Something that’s a “bonus” should be something good, or in the case of a video game, a fun additional challenge or end-game reward that you’ll want to take on. Sadly, not all bonus levels are created equally and some come off as more of as a necessary evil for those who can’t live without seeing their profile marked at 100% completion. In my humble opinion, these are the worst of the worst. To keep things simple (and to also keep this list from being dominated by the classic Sonic games), I’m sticking to one bad bonus level per franchise. So, without further ado…
The original Gex is a great sidescrolling platformer no matter what version you’re playing- at least when you’re not on your trillionth attempt at one of the game’s several bonus stages. Accessed via secret voids in the main levels, these mini-games have you doing one of several tasks (be it whipping skulls at franken-geckos or busting up a bunch of Rezopolis’ barrels). What make these a nuisance are the strict time limits and extremely small margin for error. Also, much like Sonic’s special stages, you won’t get multiple shots unless you back out of the main stage and trek all the way back to the location of the entrance. As painful as these can be, at least you’ll gain access to Planet X, a brand new world that Crystal Dynamics snuck into the game unbeknownst to their higher ups. It’s a great, challenging last hurrah with a sci-fi theme that’s well worth the effort of slogging through the bonus stages to take a crack at.
Again, this is another example of a great game with not-so-great bonus levels. Dynamite Headdy sees the player controlling a puppet with all sorts of different heads at his disposal that will let him stop time, scale walls, or even take to the skies. With the amount of interesting power-ups available, you’d think Treasure would be able to come up with a better concept for a bonus stage than a simple game of basketball. Sadly, that’s just what you’ll have to play in order to gain access to a quite humorous (albeit underwhelming) hidden final boss encounter with what is presumably one of the game’s developers. On paper, this wouldn’t be too bad if it weren’t for the stakes. Like the rest of the game, these bonus rounds are pretty tough and once you’re booted out, you’re not getting a second chance. You’re given a randomized number to write down should you succeed in making the number of shots the game asks of you- so you’ll want to have your phone (or, if you’re old school like myself, a pen and paper) handy. It wouldn’t be too bad if these weren’t changed up for every playthrough. This of course means that you had better be pretty damn good at the main game before even attempting these stages since you won’t be able to stockpile lives past the single digits and the criteria for gaining continues (at least in the North America release) is harsh. I couldn’t imagine dying near the end and having to do the entire game and these bonus stages over due to the fact that the numbers you’ll need to access the hidden final boss will be different the next time through.
Crash Bandicoot: Warped
So, you’ve just managed to snag 25 relics in the main game. Is your reward a super-cool gauntlet of platforming challenges? Maybe a second bout with Neo Cortex? Nope…just another airplane stage (which, personally, I didn’t find all that fun the first time through nor when I went for their respective relics). Instead of the suggestions above, Naughty Dog figured that it’d be better to take a page from Titus and have a stage that plays like Superman 64 as a “reward”. Here, you need to race through 30 rings in order and finish in first in order to get a gem (the other comes from, you guessed it, breaking all of the crates). Unless you count Stormy Ascent, a level that was removed from the original Crash Bandicoot because it was deemed too difficult, I’d argue that Rings of Power is the most frustrating stage of the entire classic trilogy. The rings will always give you a boost of speed (as well as an even greater boost if you barrel roll through them the second you’re inside of them), which makes the already difficult-to-control plane even tougher to steer. If you miss a ring, you might as well just kamikaze into the nearest nitro crate and start from scratch because there’s not a chance in hell you’ll be getting first without blitzing through the entire course without missing a single ring. Oh yeah, and don’t forget…this sucker has a relic up for grabs as well if you’re intent on fully completing the game. Yay.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Aside from Sonic CD and Sonic Mania, I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed a single special stage from the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. They often thrust the blue blur into a psuedo 3D environment with clunky controls and little to no room for error. However, they are a necessary evil if you want to collect all seven chaos emeralds and whip through the rest of the stages as Super Sonic and achieve the best ending. Sonic 2’s special stages are by and far the worst to me for many reasons.
Snatching up fifty rings and hopping into the nearest goalpost is relatively easy (at least until you’re dealing with Metropolis Zone), but just taking a stab at the special stage means that you’ll re-enter the main stage with a ring count of zero. Luckily, all of the rings in the main stage will reset upon being booted out of the special stage, but it’s still annoying to have to backtrack for them if you’re looking to get a high score or extra lives from earning one hundred of them. Onto the special stage itself…
Sonic is tasked with running down a tube with overly-sensitive controls and collecting a certain amount of rings before hitting each checkpoint within the stage. After a few checkpoints, you’ll finally reach the end of this tunnel-from-hell and be rewarded with a chaos emerald. There are plenty of bombs and, in the later stages, pockets of rings that will assure you’ll need to go through a ton of trial and error and memorization if you want a sliver of a chance of becoming Super Sonic. Unlike the blue sphere stages from Sonic 3 (&Knuckles), there’s no way to beat these things without rote memorization.
I can easily get through all of the special stages in other classic Sonic games and have Super Sonic (where applicable) before the halfway point, but even after 15 years of playing Sonic 2, I’ve yet to get any more than three or four emeralds without abusing save states.