love to see it reimagined as a fully featured Zone, expanding upon the minecart gimmick present in the original, as well as fleshing out the location and its aesthetic. Also, who wouldn’t want a Tee Lopes remix of that sweet, sweet Act 3 theme?
For Sonic the Hedgehog 2, I’m going to go with Mystic Cave Zone. I’m opting not to go with a Game Gear Zone since, like the original game, the Zones in 8-bit Sonic 2 feel rather uninteresting considering all the other wonderful Zones the series has offered. Really, I feel like Mystic Cave Zone should’ve been in Mania in place of Oil Ocean Zone as it would’ve better balanced Sonic 2’s stage representation between the industrial and the natural locales. That said, perhaps Mystic Cave wouldn’t have lent itself to a reimagining with new gimmicks so easily…
Ice Cap Zone from Sonic 3 needs no introduction – Despite being a little generic as far as snow levels go, what really makes this Zone standout is its music, a catchy little number which turned out to be the unreleased Hard Times by The Jetzons, and the snowboarding set piece at the beginning of the Zone, which helped showcase Sonic’s adventurous flavour and would lend itself to a great reimagining as a gimmick in a potential remake.
Once again I’m going to eschew the Genesis games in order to give the Game Gear titles a little more love. In place of Sonic & Knuckles (whose most notable Zones of Mushroom Hill, Flying Battery, and Sky Sanctuary have already been done), I’d love to see Sleeping Egg Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog Chaos become fully realized. While the Zone is unremarkable on its own besides its somewhat odd aesthetic, I think a bit of context helps give my choice weight. It’s common knowledge by now that Christian “Taxman” Whitehead, lead developer of Sonic Mania, got his start in fan games, most notably his fan engine tech demo, Retro-Sonic. The Zone featured in this showcase was named Egg Garden Zone and seems to take a few cues from Sleeping Egg Zone in terms of its aesthetic, so I feel it’d be very interesting to see how Whitehead would handle remixing and remaking Sleeping Egg Zone if he ever got the chance to do so.
As with my pick of Mystic Cave Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Quartz Quadrant Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog CD is a stage that I feel should have been in Sonic Mania, in place of either of the two Sonic CD Zones that were chosen. While the Zone did see its coiled tubes used in Chemical Plant Zone and its conveyor belts in Lava Reef, I would’ve much rather seen the Zone get its own remix, perhaps incorporating the rope swings from Angel Island Zone or other gimmicks from the Classic Era titles. Also, the JP version of Quartz Quadrant Present is toe-tappingly good – give it a listen once you’re done reading this article!