You know that friend nobody likes? The one that keeps showing up because no one’s told him to buzz off? That’s what water levels are to videogames. Upon arrival, they kill the mood and alienate anyone who was on the fence about staying or leaving. In short, they tend to ruin the entire flow of a game that’s otherwise just fine, and very few titles have been able to do liquid environments right.
Above: The best water level of all time (it’s true, we looked it up)
This sure as hell isn’t news. “Water levels suck” is right up there with “hey did you know most games based on movies suck?” - but somehow we’ve never given our two cents on the matter. So, here’s our take on the most offensive examples, and along the way we’ll discover (together!) exactly why they suck so very much.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The regular game: So-so platformer with four playable characters. Jumping was loose, enemies were kinda cheap and it was hard as balls, but as young ‘uns we forgave all this because it was OMGTMNT.
The water level: A downright rude attempt at utilizing the turtles’ natural reptilian abilities. As water-faring creatures, you’d think they’d be able to navigate tunnels with ease, but of course the controls are sluggish and unresponsive, leading to tons of unnecessary damage from electrical beams, rotating death poles and stinging algae that line every possible surface. Excessive obstacles in an area that handles like shit? Sounds awesome.
Above: Oh, and YOU’RE TIMED
The regular game: A gorgeously animated side-scroller with unconventional level design. Eventually spawned sequels, an animated series and a toy line.
The water level: Drops Jim into a slow, obnoxiously clumsy dome that you have to carefully guide through treacherous, pointy caverns. The dome’s made of glass, so even the tiniest bumps chip away at it until the bulb collapses, killing Jim and forcing you to do it again. Oh, good.
Above: And you’re timed again!
Star Fox 64
The regular game: Classic interplanetary shooter that still stands as the franchise’s strongest entry. Most of the levels take place in space or on the surface of an alien world, allowing your ship’s agility to shine through with evasive maneuvers and combo-stringing abilities.
The water level: The Arwing sits back while you hop in the Blue Marine, a sub built without any lights to cut through the deep ocean. The result is a murky, sloppy and predictably difficult level in a game otherwise known for free-flying fun. Nintendo returned to this area in 2006’s Star Fox Command and left the Blue Marine docked at home – maybe to install proper equipment for its possible Wii debut?
Above: “Shoot a torpedo to help you see.” How about… lights?
Skies of Arcadia
The regular game: Beloved RPG with a charming cast, memorable world and colorful graphics. If we were to dip into the cliché well and call something a “romp,” this would be it.
The water level: Much like TMNT and EWJ in that it’s another gloomy submerged maze that controls like butt. You plod around with stumbled hops like you’re on the goddamn surface of the moon, and can only exit by walking up obscured ramps, all while exploring mundane, visually indistinct rooms.
Above: My, that looks entertaining
Further issue – Skies suffers from an alarmingly overactive encounter rate, which makes meandering through this underwater cave doubly horrendous. We almost viewed the dive suit as a chance to play without having to worry about constant random battles, but uh, we’ll take repetitive sword fighting over walking slowly in utter confusion.
Ocarina of Time
The regular game: Groundbreaking sequel that expanded what a videogame adventure could be. Just point Link to the horizon and you’re guaranteed a memorable journey.
The water level: The go-to “shit water level” that’s become the standard all others are judged against. To mimic water, the controls are muddled and every action slowed to a crawl, which we can all agree is the biggest gameplay pain in the ass known to man. It’s also dark and hard to differentiate one area from the next, though the biggest hurdles are from the actual structure of the dungeon itself.
You can’t swim up or down at all. You equip iron boots to sink and trudge along the bottom, then unequip the boots to rise back up to the surface. This requires you to pause, go to the equip screen, select the boots, back out and then slowly…. slowly sink to the desired location.
Above: The menu isn’t always this slow (boo emulators) but it’s still awful
Awkward controls and same-y, labyrinthine rooms are enough to severely irritate anyone, but Ocarina still has the balls to make the actual puzzle-solving aspect of this temple revolve around raising and lowering the pools of water. Each time you change the level, different parts of the temple become accessible (or inaccessible), requiring a whole lot of trial and error exploration. When combined with the aforementioned shit controls and tortoise-like pace, this becomes a miserable piece of gaming history we hope to never play again.
Next page - Kingdom Hearts, Uncharted and a soggy Spider-Man
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