- For the Sonic Adventure level, see Ice Cap. For the Sonic Drift 2 course, see Ice Cap (Sonic Drift 2).
IceCap Zone is the fifth Zone of Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Sonic and Tails enter from being shot from a cannon (complete with Sonic riding a snowboard), while Knuckles comes in through a teleporter.
Sonic snowboarding down the mountain at the beginning of Act 1.
Set in the central mountains of Angel Island, IceCap Zone is a very, very cold environment that opens with a snowy mountain area. When Sonic first arrives in the Zone, he will hit a snowboard and begin sliding down one of the snow-capped mountains at high speed, grabbing Rings on the way down and automatically swerving around large mounds. As Sonic is constantly sliding down, the player has very little control over him other than pressing , or to make him jump, though this is rather unnecessary to do besides jumping over the second big mound for extra Rings. After a big jump, Sonic will crash into a wall of solid ice, knocking him off the snowboard and causing an avalanche. Other characters don't get to snowboard; Tails immediately slams into the wall at the start of the Zone, while Knuckles enters via teleporter.
Following the snowboard section, Act 1 sees the player enter a very tall, vertically-looping ice cave full of steep slopes to slide down. Some of the slides will appear to go on forever unless the player finds sliding platforms that can break through certain barriers (though Knuckles can just break the barriers with his fists). Sharp icicles litter the walls and ceilings, as well as beds of icy spikes littering some of the floors in the cavern, with larger falling icicles that the player can use as stepping stones across these beds. Blocks of ice encountered around the Zone contain things such as buttons that open the path forward as well as Monitors. Swinging platforms will take the player to higher ledges when run into or Spin Dashed into at high speeds, and tall pillars will crush the player. Stacks of ice blocks can be taken down a peg by Spin Dashing into them until the stack is short enough to jump on top of, allowing the player to reach higher ledges.
A dangerous hazard to watch out for are the freeze-guns mounted in the ceilings that will expel blasts of icy air once the player stands beneath them. Should the player come into contact with these icy blasts, they will be frozen solid in a block of ice, followed by the player taking damage a few seconds later, taking away Shields, Rings or even a life. If Sonic and Tails are together, one character can save the other from damage if he Spin Jumps onto him if he is frozen, breaking the ice and setting him free.
Near the end of Act 1, the game stealthily transitions the player into Act 2, which shows huge icebergs and a river full of ice floes in the background. After the Big Icedus is defeated, morning breaks as Act 2 officially begins. Act 2 is structured to be a speedy level in comparison to Act 1, with loop-de-loops, ramps and S-shaped tubes (like those found in Green Hill Zone and Hill Top Zone) placed around for speed. The freeze-guns and crushing pillars return, along with the addition of trampolines that catapult the player upwards; the harder they fall onto it, the higher they'll bounce. Lower routes take the player back into the caves, where they are filled with freezing pools of water that are essentially bottomless pits with sinking stepping stones (though Knuckles starts Act 2 within the caves). At the end of the Zone, all characters exit through a small, snow-filled tunnel leading to Launch Base Zone.
The Zone is theorized to have been based off of Sonic the Hedgehog 2's Hidden Palace Zone, as numerous objects in this level including bushes, bridges, and glowing orbs underground strongly resemble those of Hidden Palace.
||A zone of ice that runs through caves and ice fields.
— Sonic the Hedgehog 3 JP manual (translation by Vertekins)
||Things will get pretty chilly as Sonic and Tails slide their way through this arctic wasteland. Be sure to smash open blocks of ice to reveal power-ups and hidden passageways.
— Sonic the Hedgehog 3 US manual
||While developing, we went snowboarding a lot at a nearby resort. People kept getting injured though… (laugh) Originally, this stage was planned to begin after zone 8 (Flying Battery Zone). Sonic was going to break down the door from the airship and make a snowboard out of it on the way down. The other characters can fly, so they wouldn't appear in that event.
— Yuji Naka, Sonic Jam Official Guide
The original background music for these levels is taken from the song "Hard Times" by The Jetzons. This song had not actually been released at the time of Sonic 3, and would not be for many years. The band had disbanded years before, but keyboardist for the band, Brad Buxer, was part of the Sonic 3 sound team, and decided to bring (part of) the song out of hiding. At this point, he was a collaborator with Michael Jackson who was also brought on the Sonic 3 sound team.
Due to obvious legal issues, the later Sonic & Knuckles Collection replaces all of the wildly different sounding, obviously licensed music (regardless of who was actually responsible), including IceCap, with original songs originally used in the November 3rd, 1993 prototype of Sonic 3. It seems at least some of the legal issues were resolved for other rereleases of Sonic 3 such as Sonic Jam, Sonic Mega Collection, and so on.