As every single gamer on the face of the earth has moaned and ushered 1000 times already, "water levels have a tendency to suck." I don’t think they are nearly as bad as many say, but there is some truth to the claim. Water levels tend to feature completely different, often worst, controls and physics from the normal ones the game had just made the player get use to, will often take oxygen into account usually leading to disaster, and can somehow be ridiculously slow yet disorientating and frustrating at the same time.
But there are already too many gamers ragging on about this and believe it or not there are water levels that are actually good! Just because a level fiddles with a game’s physics doesn’t mean that fiddling needs to be a bad thing and for as awful as some water levels can be, nobody can deny a lot of them look gorgeous. And what better time to count down a list of my favorite water levels than when my beautiful state of Minnesota has become more blazing hot than it ever should be?
To make this list the level in question needs to meet these rules.
1. I obviously need to have played the level, leaving out several areas like the ship level from Uncharted 3.
2. It needs to be at least somewhat themed around water.
3. The level can’t just look like a water level it needs to make the player interact with water in some way, which leaves out some excellent choices like the harbor stage to Contra 4 and many beach-side levels.
4. One entrant per franchise.
5. Water themed games are allowed.
6. Above all else the level needs to be fun to play.
Let’s get this started.
Whenever anyone defends water levels a title commonly brought up is Bioshock and while I think Bioshock is a great game, as an example of a ‘water-level’ or a game that is one giant level I don’t think it’s the best one. I know the game takes place in an underwater city and the interactions the play has with the water never interferes with the enjoyment of the game, but water never felt necessary to or enhanced the game either. The fact that everyone (me included) is pumped for Bioshock Infinite and aren’t complaining that our precious water-physics and random water-slide segments are guaranteed to be missing from the upcoming sequel is proof of that.
Still, the game is definitely a great example of how beautiful an underwater area can look and for what it is worth, the segments in Bioshock 2 when the player temporarily ventures out of Rapture and into the deep sea was the closest the game ever got to being creative or nearly as good as its predecessor.
Deep Trouble (Crash Bandicoot 3)
This is an honorable mention because my nostalgia may be blinding me on this one. I’ll admit it has been ages since I’ve played Crash Bandicoot 3 and I no longer have my copy of it. For all I know Deep Trouble and similar water levels haven’t held up too well, but from what I recall Crash Bandicoot 3 had some finely done, if somewhat difficult and claustrophobic scuba levels filled with a lot of enemies unique to the game and fairly fluent controls. I’m looking forward to finding out whether or not that’s true when my new copy of the game has finally shipped to my house.
10. The Crew Expendable Mission (Call of Duty Modern Warfare 4)
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Cod series and probably wouldn’t have the level of knowledge of their single player campaigns that I do if my older siblings weren’t addicted to the multiplayer and brought a new installment every year. But I also don’t think the series is the bane of the gaming industry others consider it to be. The campaigns may have slowly become more and more ‘meh’ as the series has gone on, but every new entrant is bound to throw in at least one single player mission that sticks out in my eyes. That level in Call of Duty 4 was the ship level.
It starts out in typical Cod fare, lots of enemies and lots of shooting going on with the objective being to get a package. Captain Price and his crew make their way out of the ship to shoot a few more baddies, when the real excitement begins (at the 5:00 mark). The ship begins to sink and tilt like an out of control ferris wheel turning the mission into a desperate attempt to escape in time. Even though the water plays a minimalistic part in this mission, I funnily enough found fighting against the rising sea level far more nerve-wracking than any of the actual gun fights. The beautiful water effects also made some nice frosting on an already good water level cake. And that final jump at the end of the mission? Absolutely epic!
9. Donkey Kong Country’s Water Levels (all of them)
I have very limited experience with the Donkey Kong Country franchise. I’ve only played several of the Gameboy installments, but all the series’ water levels look like they control in the same basic way so I’m making an exception to my one entrant per-franchise rule and am giving this spot to all the water levels in the Donkey Kong Country series because at their core they look like they look like they play pretty similar. The physics to them might be completely different from the other levels, but in this case it worked in the level’s favor since the controls were still responsive and smooth.
The levels were equally fun and gave a very enclosed, tunnel-like feel, but never were overly difficult or clustered with enemies at least when compared to other DK Country levels. And in typical Donkey Kong fashion the music is a tsunami of win! This is probably the least controversial entrant on the list, since even the most avid haters of water levels like the ones the Donkey Kong Country franchise offers and can you blame them? Who doesn’t like using a sword fish to destroy crustaceans?
8. Wave Race Blue Storm (Game)
The Wave Race franchise can best be described as a pre-motion control Tony Hawk game with jet skis. The series might not be the most popular, but it has always received pretty good critical reception, it would have to in order to get praise from Shigeru Miyamoto himself. My personal favorite in the franchise is the Gamecube’s Blue Storm for its slick controls, pretty scenery, variety of game modes, and best of all the ability to make a fat guy do barrel rolls!
The game might not be as stunt crazy as the Tony Hawk games, but Blue Storm has its share of fun content and a lot of cool Easter Eggs.
The only thing that keeps this from being higher on the list that a lot of the courses can feel underdeveloped at times and if another installment is ever released I’m hoping the insanity is cranked up a lot higher, but as it stands Blue Storm is a fun water skiing game that does a lot to stick out among other racing titles.
7. Aquaria Towers (Spyro: Ripto’s Rage)
Unlike Crash Bandicoot, I’ve had the opportunity to re-experience one of my favorite childhood franchises, the Spyro series and can safely say I had fun exploring Ripto’s Rage’s Aquaria Towers. I guess what makes Spyro’s water levels work is the fact that there is no pesky oxygen limit that other Platformers have *coughSoniccough* and Spyro moves through the water the same way he charges forward on ground levels getting rid of some of the annoyance that comes with learning completely new physics and controls.
Along with that the level itself is very well-made. Shooting down armored sharks with projectiles was fun, and changing how the height of the water level didn’t feel annoying like it does in so many other games where the premise is accessing new areas as you increase/decrease the water level *coughWaterTemplecough*. There are also two challenges where you need to swim through manta ray rings that worked like the flying challenging only with water. It all shows signs of smart game design that copes with the typical problems that come with your average water levels.
6. Maridia (Super Metroid)
The water segments of Metroid games are usually my least favorite, but being my least favorite segments to some of my favorite games of all time doesn’t say much. Maridia isn’t the best area in Super Metroid, but it is the creepiest. Just listen to its eerie as hell music.
That is probably what pushes Maridia to the standards of the rest of Super Metroid’s beautifully made areas/levels, the sheer level of atmosphere it produces, that and its awesome boss fights. Some complain about how slow the player’s movement becomes when submerged in water, but I honestly was never bothered by it. Besides, the Gravity Suit quickly fixes that. Other Metroid titles have made some generally well done water levels and there’s no way I couldn’t make this list without mentioning how flat-out amazing the water segments to the Prime games look, but I don’t think they can match Maridia’s eeriness and sheer memorable bosses.
5. Kaernk Encounters (Amnesia: The Dark Descent)
Speaking of creepiness the next entrant is any encounter with Amnesia’s Kaernk. Not enough horror games use water levels in interesting ways, so it was refreshing to see this creature in Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Kaernk is an invisible creature that stalks you during two scenarios where the area around you has become flooded. Throughout these segments water is both your best and worst friend. It can help you detect the creature’s movements, but spend too much time in the water and it will make quick work of you. Because of this the player needs to jump on furniture, cupboards and other scenery if they want any hope of escaping the creature alive. Did anyone here ever play that game as a kid where you pretend the floor is made of lava and move your house's furniture around to jump from point to point?
I did and encounters with the Kaernk feel like demented, scary versions of that. Reaching out to reposition random debris; desperately hopping from point to point; going into the water as sparingly as possible; and of course that feeling of anxiety that comes every time you hear the Kaernk move. I consider this an excellent example of a horror game using the shittiness of water levels to improve its scariness.
4. Splash Woman’s Stage (Megaman 9)
I don’t show it often enough, but I am a massive fan of the Blue Bomber. The original Megaman games have some of the best level design anybody could ask for from an old school game. A lot of people have asked me why the later Megaman games (4-8) aren’t looked upon as fondly as the earlier titles when they all play in the same basic way. My answer is always that their level designs just weren’t as good. Thankfully the rebooted Megaman 9 brought back that genius spark Megaman’s 1 and 2 (I honestly don’t think much of 3) had.
The Megaman series’ first female robot master is filling this entrant and with good reason. Megaman always had excellent water levels. Sure, the controls in them tend to be a bit floaty and Megaman jumps higher than usual, but the core mechanic of JUMPIN N’ SHOOTIN is still there.
The important thing is that Splash Woman’s stage compliments these adjusted physics creating some tricky jumps, unique enemies, and in my opinion the second best level in Megaman 9. I also think the stage’s boss fight is undersold. Splash Woman is far from the most difficult boss, but she is still a much bigger challenge than Galaxy Man or Tornado Man. Bottom line, the stage’s tune is great, its design is excellent, and is not just a great water level, but a great level in general.
3. Jolly Roger’s Lagoon (Banjo Tooie)
I still can’t believe it took me so long to experience Banjo Tooie after hearing about how awesome it was from virtually everyone I knew, but I finally took some time to sit down and experience this supposedly ‘amazing’ game and I can say that…It’s all pretty much true the game kicks ass, including its water level. It’s a little funny because by the description Jolly Roger Lagoon sounds pretty awful. Banjo and Kazooie have limited oxygen and the water controls work very differently than the ground controls, yet the level works. Part of that might have to do with the ability to transform into a sub-marine, but the standard underwater controls still work well.
Admittedly there are quite a few portions done on land, but water still plays a big part in finding jiggies, jinjos, and the game’s many collectibles. One thing that might have made me appreciate the water portions is the fact that Atlantis, the true underwater area of the game is hidden until an objective earlier on in the world is completed or maybe the fact that the game gave some valuable underwater attack was enough to make the level fun. For whatever reason Jolly Roger’s Lagoon is a fine addition to Banjo Tooie’s open ended levels and a place I was willing to explore to its fullest.
2. The Great Sea (Zelda: Wind Waker)
YES FUCK ALL OF YOU I LIKE WIND WAKER’S GREAT SEA! It is one of the greatest open worlds I’ve ever seen in a game and I’ll proudly put it on this list! ...Sorry about that.
So yea, I really like the Great Sea in Wind Waker. Some detractors may try to tell me it’s too big or moan about how long it took to gather the 8 pieces of the triforce, but these individuals are lifeless poo-poo heads who lack a sense of adventure...Or just have a different opinion from mine. The reason Wind Waker’s great sea is big is because there is a lot of stuff to find. It has treasure to uncover, giant krakens to fight, ghost ships to invade, islands to see, Wind Waker's world is simply chalk-full of memorable sights and none of it would have been possible if Nintendo had made the open world as pathetically small as it was in previous Zelda games.
If all I have to do to get such excellent scope and vastness is sail across a pretty looking sea for 10 minutes while avoiding/fighting enemies and looking at islands that are also pretty then so be it! Speaking of things that look pretty, the game’s visuals, which are now scientifically proven to be gorgeous magnificently compliment the game’s vast ocean making Wind Wakers world all the more fun to embrace to its fullest. I know Wind Waker’s reception has become more positive as the years have gone on (it’s my favorite Zelda game), but I’m still baffled so many people take issue with travelling through such a beautifully constructed world like The Great Sea. It’s a hell of a lot better than Elder Scrolls IV’s open world everyone has to give The Great Sea at least that!
1. Super Mario Sunshine (The entire game)
For as much flak as water levels can get, the Mario series has always handled them pretty well. The Cosmic Cove Galaxy, Jolly Roger Bay, heck even the legendary minus world are all levels that are liked among gamers. So what happens when someone makes an entire Mario game into a water level? You get my favorite Mario game of all time! Yes, my favorite game from what is likely the most recognized franchise in all of gaming isn’t one of the Galaxy games, none of the games from the NES trilogy, or even any of the amazing Paper Mario games that I constantly praise. It’s the game that added a water hose to the franchise. And by the shittiness of the Water Temple was it fun!
Many people are divided on Sunshine, but I honestly think of the many successors to Super Mario 64, it is the only one to have added to and improved the formula, while still keeping everything that made 64 so good. What I believe makes Sunshine MUCH more entertaining than either of the Galaxy titles is the fact that it did a far better job at retaining Super Mario 64’s open ended feel. I don’t think the Mario Galaxy games are by any means bad, but I could never stand how linear their levels felt. Galaxy and Galaxy 2's levels in terms of scope were far larger than those seen in other 3D Mario games, but they were laid out like a 3D version of a level found in one of the 2D Mario games. Some fans may have liked that, but I thought it was a waste of a chance to expand upon the open ended nature of Super Mario 64.
Sunshine doesn’t have this problem the levels feel much more similar to the worlds found in Super Mario 64 only bigger, better, and with an even greater sense of freedom thanks to Mario’s new water jet. Using the Rocket Nozzle to sky rocket 50 feet into the air and dive down into a pool of water, using the Hover Nozzle to spin and propel myself off a tightrope, blasting across the terrain with the Turbo Nozzle these situations are the definition of fun! F.L.U.D.D (The Flash Liquidating Ultra Dousing Device) is just fun to use END OF STORY! It eases up the difficulty of the platforming thanks to the secondary jump it provides; can be used to alter the environment in an assortment of ways; has different nozzles, all of which let you traverse Isle Delfino in a unique and fun way; and I was never without a body of water to refill F.L.U.D.D with since the game is full water!
Yes, F.L.U.D.D and the new stuff introduced in Sunshine are at their core gimmicks, but they’re the GOOD kind of gimmicks that change how the game is played and in my opinion gave Sunshine the most unique and entertaining levels in the history of the Mario franchise. And ignoring the water jet the game provides so many other fun things for me to distract myself with like the Blooper Surfing, the giant tilting ship in Pinna Park, and the Dune Buds that change the environment when doused with water and all of this was done thanks to the simple inclusion of more water!
I’ve heard critics state they didn’t care for any of the segments where they had to use F.L.U.D.D, but liked the Secret Levels that took away the device and left them with some standard platforming, which is funny because I have just the opposite opinion. The secret linear obstacle courses were by far the most boring and frustrating parts of the game for me and I only completed them when I had to. For me the meat of the game was just dicking around and seeing where my water jet could take me.
I don’t know what else to say other than I think Super Mario Sunshine receives far more scorn than it deserves and there is way too much fun to be had with it! If I had never played Super Mario Sunshine I would have thought the idea of making an entire Mario game into a water level would be crazy and likely disastrous, but it ended up being my favorite game in the series and if there were one game I had to play to celebrate and soak in the Summer feel Sunshine would probably be that game.
Thank you all for reading feel free to comment on water levels that you think DON’T suck and remember, if you go to the beach without sunscreen you’re going to have a bad time.
Sincerely, Sir Hershel Lousyton Von Karmistico Armandago Gantson McDowell IV
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