Here we are, heading towards the final showdown with Dr. Robotnik. We’ve come a long way from the more organic grassy settings of the Green Hill and Marble Zones to the construction and development of the Starlight Zone, and here, the oddly named Scrap Brain Zone is an ugly, mechanical, polluted industrial area. It’s a little hard to tell through the dirty brown haze in the air, but the dim light seems to suggest early morning. From the bright blue skies of Green Hill, to the dusk of Spring Yard, and the night of Starlight, it’s taken almost a full day to reach Robotnik’s domain.
The trends leading up to the Scrap Brain Zone might lead us to believe that it will be linear and methodical, rather than open and speedy, but it’s actually a little bit of both. There are upper, middle, and lower paths through Act 1, so it feels open, but there are far too many traps for Sonic to rush through the stage too quickly. Many of the dangers come from either bottomless pits or things that can crush Sonic, both of which cause instant death. Sonic has faced Robotnik, and ultimately drove him out, at the end of every zone. Clearly he’s pulling out all the stops here, and making it his last line of defense.
Entering Act 2, we discover something interesting: the background is different! In all of the previous zones, the theme was consistent across all three Acts. While the foreground is still the same, the background suggest that we are now inside some giant factory. Perhaps this is where Robotnik is converting the animals into Badniks, but we never actually come across such a machine in this game.
The layout is similar to Act 1, in that there are multiple paths, but all of them are filled with traps. There are a few different gimmicks here, most notably the conveyor belts which play havoc with Sonic’s momentum. Of course, this makes them the perfect place to put some especially dangerous traps.
Once Sonic makes it to the end of Act 2, we’re presented with an unexpected meeting. Sonic finds Robotnik behind a force field, but the Doctor quickly jumps on a switch and laughs deviously as the ground falls out from beneath our heroic hedgehog. But rather than death, it merely leads to Act 3.
It seems Robotnik has dropped Sonic into some chemical disposal sewer, although it’s actually just a recolor of the graphics from Labyrinth Zone. Still, it’s yet another change in theme, and yes, we have to deal with yet another submerged stage. (And we thought the worst was behind us.)
In another odd twist, Sonic actually has to start off by going to the left, completely reversing what we’ve gotten used to up to this point, and making it feel just a little disconcerting. But that’s just psychological warfare. Similarly to Labyrinth Zone, it seems confusing at first, but all paths lead to the same goal. Clever players may even find a short cut. Traversing through the disgusting pink liquid brings us to a series of springs that vault Sonic back up to the factory for the boss fight.
A title card announces that this is the Final Zone, making the last confrontation a zone unto itself. Coupled with a dramatic change in music, it really builds up a sense of climactic tension. There’s no doubt about it, this one is for all the chips.
The boss fight revolves around four large pistons, two of which clamp down (or up) at once. Robotnik is always hiding inside one of them (for some reason), and as always, Sonic must quickly hit him with his Spin Attack. The tricky part comes from trying not to get squashed by the pistons. Between piston attacks, four large sparks appear at the top of the screen and slowly descend towards Sonic, forcing him to weave between them.
The alternating cycles draw out the battle, and since there are no rings, a single mistake will cost Sonic a life. Thankfully, it still only takes eight hits to destroy Robotnik’s final mechanism, but somehow, he still manages to escape in his Egg Mobile. If you’re quick, Sonic can still hit it one more time, causing it to explode.
And that brings us to the end of the adventure. We see Sonic running back through Green Hill zone, now flourishing with all of the animals he’s rescued. If you weren’t able to collect all of the Chaos Emeralds, Sonic will show his disapproval by giving you the stink eye while tapping his foot. If you did get all six Emeralds, then we see them rise out of Sonic’s hands only to vanish into thin air, leaving him just as confused as the rest of us. What was the deal with the Chaos Emeralds? What were they capable of? Why were they hidden in psychedelic mazes? We never find out. Either way, the scene ends with Sonic jumping towards to camera in triumphant victory.