From the Green Hill Zone up through the Labyrinth Zone, there’s been a steady increase in difficulty. You might even say Labyrinth Zone cheated a little by not only taking away Sonic’s speed, but even inhibiting his normal movement. Thankfully, the Starlight Zone gives us a little bit of a breather by easing way up on the challenge level. It also continues the trend of the zones alternating between “fast and open” and “slow and linear” by taking things back to the speedy, exploration-based style seen way back in Green Hill.
And boy, does it ever. Starlight Zone bring back the hills and loops we haven’t really seen since Green Hill, and it’s probably the most speed-oriented zone in the whole game. It’s also very large and open, allowing for multiple pathways through the zone. The upper path, as usual, takes a little more work, but clever players can find some stashes of ring monitors.
The theme of the zone seems to be some kind of construction site after hours. There are a lot of girders and unstable platforms, as well red street cones. The lower part of the background seems to be an unfinished building. As the name of the zone suggests, the night sky is filled with stars, continuing on from the Spring Yard Zone’s dusk sky (Labyrinth Zone was completely enclosed).
Enemies consist of the generically named Bombs, whose fuses light when you get too close, resulting in a small explosion and some flying debris . I assume their practical use would be demolition. There are also some Uni Unis that are left over from Labyrinth Zone.
Obstacles include seesaws with spiked balls that Sonic must use to launch himself to higher platforms. Wind from fans either prevent Sonic from moving forward or give him a boost of speed, depending on the direction. There’s also one unique obstacle: a large half-sphere with spikes that swings back and forth. Sonic can stand on the upper part like a platform, but it doesn’t help you reach anything except for a few rings. It’s interesting, because this object doesn’t appear anywhere else in the game (that I know of ), so it seems a little random.
The battle with Robotnik isn’t quite as bad as chasing him up a shaft full of spikes and fire-spitters while being chased by rising water, but it’s still a little tricky. There are three seesaws on the ground, and Robotnik flies back and forth across the top of the screen dropping spiked balls on them. This actually gives Sonic two methods of attack: either leveraging the seesaws to launch himself up, as he has done previously in the zone, or just use the spiked balls, themselves. The tricky part is that there really is no safe spot. Where Robotnik drops the spiked balls is random, although he never drops more than one on a seesaw. But if you wait too long, the spiked balls explode in a similar fashion to the Bombs, so the debris can reach you just about anywhere. The key here is to be quick.
All in all, the Starlight Zone is like a reward for trudging through the Labyrinth Zone. Speeding through loops at high speed is likely why we’re playing Sonic the Hedgehog in the first place. The only problem is that because it emphasizes speed, it goes by just a bit too quickly. Still, it kind of brings the pace of the game full circle before throwing you into the final challenge.
Screenshots taken from a longplay video by RickyC.