The Top 7... Water levels that don't actually suck

Video game water levels, the old saying goes, are a lot like pubic lice. Irritating, deeply unwelcome, and it seems like they’ll never go away, but if you like having fun there’s a chance you’re going to run into them eventually. The bane of every gamer’s existence, they’re usually a developer’s lazy attempt to throw in a bit of variety by mixing up the gameplay and upping the difficulty. And nine times out of ten, they turn into an awkward annoying mess beloved of absolutely no-one who plays them.

But there are exceptions. Via clever design, innovating thinking, and (shock) even using water for its fun potential rather than the opposite, some designers have turned up some absolute soggy stormers. They’re rare, but they exist. Everyone else, please start taking notes now.

7. Down the Tubes/Tube Race – Earthworm Jim HD
(Xbox 360/PS3)

If you’ve just skimmed over that header, there’s a good chance that you don’t trust me any more. There’s a good chance you think I have more questionable critical faculties than the happy recipient of a Jamie Cullum ticket, or else have enticed you into reading this feature with the sole aim of using it to laud my ultra-manly gaming skills over you, like a giant bullying a sick child.

Combined, Earthworm Jim’s Down the Tubes and Tube Race make up one of the foulest, cheapest, most overly-demanding and downright broken water section in 16-bit history. That section caused more people to use the level select cheat than any other aspect of the game. Hell, they probably caused Shiny Entertainment to put the cheat in there in the first place. So why is on this list? It isn’t. What is on this list is the reprisal from Earthworm Jim HD, the Xbox 360 and PS3 re-release from earlier this year, which completely fixed said sick gaming joke.

The original levels charged you with navigating a bulbous submarine along an insanely lengthy and convoluted series of pokey stone tunnels. The problem? Said submarine was designed as thoughtfully as a chocolate teapot, being essentially a large jet-powered lightbulb. So bulbous as to almost fill the rocky corridors and made of such thin glass as to threaten an explosion should Jim so much as fart, it also required regular oxygen top-ups from air outlets protruding from the tunnel walls.

Air outlets which would only let you dock with them around 20% of the time, because their collusion detection was completely borked. Oh yeah, and so was the inertia model that controled sub’s twitchy movement. And did I mention that almost the entirety of Tube Race is a marathon tunnel sprint with only a single oxygen to-up at the start?

Basically, nightmare.

But in the HD port by those nigh-messianic folk at Gameloft, the inertia is fixed, the controls work, and the collision detection actually detects collisions. So the whole thing plays out as it was probably originally intended. And it’s a really rather fun, adrenalin-soaked, breakneck thrill ride from start to finish.

6. Koopa Beach – Super Mario Kart
Super NES

Unless we’re talking about the likes of Wave Race or Hydro Thunder (which we’re not), the introduction of water to a racing game sounds pretty unwelcome. Racing games are about speed and manoeuvrability. Water in games categorically is not.

But miraculously, Koopa Beach manages to use the old wet stuff to the advantage of both of the above. If you’re good enough to use it properly, that is. And of course, you are…

Made up of isolated sand banks surrounded by deadly encroaching sea water (okay, not deadly, but go with us on the drama here), it’s a constant to-and-fro between full-speed racing and splash-related slowdown. But only if you take an obvious racing line around the track. Should you practice and plan your route carefully, you’ll find that many of the gaps between the mini islands are merely a well timed bunny-hop apart, cutting out the need for all that brow-furrowed decceleration between sections of ‘proper’ track.

Even better, if you eschew the usual weapons and hold out for a speed boosting mushroom, it’s possible to find even faster roots by navigating through the submerged parts, even going so far as to skim your kart over the insta-sink deeper sections where a person strapped into a heavy piece of machinery would ordinarily fear to tread. And if that ‘shroom isn’t forthcoming, you can always just slam people into the deep as they pass.

Simple gameplay, clever design, stacks of hidden depth and massive potential for being a total sod. It’s classic Mario Kart all round.


  • Kezmer - September 24, 2010 5:05 a.m.

    um Bioshock 2? maybe I am drunk or missed a page but those were kind of fun
  • DJ_Funktris - September 23, 2010 9:13 p.m.

    What about Bayonetta?
  • DrIntrigue - September 23, 2010 7:38 p.m.

    Clanker's Cavern in Banjo-Kazooie may have had an interesting premise, but having played the game recently, I have to say Banjo still controlled like crap and that level is not fun.
  • KidKatana - September 22, 2010 11:01 a.m.

    Don't know if anyone actually played it, but Folklore on PS3 had an awesome water level - they didn't change the controls at all, you just walked around underwater like it was the most natural thing on earth. It was also really beautiful and atmospheric, set in an Atlantis-style lost city. Plus it had some of the best monsters in the game, and kickass music as well. I was reminded of it because the boss in that level looks suspiciously like the colossus featured in this article...
  • FauxFurry - September 22, 2010 8:42 a.m.

    I'm guessing that the Ecco the Dolphin games don't count because they are entirely water level. Of course,the reason why they aren't mentioned could easily be that of entire games built around water levels, they aren't as satisfying to play as these breaks from the ordinary were? The same goes for Feeding Frenzy,I take it?
  • BadCompanyBrik - September 22, 2010 1:10 a.m.

    Disappointed, you didn't mention the awesome secret parts of the DK water levels. It was the amazing secrets of DKC + the amazing water levels of DKC.
  • YuGiOhisbetterthanMagic - September 21, 2010 10:51 p.m.

    I think the Water Temple of every Zelda game ever should be on here. seriously, i love the Water Temple, Water Temple for life.
  • GameManiac - September 21, 2010 10:25 p.m.

    Classic Nintendo, standing out amongst the croud.
  • michelkeepertje - September 21, 2010 8:44 p.m.

    How about the water temple in Twilight Princess? Or doesn't it coun't as a water level?
  • Shake - September 21, 2010 4:08 p.m.

    The water levels in LocoRoco 2 were extremely well done. Mostly they were just bits of other levels, but the control was amazing.
  • jimbob0025 - September 21, 2010 2:08 p.m.

    I always liked the underwater section in MGS2.
  • lincc289 - September 21, 2010 1:43 p.m.

    go!go! About you, fashionable tide Story will start from here!
  • philipshaw - September 21, 2010 11:52 a.m.

    Great feature, but bisohock should be on the list because the whole game is underwater and is great
  • sleepy92ismypsn - September 21, 2010 9:21 a.m.

    Where's Crash Bandicoot Warped? The 2 water levels in Crash 3 were some of my least favorite levels, but They are better than most water levels. The jet ski level in Crash 2 were also a blast. Way better than the jet ski level in Uncharted.
  • jmcgrotty - September 21, 2010 6:34 a.m.

    I would haev put Super Mario Bros -1 world in the top spot.
  • Hotdiddykong - September 21, 2010 3:57 a.m.

    @t3rry747 this is a list of GOOD water levels Water Temples in zelda are the most frustrating
  • Hotdiddykong - September 21, 2010 3:43 a.m.

    Some levels might be shit to consider good,like clankers cavern, but Mario's and Donkey kongs's are there especially for the beutiful music hell its nintendo, Gameplay and music > Graphics
  • SausageLozenge - September 21, 2010 2:04 a.m.

    I hated down the tubes, its where I always got stuck. It was just as bad as the first TMNT video game. At least we'll get to hear some Donkey Kong Country music on T-dar.
  • Crimmy - September 21, 2010 1:35 a.m.

    I'm all for Mario and Banjo-Kazooie being on here, but those levels sucked.
  • Strangleme - September 20, 2010 10:54 p.m.

    Excellent article!!! I agree 100% with #1 on this list. Every single water level in that game was incredible.

Showing 1-20 of 61 comments

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