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9) Sonic The Hedgehog (8-bit)
The special stages in 8-bit Sonic are the perfect examples of this phenomenon. And on Game Gear they're even more special, perhaps due to the low refresh rate of that 32-colour backlit screen. The curtains of rings look incredible, sound superb, and the music fits the bonus feel perfectly. This is a world full of wonder, and the only place you'll get the pinball bumpers in the 8-bit versions of the game.
Above: A bonus round if ever we saw one. The one with flippers is best
10) Toejam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron
"Hyperfunk Zone!" Entering the bonus level in this classic 16-bit platformer is an assault on the senses, with garish, jittering colours and a slightly flanged vocal sample. Toejam or Earl simply runs from left to right, steadily increasing in speed. You just have to press a button to turn yourself into a squiggle as you pass obstacles – either pillars of squiggly lines or the exit. If you pass through a present while solid, you get the bonus. It's a test of memory more than anything, but reactions can get you through.
Above: Earl's just a squiggle. A funky squiggle, mind
Using the rods to spin yourself into a blur before letting go and flying off around the level was always the best bit about Ristar. Not all the bonus levels use this idea, but a lot of them do, asking you to perfect your speed and release point to reach treasure way above you. The fact it's against the clock too makes these levels fun to replay in time attack mode later.
Above: Apparently, his name is pronounced 'Wrister'. Ahem...
Bug was a pretty poor attempt at creating a platform mascot for the 32-bit era. His platform games were entertaining enough, but it was the bonus stages that were the best thing about it. Flying through hoops on the back of a dragonfly was great fun, even if the controls were frustratingly sluggish.
13) Mortal Kombat
"Test Your Might!" It's quite the cultural phenomenon. The game sets you up for a karate chop. Much button-mashing later and you emerge a hero or a huge loser – there is no middle ground. As for us, well we nail it every time. Er…
Above: Scorpion has to hold his fist like that - it hurts to open it now
14) Space Harrier
If you were a fan of the Neverending Story in the 1980s, this bit was great. It was like riding Falcor! The string of sprites was the most convincing furry body effect the tech of the time could create, and crashing through trees and shrubs for extra points was a welcome break from the relentless spamming of 'fire'.
Above: Falcor look - Fantasia's suffering from deforestation. Wait... nooo!
15) Resident Evil 4
A bonus level in Resi? Really? We'd say yes. The shooting gallery rooms fulfil most of the criteria. You can't die in them, they're a break from the usual game and you can only come out of them the same or better off than you were when you went in. They were fun too, and we spent a long time in there trying to nail that perfect score to get the best character statues.
16) Sonic 3
We hate the 3D globe bits of Sonic 3 – they're tedious. No, what's much more appealing is the gumball machine. It's suspended above layers of angled springs. So you have to get Sonic to the top and hit the switch to release a bonus. However, to catch said bonus, you risk falling out of the bonus stage altogether - the perfect mix of risk and reward.
Above: It always taunts you with that 1-up, right near the front
02 Feb, 2009
Game characters that time forgot
The contenders of yesteryear remembered
Sonic's 2D classics re-reviewed
Nine vintage side-scrollers, ten definitive verdicts
The best special attacks ever
16 years of hurt in one scorching montage
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