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Emerald Hill Zone (or "Star Light Zone" as it's still called) is the only fully functioning level in the Nick Arcade prototype. The stage is still incomplete, but it was good enough at this stage to show behind closed doors at Summer CES 1992.
Aside from the rolling demo, the player apparently wasn't meant to see Tails in this build of Sonic 2, as he's completely missing from this Zone. If this is indeed a prototype intended for Nick Arcade, Tails might have been disabled to prevent him from interfering with the 25-Ring challenge. The background also scrolls differently - it has a "choppier" look than later prototypes.
In true Sonic 1 tradition, holding will immediately get the player killed by an enemy. This time, however, it's a Snail that was removed in the final game in favour of Coconuts. These robots are hard to avoid due to their speed, and their positions are reset if far off-screen - it's not hard to see why they were removed from the first stage of the game.
Seconds in and the layout differences become obvious. This section has more in common with Green Hill Zone from Sonic 1, and the moving platform only appears in Hill Top Zone in the final game.
Though not visible in this static image, the circles in the background pulse quicker than in the later versions.
Act 1 has a Signpost, but no score tally.
|Nick Arcade prototype
Act 2 is much the same - a fully playable level, but with a different layout to the final game. It's more partial to the yellow spring than later builds.
This one takes the player into one of the paths inside the wall.
At the end of the stage, Eggman appears, but unlike the final, game, he descends from the top of the screen, landing on a buggy that's already there.
Beat Eggman and he explodes, but the graphics are from Sonic 1, not Sonic 2.
And that's the end of the playable part of the game! Rather than taking the player to another Zone, the game resets.
|Nick Arcade prototype
Being built on Sonic 1 code, a third Act can be accessed through the level select. Here, Sonic starts in the middle of a wall before plunging to his death.
Save him through debug mode, and the player will find it's a copy of Act 1, sans any objects.
There are Rings though, albeit in odd locations.
And then the level ends here.
There is one way to get Tails to show up in Star Light Zone - use the two-player mode. Leave the rolling demo long enough and the game will demonstrate this, though as with all stages, it can be accessed fro the level select screen by holding . Tails behaves as he does in other levels, getting lost and losing Rings on the player's behalf.
It would take some time for this to become a fully-fledged mode in its own right, so here it just offers a different perspective on the 1-player outing. That includes the fight with Eggman, who has become a blue and orange grass monster.