After ploughing their way through the island, Sonic and Tails finally make it to the crash site of Robotnik's Death Egg. It's sitting in a lake, surrounded by heavy construction work, complete with massive cranes and launch towers. This mechanical base is well protected too, with a number of different enemies and traps, plus elevators, pulleys and long spinning metal cylinders, based both outdoors and in several large buildings in Act 1. In Act 2, you explore the water systems in and around the lake and leg it full speed across long, twisting water pipes. The Death Egg is almost ready for re-launch, so there's no time to spare!
This normally tranquil lake nestled somewhere between the mountains and, seemingly, deserts of Angel Island has been overrun by Eggman machinery! It's a bright and clear afternoon, whilst the mighty Death Egg sits half submerged in the water, with large red cranes and towers positioned around it, working around the clock to make those repairs. They reach out of the lake as well, and actually go on further along it in a long row, varying in size and structure. Behind that in the far background are large, rocky orange walls, arguably part of the edge of Angel Island's canyons and deserts. You'll see them close up in Act 2. The action in Act 1 takes place on one side of the large lake, with the Death Egg sitting in the middle of it, and there are lakeside bushes on both sides.
The scenery around Act 2 changes quite a bit as you've now moved into the lake, and the structure and appearance has become very different as you tackle the water system around the Death Egg. It's now late afternoon/early evening, with a pinkish glow to the sky and clouds, of which there are now plenty. The top of the level is filled with nothing but sky and small clouds moving briskly across. Get down to the middle and you'll notice that you're now closer to the other side of the lake, so that the Death Egg is out of view. You can get a look at those rocky walls up close now, and they appear to be Egyptian Sphynx-like sculptures, perhaps creating the border of the Sandopolis Zone? Interesting. A thin line of bushes separates them from the water, which you can now dive into. Get down there, and you'll discover Launch Base's hidden environment. Below mountainous rocky ground, observant players will be able to spot walls of brick, which presumably support the cranes and towers, as they work on the giant death machine. This is Knuckles' surroundings through the stage, as he comes up from underneath the structures in his Act 2 route. There, the background is made up of the purple walls you get in the internal sections, but there are big holes in some places, showing you a pure brick wall some distance behind it.
As a structure in itself, Launch Base Zone consists of a massive armed base, its reason being to not only restore the power of the fallen Death Egg satellite, but also to protect it and keep intruders (i.e. you) out. It has a strictly yellow and purple colour scheme, a lot more colourful than other final mechanical levels, with ground made up of sturdy yellow brick and various 3-dimensional extruded blocks, while your roads are a purple checkered pattern. Slopes in Act 1 also feature flashing green lights and other electronics, and there are various bits of purple machinery here and there. Small yellow towers with tapering steeples are located on some straight roads, either side of the path (some containing a small crushing claw between them), and red crane structures and other cylindrical pillars help support the deadly base as it sits on the lake. Some large buildings in the level are made entirely of yellow brick. Walk through the entrance ways, and the external walls will disappear, revealing the purple internal brick walls of the building, complete with golden pillars and long, thin windows. Act 2 removes the small towers and big buildings, and the long slopes are now mostly made up of thick twisting black and white water pipes that your character runs along the top of (and can also be transported through). They're supported by thin yellow vertical beams that float on the water by buoys. You can also see waterfalls cascading down in some areas of Knuckles' low route through Act 2.
The structure of Act 1 isn't really particularly special, but it is quite long, and directions pull you back and forth at every opportunity before bringing you to the end. All the ground is built in fairly stable chunks that are arranged across the map as large platforms and separated areas of ground. There's a fair bit of space between them for you to move around in though, creating fairly large open rooms, both indoors and out. To look at the map, it's almost a little reminiscent of more recent structural habits of Dimps in games like the Sonic Advance series. It can be a pretty speedy act, with lots of long, steep slopes and curves to hurl yourself down. Use small looping tunnels in the ground to be blasted straight from the bottom of one of these long sloping roads straight up through a vertical shaft to the next area. It gets a bit slower when you step inside one of the several large buildings around the place, which are often tighter and multi-levelled, encouraging you to wind your way up or down them, often through gentler slopes and using formations of diagonal lift platforms and badniks, though these segments are often brief and you're outside again before you know it. In general, you'll have to make good use of platform-hopping skills or otherwise fall in a pit below, though this usually becomes more of an inconvenient detour than a punishment, and there are no death drops here. Routes aren't too varied, but when playing as Tails alone, a tube elevator near the start automatically takes him to an alternate path, different from the one Sonic or Knuckles usually go on, but the two routes meet up soon afterwards. From then on, there are only minor differences in routes, but because of the multi-directional nature of the act, it can sometimes be confusing to figure out which way you're supposed to be going, as much of the main route is a long, winding path, weaving back and forth on itself until it arrives at the end. You can find Special Stage rings or small shortcuts and rooms by walking through purple cylinder passages in the walls.
Act 2 carries similar ideas but presents them in a fairly different way. For starters, there's water on the field, but only Knuckles will spend enough time in it for it to become bothersome. The speedy sloping roads are still with us, but this time they're provided by long, twisting water pipes arranged in a complex system across the whole act. There are no more internal sections, though there are still pieces of solid yellow ground here and there, often creating narrow vertical shafts with various traps in them, but they're smaller and less connected now, and those water pipes are also used as a transport tubing system in some places, to take you to a whole other place on the map. You can gain access to this hidden tubing network by breaking through certain barriers along the paths, which leave a gap for the water to start flowing out. The design is still very multi-directional, with similar path features and obstacles to Act 1, but the general structure appears much looser and more precarious, and it's easy to tell the two apart just by looking at them. Fortunately, despite its structural nature, there are no death drops here either. As far as routes go, again, there isn't a great deal of variety for Sonic and Tails except for an occasional detour or shortcut, though there is a longer alternate route towards the end (see Point #8). Unlike Act 1 though, Knuckles attempts to tackle the level from below, leading him along an entirely separated area running parallel, and completely hidden, below Sonic's. It tends to be quite a lot tougher, with extra water segments and essentially becomes a whole other level for him, only briefly flirting with the main route toward the end. Like Sonic's route, there are few variations besides occasional detours and after coming back up to the surface, knocking down a barricade will lead the Echidna onto another exclusive route towards his own boss battle.
Thin purple bars make for all variety of platforms, including moving, stationary, falling and even those that travel diagonally up slopes in internal rooms, when stood on. Beware of those ever-present collapsing ledges and floors too. Grab hold of hanging red and yellow hooks and they'll take you across long horizontal gaps with quickly progressing speed, and while hanging on, you can change the direction using the left and right buttons. Large, dark shiny cylinders joining one ledge to another revolve continuously. Step on and you'll go around and up and down with it, but be careful of badniks and traps along the way, and you can jump off at any time. Use small speed-up devices to throw yourself across long speedy paths, although some may be more of a hindrance if there happens to be a badnik in front of them instead!
A common way of ascending or descending a vertical height in this level is to hop in one of many round yellow cup contraptions, attached to a long, thin metal corkscrew. When you sit in it, the cup will start spinning around the thin corkscrew, heading up or down along it, and you jump out when it stops. Leave the area and come back if you miss it to make it reappear, and when it's reached its destination, you can also hop back in again and it'll return to where it started. One or two will function slightly differently, in that they'll start spinning increasingly quickly once they've reached their destination. The cup will then throw itself across an area, and it'll collide with a wall sooner or later and you'll fall out. Don't worry - this won't harm you, it's simply another means of transportation.
Hit small red and green switch boxes, positioned on the walls to open up red and black gates that block your path. These can either be vertical ones that block a corridor or horizontals that sit between two long walls to block a vertical shaft. In many instances, hitting the gate's switch box will transform it from a vertical to a horizontal or vice-versa, and in each form it will block access to a different area or route, creating minor puzzles to solve.
Act 1 also features nifty elevators in cylindrical glass tubes. If you see an open one embedded into the wall, hop in and it'll start spinning and then blast along the tube, taking you through the ground to a different area, often in a large U shape. Unlike the spinning cups, you can't go back in it afterwards however because it closes up behind you. Watch out for small guillotines positioned between two of those thin yellow towers along the paths. They rise slowly and fall quickly, acting as small vertical crushing devices trying to squish you into the ground or a set of spikes. The bottoms are made up of two or three sharp claws, but you can stand safely on the flat bit at the top while it's rising and dropping. At the ends of small steps or ledges, you'll often find a flame thrower, producing a long burst of fire at regular intervals.
In Act 2, the hooks that took you across horizontal gaps now also act as pulleys, hanging from stationary square blocks and taking you up or down as soon as you lay your mitts on them. Spring up through large square converter objects that change your springing status to a spinning one, and yellow gateways that appear rather half-built are most often positioned at either end of the long rotating cylinders. These gateways regularly produce a cascading horizontal laser beam that drops from top to bottom, which, fairly obviously, is harmful to our furry friends. Break down big pipe barricades standing in your way, and if it's connected to other pipes, water will flow downwards through the gap you've just made. Step into the flushing water and you'll be taken through the water pipe at great speed, coming out in a whole other place.
Launch Base Zone is very heavily guarded with a number of different badniks. When you walk through a square glass sensor on the ground, alarms will sound and lights from it will start flashing. You've been detected, and every time this happens a bird badnik named Fybot 767 will appear from above to intercept you. They basically flap around, following you, and then dive down and back up again in diagonal directions, but they're easily disposed of. The whole sensor thing is scrapped for Act 2, and they just appear in certain places, often in pairs. Ribot are frog-like badniks that mostly sit on the red crane support structures around the level. They'll either be swinging a dangerous metallic ball around them, via a long arm of spheres, or dropping two of them, one at a time, down to the floor. They can also be seen swinging them on the floor, and more rarely, throwing the balls from side to side on the floor too. Orbinaut is yet another version of the spheres-with-spikeballs badnik design, and a pretty nasty one too, with a mean expression. Similar to the one in Star Light Zone, he doesn't throw his spikeballs at you, rather he just moves towards you, swinging them violently around him, but only when you move. Interestingly, if you stay still, so will he, but regardless of the direction you're moving in, when you're active, he'll approach you. That's not going to kill him though, and in fact the only thing that will is invincibility and Sonic's insta-shield attack. Snail Blasters are snail bots that move up and down walls incredibly slowly, stopping occasionally to open up the shell on their back and produce two projectiles in either diagonal direction, and at this time only, they are vulnerable to your attack. Finally, Corkery might not look much like a badnik, but it is. In internal sections in Act 1, a couple of them move back and forth along a bar above you, stopping regularly to fire a nasty laser beam down to the floor. They can also be found on their own outside, sometimes stationary on a ceiling.
- When you connect Sonic 3 into Sonic & Knuckles, you will find that some minor changes take place now and then to the Sonic 3 levels and object placements. Usually, it's only one or two things, but for Launch Base Zone, some considerable changes are made. An almost uncountable number to be honest (I didn't bother counting at least, anyway). Some objects are added or changed and some obstacles that were already there have been removed, in order to take down the difficulty of the level a notch, so that S3&K can flow more easily as one, unified, gigantic game. Such changes include removing certain badniks (most notably the Orbinauts on long rotating cylinders and a few tricky Ribots) and spike sets etc, as well as adding rings to the long slopes in Act 1 and changing the contents of certain item boxes. Occasionally S3&K might add a trap or two that wasn't there in the original, but that aside, the difference could almost suggest the Sonic 3 version as "hard mode" to the S3&K version. As such, I felt it only fair to provide you with alternate maps for each version of each act. Having one would just be far too confusing really.