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Playing Sonic 2’s Lost Levels: A Crusade to Find the Hidden Palace Zone

You all heard about that kid who recently found traces of a hidden Mayan city, right? Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t use calculations based on constellations nor was I the first to come across this particular site, but I found my own hidden place, a place I had wondered about and found evidence of when I was a kid.

By the time Sonic 2 came out when I was about seven, I was already an avid Sonic fan and loved anything and everything that featured my favorite way past cool hedgehog. I had the games, the stuffed animal, the comics, the books, recorded the cartoon TV show every Saturday morning on a VHS tape, and even wrote about Sonic in my kitty-covered journal. I was also a fan of the music. Many times before or after playing, I would listen to the game music in the sound test options. I would listen and watch the background fade from ‘Sonic’ to ‘Miles’ and back again. I could easily identify which zones the songs belonged to as I took the time to listen to each one. I came across music from the 2-player mode and thought nothing of it, but I remember coming across a particular track with a haunting cadence, one that made me think of an ethereal atmosphere like some kind of dance in a fantasy castle. I thought maybe there was some kind of hidden level that I could possibly unlock maybe with a code or some kind of achievement. I always wondered about the hidden level’s possible existence and often played hoping I would one day find it.

It may have taken me twenty-five years to find it, but I finally did. I was a little off with the idea that it would be a level to unlock, but the Hidden Palace Zone was a scrapped level. Refer to it what you will—scrapped, unused, lost, I prefer to call it a ‘lost zone,’ but I was finally able to get my hands on the longer version of Sonic 2. Many years ago I saw screen shots of HPZ and thought there’s no way I’ll ever be able to play that. How would the public ever have access to it? After that, I forgot all about it to be honest. Listening to some Sonic music the other day (I am now 32), I started to wonder about the Hidden Palace all over again and then I came across a YouTube video that featured gameplay in all the lost levels. I saw levels I’ve never heard of or seen before. Now that almost EVERYTHING is somehow available to the public I Googled the ‘longer version of Sonic 2’ and came across an easily accessed emulator that offered just that. There it was awaiting my attention.

*DISCLAIMER: This all may sound extremely silly or corny, but I am very sentimental when it comes to my games and my childhood. I’m a deeply imaginative person and this is how I see the world. Proceed.*

Back to the story, even though I like to nowadays dedicate most of my days off to furthering my writing career, I just decided to let it be for now and play some SANIC. I am waiting for professional feedback on my query letter and synopsis for my novel anyway, so why not take it easy for a day. I have to admit I was extremely flimsy and noobish playing on the computer, I am more of a console kind of gamer, but after dying a fair amount of times on the easy levels, I got used to it and started playing more like myself. (I’ll always be better with a controller though)

I sped through a handful of levels I was already quite familiar with and I reached my first lost zone—Wood Zone. I’m not ashamed to say I was a bit excited, because there was more to explore in a decades-old game. Cool. I immediately thought of the Angel Island Zone maps in Sonic 3 with its lively, tropical feel and Sonic winding through the trunks of giant trees. Also, I came across these little dino bots on wheels, which is oddly enough something I’ve seen before. This level may have been cut, but clearly its concept was recycled in Sonic 3. As someone who has had to cut a few scenes/characters myself in my stories, I find this intriguing. I love when dropped ideas come to life and develop in other future ventures. In a way, you could say this level was never truly eliminated from the Sonic series, it served as a hidden precursor, an underdeveloped conception to what would appear later. As would the others.

In time, after making it past a few more levels I was used to, I was able to race into Dust Hill. In my opinion, I felt these two zones were the hardest to beat in the entire title. Also, I must mention this level’s design (the colder region) looked to me like the early concept of Ice Cap Zone with its geometric ice sculptures.

The way the map was laid out was a little different than most Sonic levels. You had to move back and forth through polar regions of hot and cold climate to hit levers that blocked the path to progress ahead. Usually, you blaze through whatever track you randomly end up taking and you eventually reach the Robotnik-donned end level marker. In most cases, you don’t have to find something to progress ahead in Sonic, to me this was more similar to a Zelda temple in a way. Not that that idea is complicated, but I wasn’t expecting this in a Sonic game. Once I figured this out, after running aimlessly as a panicked, lost, zigzagging streak, I raced the clock and finally beat the first zone. (Yes, it took me a few times and to be honest I used up most of the clock time even when I made it through)

The second zone was also a bit challenging. I anticipated more of the hit-the-lever-to-proceed element, which I did come across, but what I didn’t expect was the, I’ll call it the ‘mirage’ towards the end of the level. While trying to find my way through the desert region, I ended up bouncing back and forth between two springs, which is a fairly common annoying thing in any sonic game. There was actually a good amount of distance between the two springs. Having that said, something really weird happened in the midst of traveling back and forth. While I was bouncing between the two springs running across that stretch of desert as I said, I became lost. But, all I was doing was going back and forth between two known points. How is this possible? I was completely disoriented and a bit dumbstruck. My brain felt like it had melted, not to mention, it was actually really hot in the dining room where I was playing. I realized then it wasn’t me. After I moved away from a spring, back towards the straightaway of desert, the landscape had changed a little. Each time I passed, it changed again and again. No wonder I was suddenly confused. By running back and forth this changed the landscape of the level as it scrolled in and out of view, making it possible to to reach a platform that was too high before. I smiled when I realized what it was. Pretty cool for an old game. Totally didn’t see that coming.

Moving on, I reached Genocide City. I understand there’s a bit of a debate as to whether or not the level with the spooky city backdrop is the actual Genocide City or not. And then there’s something about “Cyber City” and the third zone in Metropolis Zone. It’s a little confusing. I don’t claim to know 100% if this was the original level, but I feel as though this was it.

I can clearly see why the name was dropped, I read something about how originally the developers didn’t know the actual meaning of the word "Genocide" in English, so once its true meaning was discovered it was nixed. Don't know how true that is, but that could be the reason. Another creepy touch to this level was the bodies hanging from chains in various parts of the level, which is very much out of place for a Sonic title. As for the rest of the design for this level, the name and creepy body dudes aside, I liked the Gotham-esque vibe of the city in the background. To me, it was a fusion of Gotham and Halloween with its looming veins of lightning, eerie moon, flickering skyscraper lights, and ghosts popping out of the doors. It was like a mystical cursed city with a lingering past of decline. I like that vibe for a game world, an interesting place to find Sonic the Hedgehog to say the least.

There’s actually a really cool, slightly creepy element to this. I’m a believer of synchronicity and what happens is meant to happen. You are where you are supposed to be. I saw a reminder of this two days prior. I was at work and the sunset caught my eye as it usually does when it’s particularly spectacular. There was an opening in the clouds with the sun peaking brightly through almost reminding me of an eye. I actually took a picture of it with my phone thinking it looked cool. (See gallery of pics below) Surely enough, when I played Genocide City, the break in the clouds where the moon peaks through made it look like an eye. I thought of the picture I took and compared the two seeing how similar they were. Seeing this gave me goose bumps and made me feel like I was meant to play this version of the game now. I was where I was supposed to be.

Okay, so no big deal, it’s not like I stood on a cliff as the wind tussled my hair while the angels serenaded my coming-of-age destiny with big shiny horns, but it was something intriguing to me. It’s a magical feeling to be in tune with yourself and the universe. I like stuff like that. Don’t make fun of me. Stop it. I appreciate those magical little findings in life.

Even though the design of GCZ was pretty cool these two levels were really short and super easy. After making it through the strange city, I was finally able to reach the coveted Hidden Palace Zone, the level I’ve waited my whole life to play! There was finally meaning to that song I used to listen to as a kid. I had done my research and came across my unearthing on my own time. I found my own hidden palace. After I sat there and smiled for a hot second, I delved into more of the unknown.

Along the same vein as the other lost levels, I quickly came to another of my hypotheses, that this was an early Hydrocity in S3. It had that same enchanting water temple atmosphere with its winding tube channels, waterfalls in the background, use of geometric shapes, and even the color palette was comparable. A nice touch was with the crystals. I’m a budding fan of crystals of all kinds and colors, whether it’s in the form of a pyramid, a crystal point wand, a sphere, or whatever else, so I was feeling the crystal cavern vibe.

Now having all this explained as to how this played out in my own experience, it turns out the HPZ wasn’t actually that hidden. Maybe it was to me, which made it special, but this ‘lost’ level appeared in other, later Sonic games. I actually didn’t play either Sonic & Knuckles or Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles when I was a bit older. I didn’t really like Knuckles at the time so I was like meh. So, I didn’t know about the Hidden Palace Zones in these games either, which are regular playable zones. Also, HPZ was officially included in the 2013 remake of Sonic 2 for IOS and Android. I found that out when I did my research. Having that said, I was more interested in finding the deleted version in Sonic 2 first, which of course was more meaningful to me. I have the Sonic Mega Collection game for Gamecube, so I’ll have to play these games next!

Besides the weirdo glitches of an invisible blockade in Mystic Cave (which isn’t in the Sega Genesis and Sonic Mega Collection versions, the glitch that is), that one time I fell straight through a ramp that is solid running ground in Genocide City, and when I got stuck in the little ramps in Wood Zone, I had a lot of fun playing these lost levels. I’d play them again.

Also, I’d like to add one little tangent. I don’t usually like to end on a tangent, but I’m going to go that direction anyway. This was a little challenging for me, especially playing with a keyboard and I was distracted by a family member and died, you know how it goes, and somehow there was an issue when I went to save, because I had to leave the computer for a little bit. I had to play the second zone of the maddening Dust Hill and all of Oil Ocean Zone all over again, which is always painful when that happens. I was hot and tired and fed up, but as I will say over and over again, video games will subtly teach you life lessons if you pay attention. If you want to find or have something meaningful or special, you have to keep working for it and never give up. You’ll never reach that hidden palace if you don’t look and work for it.

Want to play the longer version of Sonic 2 with all of its lost levels? Here’s the emulator I played on:

C is jump. Directional pad, obvs directions. To pause, click anywhere off of the gameplay screen. You can save or load state by clicking on the options at the bottom of the gameplay screen. Have fun!

Let me know your thoughts on Sonic 2’s lost levels! Or whatever you’d like to call them. Check out my screen shots below!

Click on the image to make it bigger >>

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