Deeper Waters – Sonic the Hedgehog, Part 4

Sonic iconAs you can imagine from the name, the Spring Yard Zone is filled with springs, but it also contains another new gimmick: pinball bumpers. As with the Special Stages, it seems that Sonic Team was having fun with the idea of Sonic being able to roll around as a ball. But the whole idea of Sonic in a pinball machine is such a clever and natural fit, that it would be a recurring theme throughout the entire franchise, including two dedicated Sonic pinball games. (Was there ever an actual Sonic pinball machine? I’m not aware of one.)

Still, the pinball theme of the Spring Yard Zone is a little more rudimentary here than in later titles. There are no actual flippers, and no slot machines or other such gimmicks are present. However, the level design is certainly reminiscent of a pinball table, with springs launching Sonic up shafts into fields full of bumpers and more springs. There are also many tall vertical wells that Sonic will bounce up and down in, and all of the springs and bumpers offer plenty of opportunity for him to build up speed.

Sonic the Hedgehog screenshot

But as is the case with Sonic’s first game, there are also quite a lot of slower sections that force him to come to a complete halt. Most notorious are the staggered moving blocks that Sonic must slowly and carefully move between, lest he get crushed or hit by the attacks of some annoyingly placed Buzz Bombers. But even these slower parts demonstrate that the Spring Yard is the most vertically-oriented of all the zones in the game.

Sonic the Hedgehog screenshot

There are more secret areas here for clever players to find, but something I neglected to mention in the previous part is that starting with the Marble Zone, they’re implemented differently than they are in Green Hill. Sonic is no longer required to spin and crash through walls to find the secret areas, he simply has to walk through them. Perhaps this was a more practical game design decision, as until the Spin Dash was introduced in the sequel, it was challenging to build up enough momentum to crash through walls in this first game.

An interesting detail to make note of in Spring Yard is the background. It depicts foliage close to the foreground with a silhouetted cityscape behind it, and mountains in the distance with a purple sky. The time of day seems to be dusk, suggesting that time has passed from the first two zones.

Sonic the Hedgehog screenshot

The confrontation with Dr. Robotnik gets even more dicey here than in the previous fights. Robotnik flies back and fourth in his Egg Mobile, and occasionally drops down to destroy the strange looking blocks that make up the ground, leaving nothing but a death pit below. It’s a simple pattern, but it imposes an inherent time limit on the battle. Once all of the blocks are gone, Sonic will have nothing left to stand on and he’ll plummet to his demise. For the most part, Robotnik hovers just out of Sonic reach, so the main opportunity to attack comes when he drops to destroy a block. Still, aggressive players should be able to make short work of the Doctor in only a couple of cycles.

The Spring Yard Zone is a fun gimmick that shows off the style of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s fast and goofy, and it returns to the wide open level design that highlighted Green Hill. The increase in enemies and traps, as well as the presence of bottomless pits, make this the most challenging zone yet, but things are about to get much more perilous.

Screenshots captured from a longplay video by RickyC.

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