Sonic Mania special stages are, like the rest of the game, a nostalgia-tinged throwback to Sonic's vast 16-bit history.
It's once again how you access Chaos Emeralds - a bonus challenge that unlocks the game's best ending - while the return of Blue Sphere provides additional attractions to be toyed around with elsewhere in the game - which we explain more of in our Sonic Mania unlocks and cheats page.
Sonic Mania special stages - How to play Blue Sphere and UFO
There are two types of special stages in Sonic Mania, which unlock different things:
- Blue Sphere stages - If you have 25 rings and hit a mid-level signpost, a ring will appear above that you can leap through, taking you to a special stage. Completing these will earn you a silver or gold medal, depending on your performance, which then unlock bonus modes from the Extras menu. Progress carries over between playthroughs, so no need to get them all in a single sitting.
- UFO chase stages - Littered throughout every stage are giant rings, which take you to special stages to unlock Chaos Emeralds if you complete them successfully. There are seven stages in total, each in sequence, no matter where you find them, but are specific to that playthrough - so all seven must be found by the last boss.
While signposts (Blue Sphere stages) are everywhere, gold rings and the UFO chase stages they lead to are harder to find.
In short, if you explore off the beaten path in each stage - if there's a out-of-the-way platform or route - there's a chance it'll lead to them. Since levels are so sprawling it'll be difficult and almost fruitless to describe their specific locations, but exploring and replaying stages is your best bet to finding enough to unlock every Emerald.
How to easily access special stages in Sonic Mania
While you can (and should!) play special stages as you naturally play Sonic Mania, there is an easier way to access them.
Simply unlock debug mode, then enter a No Save playthrough with it enabled. Using debug, every stage has the option to spawn a signpost instantly. Generate enough rings through creating item boxes, then leap into the Blue Sphere special stage. When you exit, simply spawn another signpost, and repeat.
UFO catch special stages are a little more difficult. You can spawn these using the debug tool, but it simply gives you 50 rings. So, you must still find them within the level to start a bonus stage, but with the debug tool allowing you to clip through walls, you can zip through the scenery and find them far faster than if you played normally. (Thanks to reader lanerobertlane for the tip.)
We managed to complete every special stage and collect all Chaos Emeralds this way, but note when we completed the last boss, the game crashed, and since using debug requires a no save attempt, we couldn't retry without starting over from the beginning - so be warned this could happen to you. However, it is a useful way of unlocking Super Sonic and every Medal faster than finding them ordinarily.
How to get Chaos Emeralds from UFO special stages in Sonic Mania
UFO Chase is based on the special stages seen in Sonic CD, these are seven unique stages that each unlock a Chaos Emerald. Here's how they work:
- The Mode-7 style stage has you run round a track chasing a UFO holding the Emerald. However, it immediately outpaces you, and the only way to catch up is by increasing your speed by collecting blue orbs.
- Collect enough Blue Orbs and your Mach speed will increase, making Sonic go faster.
- Once you hit Mach 3, you'll be fast enough to catch up to the UFO within a lap or two, as long as you can stay alive.
- Rings count down as you play, ending your run when fully depleted - collect rings to keep playing.
- Rings are a finite resource, whereas Blue Orbs regenerate on every lap.
- You can jump to avoid holes in the track that end your run, collect item boxes and avoid obstacles.
You essentially need to find a balance between collecting enough Rings to survive the course, and Blue Orbs and choosing the right routes through the course to make it up to the UFO in time. Some courses have item boxes that give you Rings, Blue Orbs or instantly level up your Mach level - finding these is helpful, if not essential.
How to get Chaos emeralds in UFO catch
Each specific stage is attached to each of the seven Chaos Emeralds
- First Chaos Emerald - A simple introduction to this mini-game, there should be plenty of opportunities to collect blue orbs by running in the middle of where they appear. As long as you keep an eye on your ring count, and don't hit the edges of the stage, you should catch the UFO fairly easily.
- Second Chaos Emerald - This course splits into two at certain points. Use the outside route for the first lap to get a bevy of blue orbs to help you, then follow the inside route after that to ensure you keep up with the UFO. Once you leave this inside route, the second corner after has two item boxes, one of which will instantly level your Mach level. Get this, and catching the UFO is a doddle.
- Third Chaos Emerald - This stages introduces springboards to reach rings up above. Use them a few times, as well as the many blue orbs on the outsides, but be sure to cut the insides of the track once you've got a healthy number of orbs to start catching up with the UFO.
- Fourth Chaos Emerald - There are three ring item boxes to find on this stage that'll help you massively - one of which is found by jumping over a spring board, and another just as you cut the inside of a track. This stage only gets really difficult when you hit Mach 3, with bombs and tight corners making it tricky to stay on track. You should have enough rings available to play it safe and reach the UFO.
- Fifth Chaos Emerald - It's easy to lose track of the UFO on this one, despite the copious amounts of both rings and blue orbs on the track and above spring boards. What you must do is smash the three item boxes ending with a Mach update that's at the end of a left path close to the end. You must chain them successfully in one go, otherwise you cannot try again, making life much more difficult. From here, concentrate more on getting to Mach 3 and cutting corners in the track and you should catch the UFO soon enough.
- Sixth Chaos Emerald - A pinch point is the series of ramps at the very start. Do it once at the start to get some rings, but after that, leap over each one to save some time. The track is also dotted with ring item boxes - one of which in the middle of a circular area that requires a sharp left turn to continue, if you get to a point where it looks like the track runs out - which also help. Otherwise, the challenge is simply staying alive when you reach Mach 3. Play safe from this point, and use the outsides of the track to slow you down and avoid bombs, and you should have enough time from ring collecting earlier to make it.
- Seventh Chaos Emerald - As with the last stage, the difficulty here is not finding rings or blue orbs, but staying alive when you hit Mach 3. You'll find plenty of ring item boxes and orbs in your path, and when you reach top speed, use the edges of the track to slow you down, or cut corners so you line up in the middle of the course instead of swinging out to the edges and to your doom. You'll catch up with the UFO sooner than you think.
Once you have all seven Chaos Emeralds, you unlock the ability to become Super Sonic by pressing two jump buttons together, as well as unlocking a new final encounter. Every subsequent giant ring you find in that playthrough will give you 50 rings.
How to get Gold Medals from Blue Sphere special stages in Sonic Mania
Blue Sphere is based on the special stages seen in Sonic 3, with 32 unique stages, each one rewarding you silver or gold medals based on your performance, in turn unlocking new secrets.
- Each stage has two types of collectibles - blue spheres and rings. The aim is to convert each blue sphere into a red one.
- There are three other types of objects in the special stage; red spheres instantly end the stage, yellow spheres bounce you into the distance, and white and red spheres reverse your direction (press up to continue moving forward again).
- Over time, your speed increases, making it more difficult to control Sonic and react to what's coming up.
- Collecting every blue sphere is the minimum requirement to completing a stage, giving you a Silver Medal.
- Collecting every ring earns you a 'Perfect', and is the requirement for getting a Gold Medal.
How to get Gold Medals in Blue Sphere
The trick to getting a Perfect is by collecting every ring on a stage. You may notice you can finish a stage without collecting all the rings, despite seemingly collecting all you can see; that's because you can convert spheres into rings by creating an outline around groups of blue spheres. These can be squares or rectangles, groups that already have partial outlines already completed, or have unusual shapes, such as bouncing spheres cutting into the corners.
The trick, then, is to make sure you have converted all groups of blue spheres into rings before you collect any remaining individual blue spheres. The easiest way to do this is to leave behind one or two blue spheres that cannot be converted, getting the 'Perfect', then going back to those spheres you left.
It's worth noting that, as mentioned in our Sonic Mania unlockables page, getting all gold medals doesn't unlock anything in game - only Silvers is required. It's only if you want all Trophies or Achievements that Gold is worth aiming for.