WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!
The creator of SuperPhillip Central has a passion for level design. Every facet of it fascinates him, from the aesthetics to slowly but steadily adding new mechanics to keep each level feeling fresh and interesting. It's no wonder that he started this series of articles, Best Levels in Gaming History. We've reached volume nine, and we don't feel the need to call it quits any time soon! On this edition of Best Levels in Gaming History, we take a look at a series of true classic games like Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario Bros. 3, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Mega Man X. However, we also dabble in a more recent title in the form of Rayman Legends. We hope you enjoy our next level picks. If you have your own favorites, please comment and tell us about them. And if you have missed a previous volume, here's all of the eight preceding articles to get you caught up!
Mine Cart Carnage - Donkey Kong Country (SNES)
After going through multiple levels that tested your platforming mettle, Donkey Kong Country throws a screwball into the mix in the second area of the game with Mine Cart Carnage. For this level, your timing, precision, and platforming skills are put to the test. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong ride inside a mine cart and are required to make careful leaps with the cart over various chasms, idle mine carts, and enemies. You have little time to react to the upcoming perils, so being on your toes is heavily recommended.
The track is full of hills, making it one heck of a roller coaster ride, only we don't think it would be passed for inspection by the folks at Six Flags or Disneyworld. Anyhow, the first half of the level is relatively easy, though it still requires your attention. There's a lot of holes within the track, needing you to leap over, some one right after the other. By the time the second half of the level begins (after the continue barrel has hopefully been smashed), the level introduces the aforementioned idle mine carts that mostly lazily lay at the edge of the track next to holes. The final challenge is one that most players first entering the level will probably get surprised by-- Kremlings riding in their own mine carts, riding full stop in your face.
The last portion of the level features several multiple tricky jumps with laying mine carts, big gaps-- one right after the other. Just when you think it's safe to release a sigh of relief, a final Kremling-filled mine cart is needed to leap over to complete the level. It is absolutely humiliating to be put into a false sense of security only to be hit by the final obstacle in the level, right before the end of the level!
Armored Armadillo Stage - Mega Man X (SNES)
One of the best levels in Mega Man history occurs within a mine. Hm, the last level we featured also took place in a mine. What a wonderful segue! Regardless, Armored Armadillo's stage starts off in fine and fast fashion. You can ride a platform on wheels that speeds down an incline, zooming past the sleeping robotic bats that wish to ambush you. (Though one of these bats always gives the player an extra life when defeated, so the ride might not be worth it. It's also a great place to stock up on health.) You need to leap off the moving platform at the end of the line, or else you'll fall into a pit.
Two parts of Armored Armadillo's level includes a burrowing machine that uses its spike-filled arm to clear the path in front of it. Even touching this arm will destroy Mega Man X. Moreover, allowing the machine to stay alive will allow it to destroy platforms that X needs to reach hidden goodies. You can actually fall down behind the enemy and blast it from behind to ensure that it won't take out any needed platforms.
The final portion of the stage is an absolute rush. You ride on a final wheeled platform, destroying enemies that foolishly stand on its track, have robotic birds take flight along your side, and get blasted off outside of the mine, over a huge bottomless pit. Leaping at the right time takes you to the boss's door. However, this level also holds a secret capsule at the end. Through going through the appropriate steps, X can learn Ryu from Street Fighter's Hadouken move. This move can only be used when X is at full health, but the payoff is that it kills anything in one nice, clean hit.
World 5-3 - Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
With Super Mario 3D World releasing this Friday in North America (and the Friday after that in Europe), we figured we'd take a look at one of the most popular levels in one of the most popular Mario games. World 5-3 in Super Mario Bros. 3 takes place in Sky Land. However, Mario and Luigi are still grounded in the first half of this fifth area of the game.
The level is rather curious, as at the start you enter a pipe that takes you to the first main stretch of the stage. It's curious because you have to move right-to-left instead of the traditional left-to-right. That isn't what makes World 5-3 memorable, though. No, what makes the level memorable is a one-off item that you can utilize throughout the entire level, Kuribo's Shoe. When a Goomba riding inside one is defeated, it is free for Mario or Luigi to enter. It can hop along otherwise dangerous Piranha Plants and hop around so elegantly in the process.
By itself the level is well designed, but with Kuribo's Shoe, the level goes from ho-hum to wow-y-wow! The fact that Kuribo's Shoe is only seen in World 5-3 makes the level even more cherished by those who play it.
Star Light Zone - Sonic the Hedgehog (GEN)
After having to deal with the high challenge of the Labyrinth Zone (and the repeated drowning jingle that most will typically hear again and again), and before the perils and many death traps in the Scrap Brain Zone, Sonic and the player get a bit of a reprieve with the gorgeous and dazzling Star Light Zone. Not only does it have chill music, but it also features a variety of obstacles that make the three acts of the zone enjoyable to play.
There's several notable features about the Star Light Zone: blocks that shift into staircases when walked on, fans that blow Sonic backward, and see-saws that require Sonic to jump on one end to make the bomb on the other end fly into the air, and move to the other end for when the bomb lands where Sonic once was, shooting Sonic into the sky.
Then you have enemies like the Orbinaut, a foe surrounded by four spiked balls that throws them when Sonic is near. In addition to that annoying foe are bombs that go off when attacked or when they self-destruct, showering the nearby area with hazardous fire.
The Star Light Zone is one of the most enjoyable levels in the Genesis/Mega Drive era of Sonic the Hedgehog, and we always believe it's worth the trouble of going through the much dreaded Labyrinth Zone to reach it.
Castle Rock - Rayman Legends (Multi)
By far the coolest levels within Rayman Legends are unlocked at the tail-end of each painting (world). Each of these levels has a licensed song that has been put into the ringer and Rayman-ified. These levels have you constantly running, jumping over holes, enemies, and sliding down ropes in time with the music.
Castle Rock is the first of these levels that players are introduced to. The song that plays during this level is Black Betty. The level itself takes place in a medieval setting, with Rayman and the gang leaping over enemies that pop up right on cue with the music, singing along with the music in such a perfect fashion.
While it may sound all like fun and games, Rayman has to survive the entire level. He's chased by a fire-breathing dragon who definitely needs some exercise, he has to slide down ropes, and he has to run along rooftops and through various castle towers. We don't think words do these music levels justice, so click on this link to see Castle Rock in action for yourself.