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

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2. Clanker’s Cavern – Banjo-Kazooie
(Nintendo 64/Xbox 360)

Essentially the darkly warped British flip-side to Jolly Roger Bay, Clanker’s Cavern is a bleak and disturbing experience given the woefully clear hindsight of repeated plays. Oh yes, it’s part of Banjo-Kazooie all right; that bright, breezy adventure of bird and bear, that wide-eyed, colour-drenched platformer chock-full of merry squeaks and cheeky puns. And a quick glance over its checklist of features reveals an innocent enough brew indeed. A big, friendly fish character? Plenty of hidden secrets? A large, enemy-free expanse of water, to be explored at your leisure? An intuitive and responsive swimming model? Well, that certainly couldn’t be emotionally scarring nightmare fuel for an entire generation, right? 

Oh sweet innocent soul, how wrong you are.

Peel back the skin and look at the dirty carcass beneath. You’ll find the parallel nightmare world spawned of Super Mario 64’s descent into Silent Hill. Jolly Roger Bay as directed by Clive Barker. That big friendly fish character? He’s a biomechanical robo-shark, trapped in unknown years of chain-bound bondage deep below the murky, stagnant waters. Release him from his prison and you’ll find his mortal shell rotted and broken, his remaining flesh torn, exposed and raw, held together only by a godless framework of rivet, screw and steel.

Ignoring the grotesque man-made industry of his form, you’ll poke around within his innards. Dark, skinless meat will squeeze all mulchy and diseased between your toes, rendered irrecoverably unclean by its years of unholy marriage to hard, rusted metal. And if you’re not careful, yours will join it, by way of the whirling, hungry blades housed deep within Clanker’s deepest, darkest chamber. It’s like some brutal climactic scene from a Saw film, juxtaposed with the innocence of a Saturday morning cartoon.

Should you even survive long enough to escape, the previously unseen grime and decay of the outer chamber will glare unmistakably at you from every direction. What dread place is this? What forsaken hell? And how on earth did it end up being a really fun level in a family Nintendo game from 1998? Only the cold, black hearts of Rare truly know. And their lips are sealed.

1. All of them – Donkey Kong Country
Super NES

“To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, to hear the lamentation of their women, and to then go home and play the water levels from Donkey Kong Country back-to-back”

When the inevitable remake of Conan the Barbarian happens, that is exactly how the new version of Conan’s “What is best in life?” speech will go. Because a wise and effective warrior such as Conan could not possibly be taken seriously post 1994 if he did not include their sublimeness in his list of reasons for a man to live.

I’ll keep this simple, because to be honest, Coral Capers, Clam City, Croctopus Chase and Poison Pond are so clearly the pinnacle of the video game experience thus far that you’d have to be pretty broken of mind and soul not to recognise and bow down to their greatness. Even if you’ve never played them. There’s so much goodness and purity in their very auras that it emanates out to touch the lives of those who’ve never even heard of the SNES. Or Nintendo. Or games.

They work because they keep it simple. They’re fairly straightforward tunnel-swimming affairs with spot-on, but never excessive enemy placement, the tightest, most pleasing controls in the world of 2D swimming, and if you get lucky you’ll get to ride a happy swordfish who makes navigation even easier and kills the bad fish on sight while letting you sit back and enjoy the ride.

And best of all, better than anything else in life, there’s the soundtrack, which in the pre-Youtube days, we’d start up one of these levels just to listen to. Controller down, ears open, bliss incoming. Three hours later, our parents would find us gurgling and grinning on the carpet and ask if we’d started taking drugs.

Go on, synch up all four videos and listen to it twice in each ear at the same time. 

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61 comments

  • 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! http://fogz.eu/8tthy
  • 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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