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That One Level / Sonic the Hedgehog

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Sonic's drowning, drowning music... Labyrinth Zone brings quite the (bad) memories.

The Blue Blur has gone through many ups and downs and all-arounds as a Long Runner, but it's always home for infamous levels ready to put Sonic and friends to a screeching halt.

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     Sonic The Hedgehog 1 

  • The Marble Zone can be hard to some players. Not only it is full of traps and tough obstacles, but it comes right after Green Hill Zone, which is much faster paced compared to this one. It is not "difficult" so much as "annoying"... between the tricky-to-time pounding things, the lava chase, the surprise flames during the lava block rides, and the Caterkillers, it actually is kind of hard. Still not as bad as Labyrinth or Scrap Brain Zone, but it is earlier in the game.
  • As pictured above, the Labyrinth Zone earned infamy for its steep Difficulty Spike, a strict Oxygen Meter (that after 18 seconds without air - either by surfacing or breathing in an air bubble - the player has to endure the dreaded countdown music, and that after a total of 30 seconds, Sonic drowns and instantly loses a life, even if he has Rings) and for having traps that Sonic hasn't seen yet. The maze-like designs in both Acts 2 and 3 certainly seal this level's fate for this trope. Despite the fact there's no "real" boss battle in the Labyrinth Zone, there are traps strewn about, wasting Sonic's time as he deals with rising water and not a ring in sight. It could've been worse — the original level order was to have Labyrinth Zone right after Green Hill. Even Sonic Team thought that was too harsh!
    • Scrap Brain Zone Act 3 (if you don't use the shortcut, anyway), especially if the player falls into the deepest part of the act. There the air bubbles are so far and few in between that the countdown music is practically guaranteed to start haunting you, and if that weren't enough, the air bubbles actually take dramatically longer to spawn than the ones found in Labyrinth Zone.
  • Scrap Brain Zone is one giant death trap from start to finish. There are countless crushers, valves that shoot fire, electric coils that shoot electricity sporadically, flipping platforms, Caterkillers, sawblades, conveyor belts to make avoiding said sawblades worse, and not to mention the two death pits at the very beginning. You better pray you have enough lives left over.

     Sonic The Hedgehog 2 
  • Chemical Plant Act 2 and the damned bottomless pits, crushy things, and Mega Mack. Made worse in that it is only the second zone in the game. Arguably more of a Difficulty Spike than a true That One Level, but easily the hardest part of the first half of the game. Sonic Team themselves had trouble beating this part of the level.
    • Luckily, there is a shortcut path that completely bypasses the entire frustrating part of the level and drops you right off at the boss with an Invincibility to boot.
    • The interesting thing about this level is it really depends which way you go through it. If you take the higher route, it can be formidable but definitely manageable. If you take the lower route, however... yeah, good luck with that.
  • Mystic Cave Zone, aside from being home to several dangerous platforming hazards and two irritatingly pervasive badniks, is also home to the notorious spike pit in its second act. A tall pit that hosts an unnecessary row of spikes —in contrast to every other pit in the entire game— falling into it means that instead of a immediate death, you'll have to wait until you run out of rings to die. Bad enough if you're regular Sonic or Tails; but it's outright infuriating if you fall in as Super Sonic: thanks to his invincibility, the player's forced to wait until Super Sonic de-powers back into regular Sonic...which only happens once he runs out of rings. It's also dangerously easy to fall into the pit, since it's placed underneath a tricky platforming segment that requires jumping onto a lever suspended in mid-air in order to lower a raised drawbridge.
    • This has been noticed and addressed in the official iOS remake. Two changes were made to it: in the main game, the spikes are gone and you warp to a restored version of Hidden Palace Zone instead of die. In time attack mode, you'll still die, but the spikes are removed so it is just a simple bottomless pit. It is also easy to escape the pit if you're playing as Knuckles, thanks to his climbing abilities...assuming the drawbridge wasn't lowered first.
  • Metropolis Zone, not only because the stages are massive. To make it worse, every other Zone in the game has 2 acts, but Metropolis Zone has three to make the suffering longernote . It also features three dangerous Badniks that can attack the player very easily when not paying attention. The boss fight is very long and difficult, too.
  • Oil Ocean Zone is no joke either; since the whole level is over, well, an ocean. If you fall off the platforms, you have to try to swim to safety, and you're kind of screwed. There are also tons of enemies that shoot projectiles at you, crumbling ledges, slides covered in oil, and fans that blow you this direction or that. On top of that, the boss fight is pretty hard.
  • Wing Fortress Zone, because the whole level is in the air, meaning if you fall down, you die. The stage is also quite lengthy, there are many traps and there is tricky platforming which can get very unforgiving.

     Sonic The Hedgehog CD 
  • Wacky Workbench features a flickering checkered floor that bounces Sonic upwards at very high power, and the upper parts of the stage are covered in booby-trapped background graphics that surprise first-time players and frustrate veteran players. There are also those slowly snaking block platforms, air vents under most major jumps, and elevators that spin you and make you jump off oddly. Additionally, when you get thrown to the top of the stage, you have to work your way down, slowly, through the killer background, to the bottom of suspended pillars JUST NEAR the bouncy floor. At least the crushers don't actually kill you.
  • The very last act before the Final Boss, Metallic Madness Zone 3, is rather maddening even by the game's standards. After some platforming hazards that while difficult, are reused from the previous stages; the level then throws a frankly vicious curveball of a challenge: an odd assortment of rows of platforms placed over a Bottomless Pit. This pit covers a surprisingly wide distance and is the only bottomless pit in the entire game. You're supposed to use the platforms to get to the other side, but each row of platforms rotating at a different time than the others, which can lead to an easy fall to your death. If that wasn't enough, there are also floating bumpers and springs (with one sending you up towards a row of spikes) to throw you off-course. The final kick in the pants is the reveal of a giant crusher placed right at the ledge of the other side, so you'll have to hope that you get a window to get through or get killed trying to get through it. While Sonic CD's level design as a whole is notorious for its unorthodox nature compared to the Mega Drive games, this area is the only point in the game where it's outright malevolent in trying to get the player to die—getting past this may very much boil down to how much luck you've got on your side. It comes as a relief that the actual boss battle is a relatively breezy affair—all of the challenge instead comes from getting to the boss rather than actually fighting it.

     Sonic 3 And Knuckles 
  • Carnival Night Zone Act 2: this level is designed to waste time; with all the bumpers and the sheer length of the level, odds are when you reach the boss, you'll only have 3 minutes or so left on the clock. And of course this boss is one who uses a strategy where you can only get a hit on him once every 30 seconds or so. So unless you can somehow get a lot of hits on him at once (which is only possible if you've learned the timing on Sonic's insta-shield attack, or you're willing to bleed rings in order to get those extra hits in while you have Mercy Invincibility, or if you managed to hold on to a lightning shield — which is tricky with all the water in the level), then odds are you'll time out before finishing the fight. On top of that, if a player is playing as Sonic and/or Tails, this is the level where the infamous "Barrel of Doom" is located. The barrel is in a small room about halfway through the stage with only one way out, but the obstacle is one that the game gives the player no indication as to how to pass, leaving a player to waste even more time and/or lives trying to figure it out.
  • Marble Garden Zone features very steep hills, out-of-control tops, spikes everywhere, hideously placed spiked maces and crushing spiked pillars, and enemies that like to pop out of nowhere. And both the sub- and main-bosses of the zone like to collapse the level on you, midway through each act.
  • Sandopolis Zone as well, especially the second act, with the annoying ghosts and rising sand/timed switch door puzzles. Like Carnival Night Zone Act 2, both acts are exceptionally long, even by the standards of both games.
    • Act 2's even worse as Knuckles. First off, as Sonic or Tails, the ghosts don't come into play until about a quarter of the way through the level. As Knuckles, they're in it from the very start... And the level starts out in the dark, which means you've only got a few short seconds before they're pouncing on you. Second, Knuckles gets to deal with a particularly fun puzzle that Sonic and Tails don't, involving raising and lowering the floor in conjunction with the aforementioned timed doors. It will take a novice player many an attempt to get past this insidious showstopper, by which point time's probably about to run out.
  • Lava Reef Zone to many players, with Everything Trying to Kill You. The Toximister badniks are a pain in the butt, because they release a mist that, if you get in contact with it, will slowly drain your rings, and if you run out of rings, you die. The Act 2 boss is also a major Difficulty Spike compared to the other bosses in this game, with the pre-boss auto-scrolling section where you have to jump on different collapsing platforms — one mistake and you fall into a Bottomless Pit! It doesn't help that this comes after the already hard Sandopolis.

     Sonic The Hedgehog 4 
  • Episode I has Mad Gear Zone in general, for the same reason as Metropolis Zone above. Special mention goes to
Act 3, sporting an Advancing Wall of Doom to end all Advancing Walls of Doom.
  • Episode II has Oil Desert Act 1, mainly because of the section where you must fly over a huge Bottomless Pit near the end of the stage.

     Sonic Mania 
  • Mirage Saloon Zone Act 1 (unless you're Knuckles) is a Call-Back to Sky Chase Zone, and it's just as difficult and awkward to control as the latter. Just like in Sky Chase, you can spin dash off the Tornado to an instant death (which is easy to forget as there is a Shield monitor halfway through the ride that the game will guide you away from, forcing you to move the Tornado down to break said monitor and risk charging a Spin Dash if you get reckless) and you have to survive almost two minutes riding the plane before you even have a chance at boarding Eggman's train and checkpointing just before you disembark to fight the act's boss. Said checkpoint is on a solid platform which comes in at a very high speed with little to no warning, and if you're low enough on-screen, can shove you off-screen and kill you. Time to watch Heavy Magician introduce herself again!
    • It even has a boss, which, while not difficult in any way, is a great example of a Goddamned Boss since the hitbox is rather hard to see. Thankfully, Act 2 is both much easier and a lot shorter.
  • Oil Ocean Zone Act 2 is rather difficult due to its mazelike structure, and the toxic gas that fills the level, which both obscures your vision and slowly drains your rings to zero (but thankfully doesn't kill you) unless you vent it at set switches.
  • The final zone, Titanic Monarch, is a new contender for being one of the hardest Sonic levels of all time, right up there with Cannon's Core, Sandopolis Zone, and Eggmanland. It is extremely long (both acts can take upwards of eight minutes to complete and the timer doesn't stop for the Act 1 boss), confusing, packed to the brim with dangerous and difficult to hit enemies, is filled with spikes, and has some of the nastiest sections of platforming since Scrap Brain Zone from Sonic 1. And since this game doesn't checkpoint at the end of each Act, if you game over during the fairly difficult final boss or any part of Act 2, expect to go through the whole thing all over again.
    • Flying Battery has very similar issues. However, unlike Titanic Monarch, they don't reset the timer for the boss fight at the end of act 2. Said boss is filed under That One Boss in its section. Now imagine trying to beat that in under two minutes with all of the mentioned issues working against you.
  • The special stages become more difficult with each stage. Special mention goes to stage 4 and stage 5, with additions of more spikes and adding bombs that reduce rings even more, along with tricky paths to cause Sonic to fall off course. With each mach increase, Sonic becomes tricky to control and making one mistake could cause a player to fail the stage. Mercifully, the seventh and final stage dials back on the difficulty considerably, but getting there in the first place is not easy.
  • As far as Blue Sphere layouts go, one in particular deserves mention: a spiral-like maze that was initially Dummied Out of Sonic 3. Much of the level is spent going forward, and occasionally jumping over bumper spheres while grabbing blue ones and rings. However, there is zero room for error, as you can easily jump over one of the blue spheres by accident, and the spiral layout of the stage makes it near-impossible to correct your mistakes. Add in the standard Difficulty by Acceleration and the fact that the turns become closer as you near the end, and you've got a very frustrating Blue Sphere level.
  • While Encore Mode is generally no more difficult than the main game, the Encore Special Stages are much more punishing than the original Special Stages, with less rings and blue spheres the introduction of bumpers, some of which are required to get across certain gaps, and precise jumps and tight turns.

     Sonic Adventure 
  • Any of Big's levels. Being required to complete tedious fishing levels in order to get to the True Final Boss in what's otherwise a platformer game that's supposed to emphasize speed? Seriously? They're not hard once you get used to the system, but they feel completely out of place in the game, a very Unexpected Gameplay Change.
    • Have fun catching Froggy if you don't realize you have to set the lure, which tends to happen automatically with the actual fish.
  • If you're playing as Sonic, Sky Deck. Wouldn't be so bad, but the camera just wacks out, and the controls sometimes glitch up on automated sections. Easily the most glitchy level.
    • Sky Deck when playing as Knuckles, mainly for his second mission where you have to find the emerald pieces without touching the hint balls. This wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't for the fact that to open certain doors where emerald pieces might be, you have to use the central lever, which is extremely near a hint ball and the hitbox for the lever is extremely finicky, meaning that it is very likely for you to accidentally jump into the nearby hint ball and start the mission all over again.
  • Sonic's version of Lost World heads into this territory. Particularly bad are the room with the water and the giant wooden snake, where you have to ride said snake at several points while the game's odd physics cause Sonic to vibrate at best and cause him to glitch off of the snake and die at worst, and the wall tile puzzle, where Sonic tends to fall off of the tiles and there's an enemy positioned right next to both a ledge and a checkpoint, which can easily knock you back down to the start of the puzzle when you triumphantly leap for the checkpoint.

     Sonic Adventure 2 
  • While the emerald-hunting levels in Sonic Adventure 2 are mixed with many, Mad Space, an extremely large level with uncooperative hints and Selective Gravity, deserves a special mention. Trying to get an A-Rank on it is pain incarnate.
    • Hard mode is especially bad; the emeralds may be in the same locations each time, but the process of getting them is the worst. The first one is beneath a planet with no gravity below it, and the third is beneath the planet with the worst gravity problems, but the second one is the worst. You have to Screw Kick up to an out-of-reach emerald shard, with the space beneath it located between two spinning traps and a meteor that can't be busted for whatever reason. And on a keyboard, that is especially annoying.
  • Security Hall (another emerald hunting level) isn't too bad once you know it well, but it introduces Chaos Emeralds located behind locked safes. The only way to unlock them is to become acquainted with a fairly complicated switch system. The strict five-minute time limit (or two-minute, for the fourth mission) also makes a lot of players panic.
  • Mission Street is a decent level that most players probably won't have much issue with... unless you're playing the 100-Ring bonus mission. The stage just barely has enough Rings to qualify at 103, meaning you have to grab every single Ring you see and not get hit once. This is difficult because the stage has a lot of enemies, hazards, and booby-traps, as well as a Vulkan Fighter if you're too slow.
  • Aquatic Mine. To wit, the level is a ridiculously-spacious, vertical cavern filled with water. Switches exist to adjust the water level but they're spread out across varying heights of floors. Each floor has small enclosed rooms, several of them are branched away from the main area by long, winding narrow tunnels, which are structured to almost always be submerged underwater thanks to the water level settings, which are peppered with GUN robots. Navigating these routes, especially in the search for emeralds shards, runs the chance of drowning if you don't reach the surface of the water or find an air bubble soon enough aggravatingly high. The only solace is that this level features the Air Necklace upgrade...but even that is located past a spot where you're guaranteed to almost drown. Have fun.
  • Death Chamber is not too bad in the main game, although the third and fifth missions are tough thanks to that goddamn underwater door. Knuckles' portion of Cannon's Core, though...
  • Crazy Gadget. Oh dear heavens Crazy Gadget. It's bad enough that the first three-fourths are jammed with Gravity Screw, Bottomless Pits, and Artificial Chaos, but the real kicker is the final segment. It takes place in space, so the whole place acts like a Bottomless Pit, the camera is at uncomfortable angles, and there are no directions on where to go when you flip the gravity-switches, so you might as well be flipping a switch or attacking an enemy on another wall only to fall to your death. Did we mention the segment also has Artificial Chaos?
  • Final Rush takes place almost entirely over open space, so there's a lot of opportunity to plunge to your death. That said, if you master this stage it lives up to its name as all the grinding above the Earth's atmosphere is exhilarating. Shadow's equivalent level, Final Chase, replaces most of the metallic grind ribbons with cylinders you can run up (similar to the rotating cylinders from Carnival Night Zone in 3), which can induce Gravity Screw.
  • There's a reason why Eternal Engine has its own trope, and that's mainly due to the fact that this level is long, difficult, and extremely frustrating, especially when you're trying to get the A-Rank emblems. And then there's its hard mode, which is a whole different story altogether.
    • At least part of the frustration lies in Tails' mech having a health meter, in a series with a gameplay staple of collecting at least one ring to avoid being a One-Hit Point Wonder. And unlike Eggman's mech, you don't even get an armor upgrade for it. On the plus side, most of the time you can get away with just shooting at everything in sight.
  • Let's not forget the "Hard Mode" versions of Route 101 and Crazy Gadget.
    • The hard mode version of Route 101 is so difficult that you literally cannot beat it with anything less than an A-Rank. You will always beat it with 1 or 2 seconds to spare if you are really really good. If you are not really really good? "Oh no! I lost him!"
    • The hard mode version of Crazy Gadget (which, as mentioned above, is an already hard level to begin with) takes Camera Screw and Interface Screw to a whole new level. Not only do you get the picture inverted and the controls messed up, the hard mode version forces you to make some near-impossible homing attack jumps over bottomless pits and forces you to bounce up to rails you grind while everything is wonky. Did we forget to mention the dramatic increase in the Artificial Chaos population? In normal mode, you only encounter three of the exploding variety of Artificial Chaos. In hard mode, they are everywhere. Add it all together and you get one of the hardest missions in the game.
  • Meteor Herd is a large and sometimes confusing stage that wouldn't be quite so bad if it weren't for one factor: Meteorites striking all over the place, and sooner or later, one of them will be headed your way, and you probably won't see it until right before it hits you. Even the soundtrack tries to warn you about it. "Don't let it hit you, move!" indeed.
    • Interestingly enough, the hardest mission for this level is the second one where you have to gather 100 rings. It is all too common to make it to about 80-90 rings and then get slammed by a random meteor right before you're about to finish the level.

     Sonic Heroes 
  • Power Plant is normally easy unless you are playing as either Team Sonic or Team Dark. There is a section involving rising "energy" that you have to escape. Because this section involves extensive use of the Homing Attack, which is particularly wonky in this game, plenty of players have a lot of trouble with that. Team Dark has it a bit easier as they can use their Team Blast to stop the rising energy for a time, but Team Sonic has no such luck.
  • Most of Lost Jungle is a bit tough, but otherwise manageable; up until the last segment that both Teams Sonic and Dark have to face. The player has to swing across several vines to get to the goal over bottomless pits, while avoiding a huge alligator that suddenly emerges and chases the team throughout the segment. Which sounds bad enough in itself, but the player has to wait for the vines when swinging to reach the peak of the swing before they can jump safely to the next vine; while also having to deal with the camera being positioned in front of the characters during this segment rather than behind the back (think the famous giant GUN Truck chase scene from City Escape from Adventure 2). This results in the vines making the player's timing extremely critical during jumps, while the player having to make out the vine reaching the peak of the swing amidst the incoming giant crocodile rampage in the background.
  • The trolley ride in Bullet Station. This entails controlling a trolley car through a Death Course with lasers and spiked balls everywhere. If you get hit once, your speed is drastically decreased and you lose the ability to control it. Twice and you lose the ability to steer, leaving the trolley to travel on a fixed path. Get hit a third time, and you die.
  • Team Chaotix's second mission on Bingo Highway. Thought collecting ten casino chips was difficult when you are a pinball on a board riddled with instant death holes? Good, now collect all twenty of them!
    • Team Chaotix in general is prone to this because of their unconventional objectives (which involve collecting certain things as opposed to simply racing to the end of a stage). If you miss one, you keep looping through the level whenever you reach the endpoint and it can get very frustrating if you don't know where to look.
  • Even worse is Team Dark's second mission on Rail Canyon to destroy 100 enemies in less than twelve minutes. This sounds easy until you realize that the level lives up to its name quite well, and about eight or more minutes will be spent grinding down rails with very few enemies to defeat, which means you have to hurry if you want to find 100 enemies in time, to the point where you will probably have to make it to the goal ring, which will send you back to the beginning of the level so that the enemies will respawn. It's like running a level twice in 12 minutes and destroying all of the enemies in your path at the same time.
  • Mystic Mansion. Take a level even longer than this game's standards, add hundreds of Bottomless Pits out of nowhere, the terribly programmed karts, Mooks up the ass, and the freaking camera trying to stop you too, and you have a level that many young players never made it past. While the Goal Ring at the end is a godsend in this hellish place, it is negated due to the fact that this level comes just before Robot Storm (luckily, Egg Fleet awaits just after this horrific place).
    • The Team Chaotix version has you putting out torches throughout the mansion. The main problem in the level is the spider web, and with the Trial-and-Error Gameplay is in full effect; you have no idea if the path you grind down leads to torches or a Bottomless Pit. And if you're doing the second mission, the torches you need to put out are in the middle of the web and you need to jump off with good timing to avoid getting burned or falling out. Also, if you miss a single torch in either mission, you go all the way back to the beginning of the level. It certainly doesn't help that most levels in Heroes are much longer than Sonic standards.

     Shadow The Hedgehog 
  • The missions where you have to destroy a vehicle before it gets away is outrageous, particularly the Dark mission of Air Fleet and the Hero mission of Iron Jungle. Every single shot counts, some vehicles can retaliate, and God forbid you die; you reset to the last checkpoint touched, but the target vehicle doesn't, meaning that by the time you respawn, the vehicle will be so far ahead and so close to escape you may as well restart.
    • These missions can be made easier, however, if you wait till you beat all the endings and get the Shadow Rifle. Once you get to a spot where you can fill up your Hero or Dark Gauges (which is easy on Air Fleet) and gain unlimited ammo, you can use the rifle to take down the vehicles in no time and get an easy A. You don't even have to fill up your Hero Gauge on Lethal Highway; the vehicle there can be destroyed with only around fifteen shots from the Shadow Rifle.
  • Central City is the only level in the game to not have a goal ring; instead, both missions involve you detonating/disposing of bombs. Thing is, the level design is confusing, with the Dark and Hero paths overlapping and criss-crossing, and it is easy to find yourself going around in circles and unable to find where the next bombs are. That wouldn't be so bad except both missions are timed. Eight minutes doesn't seem so generous when you don't know what the right way through the level is!
  • Mad Matrix, especially the Dark mission. It is painfully easy to get lost in the mazelike circuit that connects the towers; on the Dark mission, you have to spend pretty much the entire level in that circuit, as it involves detonating bombs that are in the circuit. And there are no less than 30 bombs to set off, and you pretty much need to go through every last inch of the circuit as the bombs are distributed pretty evenly.
    • The only good thing about Mad Matrix is if you do the Dark Mission, you're guaranteed an A as long as you don't kill too many Aliens, no matter how much time you take. Be ready to spend up to an hour doing it, though.
    • The Dark mission is made a bit easier once you know exactly how the bombs are distributed — 5 on the blue circuits and 8 each on the red, green, and yellow circuits, with the last one lying on an intersection between the green and yellow circuits.
  • The two ARK stages, The Doom and Lost Impact, are incredibly frustrating. They have two things in common; they are Marathon Levels, and it's easy to get lost and go in circles due to the ARK's layout.
    • The Doom has you either killing soldiers or saving researchers. Regardless of which mission you pick, the soldiers are very aggressive and will rush at you at the drop of a hat. In the Dark mission, you have to take down every last one, and in the Hero mission, you'll lose points if you kill them. On the mission with the researchers, there's a glitch that can make it Unwinnable by Mistake note  if you haven't unlocked the Heal Cannon. While the maze-like nature of the ARK is mitigated slightly by a map, it's hard to read and you'll just end up wasting time looking at it. Interestingly, The Doom is virtually unchanged for Expert Mode; perhaps the developers realized how difficult this stage was and that making it harder would have been overkill.
    • Lost Impact is somehow even longer than The Doom, and has no maps at all. The Hero mission has you exterminating all of the Artificial Chaos, and you have to scour the whole stage to get every last one; there's nothing worse than spending 20+ minutes on the stage only to realize at the end that you missed one. Additionally, there's a lot of them on the paths of the GUN Rails, which can't slow down or stop while Shadow is manning the gun, and some might hide in shadows. The one upshot to all this is that the soldiers here actually don't attack Shadow and sometimes assist in taking down the Chaos. This level has been perfectly described by Lewis from BrainScratch Commentaries: "Imagine three dimensional except badly designed Super Metroid where you can't miss a single Missile Tank and you have this level, only the Missile Tank shoots back." Oh, and if you take the Normal mission to avoid all of this, your next stage is Cosmic Fall. Have fun.
  • Space Gadget. This level has gravity-changing fields that you fly into which affect the controls in...weird ways. Sometimes it seems like the game can't differentiate between two different gravity directions, and so you'll end up doing things like light-dashing backwards even if you're facing forwards. If you're doing the Hero mission, you're put on the clock and you have just five minutes to clear it.
    • The Dark mission, on the other hand...hoo boy. You had better be used to those gravity fields because there are a lot more on this path and you need to go around destroying the ARK defense units. The first few are easy enough to destroy, but the later ones are behind barriers which require you to either waste all your ammo destroying them or get around them via platforming and/or Gravity Screw for a better but still not optimal angle. In addition, there's some particularly awkward platforming that involves having to jump to sideways doors with no solid ground underneath them.
  • Black Comet. It is pretty long, the GUN mechs and Black Arms alike are very aggressive, and a lot of time is spent on the Air Saucer over some substance that cannot be touched. The Saucer has rather slippery controls and you can only shoot forward on it. And God help you should you lose the saucer, in which case death is pretty much the only option. And on the Dark mission you have to kill every last GUN mech.
  • Cosmic Fall. The level is timed and there are a lot of falling platforms as well as tricky sections that require you to Homing Attack off chains of enemies to small platforms; to add insult to injury, this will tank your score if you're going for the Dark mission. There is also a handful of Artificial Chaos throughout the level, more so on the Hero mission. Speaking of which, the Hero mission (which is basically the same as the Dark one but longer) also has a long section that requires use of a walker bot, which hampers your movement speed. Through all of this, you have Vector and his Muppet-esque voice constantly telling you to hurry up.

     Sonic The Hedgehog (2006) 
  • "Radical Train" is the perfect representation of all the terrors of Sonic 06 (except, mercifully enough, Sonic 06's horrid level length problems) in a single level. The camera screws with you constantly in the platforming segments where you need to bound jump up to higher platforms. Your controls will rebel against you at the worst times when trying to jump to springs. The level is poorly designed to where, if you enter the loop-de-loop after the first train bomb too far to the right, you will overshoot past the loop and be launched to your demise. The level is unforgiving and unfair as well, because you cannot reasonably be expected to find the last two switches in time on your first go. If you can't be expected to succeed, even with high levels of skill, at your first try at a level, the level is poorly made.

    But that's all ignoring the elephant in the room. The Mach Speed section is true and utter hell. The worst in the game, in fact, because it makes ample use of the two worst mechanics regarding mach speed; turning and jumping. At least Crisis City, hell that it is, is straight; in Radical Train, you will fling yourself off the side all the goddamn time because you pressed just a little too far to the left or right, you will be sent careening into train platforms because you ever-so-slightly misjudged your jump, you will miss boosters you need to hit because you're moving too fast to account for them, and you will be cursing everything you know and love because the entire section is unforgiving. Make one mistake, and you are very likely dead. And even after the platform hell that is the first half of the Mach Speed section, you'll still want to be cautious as hell; the train's explosions are almost impossible to dodge, so you better get every fucking ring you can in between each blast, and you better hit the boosters at the end, which you have barely any time to see, by the way, or hope you glitch out and run around the train, otherwise you'll need to start the Mach Speed section all over again. This playthrough by pokecapn gives you a good summary of virtually everything wrong with the level, and by extension the game as a whole.
    • Shadow's version of this level doesn't fare much better. The premise is now reversed. In the first half you have to hit switches to slow down the train, and then have to damage it, before it moves on. This has the same problems as Sonic's section, but the switches thankfully haven't moved. In the second half you have to chase the train with a motorbike and destroy it. This would be simple, but the motorbike has terrible controls, and you need to hit narrow boost pads with timing to get between moving obstacles. The motorbike also occasionally takes damage from an unknown source (possibly collision damage from the ground you are driving on), and if it is destroyed (which is very likely) you may as well give up. Even without these problems, the train is difficult to keep up with, and you have a very limited amount of time to destroy it before it escapes and you have to try again. The whole thing is basically one big Luck-Based Mission.
  • Aquatic Base. While not as difficult as Radical Train for the most part... until you get to the metallic sphere hanging over a Bottomless Pit; you jump on the sphere and (attempt to) ride it to the other side of the room. It takes longer than it should to get it to start or stop moving, and if the sphere takes even one hit, it pops and you fall to your death.note  The ending portion of the stage also bathes everything in a red glow, making it impossible to see some of the enemies.
  • Dusty Desert when playing as Silver has some puzzles that involve knocking balls into holes in order to open a door. The problem with that, especially on the second note , is that you can only move it with your normal attack (which has next to no range), you only get so many attacks, and sometimes the amount of attacks you have left will decrease FOR NO REASON AT ALL. And the second puzzle involves sending the ball down a very long corridor and it is very much a race against time; you have to get the ball in the correct hole before it blows up and before you blow up in rage!
  • Sonic's Crisis City is a nightmare, especially in the Mach Speed segment, in which the game can randomly glitch out, pushing you to the right for no reason, and where it's all but impossible to avoid taking hits because there is so much debris on screen.
    • Shadow's version of Crisis City has an infamous section where you're supposed to homing attack multiple enemies in a chain, only you'll fail and fall into a bottomless pit until you know to hover slightly higher and skip that enemy to hit the next one. The Chaos Snap can skip this, but is prone to just glitching you into the pit at the other side, for some reason. Luckily, other than that it's mostly a Marathon Level and not a particularly difficult one, but that one section is a tricky bitch.
  • Shadow's version of Kingdom Valley deserves a mention for being a hell of a wake-up call for a second stage in his storyline. First, you play as Rouge, where you find three keys to open up the next pathway, only you're without a radar and without hints. And then, there's Shadow's hovercraft section where you have to avoid the collapsing pillars that are instakill on impact; the kicker? The camera doesn't change to let you know where each pillar will fall, leaving you to get blindsided.
    • Silver's Kingdom Valley isn't any better. It goes on for an eternity, and generally has loads of enemy fighting segments, only half of them are the yellow robots that shoot away dropped rings, making you easy pickings for other enemies. The very end pits you against several of these and the blue robots who aren't much better as well. The only reprieve you get is that you get to play as Sonic for a short time.

     Sonic Unleashed 
  • Eggmanland, ESPECIALLY the 360/PS3 version, where you're forced through 45+ minutes of non-stop Nintendo Hard suffering. The stage seems like a normal (if incredibly difficult and requiring pitch-perfect timing) daytime Sonic level at first, but then you hit the first hourglass and switch to Werehog form — and that's when it hits you that you're going to be switching between Sonic's two forms a lot during this level, and given that Werehog levels on average take about 15 minutes, you can tell this is going to take ages before you finally hit the goal ring. Indeed, given the number of times you switch between Sonic's forms in the final level, it's really something like five or six levels in one. Even subsequent runs, after you've learned the stage, can take upwards of 20 or 30 minutes. To add insult to injury, the very last challenge (after some insane platforming, difficult combat sections, and instant death QTEs which are hard) in the gauntlet from hell is a Werehog brawl against two Dark Titans. Eggman really didn't want you getting through this one.
  • The Wii/PS2 version can also be a pain in the arse — instead of one Marathon Level, it's split into one Sonic stage (and subsequent missions) and five Werehog stages. The latter can actually be somewhat enjoyable, but the day stage is flat-out ridiculous at times.
  • It's just one bottomless pit after another in Adabat's Werehog levels. The last act in the SD version (Heavenly Ruins) can be brutal, particularly the battle at the endnote . It's quite easy to fall off, and lord help you if you want to climb up and collect the secret item while all of the Dark Frights are dogging you.
  • Then there's the daytime level of Holoska in the X360/PS3 version, specifically the parts where you have to run on water, but you have to make sure to hit almost every single dash panel to not end up drowning.
  • Jungle Joyride Act 1 in the HD version. It is one of the longest stages in the game, and serves as the last stage before Eggmanland. It is filled to the brim with Bottomless Pits, precarious platforms, crushing ceilings, collapsing pillars, quick-time events, and running-on-water segments that give the ones in Cool Edge and Dragon Road a run for their money. The level is also frequently marred by severe framerate drops, especially during the chase sequences.
  • The Tornado Defense acts, due to the unintuitive controls, enemies swarming on all sides, and the time limits for the Egg Cauldron battles. These stages are easier if you resort to Pause Scumming since the QTE prompts aren't hidden when you pause. If you pause the moment the prompt shows up, that gives you more time to see it and nail hitting the correct buttons when you unpause. The Egg Cauldron fights can still be tricky due to the amount of stuff being thrown at you, but it makes them more manageable.

    Sonic Colors 
  • The DS version brings us Asteroid Coaster. It is the last of the 6 main levels, and by far the cheapest. There is green goo everywhere which acts like a bottomless pit even if you're nowhere near a bottomless pit. The Violet Wisp is good to use (it hovers and sucks stuff in), but if you run out of it you'll just fall in the goo. Often you also get chased by giant dinosaur heads, which instantly kill you if they touch you. Worst part is, sometimes these sections have the "press R to slide under the barrier" prompts, which you would never get the first time; same with a point where you have to jump up or die. And then there's the falling rocks which hurt you and impede your progress, unless you're boosting. And sometimes you'll have to use the slide then repeatedly as well, which runs the risk of you getting hurt. Also there's a few actual bottomless pits which appear at the worst times.
  • The Wii version of the level can be a pain in the arse too, thanks to the gravity changing mechanics.
  • Act 3 of Planet Wisp in the Wii version can be annoying towards the end as it is incredibly easy to either miss the small platforms, or have the Cube power run out while you're standing on the solid blue boxes, leading to you plummeting into the toxic waste to your death. It is actually a really short level, but having to do this part over and over again (as well as several of the Red Rings being all over that particular area) can ruin your score, because the timer doesn't reset to what it was at the checkpoint when you die.
  • Terminal Velocity Act 1 in the Wii version. The level involves dodging all of those robots that have chased you throughout past levels. The primary problem is there are no checkpoints, and the hardest part near the end has you dodging the fists or lasers of one robot while a bunch of other robots obstruct your path.

     Sonic Generations 
  • A few irritating missions, but for the main levels, Crisis City Act 2 (the Modern Sonic act) is particularly tricky the first time due to bottomless pits and a lot of lava, as well as enemies being sometimes difficult to hit. It culminates in a section where there's geysers all over the roads and a tornado throwing cars and rocks at Sonic. Act 1 (the Classic act) can also be rough due to the tornado that eats you up if you're within it at the wrong time, and having to jump on irregular platforms including cars and parts of buildings while a strong gust blows you back.
  • Planet Wisp is also challenging, but that's more a case of being a Marathon Level than actually being ridiculously hard. Act 1 does have its issues, though, mostly because it's 90% reliant upon the Spike Wisp from Sonic Colors, only it handles a lot worse than it originally did in that game.
  • The 3DS version has Radical Highway. Regardless if you're playing as Classic or Modern Sonic, the level is really hard, as it has lots of bottomless pits that leads to cheap deaths and is really confusing to navigate.

     Sonic Lost World 
  • The game in general can be quite Nintendo Hard in the latter half, with Frozen Factory Zone 2 being a testament to the game's Difficulty Spike starting to rear its ugly head. Are you good at Star Ball Rolling in Super Mario Galaxy? Hope so, because the whole level is like that, even in the boss fight! You are turned into a giant snowball with enormous inertia and the turning speed of a brick. You don't get rings until you touch a checkpoint while having rings stuck on the ball (fortunately, it doesn't matter if the checkpoint has been used or not), so you can get one shotted easily. The whole level also takes place above a bottomless pit on smallish platforms. And there are bomb enemies that, if they explode while in you, send you hurtling into one direction. And there are yeti who bounce you away from them (some are stationary and don't try to hinder you themselves, but big ones will run toward you). And there are chickens who blow gale-force winds. So you are going to fall. A lot. And may God help you if you go after Red Rings - the last one requires you to hit all the snooker balls you come across. You only get one shot and once you go past it, you're immediately flung into a checkpoint, so if you ballsed it up, you have zilch option but to restart the level all over again.
  • Frozen Factory Zone 4. The 2D sections aren't too bad and the boss fight is pitifully easy, but the 3D sections are frustrating beyond belief. They consist of long, narrow ice roads chock full of spikes, Penguinators, and giant stone balls which inexplicably home in on you. Think Mario 64's slide levels, but with ice physics and precise enemy dodging. However, one little detail really pushes this into Fake Difficulty territory: if Sonic is moving fast on the ice (which happens a lot, this being a Sonic game and all), his jump turns into a fancy ice skater spin. This spin jump covers a ridiculously long distance and takes away the player's control of Sonic's movement in the air, so nine times out of ten it will cause Sonic to go flying off the stage and die. And don't even think about deliberately slowing down to avoid this, or the level will take forever and the aforementioned homing stone balls become nearly impossible to dodge.
  • Lava Mountain Zone 2 really takes the cake. If you're familiar with minecart levels from the Donkey Kong Country series, then you're all set — that's exactly what this level is, with Sonic spending the entire level grinding on rails. You have to be REALLY precise with the jumps you make; if not, you'll spend a lot of time plummeting into the abyss, or ramming into a cart of explosives that can instantly kill you. If that wasn't enough, you also have moving doors that'll kill you if you aren't fast enough to reach them before they close. And good luck trying to nab the Red Rings, the placement of them within the level can make going for one feel like a suicide run. That power-up that lets you skip to the next checkpoint seems mighty tempting now, doesn't it?
  • So you've managed to get past Lava Mountain 2. You're feeling pretty good and psyched to finish up the last couple of levels. Then Lava Mountain 3 comes along and shows you that the suffering isn't over yet. The 3D sections of the level shouldn't be too much of a problem, but the 2D sections can really test your patience. They're vertical shafts that each lead up to a member of the Deadly Six. All of the sections have instant-kill lava rising up beneath, so your platforming skills better be good if you don't your lives to go down the drain. If that wasn't enough, each of the Deadly Six can potentially be That One Boss. Zeena requires precise timing of the Homing Attack if you don't want to hit the spikes on the ceiling, Zor can knock you into the lava, and Zavok's second form is by far the hardest boss in the game. Zavok is the last obstacle in the level, and if you end up losing all your lives to him, you have to start the entire level all over again. Have fun.
  • Most of the levels past Desert Ruins in the 3DS version of the game are widely considered to be awful, but Frozen Factory Act 3 is usually singled out as outright incomprehensible. Most of the stage sees you rolling around/building up giant snowballs to fill holes or hold down switches that act as progress gates; all the while dealing with ice physics, giant moving gears, and Penguinators along the way. At face value, it's a poor recipe of a tediously long trial of puzzle platforming. Much like Frozen Factory Zone 4 in the Wii U version, however, one extra detail completely tanks the level into a horrifying exercise in frustration: midway during the level, the level introduces the snowman head to give the player more problems. An implacable enemy that is free to grow in size, freeze you in ice, and destroy the snowballs you're rolling around to solve puzzles for, but can't be destroyed or evaded; it elevates an already miserable level into a masterclass of nightmarish platforming experiences.
    • The 3DS version also has Special Stages (designed similar to those from Sonic Heroes), which are controlled exclusively through the 3DS's gyroscope controls; essentially requiring the players to having to spin around in place with their 3DS in order to move Sonic around. Not helping matters is that the Special Stages are fully 3D stages, which requires very precise movement in order for players to properly navigate them. It didn't take long for them to be widely panned as one of the worst special stages in the series.

     Sonic Forces 
  • Out of all the game's levels, a lot of people have it out for Stage 28: Iron Fortress. For starters, the level has these red boxes (which can be destroyed, thankfully) that fire out homing missiles on Classic Sonic strewn across the level. A few minutes in, you'll see some rotating platforms with weird gravity mechanics, upon which jumping off of them must be timed carefully to avoid electric shocks. These platforms return in the autoscrolling section (which also gets faster as it progresses) and will cause a lot of your deaths if your timing is off. Once that section has ended, you'll be back to platforming. At least one area requires you to make a precise jump over an electric pit and avoid the red missile boxes now placed in tight spaces. Just keep in mind that Classic Sonic's lackluster controls don't help you and will probably be the other factor in any deaths you suffer during the level.
  • Stage 14: Aqua Road also garnered a lot of ire for its water-sliding sections. The Custom Hero is absolutely difficult to control in them due to the fast-moving currents in the slides, which can cause them to easily slip off and fall out of them. The Motobug badniks that later show up in these slides only make things worse due to how they can bump the Custom Hero around.

    Spinoff/Handheld Games 
The portable and spinoff Sonic games have annoying levels of their own. Case in point:
  • Labyrinth Zone in the Master System/Game Gear version of Sonic 1. As if the original wasn't evil enough, Sonic actually feels slower than in the original.
  • The Sky High zone in Sonic 2, mainly due to an extremely counterintutive control scheme for the hang gliders. To wit: once you run off a ledge while wielding a hang glider if you press the right d-pad button ''at all' you immediately let go off the glider and fall. What you must do is instead gently press the left d-pad repeatedly in order to ascend. Also the chaos emerald can only be obtained by bouncing off a cloud which acts like a spring but looks exactly like the other clouds, meaning the only way you would find it without looking it up is by accident.
  • Scrambled Egg Zone from Sonic 2 (Game Gear and Master System). Unless you know the layout of all the vacuum tubes, it is essentially Trial-and-Error Gameplay at its worst.
    • Coming before that is Green Hills Zone Act 3 which, in comparison to the rest of the zone; is a poster example of Platform Hell with hills, springs, and spikes, with the final approach to the boss being completely unforgiving in its timing. And no checkpoints means you have to do this again if the boss kills you.
  • Sonic Chaos is generally a very easy game, but it has Electric Egg Zone. Electrified floors, high-speed vacuum pipes that lead to suddenly-dropping platforms, and a mesmerising background that may distract you until it's too late.
  • Robotnik Winter Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble. Apart from some slippery flooring and nasty speed-traps, the updrafts you need to use to climb up vertical shafts are notoriously unreliable, which often results in plummeting into an icy chasm.
    • Tidal Plant Zone is even worse, as it takes place almost entirely underwater, it has a tricky section where you have to navigate a giant bubble up past spikes and enemies, and it is extremely easy to get hit and have to start the section all over. This is notably easier with Tails because he has the Sea Fox, but not by much.
  • Showdown, the final level in Sonic Spinball, is utterly horrendous; all the required Emeralds are heavily guarded, there is virtually no safe ground below you, the climb up to the end boss is a nightmare, and the end boss itself is actively trying to (and can easily) knock you back down to the bottom of the stage. Compared to it, the rest of the game is a cakewalk.
  • Blue Marine Zone in Sonic Blast takes not just the cake for frustrating water stages in the series, but the whole bakery. The Zone is almost entirely underwater with precious little dry land (and literally all of it is submerged with no land in Act Two), the air bubbles are spaced far apart, and the twisting pipes can be very confusing to navigate. The aforementioned Act Two is especially bad in this regard; being a labyrinthine nightmare of water and pipes that more often than not lead to traps, with a very well-hidden exit.
  • Sonic Advance Trilogy
    • Egg Rocket Zone from the first game. A long vertical level with enemies everywhere, blindsiding spikes and bottomless pits asunder, gravity shifts up the wazoo by the third section of it, and a god forsaken tricky portion right before the end of it where you have to bounce off a wall at just the right moment to reach a platform, which can be utter hell for any characters except Tails. And top it all off, there are only three checkpoints in the stage... and if you don't reach one in under 5 minutes, YOU DIE.
    • Cosmic Angel Zone, technically the second act of Egg Rocket, is not any better. It's definitely more straightforward, just having to head right, but to, uh, compensate, this stage has more annoying enemy placements, more spikes, more bottomless pits, more gravity shenanigans, and at the end, you fight the Egg Snake, which is a deceivingly challenging boss.
    • The second game has Sky Canyon, in which the game starts to really become a minefield of bottomless pits, especially when playing as Sonic, and if you don't know about R-Button Tricks, you won't be able to beat it. And when you reach the boss, you have to hope it doesn't pull its One-Hit KO.
  • Sonic Rush Series:
    • Altitude Limit. Lots of instant death lasers that act as bottomless pits, long acts, sections where you float upwards on rocket platforms avoiding spikes and enemies, and a section in each act where you have to jump up areas of falling platforms.
    • Sonic Rush Adventure has a pretty decent difficulty curve, but anyone striving for 100% Completion will shake their fist remembering the snowboarding mission. That level was awesome on its own, but with limited controls and a complete inability to stop moving it really feels like Fake Difficulty... that and the only way to figure out each checkpoint is by trial and error.
    • Sky Babylon Act 2. There is fire everywhere (you need to be careful as Sonic, though Blaze can just run right through it) and all of the hardest obstacles are immediately before the end of the stage, and dying more or less resets your score. This gets even more difficult when you realize that this stage has an obstacle that kills you instantly, in the form of a zig-zaggy purple line, whether or not you're holding rings, collecting rings, using a shield, or invulnerable. In most places, this would be less important, as it appears over bottomless pits, but at this point they surround incredibly touch sensitive rising platforms, enemies that both move and shoot, and the usual falling platforms. Even getting a good score on this stage is harder, as score and time requirements are harder than the last stage.
  • Sonic and the Secret Rings:
    • Dinosaur Jungle. It feels so out of place, and the egg mission doesn't help.
    • First, take a level which is literally a giant, bottomless pit, then add some visually interesting platforms, lots of grind rails, strong winds, and for good measure, toss some spiked Air Launchers among regular ones, so that the player has to learn where the lethal ones are, lest they want to see Sonic fall to his doom. Finally, add a couple of tricky platforming sections, combine it with a fiddly control scheme, and ta-da!: You have the Levitating Ruin levels from Sonic and the Secret Rings.
  • Sonic and the Black Knight:
    • The first Dragon's Lair stage. Fall away floors to bottomless pits that are impossible to see coming. Endless swarms of enemies whose sole purpose in life is to block all of your attacks and then knock you into said bottomless pits. Giant armored titans surrounded by those endless swarms of enemies whose sole purpose in life is to knock you into the bottomless pits. The level also has time limit, too.

    Rom Hacks 
  • Sonic 2 XL is a Sonic the Hedgehog 2 rom hack that makes the game significantly harder as a whole, but two levels in particular stand out:
    • Casino Night has lots of unavoidable rings throughout it (mainly in Act 2), and you won't always be able to find a ? Monitor in time if you go through, so it's very easy to get Sonic fat enough to die by going into one of the pinball launchers.
    • The fat gimmick already makes the game harder, but Hill Top Zone will make you tear your hair out trying to beat it. The biggest challenge is that there is a lot of tight jumping involved in the level, and even the first level of Fat Sonic can make it extremely hard or even impossible to clear certain ledges. This can also get you trapped in the lava pits inside the mountains. This level forces you to take your time, and it will punish you if you try and rush through it.


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