Sometimes when you play a game, you have to stand back and just simply admire the game world that you are playing in. It can be a variety of things that can trigger this off; an epic vista, a serious confrontation, a challenging enviorment, a funny situation, a serious situation etc. The point remains: some locations in games simply get lodged in our heads and we never forget them.
My purpose in writing this list is to share an insight into the sorts of gaming locations that have had an effect on me and become great favourites of mine. This list is not ranked as some of my others have been; quite frankly I would find it difficult to rank these memories on merit, and so they are simply listed in the order they came to my head. I also admit that the title of the article is a bit loose; some of the locations mentioned aren’t ‘levels’ in the platforming sense of the word, but I couldn’t think of a better term so it will do. And so without further ado; my favourite levels/places/locations in my gaming history.
1 – Treetops – Spyro The Dragon (Playstation, 1998)
This level is often remembered amongst people who have played the game as one of the most annoying levels due to the numerous paths that need to be taken for the egg thieves to be caught; I on the other hand absolutely adore it. The split path dynamic means that it warrants replays, and the jumps that you have to make in this level are huge. I mean ridiculously big. The biggest of the lot is not the hardest jump in the game (that award goes to the bastard supercharge jump in Haunted Towers), but it’s highly satisfying to pull off, and remains my abiding memory of this game.
2 – Facility – Goldeneye (Nintendo 64, 1997)
Facility is one of the most talked about levels in gaming history. Forming the second stage of the excellent Goldeneye, it is pretty much a perfect recreation of what happens in the film; you start off in the toilet stalls, judo chop some Ruskies, proceed through the facility to meet up with 006, and then take care of the explosives at the other end. If only all ‘film adapted games’ were like Goldeneye…
3 – Un-Bearable – Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (Playstation, 1997)
The chase levels in Crash Bandicoot are amongst the best, and this one ranks as the best of them all. Instead of a boulder, Crash is chased down by an enormous POLAR BEAR. Yep, a massive bear. Along the way are all sorts of devious traps intended to catch you out, such as deadly electrical posts and pits of doom. What I really like about this level in particular though is that the core of it is excellent breakback fun, but then there are a few secrets stashed away: jump after the first Polar Bear when it crashes through the wooden bridge and you are treated to an extra hard bonus level, and then make your way back to Polar at the end of the level and you are transported to the secret warp room. Genius. And points are due for the bear pun in the name. Who doesn’t love bear puns?
4 – World 1-1 – Super Mario Brothers (Nintendo Entertainment System, 1986)
I’m not sure that I can say anything about this level that hasn’t already been said a million times before. The quintessential ‘first level’, and the one that breathed new life into the gaming industry. It’s a blend of the simple to get you used to the control and layout of the game (pitting you against some of the basic enemies), while there is also some cleverly hidden secret boxes and a tube that you can fall down for bonus coins. And of course, the iconic music plays in the background. Wonderful.
5 – The Insomniac Museum– Ratchet & Clank 2: Going Commando (Playstation 2, 2003)
Occasionally, a developer might throw a bonus level in to keep gamers amused and to allow for some sort of device to make the game easier, such as extra lives. Insomniac on the other hand, made a museum. This stands as my favourite bonus level of all time; the room is filled with active distractions, including making your own weapon effect using debug technology, running up the gravity ramps plastered all over the walls, driving the vehicles placed around, and gaining some fascinating insights into how the game was made via snippets of audio from the development team. It is all incredibly user friendly as well. The museum in Ratchet & Clank 3 is pretty good as well, but this kept me captivated for at least two hours when I first found it, so it gets the spot.
6 – Radiant Garden/Hollow Bastion – Kingdom Hearts 2 (Playstation 2, 2006)
Most of the Kingdom Hearts universe is based on the works of Disney, so it’s nice to see all the Final Fantasy characters melding together in one place. Hollow Bastion is home to the FF characters and some noticeable Disney characters (such as Merlin), as well as acting as a portal to some other worlds, including the 100 Acre Wood and Space Paranoids, the world of Tron. It gets a place in this list however for being the focus of one of my favourite passages of gameplay: you meet King Mickey for the first time as the plot is expanded, and not soon after the Heartless attack the town. This leads to a tough boss fight with Demyx, a small sequence where you team up with Squall, Cloud, Tifa and Yuffie to take down more Heartless (including a hilarious moment of interaction between Cloud and Squall to please fans of the two protagonists), and then the battle against the 1000 Heartless, which even though it is too easy is still one of my favourite boss fights. Later on, Radiant Garden also forms the backdrop for the optional fight with Sephiroth. All in all, it’s a hell of a place to live. Honourable mentions should go to Space Paranoids itself for the beatiful neon lighting and use of the Tron franchise, and the Timeless River level (becuase I’m a sucker for sepiatone).
7 – Enchanted Towers – Spyro 3: Year Of The Dragon (Playstation, 2000)
Similar to the Crash 2 level, Enchanted Towers has a lot of things going on in it. There’s the main quest to get through which involves taking down the Rhynorcs, but then there’s much more to keep you occupied: a mini quest involved the return of a lost animal, the opportunity to play through the entire level as Sgt Byrd, and then the icing on the cake; a massive skatepark where you challenge Hunter to a skateoff. I spent so many hours skating in Spyro 3 its unreal, and this level is the cause of all that.
8 – When Aliens Attack – Spiderman 2 (Playstation 2, 2004)
Swinging through New York City in Spiderman 2 is pretty spectacular on its own merit, as you can go pretty much anyway in the city, which is massive and pretty realistic. However, the mission were Mysterio extracts his revenge on New York is too good to ignore, and provides the closest link to a comic book storyline within the game. You have to rush to get to a theatre that Mysterio has set on fire and save the occupants, before the game goes into maximum overtroll. Space ships appear above the water, and the Statue Of Liberty turns into a giant conductor with a massive brain at the top. It’s up to Spidey to swing all the way to the Statue and knock out the brain at the top, before returning to the mainland to fight through a ‘Funhouse Of Doom’ where he fights distorted versions of himself. If this sound ridiculous, it is because IT IS. There is also some hilarious comments made between Spidey and Mysterio (‘the cliché who walks like a man’ for example), and there are some Army Of Darkness references thrown in there for good measure.
9 – The Interview – Driver (Playstation, 1999)
World 1-1 and the Green Hill Zone may be the iconic first levels, but this has to rank as the hardest first level EVER. In the space of a minute, you have to execute several manoeuvres in a small parking lot (including a burnout, a 360 donut, slaloming between concrete blocks and extreme braking) all the while avoiding damage. I have never witnessed or known anyone to do this first time, even now having completed the game I struggle to do it in under a minute. Hardest first and last levels ever? Yep, that’s Driver for you.
10 – The Nurburgring – Project Gotham Racing 3 (Xbox 360, 2005)
I’ve raced hundreds of video game tracks over the years. What makes this one so special? Simple: it’s the Nurburgring. For those who are unaware, the Nurburgring is a real life track, which twists and turns through13 miles of German forest. It’s so big that entire towns are in the middle of it, and yet it’s open to the public to race on. Its length and varying difficulty make it the most feared track in the world. And in PGR3, the whole experience is recreated immaculately, right down to the writing on the road. The entire track is there, and you have the option of adding the GP track to it, increasing the length and challenge yet further. It has been featured in Gran Turismo 4 and the Forza Motorsport series as well, but the dynamics of PGR3 make it so much more fun – getting style points for drifting around the Karussel is too much fun.
And there you have it, my top 10 levels in gaming. What do you think of my choices, and what are your favourite levels? Comments and discussion is appreciated, and I’ll be back with another Top 10 very soon.