The 10 Best Zones from classic Sonic games

Classic Sonic level design at its finest.

Screenshot by Gamepur

Sonic the Hedgehog is the face of one of the longest-standing franchises in gaming. With over 30 years in the spotlight, many of us look back with nostalgia to the era of early console wars. The days of Mario vs Sonic as Nintendo and Sega battled it out in the ‘90s. That era produced some of the most iconic and groundbreaking games that have remained beloved and played even today, decades later.

As trailblazing as they were at the time as platformers, Sonic’s various titles also produced some of the most iconic levels in the genre. Sometimes those levels just stuck with us and that could be for a variety of reasons — the aesthetic, the graphics, the level design, the music, a boss fight — there are all sorts of different reasons a certain level is burned into our memories. For this list, we will be counting down 10 such levels from classic Sonic games, which means that the cutoff point is Sonic’s transition to full 3D with Sonic Adventure in 1999 and onward, as that fits more with the modern Sonic design.

10) Tidal Tempest

Sonic CD

Screenshot by Gamepur

Tidal Tempest is remembered for featuring a vastly different level design based on the time period in which Sonic finds himself — past, future, and present. Each one provided different challenges for the player, and there was even a distinct difference between a “bad” future and a “good” future. But we had to remove marks for water sections, as tradition demands.

9) Volcano Valley Zone

Sonic 3D Blast

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Sonic 3D Blast was a tricky beast. On the one hand, it was the game’s first risky departure to isometric gameplay, on the other it had a certain charm that made it a fun, if short, experience. Volcano Valley Zone was an interesting one because the “floor is lava” mechanics played really well with the isometric viewpoint, making the zone the best one in this niche Sonic game.

8) Flying Battery Zone

Sonic & Knuckles

Screenshot by Gamepur

There have been plenty of airship and flying levels during Sonic’s classic era. Almost every iteration of the franchise came with one, and they were as much a staple as the green island or casino levels. But the one that did it the best has been the Flying Battery Zone in Sonic & Knuckles. The aesthetic was incredible, but it was the level design mechanics that lifted it to another level, far surpassing the competition.

Related: Can you play as Tails and Knuckles in Sonic 1 and Sonic CD in Sonic Origins?

7) Marble Zone

Sonic the Hedgehog

Screenshot by Gamepur

For many of us, the second zone of the first Sonic game was the true introduction to what platformer mechanics could truly be. It featured floating platforms and blocks, crushers, spikes, and tight jumps. While some of those ideas came before in other games (Alex Kid comes to mind), this level represented the earliest hints of everything that would later come to define the whole genre.

6) Metropolis Zone

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

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This zone is the longest of all the Sonic 2 levels. While other levels had two Acts, Metropolis boasted three of them. The zone is set in a manufactory-city that quickly shifted the tone toward the more industrial settings as the end game was closing in. It was the first appearance of screw-escalators that later became much more common in the franchise. And on a subjective note, this zone has the best ear-worm soundtrack out of all Sonic games.

5) Marble Garden Zone

Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Screenshot by Gamepur

This zone continued with the classic theme of “Ruins” zones, but the aesthetics of this zone were on just another level. There were ways to go over and under the hills and marble ruins, and even some risky jumps that could let you fly through complete sections of the zone at breakneck speeds. It also features a fun aerial combat boss in which Tails serves as your quasi-platform.

4) Carnival Night Zone

Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Screenshot by Gamepur

Another staple of Sonic games is the super-colorful nighttime “Casino” levels, but in Sonic 3, there was a small departure in which it was replaced with a circus-like Carnival zone. Just like the other versions, it had bumpers, trampolines, and all sorts of funny or frustrating platforms. And refreshingly, there were no slot machines to gamble for rings.

3) Chemical Plant Zone

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

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The Chemical Plant zone was both a spiritual successor and a massive upgrade to the Scrap Brain Zone from the first Sonic game. It was more densely packed and featured plenty of new interesting mechanics. Plus, it had a great soundtrack jam to go along with it. The flooding mechanics worked particularly well in this zone, which is not often the case in platformers.

2) Casino Night Zone

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Screenshot by Gamepur

The O.G. Casino zone of the Sonic franchise is still one of the best ones. It’s vibrant, colorful, and extremely fun to play. With a bit of luck, it was possible to gamble for enough rings to nearly max out your lives and continues if you played the perfect game. How can we forget about the pinball mechanics, which were incredibly fun, especially if you played with a friend. This level simply looked, sounded, and played great.

1) Green Hill Zone

Sonic the Hedgehog

Screenshot by Gamepur

Time to take a step back for a quick trip to the Hall of Fame of gaming. This level and Mario’s World 1-1 are what defined the genre for decades to come. Seeing and playing this level for the first time back in the early ‘90s was groundbreaking. It was so good, that even non-gamers loved to play it. Just this level, not any further — it was simply that good. The iconic aesthetic of this zone became synonymous with the Sonic franchise, and practically every Sonic game that came after had its own version of the Green Hill Zone. And the funniest thing — it still holds up as an amazing gaming experience, even 30 years later.