From Sonic Retro
The lost desert level, referred to as Sabaku (Desert) Zone in a very early enemy sketch sheet, is a widely speculated debate centered around the images above — Sonic in a mock-up desert type level. This level is also known and mistakenly referred to as Dust Hill Zone.
As a side note, this level was originally planned with a "present" (Desert Zone) and a "past" (Rock Zone), but the idea of time travel was quickly dropped and it's quite possible that it never got to be implemented in this game.
Before its level artist Brenda Ross unveiled this screen was in fact a mockup image for promotional use, this could already be deduced based on three things:
- The HUD is not in italics, and a "08" instead of the typical "8" is shown.
- Sonic is off-centered in the photo.
- The running sprite uses a walking sprite from Sonic 1, which would be incorrect for the development timeline the picture was shown in.
It was going to take place in a typical southwest American desert and feature lots of quicksand. There are cactus in this level, and the zone would have been playable underground and above ground.
In technicality, there is no piece of animation or art discovered as of yet to show that the "desert level/zone" was a playable level.
In the pictures above, the left and middle ones use inaccurate colours while the one on the right is using the correct colours. The middle one was printed on the back of a Sears, Roebuck and Co. Magazine from a November/December issue of 1992. None of these pictures were accompanied with a caption mentioning any level name.
Interviews with Brenda Ross
The first interview conducted by Deviance on February 2001 to Brenda Ross, the artist who oversaw the art production of the desert level, is deemed unreliable, and is believed that confirmation by Brenda on whether the desert level was called "Dust Hill" is sketchy, mainly from the possible bombardment of e-mails asking about the level and it's name "Dust Hill".
Brenda Ross said she had always called this level "desert level" or "desert zone", which is coincidentially the name that can be seen in some early concept sketches.
However, in the first interview conducted with her, she referred to it as Dust Hill, and in the second interview, as well as stating she always called the level Desert Zone, she also agreed the level was called Dust Hill by responding with "i think it was, yes" when asked.
Unfortunatly shortly before the first interview her email address was made public, which meant that it was quite likely she received a huge batch of fan mail asking about a desert called Dust Hill. Though she never mentioned this in any of the interviews, she agreed that the fans didn't influence her, even though this was only a feeble "sure" response. At the time, most of the community was convinced that "Dust Hill" was the desert's real name because it made sense to them, but so far no official sources apart from Brenda Ross have called the Desert anything other than "Desert Zone" as far as we know. This means for the time being calling it "Desert Zone" is the safest bet, until any conflicting evidence is uncovered.
Returning to the desert level
Several enthusiasts in the community, such as Esrael with his hack, Sonic 2 Delta, have used the image of this desert level to create full zones based on the artwork. These levels provide an alternative to perhaps understand how this level would have been had it moved past the concept stage.
Other details for this zone are still unknown, and so other pieces of information are missing from this article.