A reader reveals his selection of some of the greatest moments in gaming, from St Francis Folly in Tomb Raider to Zelda’s Forest Temple.
As it’s that time of year where best of lists are prevalent, I thought I’d do something a little different and focus on the best levels within games, rather than the games themselves. There’s only one rule here, and that’s only one level allowed per gaming franchise (which makes things very tricky indeed).
Here are my personal 15 favourites:
Tomb Raider Anniversary (2007) – St Francis Folly
Yes, you’ve not read that wrong. I’m going for the Anniversary version of this legendary level over and above the original. Whereas it is fair to say that the Anniversary version as a whole slightly dumbed down some of the exploration, its version of St Francis Folly was arguably more complex and involved. This is certainly the case in the themed rooms involving the Greek gods (the Damocles section is pure evil).
In the level itself, some entertaining platforming and column climbing leads to Lara emerging at the top of a vertigo-inducing high room. The vertical descent is a challenge in itself but added to that are four separate sub rooms, each representing a themed challenge based on a legend of a Greek god, to pick up four keys. It’s a fantastic level and, in my opinion, easily the best in the Tomb Raider canon.
The only thing the Anniversary version does not improve on over the original is the fantastic music that plays when Lara emerges at the top of her vertical descent – A Friend Since Gone – which has itself been the subject of a fine article by GameTripper.
Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan (2005) – Over the Distance
I can’t recommend the original Ouendan game enough to those who haven’t played it. It was re-skinned as Elite Beat Agents in the West – which is a fine game in its own right – but there’s something about the Japanese original that makes it that bit more special. The Over the Distance level is the tearjerker (which was replaced by the You’re the Inspiration level in Elite Beat Agents).
This heartbreaking tail of a bereaved girl and her recently deceased boyfriend (who was presumably killed in a motorcycle accident) trying to communicate with her to tell her he loves her is as sad as gaming gets; but also uplifting at the same time. The actual original J-Pop hit Over the Distance by Hitomi Yaida is well worth checking out on YouTube.
Super Mario Odyssey (2017) – New Donk City Festival
It’s really difficult to pick a stand-out Mario level. There has been a great deal of discussion in the Inbox and in Reader’s Features recently over which is the best 3D Mario game. I think, on balance, I would lean towards one of the two Galaxy games over and above the others. But a) it’s a close run contest and b) neither of them have a moment like this, which is a joyous celebration of all things Mario and his history.
Mario having assembled the band himself, they then break into the supremely catchy Jump Up Superstar song whilst Nintendo celebrate their own legacy via what amounts to a Donkey Kong tribute, all played entirely interactively by the player.
Astro Bot: Rescue Mission (2018) – Free Willy
It’s very difficult to explain just how different (and special) playing in VR is to somebody until they have actually tried it themselves. I noticed recently that somebody in the Inbox had said that playing Astro Bot reminded them of the sense of wonder they got from playing a new console when they were younger and that is exactly how I felt when playing Astro Bot too.
Free Willy is the second time there is an underwater level in the game – so it lacks the initial amazement of just how that feels in VR – but compensates via a middle section containing some seriously undulating wave action. The miracle of VR means that your brain is tricked into thinking that you’re actually standing in the ocean in a choppy sea or, alternatively, one of those rubbish wave machine efforts that you’d find in an indoor resort. You literally find yourself holding your breath and bobbing around as you’re about to go under a wave – it’s that good.
Star Wars: Battlefront (2015) – X-Wing VR mission
Whilst on the subject of VR it would be remiss not to mention this stand-alone free expansion mission included as part of the original Star Wars: Battlefront. I can well remember the hyperbole from GameCentral at the time they tried this out and, to be honest, it played a large part in my ultimately picking up a PlayStation VR unit. Who doesn’t want to fly an X-wing?!
In its own right it’s a very good stand-alone mission, piloting an X-wing as part of a squadron that ultimately leads to something of a showdown against a larger enemy. The extra immersion that VR adds (again) has to be experienced first-hand as it’s impossible to put into words.
The closest I can get is that when I was nine-years-old I found the old sit-down Atari Star Wars cabinet in a Blackpool arcade and thought it was the greatest thing I had ever seen in my life. This mission had the same effect.
Super Metroid (1994) – Tourian
Tourian is actually the ‘worst’ level in Super Metroid – in terms of it being the most linear; as effectively it is a short journey with some tricky enemies (including the metroids themselves) to the final battle with Mother Brain. Why, then, is it a level that you must play before you die? The simple answer, of course, is that to get to Tourian you, by definition, have already played the rest of Super Metroid and, in doing so, you have played through the greatest game ever made.
Contra 3 (1992) – Level Three
Even after all this time Contra 3 is still by far the greatest run ‘n’ gun game ever made. Recent homage Blazing Chrome was perfectly fine, but it paled in comparison to this – its inspiration. Level 3 is the second horizontally scrolling level, as the regular levels are interspersed with top-down Mode 7 levels.
Just what happens in this level (in well under five minutes) is breathtaking; starting with avoiding harpies, an attack on some form of helicopter drill, climbing a wall to be attacked by some form of giant mechanical insect, bombed by a bomber plane and then, finally, attacked by a giant mechanical ape and a couple of his robot pets. You can picture the design meeting now at Konami (when they were at the top of their game) – where they basically must have just said ‘throw the kitchen sink at it!’
The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998) – Forest Temple
Picking just one Zelda dungeon (or should they be called temples? Most of them are) may well be the trickiest decision on this list. Even the unpopular Zelda games usually have at least one or two great dungeons. One of my favourites, for example, is within the much-maligned Spirit Tracks.
Similarly, for some people, time hasn’t been kind to Skyward Sword, but there is no doubting the quality of some of the dungeons in that game. In the end it’s hard to ignore Ocarina and the first dungeon that you encounter as adult Link – the Forest Temple.
There is definitely an uplift in puzzle difficulty here and a haunting atmosphere throughout. This culminates in one of the great Zelda boss battles involving Ganon, a horse, some paintings and a newly acquired bow and arrow. It’s as good as that sounds.
Resident Evil 7 (2017) – Happy Birthday
This one was a tough call between the wooden lodge in the original Resident Evil (the one containing Plant 42) and this, frankly, downright nasty piece of work. In what is effectively Resident Evil meets the Saw movie franchise; you get to play the last moments of the ill-fated cameraman Clancy after he is trapped in Lucas’s puzzle rooms.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that it’s pretty disturbing stuff (or, indeed, that Clancy is ill-fated) but what really sets this level apart is that what you’ve learnt in playing through it becomes crucial later on in the game. The puzzles are almost worthy of a good point and click adventure too.
Dark Souls 3 (2016) – Anor Londo
Yes, the third one. It’s not a typo and the game has been out long enough now for this not to be a real spoiler. Anor Londo is widely thought to be the best area of the original Dark Souls – culminating in a certain notorious double boss battle which separates the men from the boys.
Its inclusion (in significantly less sunny form) in the third instalment of the Souls trilogy was nostalgia in its purest form; starting with an initial inkling that you may be heading towards somewhere familiar, but not really knowing for sure until you see those unmistakable steps up to the cathedral – and then having it confirmed by that familiar Souls chime that heralds in a new area. And then immediately thinking: what is behind that boss door? It’s in the same place as last time. It couldn’t be them again could it?
Beat The Beat: Rhythm Paradise (2012) – Ringside
I have a soft spot for rhythm action games and the Wii iteration of this franchise is arguably the best of the series. The Ringside level, however, is really something else. It’s as camp as Christmas and involves a masked wrestler being interviewed post fight set to (as you’d expect) music.
It’s absolutely hilarious, both in terms of some of the garbled language and the wrestler’s monotone gruff answers (accompanied by ludicrously camp posing). To be honest, if you’re not at the very least smiling having completed this one you really need to have a word with yourself.
Strider (1989) – Level 2
There must have been something in the water in the very late 80s and early 90s in terms of these side-scrolling action games. Released a year or two before Contra 3, this is another game that clearly decides to throw everything they can at the player over the course of one level. This is the one everyone will remember as the mountain descent level in the snow. The variety is astonishing.
Attacked by wolves? Check. Attacked by a giant mechanical gorilla (what is it about giant mechanical gorillas?) Check. Ascending a mining shaft? Check. Attacked by jetpack man? Check. Legendary mountain descent with added explosions? Check. Attacked by ED-209 like creatures with added lightning storm background? Check. Take helicopter rides (not a typo – there’s more than one) up to airship whilst dropping bombs on you? Check. Defeat three female ninjas on airship to finish level? Check. Phew!
Shadow Of The Colossus (2006) – Avion
For those struggling to picture this one, it’s the giant bird of prey that patrols the foggy lake. It is well documented that Colossus is not an easy game to play – not in terms of its difficulty as such but in terms of the feeling of loneliness and regret you feel whilst playing it. Avion is the fifth colossus that you fight in the game and, at this point, you will have started to feel that something is not quite right (notwithstanding the fact that the last colossus you fought was one of the very few that, frankly, had it coming).
A foggy lake is a very tranquil and isolated place to be doing your colossus slaying. However, as much as the whole scenario feels a little bit off, your emotions of pity are countered by the sheer exhilaration of jumping on a giant bird’s wing and holding on for dear life as it takes off around the lake. There are not many other games that can toy with your emotions like this one – driving you forward when you know it’s not really right to keep going.
Tetris Effect (2018) – Dolphin Surf
Without labouring the VR point too much, Tetris Effect is much improved in VR mode but perfectly serviceable in standard mode. This is (obviously) the level with the dolphins and whilst, admittedly, there are more spectacular levels in the game with better soundtracks – this one gets one major thing completely right; and that is allowing you to actually celebrate your victory.
At the start of the level the Tetrimino blocks are coming down fairly slowly but, later on, they start to come down faster than they ever have done before in the previous levels. It’s a huge difficulty spike and you find yourself panicking and trying to stay afloat, struggling to cope with the speed of it all (although it seems quaint compared to what comes later on!).
Just at the point when you think you can’t hold on any longer there is another change of speed but, surprisingly, the speed drops to a very easy level and remains that way until the end. The game realises that you’ve got through the tough part and, as a result, now starts to make the dolphins leap in unison out of the water with every new successful line as they cheer on your victory. So few games allow you to properly enjoy winning and this one feels particularly sweet.
What Remains of Edith Finch (2017) – Barbara Finch
if you haven’t played What Remains Of Edith Finch then you really should go and rectify that in its entirety right now. It’s a fairly short game and it won’t take you too long to get to this classic level. I will try not to spoil this one too much; but let’s just say it has the best use of licensed music I have ever heard in a game (taken from a ‘seasonal’ horror film).
It’s so clever how it uses the familiar music to build tension and a sense of dread in what otherwise is not a particularly scary game – despite the fact that it deals with a number of deaths of family members. My overwhelming impression upon completing the level – ‘that was so clever’.
By reader simjhpy (gamertag/Twitter) aka Ace Attorney
The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.
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