Previous Zone: Secret Base Zone
Next Zone: Ice Mountain Zone
Welcome to Casino Paradise Zone, one of the massive casinos Sonic and friends seem to frequently encounter. The Vegas theme is one of those distinctly Sonic themes as far as video games go, and it seems like every foray into Sonic's roots needs to have one. Eggman seems to run many of these casinos, as his name is all over a bunch of them, but I really can't tell with this one. (In the UK Sonic comics, the casinos are built and run by the Marxio Bros., a trio of accomplished con artists in overalls named Grouchio, Chicio, and Harpio.)
As is standard with casino stages in Sonic, there are lots of pinball segments here. The existence of this place is indicative of physics closer to the 16-bit games than the later Sonic Rush games and Sonic 4 Episode I--those classic physics are most commonly called momentum-based gameplay, but they're also known as "pinball physics," as Sonic bounces off of things like a pinball. There are no slot machines here, however. (Some of you may refer to them as one-armed bandits. Are slot machines quite as popular where they're called that?)
Naturally, because of the pinball gimmicks here, Casino Paradise runs a bit slower than Neo Green Hill or Secret Base, as it's full of bumpers, flippers, and various other things to kill your speed or reflect it in an unintended direction. Something to take note of is the background. Besides the really 16-bit look of it, the castle in the back actually scrolls, just extremely slightly.
Because you have little control of where you're going with the bouncy pinball stuff, I tend to find casino stages annoying, though they tend to have very good visuals. This is no exception, with Casino Paradise being my least favorite Zone in this game. That being said, this still goes by faster than a number of other stages in the series's history with this look (remember Carnival Night Act 2?), and it has a unique set of interesting Badniks.
All of the gimmicks here are self-explanatory, except for the "SONIC" and "SEGA" lights: They are platforms when lit. I was in too much of a hurry to use them, which, as is standard for Sonic stage design, a bad idea as haste makes waste--in this case, falling to lower paths that take longer and are often more difficult.
The Special Stage is in Act 1 and is in the middle of the stage, geographically speaking, rather than near the end. It is still easily missable, however, as it's directly above a high-speed section. When I first played this, I thought it would be on top of a pinball table. Not so--it's much easier than that.
I used Knuckles the Echidna in this. Like in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Knuckles can glide and climb walls. (This is one of the last games to do this, as the next main series game to come after this, Sonic Heroes, does away with gliding and climbing. He can still climb in Advance 2 and 3, however.) Knuckles doesn't have as much maneuverability as Tails, and without a perfectly vertical wall, Knuckles is stuck with his lowest jump in the game, but he makes up for it by never tiring out and, though you won't see it here, a 1-2-uppercut that makes short work of a lot of ground and close-to-ground enemies. Knuckles's board in Special Stages are the red and green his shoes come in.
Uh-oh, what's this music? Jaws is coming! No, wait, it's just Dr. Eggman. The mad scientist has brought along the Egg Ball for this Zone. Eight tubes pop up in the battlefield, with two tubes on each side. (By the way, I forgot to mention that the boss appearing at the end of the stage rather than occupying a separate stage just for it doesn't happen quite so much anymore.) Eggman will pop out of a tube and travel straight into another, while a spike ball the size of Eggman's vehicle goes through another set of parallel tubes. You have to attack Eggman, of course, and not the spiked ball. With each hit you land, Eggman and the ball will travel faster, and you can see this was starting to give me trouble. Of course, I do wonder why Eggman doesn't just leave this all to the spiked ball, which would make Eggman's defeat impossible.
We head to the frigid heights of Ice Mountain next. Here, I'll use Amy, who functions very differently from any of the other characters.