59 levels to play before you die: A - D

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night PSone, XBLA, PSN)| Granfalloon/Legion
It takes a lot to stand out in a game that's so beloved. But no piece of Dracula's castle was as impressive or revolting as Granfalloon, a gigantic enemy composed of rotting, bloody corpses. Striking the ball o' bodies causes an avalanche of man meat, thereby cementing this encounter as one of the creepiest of all time. Ick!

It starts like any other RPG battle: three good guys versus three bad guys. And of course the good guys win. But something tragic and befuddling happens at the end. While Lynx lies incapacitated, Serge smiles wickedly, dashes forward, and drives a dagger half the size of a skateboard deep into the lovely Kid's stomach. She grimaces and slumps to the floor, motionless, her eyes voicing the confused betrayal we all feel as we yell brokenheartedly at the TV, "What the HELL, Serge!?"

Turns out, Lynx somehow switched bodies with Serge at the end of the battle. So the main bad guy is now running your army and you're banished, in his fuzzy, feline physique, to some bizarre, yet gorgeous alternate dimension that looks like a Picasso painting. And there you set about recruiting an army of new friends to help get you back home - where they will almost undoubtedly get their asses beaten into gravy by your old friends the minute you all arrive because you're trapped in the body of the most evil dude in the universe. The whole sequence is bizarre, beautiful, moving, and even slightly existential - everything we love in an RPG.

Contra III: The Alien Wars (Super NES, Virtual Console) | Level 3
This intense shooter spends just as much time enveloping you in its thick atmosphere as you do blasting aliens. Seriously, it's one of the most cinematic, engrossing shooters of all time. Still, even with such stiff competition, our favorite moment of the whole world-saving bunch is level three. Foreboding music, an attack from the sky while you're forced to move hand-over-hand across huge pits, a robot assault while climbing a skyscraper, plus a final boss that rips the background away and blasts fire in your face. Whoa.