A few bad eggs
Imagine your favorite food on the entire planet is a turkey sandwich. Between two slices of freshly-baked bread is hot, juicy meat straight from the oven. Two ripe tomato slices rest atop the steaming poultry, perfectly cut. As does buttery avocado and portobello mushrooms. The provolone cheese you bought from that hipster at the farmer's market. Then, right as you sink your teeth into this tasty morsel, this holy grail of foods, this sandwich so beautiful that the mere sight of it has moved you to tears, your heart shatters upon discovering that someone has soiled its grace with God. Damn. Horseradish. It's a thin layer, but you can't get its taste out of your mouth. It lingers, unwelcomed but unwilling to leave. And yet you force yourself to continue on because the rest of the sandwich is just that good.
This unnecessarily long-winded scenario is also easily applied to fun video games, the ones that are mostly awesome, save for the horseradish that sullies their design: a single level that's so atrociously, frustratingly bad that you can't help but shudder when you think about its existence. Here are some of the worst offenders.
Blighttown (Dark Souls)
Come to think of it, Dark Souls has a few really awful levels. Seath's Crystal Cave and the pitch black Tomb of the Giants are utter garbage thanks to invisible pitfalls every two feet that send you tumbling to a bonfire 20 minutes back. Then there's Lost Izalith, a humongous map full of waist-high lava and skeletal T-Rexs that body slam everything into oblivion, and the only way to kill them is to cheese them into killing each other. And then there's Blighttown.
Blighttown is home to some of Dark Souls' worst cheap tricks. Poor lighting makes it difficult to get your bearings. Little witch doctor dudes poison you with blow darts if you're not quick enough to cut them down, and you have to run through a poisonous swamp if ever you hope to accidentally stumble upon the boss's stupid spider cave. And that's to say nothing of the ridiculous treehouse section that's just as impossible to navigate as the bogs below. As far as terrible levels go, this one's pretty high up there.
Turbo Tunnel (Battletoads)
Ah, yes--level three of Battletoads, the stage that 85 percent of the planet's population just did not have the patience to deal with. Turbo Tunnel starts off well enough: you run around pounding Fievel and his hat-wearing mouse friends into the organic ground, then perform some Shaquille O'Neal magic on your foot to quadruple its size and boot said mice into outer space. Then, for some unknown reason that still eludes scientists to this very day, you hop on a hovering go-kart that just happens to move at one speed: way too damn fast.
Progress-blocking barricades magically materialize out of thin air in an attempt to thwart your smooth ridin' every few seconds. Hit one, and you have to restart the level. At first they appear slowly; one at the top of the two-tiered track, then at the bottom. Then both at once, forcing you to jump. Then a ramp appears--assume it's a barricade and dodge it, and it's death via freefall. Fast forward an hour later and you might have made it three-fourths of the way through this small but obnoxiously difficult segment, only to discover a new barricade--one that blocks jump attempts--is waiting for you near the end of the run. Yeah, we gave up pretty quick too.
Can't Wait to be King (The Lion King)
It's weird to think that there was a time when movie licensed games had a shot at being decent. Take Virgin Interactive's The Lion King, for example; it's a (mostly) great side-scrolling platformer with gorgeous sprites and backgrounds drawn by Disney's actual animation team. And the tunes, ye gods, they're adapted straight from the film's orchestral score, making it next to impossible not to sing along as you play. Plus, the platforming gameplay is actually quite fun--or, at least you might think so, if only you could've ever gotten past that idiotic second level.
Can't Wait to be King is far more difficult than its whimsical environment might suggest. The happy monkeys and majestic giraffes are mere facades, meant to disguise the brutal, precision platforming and pure luck required to progress from one end of the stage to the other. The happy ostrich that shuttles you across a golden landscape, he's smiling because he knows he's ushering you toward your doom. Then, when you finally reach the rhinos munching away on whatever it is rhinos eat, you have to swing from their tails to traverse what is apparently super deep water. Just one slip, and you'll send the poor lion cub to a watery grave.
The Library (Halo)
Nothing says "fun" quite like getting lost in a generic-looking labyrinth packed with some of the most unenjoyable enemies ever devised in a first-person shooter. The Library is easily the worst level in pretty much any of the Halo games. Its grey-hued halls never change from one room to the next; hell, the rooms themselves basically look identical, making it extremely easy to get turned around.
Then, of course, you have to mow down wave after wave after wave after wave of Flood. They swarm in vast numbers, apparently with infinite reinforcements at their heel, and love to overwhelm you right as you've spent the last of your ammo, save for your trusty pistol (an admittedly beautiful weapon). Even a mid-level checkpoint pokes fun at how shitty a time you're probably having, because its title is: "Wait, it gets worse!" Hahahhahaha..ha.ha guhhhh.
The Volcano (Far Cry)
You know you're in for some shit when you can walk into an armory and stock up on max ammo, health, and armor. Only, as anyone who played 2004's Far Cry can attest, all the guns in the world can't save you from cheap level design. Armed to the teeth, you step into the rim of an active volcano to fight an army of rocket spamming Hulks (which are stupidly hard to kill and are entirely out of place) and acrobatic mutant ninjas that snipe you from the opposite side of the stage. Oh, plus they're pretty much impossible to see without thermal vision because they're so damn far away. Thankfully, if you need to heal up, you can grab the level's only health pack--which, by the way, is on the opposite end of the arena looooool.
So, how can a secret agent--one who already obliterated an army of bad guys while uncovering a conspiracy on a secret island--possibly survive? The answer: prevent the airlock door that leads to the armory from closing by dropping a bunch of junk in front of it. Grab a heavy machine gun for the rocket launcher dudes, and use the sniper rifle's thermal scope to take out the ninjas. If you're lucky, you'll succeed after 200 attempts.
Mile High Club (Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare)
An optional level, but a terribly difficult one nonetheless. Modern Warfare's Mile High Club might not be that bad at face value, but crank that baby up to veteran difficulty is an absolute nightmare. The only way to beat complete it within the minute-long time limit is by playing it over and over and over again (or by watching a YouTube video) to memorize the spawn locations and enemy count of each section of the stage. Then you have to figure out, with exact precision, when to throw flash grenades, when and where to shoot, and who to knife. Surely, you can't be serious?
It quickly becomes a tedious process of trial and error. Muss up the angle of a grenade throw, and you might as well restart. Miss a knife swing, and you might as well restart. Have an ill-timed reload? Yeah, you might as well restart. With enough perseverance--aka several hundred tries at beating the level--you might finally succeed. Not the patient kind? Maybe avoid this one, lest you end up taking out your anger on an unfortunate section of drywall.
Meat Circus (Psychonauts)
There's a good chance you guessed ahead of time that this stage would make an appearance on a list of "levels we thought were bullshit." Not that we didn't like the premise of the stage--an environment made entirely of raw meat (brutal)--but it's here that Psychonauts' 3D platforming is at its worst.
First, you have to complete a frustrating escort mission. But to even get to the AI companion you're supposed to protect, you have to navigate a series of increasingly difficult jumps, and it's not always clear where, exactly, you're supposed to hop to next. Fail to get to your pal quick enough and you get the lovely pleasure of replaying the entire segment. Then you have to navigate a series of rope climbs, which wouldn't be so bad if not for the clunky controls that often send you plummeting to your death instead of to the next platform. It's tough enough to complete without that jerk that spams fireballs at you while you attempt to outclimb a level filling with lava. All of DoubleFine's charm can't stay the rage that ensues from trying to get through Psychonauts' finale.
RC Car levels (Disney's Toy Story)
One of Traveller's Tales' earlier projects, Disney's Toy Story was the bane of many young gamers' existence. Several of its stages are just far too difficult considering its target audience is predominantly children, whose still-developing motor skills make mastering precision platforming and using Woody's pullstring whip attacks nigh impossible. And if you're some kind of child prodigy talented enough to make it through the most grueling of challenges, Toy Story throws two big middle fingers right in your face: the RC racing levels.
At first, you might be excited by the prospect of racing through what looks like a stage ripped straight from a Micro Machines game. Plus, RC is a cool character! But here's the thing: the controls here are so bad that successfully navigating your car through the narrow track is somehow more difficult than physically backflipping across the continental US. For starters, if you so much as touch a wall, you're done. That wouldn't be so bad if you could take your time, but RC runs on batteries (which, by the way, are hard as hell to collect), and the time limit makes an already un-fun stage even more so.
The Water Temple (Ocarina of Time)
Some things in life have the power to bring grown adults to their knees. War. The loss of a friend or family member. Poverty. And, of course, the hellhole that is the Water Temple. Ocarina of Time's most infamous stage was a formative moment for many gamers of the '90s, reinforcing the notion that, hey, life just ain't fair. Oh, I'm sorry, you actually wanted to finish this otherwise masterpiece of a game? Too bad, even with the official strategy guide you're basically fucked.
The temple's multi-tiered layout is just downright confusing; it's frustratingly easy to walk in circles, visiting the same rooms over and over again thinking they're new areas you haven't already explored. As with all Zelda dungeons, a series of keys and locked doors are all that stand in your way--except you also have to manipulate the water levels of the dungeon to reach them, which makes things doubly confusing. Successfully complete the Water Temple, though, and you'll sleep well at night knowing that nothing can stand in your way going forward.
Obviously these aren't the only examples of atrocious levels, so let us know: which ones do you absolutely despise? Did you have trouble with any of the ones we listed? And what do you think is the worst offender of them all? Let us know in the comments below.
And if you're looking for more, check out 9 crazy overpowered RPG bosses that almost made us rage quit and the absolute worst water levels.