Friday, June 10, 2011

Top 10 Least Favorite Video Game Levels

I’ve always been baffled by games where you don’t need to visit every area. Why the heck wouldn’t you, unless you don’t like the game, in which case, why the heck are you even playing it? However, I will admit that there are some places in video games that I really, really would have liked to skip. I’ve given you my favorite levels, worlds, and areas in gaming. Now here’s my shit list. The following levels didn’t merely bore me, they made me snarl and swear and wonder why anyone thought they were a good idea. Were the game makers just dumb, or knowingly sadistic? You decide!


Cows and Bears (Katamari Damacy & We Love Katamari, PS2)
To begin with, an idea that probably seemed inspired at the time, but should have been buried deep and never spoken of again. The whole premise of the Katamari games involves rolling stuff up to make as big a ball as you can. Fun! Until partway through the first game, when you’re ordered to roll up everything except cows (or, in another level, bears). The level ends the minute you capture a milk-producing bovine (or a fish-loving bruin), so the challenge is to get your Katamari as big as possible before this happens. The problem is, YOU CAN’T SEE WHAT YOU’RE ROLLING UP MOST OF THE TIME. I mean, I get how the idea of avoiding one particular object might be fun, but it becomes utterly impossible when you don’t even NOTICE the fucking thing until the King of the Cosmos is yelling at you for being an utter failure at life. Then the sequel compounded the suck by putting the cows and the bears into the same level. Fuck you, cows and bears.

Crystal Caves (Donkey Kong 64, N64)
Doesn’t the name of this level sound lovely? Crystal Caves! Sadly, I know what you’re probably picturing (a more colorful version of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, right?) and you won’t find it in DK64, which apparently forgot to leave anything in the budget for crystals. Seriously, the level just has a handful of bluish rocks here and there, and otherwise you’re trudging around a bland, boring cavern the color of old tires and poop. The lack of landmarks make the caves a confusing bitch to navigate, too. But Donkey and his simian sidekicks can’t fully appreciate the awfulness of Crystal Caves until giant fucking stalactites start falling from the ceiling and murdering them. This happens every thirty seconds or so and there’s nowhere to hide. You can stop it from happening, but not until Tiny Kong learns a new ability and finds a certain warp pad and blah blah fucking blah. This level is custom-tailored to make you feel like there is no joy or beauty in the world.

The End of the World (World of Goo, PC/Mac)
This one really bothers me, because I absolutely adore World of Goo. Love it. Worship it. But, Jesus, did their funding run out or something? The first four worlds knock your socks off with one new innovation after another, and then comes the final world, which is A) painfully short, B) boring, and C) insanely difficult. Four measly levels in which you must guide the goo balls between tiny, tippy little platforms above a vast abyss while the laws of physics repeatedly rape you in every orifice. No new ideas. Nothing the game didn’t already make you do before. Just a skyrocketing difficulty curve and an ending which teases a sequel that will probably never, ever be made. Basically, the End of the World level is an unpleasant epilogue, nothing more. They blew their chance to end a great game on a spectacular note. They blew it to smithereens, leaving only the cold, unforgiving void into which your beloved goo balls will plummet, over and over, while you weep.

Hallways, Hallways, and Also Some Hallways (Whiplash, PS2)
Sigh...the things I put up with to fuel my fetish for cartoony platformers. Whiplash is an obscure and rather by-the-book entry with a fun premise (two lab animals must sabotage an evil corporation while handcuffed together), but I can’t quite recommend it. Why? Because you spend about half the game running down long hallways. And when I say long hallways, I mean Pentagon-length. I mean hallways that make Final Fantasy XIII look open and expansive. Long, boring, identical hallways with maybe some security lasers or robot spiders sprinkled here and there. Good...fucking...God. Were the graphics so cutting-edge that they had to hide massive load times? (No. No, they weren’t.) Did they realize that their game would be less than two hours long without retarded amounts of padding? Whatever the reason, it killed Whiplash’s momentum and made it a chore to play through. Oh, but you didn’t always have to trudge down hallways. Sometimes you had to take long elevator rides, too. FAIL.

It’s War! (Conker’s Bad Fur Day, N64)
To be fair, parts of this level are fun. Other parts are shriekingly not fun. The reason I hate the war sequence in Conker’s BFD is that it lasts FOREVER. For. Ever. On and on it goes, slogging through an increasingly tedious spoof of Saving Private Ryan populated by evil teddy bears. Basically, the game turns into an FPS and forgets it’s a platformer. After about thirty-nine hours, you get to fight an epic boss, and it finally ends. Oh, wait, no it doesn’t. After the boss battle comes the worst sequence in the entire game, in which you have four minutes to wade through a maze of security lasers that would make Leon Kennedy shit his pants, then navigate a beachful of enemies armed with insta-killing bazookas. Oh, but it’s so CLEVER, you see, because they’re PARODYING WAR MOVIES, HERP A DERP. Sorry, but it’s possible to take satire way, way, way too far. This is the one area in Conker’s world that overstays its welcome and sucks out all the awesomeness. The turd in the chocolate box.

Jabu Jabu’s Belly (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, N64)
Oh, wow, listen to all the whiny little voices. “Mweh mweh mweh, everyone knows the Water Temple sucks more, mweh!” Not to me, it doesn’t. To me, the low point of this excellent game comes when you dive down the throat of a giant whale/fish/shark thing with the oddest digestive system evolution could provide. An awesome idea in theory, ruined by the fact that everything in this dungeon (including the walls) hates Link and wants to cause him pain, usually by hard-to-avoid electrocution. Also, it’s one of those dungeons where you can fall through a hole and undo the past hour of exploration. Whoops! Better start climbing again, Link! To top it all off, why are you experiencing such misery in a monster’s bowels? To rescue a spoiled, whiny, arrogant, ungrateful CUNT of a fishperson princess who insists that you literally carry her everywhere, making it impossible to climb or fight. Has anyone made a mod where you can toss Ruto into painful electrical death? Anyone? I’ll pay money for it! GOD, I FUCKING HATE RUTO, JABU JABU CAN HAVE HER AND MAY SHE DISSOLVE IN HIS COLON. Honestly, it makes the Water Temple seem tolerable. To me, anyway.

Meat Circus (Psychonauts, PS2/Xbox)
The weird difficulty curve of Psychonauts is somewhat infamous (I mentioned it in my list of worst bosses), and here’s why. I actually like the game’s later levels quite a bit, despite the challenge. But then you get whacked over the head by the Meat Circus, a messed-up mental amalgamation of two different characters’ daddy issues -- literally, a circus made out of raw meat. Again, great idea, but a bitch to conquer. You have to frantically chase an annoying little kid and protect him from harm, then fight a giant bloke with dual meat cleavers, then complete one of those god-awful sequences where you must rush through some really difficult platforming and if you’re too slow, you fall victim to rising, inexorable death. I know a game’s final level is supposed to be hard, but the Meat Circus is just painful. Torturous. Excruciating. Plus it makes my PS2 crash half the time. And as I’ve previously said, the final boss battle is so easy and lame that it’s like the game is just laughing at you. Just because you can, Tim Schafer, doesn’t mean you should.

Moonhaven (Super Monkey Ball Adventure, PS2)
Most of the entries on this list are here because they’re shitty levels in an otherwise good game. Moonhaven, on the other hand, makes me weep in fury because it’s a great level languishing in a really, really awful game. Super Monkey Ball Adventure was a horrendously misguided attempt to turn a puzzle game into a platformer -- a buggy, frustrating mess where you spend about 95% of gameplay falling off things. Somewhere along the way, you encounter Moonhaven, a gorgeous and uniquely designed steampunk sky-city that deserved much better. Sadly, the lush visuals cannot be appreciated due to the most grating, horrific, awkward, infuriating gameplay I’ve ever slogged through. When you aren’t plunging into the blue abyss over and over, you’re trying in vain to figure out what you’re actually supposed to be DOING. JESUS IN HEAVEN, THIS GAME IS BAD. SO, SO, SO, SO BAD. Which makes the promise of Moonhaven all the more bitter. To my joy, it seems Bioshock 3 will be set in floating steampunk paradise, so Moonhaven will live on in a game that isn’t a flaming turd! Sort of.

Rusty Bucket Bay (Banjo-Kazooie, N64)
Hooo boy. Rusty Bucket Bay. Where do we start? This level is fucking infamous among Banjo-Kazooie fans. I give it points for being original -- it’s set in an greasy industrial harbor where a huge cargo ship is docked -- but that does not excuse the fact that everything about this level was designed to make you sob. Narrow, difficult pathways. Oily, polluted water that asphyxiated you even when you weren’t submerged. Exhaust ports that came to life and ate you. A confusing layout that made item collecting a bitch. And then...there was the machinery challenge. You had to navigate through some incredibly difficult moving gears and propellers with an insta-kill drop below and pound some switches. Then you had to run back through the machine, climb a huge smokestack, jump into the lethal water, swim to the aft of the ship, and grab the 65 seconds. This cannot be done. Literally. If you believe you did it, I assure you, it was a hallucination brought about from inhaling toxic waste fumes that were somehow leaking from your TV set because Rusty Bucket Bay was THAT FUCKING MALEVOLENT. I think this level can actually cause cancer.

Tower of Dawn (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, PS2)
Let us end with a textbook example of the “Dick Swerve” level -- that which is intended to throw a brick wall in your face by changing the core gameplay you have come to take for granted. Prince of Persia is an awesome game, largely because you have the power to reverse time, undoing your own mistakes and deaths. That IS, until late in the game when the prince loses the Dagger of Time. Oh, but he gets it back quickly...with its fuel gauge on E. No problem, just kill some bad guys and harvest more sand! Oh, look, it’s a new sword...that cancels out the sand-harvesting. Now that I’ve crippled you (says the game), here’s the Tower of Dawn, a very difficult endgame sequence with very unhelpful camera angles in which you must perform many complex parkour moves...and you can’t use the Dagger. At all. For the entire remainder of the game. If you die, you’re dead, and you have to start the area from the beginning. This is your reward for spending hours playing this game: you lose the thing that makes it fun to play and are tossed to the proverbial wolves. You’re welcome, faithful gamer! You are fucking welcome. The Tower of Dawn made me grind my teeth into a fine powder which I then snorted in an attempt to forget the betrayal from an otherwise wonderful game. But I’ll never forget...or forgive.

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