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.


  • Ninjadmin - September 20, 2010 10:43 a.m.

    Hmm, agree about DK, but the rest... No chance. Especially any of the 3D ones. Mario 64 & Banjo & Kazooie's are 2 of my most hated levels of those games. Id say the only 3D game to have ok underwater areas is Zelda MM. Being able to transform into a Zora made it much more bearable. SotC one is ok too. Water sections should be banned from all games. Simple as that.
  • lawless77 - September 20, 2010 10:56 a.m.

    Dang! No One Lives Forever gets left out again.
  • IIIIIACEIIIII - September 20, 2010 10:57 a.m.

    I was listening to a brilliant, orchestral remix of Aquatic Ambience on the way home before I read this. It was nice to see Donkey Kong Country win, I was really expecting you guys to pull a fast one and say Bioshock is the king of all underwater levels (even if it's technically a whole game and not a single level).
  • Shoopaah - September 20, 2010 11:24 a.m.

    Still can't get over the fact there's no water levels in Donkey Kong Country Returns. :(
  • AGENTJORRRG - September 20, 2010 11:42 a.m.

    Crash Bandicoot 3??? RC Revenge Pro?? (If you've ever heard of it)
  • tomthespesh - September 20, 2010 12:39 p.m.

    Gotta agree with the Mario and Banjo Kazooie levels I loved them, and Jolly Roger Bay music is fantastic. However Dying in the water level was horrible watching the poor sod drown, it gave me nightmares as a child and is still a horrible way to watch a character go.
  • Hurricrane - September 20, 2010 12:46 p.m.

    Hasn't GR done an article like this before?
  • KnightDehumidifier - September 20, 2010 1:01 p.m.

    Whoa whoa whoa, no Hydro Thunder?
  • onewingedantista - September 20, 2010 1:32 p.m.

    What about the underwater facility in KotOR?
  • Rhymenocerous - September 20, 2010 1:32 p.m.

    Surely there should be some Tomb Raider here? By the way that water Colossus terrifies me
  • crazyer - September 20, 2010 1:37 p.m.

    i hate to be "that guy" but i think lbp should have been on here
  • RonnyLive19881 - September 20, 2010 2:51 p.m.

    Nice to see some Nintendo love on this site! Quit picking on Mario for his awesomeness!
  • papergoon - September 20, 2010 3:04 p.m.

    I know it's irrelevant here but, Aquaria! The whole game takes place underwater and the developers (2 of them if I'm not wrong) were able to craft out a masterpiece. One of the best water-based games out there
  • twix407 - September 20, 2010 4:06 p.m.

    I agree with the DK level as the best but I don't see Jolly Roger Bay in there I always got frustrated with the controls even still with Mario Galaxy I didn't like the water controls. I think a Mario Sunshine level would have been better in its place. But I do like the music on Jolly Roger Bay.
  • JADENkOTOR - September 20, 2010 6:16 p.m.

    DKC for sure. I don't see why everybody has a problem with Jolly Roger Bay... I thought it was a great level in one of the best games of that generation. How did the ghost ship from Super Mario World not make it? That is one of the best water levels of all time... period.
  • Yaro - September 20, 2010 7:12 p.m.

    The SotC part is full of love. Ps3 yay!
  • Clovin64 - September 20, 2010 7:21 p.m.

    Yeah! Dino Crisis 2 gets some love! Seriously, its one of my absolute fave games ever and the water level was incredible. DC2 was such a fast arcade shooter, and the under water level completely changed everything. Also, that bit with the massive Pleisosaur (or whatever its called...Nessie?) is one of my fondest gaming momments ever. Of course Shadow of the Colossus had to be here. It is the greatest game ever. Can't wait for the HD re-release!
  • batmanboy11 - September 20, 2010 7:31 p.m.

    Good list, although I haven't played a couple of them.
  • FlyinHawaiian13 - September 20, 2010 7:42 p.m.

    I love Jolly Rodger Bay. Its just relaxing as hell to play through. Where is all the hate coming from?
  • michaelmcc827 - September 20, 2010 7:53 p.m.

    Woah...getting serious deja vu reading this, I swear this has been an article before.

Showing 1-20 of 61 comments

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