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A bonus stage (also known as a bonus level or bonus round) is a special level within a video game designed to reward the player or players, and typically allows the player to collect extra points or power-ups. Bonus stage either have no enemies or hazards, or replace the normal penalties for being struck by enemies or hazards with simply being thrown out of the bonus stage. Many bonus stages need to be activated or discovered in some manner, or certain conditions must be satisfied to access them. Otherwise, they appear after the player has completed a certain number of regular stages. They are often much shorter than regular stages.
Unlike most regular stages, a bonus stage does not normally have to be completed to move on. While a regular stage must be replayed until completion, possibly using up lives or continues upon failures, when a player begins a bonus stage they have one chance at it. Some bonus stages do contain an end location or condition to reach, but regardless of whether the player succeeds or fails, game play resumes at the next regular stage after one attempt. Other bonus stages have no end to reach, the player must simply survive as long as they can before inevitably failing at some point. Some bonus stages have a short time limit, where the player must either complete the stage before the time runs out, or simply survive until the clock runs down to zero. As bonus stages are often shorter and over in one attempt, players cannot as easily practice and perfect their play through of them in the same way as regular stages that permit or demand more attempts upon failure.
In some games, bonus stages have an interface and game paradigm that is completely different and disconnected from the rest of the game, as in the slot machine bonus stage of Super Mario Brothers 2. Other bonus stages use the same gaming paradigm as the rest of the game, as in the car smashing bonus stage of Street Fighter II or the bonus stages in Super Monkey Ball where players collect bananas to earn extra points and lives.
Most modern bonus stages reward the player with power-ups rather than points. Modern games have often blurred the traditional distinction between bonus stages and ordinary levels. Most first-person shooter games allow players to enter bonus rooms within larger (non-bonus) levels to temporarily power up. Some games have optional bonus stages which must be discovered and whose completion impacts the mechanics of the rest of the game, as in the "Star Road" levels of Super Mario World.
Comparison with secret levels
Bonus stages are often confused with secret levels, however, in the majority of games, they are two distinct things. The key differences are the following:
- Bonus stages are often mentioned within the manual or during in-game hints. In comparison, a secret stage is more or less hidden, and only vaguely mentioned in the manual or during gameplay (for instance, on the world map).
- Secret levels feature enemies, death-traps and various hazards, even introducing special, new hazards or enemies which are not present anywhere else inside the game. Most games have little to no resistance or hazards on bonus levels.
- Many bonus stages have a time limit. Therefore, many bonus stages doesn't have any exits either, the clock shall yank the player out of the level eventually. Most secret levels have no time limit at all and their exit must be located to progress further in the game, just like any other regular level.