Bonus Stage

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A section of gameplay (normally a level) where the player can earn rewards without risking to losing the game.

Of all the forms of challenge segmentation we have explored, the bonus stage is perhaps the most unusual. Strictly speaking, the purpose of a bonus stage is to present the player with an opportunity to earn rewards without the risk of losing the game. While the use of in-game resources in bonus stages differs from game to game, the uniting factor is that the player is momentarily liberated from the potential of losing. Thus the challenge perceived by the player changes drastically, becoming a sort of anti-challenge: you can’t lose the game while playing a bonus stage. This is not contradictory with the fact that bonus stages are usually quite challenging to those players who want to score maximum points.

A bonus stage is different from a period of invulnerability within a normal part of a game. Each of the mazes in Pac-Man has four power-pills that must be consumed. Whenever Pac-Man “eats” a power-pill, a reversal occurs—for a limited time, the player can defeat the ghosts. If he catches them before the effect wears out, he scores extra points. However, the objectives of the game remain the same. The player is still in the same maze, under the same victory conditions: eat all the pellets. There is no sense of reward because eating the power pills is a requirement that cannot be ignored.

Answering yes to some of the questions below that can help determine the extent to which a stage is a Bonus Stage:

  • Is the player character invulnerable (i.e. you can’t lose a life) in the stage?
  • Scoring points is the main aim of the stage?
  • Are the enemies absent from the stage?
  • Are the conditions to complete the bonus stage different from those of other stages? E.g. the stage will end prematurely if the time limit expires, or if you pick up a certain ‘forbidden’ object.
  • Is there a special reward if you complete the stage?


Strong Examples

Street Fighter II Series

Three bonus stages make appearances in this series, with the exception of Super Street Fighter II Turbo: Grand Master Challenge. In the first bonus stage, the player is challenged to destroy a car with any attacks of their choosing. In the second, the player is given a similar challenge, but to destroy a pyramid of bricks. The challenges in these two stages are a matter of positioning and knowing which attacks to use to maximize damage in the limited time period. The third and final bonus stage challenges the player to destroy a wave of twenty barrels that drop from the middle of the ceiling, alternating in the left and right directions. Again, positioning and knowledge of the most efficient attacks is tantamount, though they are arguably more important here. Additionally, timing is also of importance in this stage, because each barrel will roll off the screen if the player does not attack in time. Points are cumulatively added to the player’s total upon partial or complete success in all of these bonus stages.

Donkey Kong Country

In Donkey Kong Country there are optional bonus stages or areas hidden within the normal stages or levels of play. In these areas the player attempts to collect points (i.e. bananas), gain more lives, or to obtain other beneficial aspects to the game (e.g. Diddy Kong or any of the animals that the player can ride). Also during these bonus stages the player can not lose lives (implying that the player cannot lose the game during the bonus stages) but instead they are forced to leave the bonus stage prematurely and to return to the normal stage of play.


The regular levels of Mappy consist of a side-view of a multi-storied house with doors, scattered with stolen items – such as computers, tv sets and safes –. To go from one floor to another, there are trampolines that change color whenever it is bounced upon; if a trampoline is bounced on three consecutive times, it breaks. The level is complete after the player picks up all the stolen items. Levels 3, 7, 11 and 15 are bonus stages, which have a different layout from the regular levels. There are neither enemies nor floors, only trampolines. The objective of the stage is also different, the player has to clear all the balloons. If the player fails to pick all the balloons before the music stops playing or if he falls through a trampoline off-screen, he resumes play on the next level with no lives lost. At the end of each bonus stage is a special balloon with a picture of the boss of the game, which alone is worth 2,000 pts. on top of the point-value of all the other balloons in the level, and the “perfect” bonus award.

Mario Party

This game has the most bonus stages I have never seen. It is like a board game, you play against other people. When you land on a special place or pass by a special pass, usually there is a bonus stage for you. After each around, there will be a bonus stage. There are a lot a lot different bonus stages in this game. That is why this game if so fun. Nobody like to play some board game when all you can do is just to roll the dice and move right? The fun part is bonus stages.

Sonic 3D Blast

There are two characters that will give access to bonus stages to Sonic—Tails and Knuckles. If Sonic gives them 50 rings in total, they will open a bonus stage where Sonic can get a Chaos Emerald. In the bonus stages, Sonic runs over a bridge collecting rings, and avoiding mines. Hitting a mine will not kill Sonic, but he’ll lose some of his rings. The bridge is divided in three segments—in the first you have to collect 50 rings. If you succeed, you’ll continue to the next segment, where you have to get 100 rings, then the last segment you have to collect 150 rings. Once you complete this bonus stage, Sonic gets a Chaos Emerald. Collecting all Chaos Emeralds unlocks the stage select of the game, or gives you an extra life if all emeralds have been collected.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Given the condition that Sonic has 50 rings or higher at the end of each stage, the player is eligible to enter the bonus stage at their own desire. During the bonus stage, their goal is slightly different. Rather than navigating through a level sideways, they fall through a rotating-maze of sorts to reach an emerald. The bonus stage ends when either Sonic touches the emerald or touches a void spot, the former resulting in gaining one of the eight emeralds required to turn into Super Sonic, the latter simply ending the bonus stage prematurely with no emerald gained. There is nothing to lose in the bonus stage, only things to gain, which makes Sonic a good example of use of the "bonus stage" rule.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz

Game play in this game is broken in to 3 segments: challenge stages, bonus stages, and boss stages. The bonus stages in this game appear after a player completes a specific challenge stage. There is also another type of bonus stage that is awarded to the player for completing a game world, which is used to also facilitate the display of the game credits. For example there are 10 game worlds with 8 challenge stages, 2 regular bonus stages, one boss stage, and one subsequent bonus stage after completion of the game world, which is used to display the credits screen. Each regular bonus stage varies with challenge throughout the game; while the final bonus stage for each game world is the same. All bonus stages have the same objective: guide your monkey so that he or she may collect as many bananas as possible within the allotted time frame.

Yoshi's Island

In Super Mario World 2 : Yoshi's Island you have the chance to enter one bonus stage at the end of each level, which rotates between different games, but these extra levels have no negative effect or rick losing the game. These levels are generally mini games in which you can win lives or items that you can use and may help you at sometime in the game future if you choose to use them. The probabilty you will play one of these levels is based on how many of the 5 flowers you find in the level - these are then involved in a rolluette wheel of the stage end hoop you jump through. Once you jump through, the hoop spins , and may or may not land on a flower you've have found, a flower not found, or a blank space. There are more blank spaces then flower spaces, and if the wheel lands on a flower you did not find then you do not play a bonus level. In general it is a good idea to find all flowers and increase your chances of playing these bonus leves.

Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat is a strong example of bonus stages. During your quest to beat everyone, you are given different things to break that each have harder degrees of thickness, wood, steel, ruby, diamond...also if you fight an opponent on the bridge, beat him twice flawlessly, and do a finishing move, you are given the chance to fight reptile, a "secret character" that jumps in and out of the game, giving you advice about how to find him

Weak Examples

Fallout II

This game is a weak example for bonus stages, since there are really no levels in this game. Being a RPG, the game follows the main character in one seamless world. It is possible to change setting by traveling across the game map to another town, or various location. However, there is no point where, if the player does well enough, he/she can access a special level to give them more points. Fallout II follows the quest, or mission, formula. You can choose "bonus" quests, which are more traditionally called "side quests", but these sometimes lead to very little gain. For this game specifically, the side quests are more for humor value, and they lead to no extra points or abilities.

Super Mario Bros. 2: Lost Levels

In Super Mario Bros. 2's bonus stages (ie, coin rooms, warp pipe rooms) the player can receive negative effects. Either by means of enemies being placed in between rewards or by deception. The deception comes in from of the warp pipe rooms. Before like in level 1-2 of SMB. 1 the warp pipes would send a player forward. In SMB: Lost Levels the player can actually be sent back a level or entire worlds. The difficulty boosted because of these elements makes the bonus rooms questionable by definition. Now the bonuses have become challenges within themselves.


Rally-X has been acknowledged as the first game with a “bonus round” (Sellers; DeMaria and Wilson). Starting with the 3rd level and every 4 levels after that, the player gets to play a special level in which the enemy cars are motionless until the player runs out of fuel. However, the player can still lose lives by crashing into rocks or the motionless cars (Schultz "Rally-X (Arcade) Faq"), so that’s why it is a weak example.


Joust has “egg waves” that occur every 5 waves (Janiec). Instead of enemy riders, the player is presented with 12 harmless eggs distributed among the different platforms (Butler "Joust Faq"). The eggs will hatch into enemy riders after a time, but until then they are “basically free points” (Janiec). The player can still lose a life, if his bird falls off the ledge into the lava.

The Legend of Zelda: A link to the Past

This game is segmented into two distinct types of game play, the world map game play and the dungeon game play style. In both scenarios the player may come across rooms, caves, or hidden areas. Some of these places contain room a full of rupees, or an increase in life points. While there isn't a clear cut transition into a bonus stage, the criteria that makes other games such as Super Monkey Ball and Sonic the Hedgehog's stages, bonus stages apply also apply in this situation. For example in both of the mentioned games, the intention of collecting bananas and rings respectively is to allow the player to be better off monetarily so they may exchange their wealth for more useful items. Such as, in the case of Super Monkey ball and Sonic the Hedgehog where once the player collects a certain number of bananas or rings, they gain an extra life. In Zelda the main character can exchange rupees for useful items from merchants, or increase their health statistic by finding health points.

Relations with other elements of the Ontology


Segmentation of Gameplay

See Also


Sellers, John. Arcade Fever: The Fan's Guide to the Golden Age of Videogames. London: Running Press, 2001.

Schultz, Andrew, Rally-X (Arcade) Faq". 2002. Txt File. 1.0.0. Aug 30, 2005 2005. [1].

Mappy. Namco (1983) Midway: Arcade.

Rally-X. Namco (1980) Midway: Arcade. Joust. Williams Entertainment Inc. (1983) Midway: Arcade. Pac-Man. Namco (1980) Midway: Arcade.