A carnival has inexplicably appeared on the island! Quite how or why isn't clear, but it happily provides Sonic 3 with its obligatory night-time "bouncy stage", complete with many of the hallmarks of its predecessors, such as irritating bumpers, although level structure tends to be more speedy and straightforward than the large pinball rooms of similar levels would allow. With a slightly creepy vibe, the very long and large Carnival Night Zone also boasts balloons, circus cannons, huge spinning wheels and what must be one of the most notoriously baffling objects ever conceived in Sonic history: the rotating drum block. Most are a dangerous crushing hazard, but what to do with the ones that just sit there and bob up and down a bit? Answers inside..
At a time of great strain for Dr. Robotnik, trying to get the Death Egg back up and running and all, it would seem he's still been able to find the time out of his busy schedule to construct a giant carnival theme park on Angel Island for no obvious reason. Think Casino Night, and you're not far off with this, at least as far as the background is concerned. There's a somewhat familiar cityscape scene, though just a tad more abstract, with tall towers and buildings that create a vast, somewhat futuristic carnival night-time environment. At the front, you've got rows of towers and structures, all extremely varied in bright neon colour and shapes. Behind that, in the distance, the structures are harder to make out and mainly consist of a series of lights that fade on and off like a Christmas tree, though some are shaped to vaguely represent various rides and attractions. There are also big, futuristic pod-like buildings and what appears to be a haze of blue evening mist just below. Looming over that are the dark silhouettes of tall, slightly angular mountains, which seem to be adorned with yellow flashing lights, and the top of the screen has a blue glow over the horizon, which rapidly fades into a black starry night sky. This background is, for once in Sonic 3, exactly the same for both acts.
It's the foreground where the carnival theme of the zone really comes into play, full of colour and wacky shapes and styles. The roads are patterned red and white, and so is the majority of the ground, with a lot of temporary structural framework around it, indicating the mobile and dynamic nature of any carnival. To dazzle the eye, there are also zig-zag, triangular, diamond, and wavy patterns, all with alluring flashing lights and bright, cheerful colours. There's plenty to see just by looking at the walls, but as any good "bouncy" zone should have, there's also an abundance of similar stuff behind your character, on the ground and hanging in the air too. You'll see all sorts of abstract shapes of varying patterns and neon colours, most notably, the regular red squares and waving yellow lines that follow the roads. Paths that bob up and down or slope are often lined with rows of yellow speedway flags on either side. It's also worth noting that for a while in Act 2, the lights are switched off, and the zone, naturally, becomes much darker, but you can still see where you're going perfectly well, and the design remains.
While this is a "bouncy zone" at heart, the level structure isn't quite like the Spring Yard or Casino Night Zones of the past games. While its still based on a very enclosed structural pattern, the large pinball rooms where you would bounce between objects, desperately looking for a way out are no longer present in quite the same way. Narrow corridors and smaller rooms are always a common staple too, and they actually occupy most of this level, based within the confines of the vast carnival construction. This is one of the largest 2D levels in Sonic history, and not only does it occupy a huge space, but the narrow paths wind back and forth and up and down all over it, backtracking over each other, particularly in Act 2, and generally trying to occupy as much area as possible. The corridors tend to meander their way up and down as they lead towards the right, across the map, so this level tends to be one of the longest to complete. These characteristics are typical of both acts, but Act 2 seems to be quite a bit bigger, and longer.
That's not to say the whole stage plods along slowly. Compared to its glitzy cousins, Carnival Night Zone can be quite speedy in occasional large rooms, where diagonal red and white cylindrical slopes are used for rolling right down and blasting along the paths. Your character spins around them as he traverses their length, so you can jump off underneath them for occasional goodies, or perhaps even a shortcut. You'll notice that straight roads and ledges are regularly interrupted by a lot of sudden bumps and curves along the way, though paths tend to be fairly connected horizontally. The platform jumping element usually comes into play when you want to get to a higher ledge above, usually via objects such as balloons, giant wheels and cannons, located in rooms at the end of the corridors. The ground is stable and like most places in Sonic 3, there are no death-drops, but there is a bit of water in Act 2. It doesn't occupy a great deal of your time, and is eventually drained out when you reach a certain point, but the underwater sections can be a bit of a nuisance for some. There are no bubble clusters on the floor, but instead, large air bubbles can be released when you burst the underwater balloons.
Like Marble Garden Zone, there are quite a few little shortcuts and alternate paths to find along the way, at least in Act 1 and the first part of Act 2. Sonic and Tails have access to the majority of the level, while Knuckles, in S3&K, is mostly confined to his own linear section, cut off from the rest of the stage and hidden along the bottom of the two acts. Of course the upside of this is that, for about the only time, Knuckles has a much easier and quicker ride of this level than Sonic does - he doesn't have any water to deal with, or even an Act 2 boss either! Interestingly though, it is still completely possible to take the full route in Act 2 as Knuckles, however doing so actually prevents you from completing the level, due to a problem explained in Point #2. Sonic and Tails, who've drawn the short straw this time, have no choice but to navigate their way through this labyrinth of carnival chaos, and while the routes aren't quite as complex as in Marble Garden, you can still find one or two significant shortcuts throughout Act 1, which cut through the winding nature of the paths. The main route also splits up into alternate sub-routes towards the end of Act 1. Act 2 follows a similar pattern at the start, but after a while becomes one long, winding path to the end, with few deviations. Along the way, there are loads of hidden rooms in the walls, containing Special Stage rings and other secrets, and because much of the ground is partly transparent, being made of structural girders, you can often spot rings on the hidden paths within, indicating secret corridors.
All sorts of small, annoying things to bounce you back and forth, as you would expect, plus larger features that propel you across wide or tall distances. Firstly, you'll notice balloons of varying colours floating in the air. Jump on them and they'll burst, but also send you upwards with a satisfying bit of height, and you can use rows of them to get to a high ledge. If you mess up, you won't have to go too far to make them re-spawn, and if you burst one while underwater, it'll produce a large air bubble for you, which is the only way you can get them during the water sections of Act 2. The bouncy spherical bumpers are back, but with a new design of a red four-point star on a white sphere. They usually come in groups, moving just above the ground or in an open space, and making their living out of trying to get in your way (and very successful at it they are too). There's a variety of precise formations, but most of them involve two or three orbiting around a point in a small area. You can also get groups of them moving around in a circle, stuck together. Like all good bumpers, they award 10 points for each hit, up to ten times per bumper. Circus cannons are another standard feature of Carnival Night, found in open rooms. Hop in at the top and the cannon will begin turning left and right in a semi-circle, at which point, you can press a jump button at any time to blast out of it in the direction its facing, usually directly to a high ledge, or some balloons first.
The standard "big moving block" for Carnival Night is an infamous large red and white rotating drum/barrel. Like the thinner ones in Hydrocity, you rotate around on them while standing on top, and they move right and left and up and down over a particular distance, or in a square pattern. Sometimes they're together, sometimes they're on their own, and they may offer themselves as a useful platform, or they may try to crush you into the floor, ceiling or wall. There are also ones that just sit there, only bobbing up and down when you land on them, as they react to your weight. If you're completely new to this level, this next explanation will probably be more useful than any other I can ever give! What most people don't realise until they're told about it, is that you can actually manipulate their movement by pressing the up and down buttons as they move. Land on it so that it bobs down, and at the same time, hold the down button once on. When it springs back up, hold the up button, and switch back to down when it bobs down again. Keep doing this, and you'll be able to gradually force the barrel to move further up and down each time, and this is mandatory in one, inescapable place in Act 2 (see Point #8). The insistence of these early games to provide absolutely no in-game descriptive assistance with particular traps whatsoever has never been more of a hair-pullingly frustrating issue - where's Omochao when you actually need him, eh?
The big black wheels act like larger versions of those found in Scrap Brain Act 2, so you can jump on one and it will take you around until you jump off. Press the down button while onboard to hit a spin and go at super speed, and then jump off at the right point for a massive leap. You usually have to use it to reach a high ledge to the side of it. Some thin paths are made of yellow fans that keep your character floating above. These may be broken up, with a single fan moving back and forth between the gap, so if you want to cross, you may have to try and move along with it, while hovering above. Huge black vertical cylinders normally found in a row are forever turning. Grab on, and you'll swing around with it, going either up or down, depending on the cylinder. You can jump from one to the other to get where you're going. Large magnetic elevator vents in ceilings suck you in when you get close, and propel you quickly and easily up the shaft to a higher area, but it's impossible to go back down it. Speed gateways of a similar technology, found in large numbers within long corridors, can provide a boost one way but deny access, the other.
Long white floating platforms with a yellow and red zigzag pattern on the bottom drop downwards when you stand on them, but if you keep jumping instead, the bottom will inflate and take you upwards, bit by bit to the next ledge. Try not to let Tails get on them if he's following you around, as he has an unfortunate tendency to screw the whole thing up by jumping at inappropriate times, or, for some bizarre reason, spin dashing on it. If it drops all the way to the floor, you won't be able to get it back up without leaving the area and letting it reappear above the ground. Winding yellow pipeways compressed together send you out either left or right through tubes leading to hatches at the end, and though you can enter either side of the top of these pipes, this doesn't seem to have a correlation with which side you'll come out on. From what I've found, it would appear to be related to your ring count: If you have an odd number of rings, you'll come out of the left side, and an even count will bring you out along the right side. Each leads to a different route, although not massively separated. In typical pinball zone style, the ceilings and floors in some straight horizontal passages can hold rows of small triangular bumpers that bounce you between them. Once you hit one, you'll be sent only one way along the corridor, fairly quickly. Make sure you're aware that slotting spikes positioned in the ceiling of narrow corridors can kill Sonic or Knuckles instantly, though it may not seem like it. Tails is short enough to survive with only a slight scrape of his fur. Spin dash through breakable walls in corridors, jump on large yellow blocks in the floor to get through them, and doorways can close behind you when inside corridors.
Badniks consist of Clamer, Batbot and Blaster. Clamer is a clam bot that hides in its blue shell, with only a pair of eyes visible, but produces a small cannon that fires a fairly slow moving spikeball horizontally when you step near it. Try jumping on him, and you'll just bounce right off, so hit a spin dash or use Sonic's insta-shield. Not to be confused with relative Batbrain from back in the Marble Zone, Batbots hang motionless in the air, until you pass by. They start to flap around in circular formations, stalking Sonic and co like adoring fans. Except not. Blasters are pretty strange, and dangerous, and groups of them can be found latching onto floors and ceilings in a tall corridor. They switch from floor to ceiling, producing a stream of electricity from point to point, which is always straight and vertical. What you need to be careful of is the couple of sparks that shoot out diagonally from them either side, when they first arrive on the floor or ceiling.
- While it has never been fully explained, storyline-wise, quite why Carnival Night Zone exists on Angel Island, a supposedly undisturbed natural paradise, it's assumed that it has to be the handywork of Dr. Eggman. But why was it created? Did he build it soon after he crash landed on the island, or did he just ship it in after being built somewhere else, as a tourist attraction for the island, or just general amusement for his weird self? Or is it just one long, complicated trap for Sonic, controlled by him? One would assume that Knuckles wouldn't be too happy about such a project taking place for no obvious reason, but I guess these are questions and queries that, like a lot of other things in the Sonic universe, will never be officially satisfied.
- This is not the only level to use "Entrance of the Gladiators", the universal theme tune of the circus as part of its background music. The same part re-appears much later in Shadow the Hedgehog's Circus Park.