Level design has always been a feature of games that we've marveled at. There's a big difference between a level that is frustrating due to challenge and a level that is frustrating due to design. Now, we aren't going to pretend that we are masters of creating excellent levels. No, we're very much not. However, we believe we've had enough experience playing games that we can weed out the good levels from those that are bad. This series of articles talks about the latter, where we focus on those levels that either poorly designed, frustrating for all of the wrong reasons, or just boring in general. (We have a series of articles dedicated to great levels anyway.) After we've exhausted our picks for this third edition of Bad Levels in Gaming History, help us come up with some more levels for future installments and your reasoning as to why your chosen levels are so bad.
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Poochy Ain't Stupid - Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (SNES)
...Oh, yes he is! Poochy Ain't Stupid is the unlockable level found in the first world of the SNES classic Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. It is unlocked by scoring a perfect 100 points on each of world one's eight levels. If one were to unlock this level without venturing into the next world, then Poochy Ain't Stupid would be the player's first encounter with the adorable-looking dog. It's also important to note that these extra unlockable levels do not contain any mid-stage checkpoints, so if you perish in the level, you must start over from the very beginning.
Poochy Ain't Stupid is a thorn in many players' sides, and that can really be said about any of Yoshi's Island's six extra stages. However, what makes Poochy Ain't Stupid so unbelievably frustrating is actually a combination of things. First, the level is almost totally auto-scrolling, a game convention that doesn't make any sense but is usually used to present a fun challenge. The second part of Poochy Ain't Stupid that makes for frustration is that dying is quite easy, what with all of the one-hit kill lava inside the cave.
You're really at the mercy of the titular level character Poochy. Looking at his cute but not very bright mug certainly doesn't help things. In the level you must ride on the back of the pooch for the majority of the level. When you are on top of Poochy, which way Yoshi is looking is the way that Poochy will move. Simply completing the level is an already arduous task, but combine that with the 100% completion goal (having 30 stars, collecting all 20 red coins, and nabbing all five flowers) and you have a really tough, really aggravating challenge.
We do love how the level is much different than others in the game, and that its premise is very clever. However, it's not really the execution of it more so having to deal with the ever-hyper Poochy's movement eccentricities, but the forced auto-scrolling and erratic behavior of Poochy make this level quite despised.
Pistons - Super Monkey Ball 2 (GCN)
Like a fair share of levels in Super Monkey Ball 2, although the game is still very much recommended and enjoyable, Pistons is one that is a crap shoot. The level features a ramp that leads to a hexagonal platform made up of multiple thin paths that intersect one another. Of course, that isn't the entire level. As the title of the level suggests, in the triangle-shaped holes that surround the paths a series of same-shaped pistons shoot upward. They quickly rise upward in a methodical pattern, one row after the other.
The crap shoot comment here comes from the fact that unless you are incredibly quick and precise with your movements, you will be launched up into the sky. Strategy is pretty much thrown out of the window, as t's more hoping that you somehow land near the goal to finish this masochistic level than precise planning. Many players gave up on trying to do Pistons "legit", instead parking themselves on a given piston, being shot into the air, and trying, however fruitlessly, to aim for an area nearby the goal. A popular criticism with Super Monkey Ball 2 is that a disturbing number of later levels require less finesse and more luck to overcome them. Pistons is just one example of such a level.
Burnt Rubber - Gears of War (360, PC)
Welcome to a poor level in an otherwise competent third-person shooter. Why, it's none other than Chapter Seven's Burnt Rubber from the original Gears of War. This level is all about driving a heavy junker vehicle through dilapidated city streets. This is all the while needing to shine the junker's UV turret on swiftly approaching Kryll, bat-like creatures that crave darkness and will mercilessly shred their prey alive.
This wouldn't be so bad if you could drive and fire simultaneously. However, this is somehow impossible, even with having the rest of the Gears crew inside the junker with you. Perhaps they're too busy painting their nails... With warnings of Kryll coming from 6 o'clock, 12 o'clock, from the right, from the left, etc. This level is nothing but an inconvenience, a pain, and changing the game into something it shouldn't be, just to create some kind of unwanted variety.
Mercedes Showdown - Gran Turismo 4 (PS2)
This is it. You've driven past the competition in every race so far. You've outperformed beyond anyone's wildest dreams. You've earned your victory lap countless times. Now, are you up for the final challenge?
Well, get ready to be frustrated and disappointed. Why, it's Gran Turismo 4's final challenge, the Mercedes Showdown! While it might sound awesome taking control of the seemingly omnipotent Mercedes SLR Mac Laren, the actual vehicle has been fine-tuned to handle as well as butter on a sizzling pan. This level of artificial difficulty (a big reason why it's on this edition) is only made more irritating by the fact that you're racing against three lower end Mercedes vehicles. However, these cars have a three minute head start on your vexing-to-handle vehicle. Add in the fact that you're racing on a track whose real life version causes upwards of a dozen deaths per year, Germany's Nürburgring Nordschleife, and you have to wonder who the sadistic psychopath created this event was.
Flame Temple - 3D Dot Game Heroes (PS3)
Ah, the Flame Temple... This dungeon from the excellent and old school Zelda-like PS3 game 3D Dot Game Heroes is a notorious one among fans of the title. It's not even just the dungeon itself that is difficult and irritating (and it very much is), but the labyrinth that precedes it, a very obnoxious cavern full of falling rocks, is essentially the harbinger of what lies ahead.
The Flame Temple itself has a plethora of enemies that do a lot of hurt on heroes. There's the Gray Magi, a wizard that only one specific spell will defeat it, it can drain your magic quite quickly with one successful hit, and it vanishes across the room like it was on fire. How about the Dark Ropus, a spider that scurries speedily along the dungeon's floor. If it comes in contact with the player, it completely drains your magic and it leaves you will only a half of a point of health. Let's not forget about the Darknut-inspired Knight, which can only be attacked from behind, has a fair amount of health, and is pretty strong to boot.
But all of that doesn't make for a bad level; it just makes for a really challenging one. No, what makes 3D Dot Game Heroes' Flame Temple a bad level is its premise, which has the player needing to press certain switches to advance through the dungeon. However, if you were to save, quit, and then later reload the game, the switches will revert back to the way they were upon entering the temple, essentially removing all of your progress. Oh, but that's not the kicker. The kicker is that upon dying, which will occur as many times as there are months in a year, maybe more so, the switches will do the same thing. Have fun retrying this temple over and over again, and your prize for reaching the dungeon's furthermost room is a seriously difficult boss. There's old school difficult, and then there's the more ridiculous "Nintendo hard" difficult. This is the latter, and it's not that much fun.