A more personal list than usual, this week, we’re celebrating the levels we love the most. The memorable moments, the challenging puzzles, the clever design, the beauty and drama. These are the moments in games that stuck with us the most. Maybe they’re not the best of all time, but we’re not historians, we’re here to share our love for the Top 10 of our favourite levels.
10) Pavonis – Dawn of War: Dark Crusade
Dark Crusade was an early glimpse into what would come in Warhammer’s video gaming future, ever striving for the Total War experience, the player commanded an army that marched from their central hub on Cronus to dominate the planet region by region. Pavonis may not be a familiar name, but it was pivotal in the game to seize it fast. Pavonis was the space port, that allowed you to deploy the brunt of your army wherever you pleased, without concern for where you were at the time.
The fight for the location was not a simple matter of dominance as most of the game was, it was about speed and defensibility, as you swept across the map as quickly as you could to secure the servitors needed to operate the port. If your opponent grabbed them before you did, it wouldn’t matter how secure your base was, how vast your army, how bountiful your resources. You had lost Pavonis, and the game was about to get much, much harder.
9) Carnival Night Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Ah Carnival Night Zone came up recently in a previous list that I wrote – And it had to come back. Whenever I think of Carnival Night Zone, I remember just using up most of my time, because I thoroughly enjoyed the levels. There’s so much to see and do in these casino-esque levels, mostly because you don’t really get a chance to just get through the levels. You’re always going to be drawn into temptation…
… From slot machines, to pinball, the Carnival Night Zone has it all. If you’re down on your luck, you’ll lose all of your rings. If you’re feeling up for the gamble though, you can potentially get rings for days and end up getting a serious chunk of lives out of the levels. The music is fantastic, the theme is cool and all in all, it’s a weirdly good reminder that gambling can even cost you your life. Be safe, kids.
8) Black Velvetopia – Psychonauts
While most people will remember the Milkman Conspiracy, for it’s spiralling suburbia and bizarre and sinister themes, I think I preferred the romantic art style inside the head of the sensitive spaniard Edgar Teglee as he wrestles with his insecurities and strives ever higher for beauty. Raz wanders the streets in search of cards, besting wrestlers, dodging the great bull El Odio as he traverses the black and neon city.
For a long time, you are made to feel as though the Bull is the monster that must be overcome in order to free Edgar’s mind and allow him to complete the thing that advances the story, but there’s a twist in this little tale that shows once again why Psyconauts is such a great game, and why the sequel has such a mountain to climb. It’s an excellent and unique moment of 3D platforming as well as having a story that fully invites you in. Looks cool too.
7) Tundra Express – Borderlands 2
Basically everything that makes Borderlands 2 great is exemplified in Tundra Express. No joke, it may be best remembered for being the principle location for meeting Tiny Tina, the most beloved character in the game, and of course being the place for blowing up trains, but there are a great many features of the locale that make it an excellent gaming experience.
In Tundra Express you’ll have to clear out hordes of bandits complete with their mini-helicopters, clear out a mine full of of conveyor belts, wipe out mutating bugs with flamethrowers, and dodge a whole load of proximity mines in the process. There are mini-dungeons to explore, major plot developments, lots of hidden treasures to find, and challenges that vary from mild enough to just chill and kill, to tough enough to daunting enough to get your pulse rising. There may be better moments in the game, but this is the place that had something for every occassion.
6) Amateria – Myst III Exile
As you pursue the man holding an entire world to ransom in the name of revenge, he puts you through the sardonic torment of learning the lessons that Sirrus and Achenar failed to learn, the ones that would teach them to tend to the ages and raise them, instead of reaping and stealing from them. Of course, that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun! Sure the fate of a world rests in your hands but the problem solving and world discovering journey that lies in your way is full of fun toys to play with, and Amateria is the biggest toybox of the lot.
Four simple components of an oversized marble-run, a balance bridge, linked gates, a set of catapults, and the control room that ensures everything plays out in the correct order for the whole system to operate. When it doesn’t work the great rolling sphere will tumble through every path it can until it gets stuck, at which point it smashes into thousands of pieces with a glass shattering sound you come to dread. When it goes according to plan, you become the ball. Oh yeah, you get to ride every puzzle you’ve solved like a roller coaster!
5) Rainbow Road – Mario Kart
Rainbow Road is the most notoriously hard level in all of the Mario Kart games. There are different iterations, so we’re adding all Rainbow Roads in one big conglomerate. This level is punctuated with ridiculous lighting and visual effects, lethal drops and massive risks, all to be proclaimed the best go-karter of all. If you thought the weapons were bad, then Rainbow Road is just the proverbial icing on the cake.
You sometimes have to make massive jumps, as well as having to find the bumps in the road to get speed boosts. There are twists and turns which, if you’re just going to hold accelerate, you’ll fly off at ridiculous speeds. These are by far the most entertaining maps in all of the games, so we had to at least mention it… and what better place than the dead centre? We couldn’t choose one variant, so check them all out.
4) Enrichment Sphere 6 – Portal 2
Do you know who I am? I’m the man who’s going to burn your house down! With the lemons!
The old Aperture Enrichment spheres may have been the best parts of the Portal sequel, in addition to being some magnificent story, world building, and comedy, they were also an effortless introduction to the most entertaining new mechanic, the repulsion, propulsion, and conversion gels. While Sphere 5 was the best for wooshing and bouncing your way through platforms and broken down puzzles, the 6th had all three gels for you to experiment with, and the best lines in the game.
The culmination of the Cave Johnson story and the discovery of what moon rocks can do, that key little piece of story that becomes essential knowledge in the games climactic moment. It makes for an incredibly memorable moment in an already very content-rich game.
3) World 1-1 – Super Mario Bros
If you’ve never played Super Mario Bros, I think we’re genuinely surprised. Everyone should know the iconic World 1-1. The game introduced us beautifully to Mario platforming, from the colourful overworld we’re presented with, through to the dangerous Goombas. This level is pretty straight forward, with a pipe taking you right to the end as well. The coins are easy to collect and the level is, for all intents and purposes, easy enough.
But a lot of people do fall here. Failing at World 1-1 isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean that you’ll need to really figure out the game, as it only gets harder from here. There’s no secret level skip in World 1-1 (that comes in world 1-2), but it introduces you to enemies, jumping, timing and even finding the secret pipes. Plus, the tune that starts the moment you enter this map is one of the best and most iconic songs in gaming history.
2) Insult Sword Fighting – The Curse of Monkey Island
En garde, touchè!
Oh that is so clichè!
Yes, Insult Sword Fighting is one of the coolest features of the Monkey Island series. My first Monkey Island game was Monkey Island 3, or The Curse of Monkey Island. After you gather yourself a ragtag crew of pirates, you jump on your ship and are almost immediately boarded by Captain Rottingham. It’s here that you’re introduced to the mechanic of Insult Sword Fighting, which takes up a whole act.
The act is great. The insults are memorable and it’s always entertaining. It also doesn’t take that long, but you really should work your way up in it. Some of my favourites include:
- “Would you like to be buried, or cremated?” “With you around, I’d prefer to be fumigated”.
- “When your father first saw you, he must have been mortified” “At least mine can be identified.”
- “You’re as repulsive as a monkey in a negligee.” “I look that much like your fiancée?”
And so on and so forth.
1) Shalebridge Cradle – Thief: Deadly Shadows
Well it just had to be didn’t it?
While Deadly Shadows is somewhat polarising among fans of the series (none of us liked the reboot, we can all agree on that one) there are no denying the best parts of the game were something truly special. The Cradle, the orphanage and asylum, was always a recipe for a tragic ending, and in a world that supports the creeping tide of undeath it was always going to carry the burden of its tragedies long into the future, long enough for you to uncover a dark secret.
As you creep silently through the halls occupied by the animated dead, you’re faced with a greater challenge than any other so far, an enemy that cannot be put down, or killed, they barely even rest. The secret you uncover is far darker than anything that lurks there, but the journey through Shalebridge is the more memorable part by far.
“Level” has become an increasingly complex term to define, narratives all blurring one into another, gaming engines better able to support vast, flowing open worlds… nothing even remotely close to an actual “level” appears in today’s honourable mentions. It’s just an interesting point.
Kill Screen – Pac-Man
Ahh the infamous kill screen. Residing on level 256, the game suddenly doesn’t know what the meaning of life is anymore. It instead throws as much fruit on the screen as it physically can before finally succumbing to letting you try to play it… And hey, it’s not like it’s impossible. It’s just exceptionally implausible. The garbled nonsense you see above is the kill screen, when the memory on the chip just can’t cope with such a number.
Don’t forget that Pac-Man is effectively the same board over and over, with the rules to the ghosts changing somewhat. It’s never a big change, but after a certain point, the game just becomes the same level over and over again… Until the kill screen hits! Granted, this doesn’t happen on every version of Pac-Man, but it mostly happens on arcade machines so uh… Yeah… Have fun playing Pac-Man on an arcade machine!
I bloody hope Kim reads this.
Later Levels is an awesome blog run by our friends Kim and Pete. On and off since the start, GeekOut South-West writers Timlah and Joel have been in some way involved with them. Whether it was four of us getting in a room and playing horror games, or if it was the Later Levels guys coming to our GeekOut Bristol Meets. We’ve worked with them on streams, even one this year!
Basically, this one is a shameless plug. Go read their wonderful website.
Hey Kim, Pete, Ben! You’re on a Top 10 list!
And with that our self-indulgent list is done. Forgive us this week a little personal preference, and we shall deliver a new list next week from a more objective viewpoint. You have no right to appeal your choices for this week’s, however you should share with us your favourite levels below. Meanwhile, here are your choices for next week’s list…
So yeah. These were our favourite levels. We’re not sorry. Don’t tell us we’re wrong, because these were our subjective opinions… But next week is another week. Let us know what you thought of our list. Then, go and check out our friends Later Levels. Anywho, have a good weekend and drop us a line over on Facebook and Twitter.