Good/bad level design, like many things in life, can be a very subjective thing. However, I am pretty sure that my picks for this fifth volume of Bad Levels in Gaming History can be considered by most to be pretty bad, whether it's in its design, its repetitiveness, and so forth. Games on this volume include The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Sonic Adventure 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Donkey Kong 64, and Darksiders.
If you've missed a previous volume of Bad Levels in Gaming History, check them out with these links!
The Temple of the Ocean King - The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)
Dungeons are generally a fantastic part of The Legend of Zelda line of games. I'd even go so far to say that they're my favorite part of each game. Big thing to say, right? Phil sarcastically asked. Anyway, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass had some interesting dungeons in it, but it also bestowed onto players one of the most aggravating and tedious dungeons in series history, The Temple of the Ocean King.
What makes matters worse is that you are returning to the Temple of the Ocean King basically after every dungeon. This means you will have to AT LEAST go through the dungeon six times or more, and that's not including failed runs. Each visit allows you to venture further down the dungeon's thirteen total floors. Don't like repeating puzzles for no reason but to pad the gameplay experience? That's unfortunately too bad. That's exactly what you have to do in this dungeon.
The sad fact is that the Temple of the Ocean King isn't a poorly designed dungeon per se. It just requires the player to retread the same ground, solving the same slow puzzles over and over again, and it forces you to do so more times than should be allowed. Just half of the visits to the Temple of the Ocean King would have worked better than what the final product in the game was.
Crazy Gadget - Sonic Adventure 2 (DC)
Let's face what I perceive to be facts, shall we? Early 3D Sonics were hard enough to contend with due to their poor cameras, sloppy controls, and frustrating bugs and glitches. Factoring gravity shift mechanics into things makes for one mess of a level. That level is Sonic's penultimate stage in the Hero Story of Sonic Adventure 2, Crazy Gadget.
Crazy Gadget is devised of various gravity switches that change the flow of gravity, pulleys that rappel Sonic up large shafts, and of course, everyone's favorite enemy in the game, Artificial Chaos. These blue blob boobs can attack Sonic from afar with their huge extending reach via a pair of thin blue tentacles.
The problem with these obnoxious beings is that the lock-on mechanic to homing attack these enemies doesn't always work. Sometimes you homing attack them and their tentacles somehow wrap around and take you out. Then there's those Chaos that explode into dozens upon dozens of little Chaos orbs, which the player can only take out by slamming on the homing attack button, praying that the game actually locks onto each foe instead of sending Sonic straight, prone to injury and a resulting loss of all of his rings. Bye-bye, A rank!
Crazy Gadget exemplifies the early 3D Sonic series's grandest control and camera problems, making for a mighty frustrating level that was hard to love when I had more patience as a young high school student, and is now impossible to love now that I have less patience for wonky design.
Killer Croc's Lair - Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3, 360, PC)
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a roller coaster ride from the very beginning of the game up to close to the end. Then the ride screeches to a halt when Batman enters Killer Croc's lair, a section of the game where slow and steady wins the race for survival, but loses in the contest for fun. The lair itself is a long, pitiful, repetitive sewer maze (even the combination of words to describe the place evokes feelings of tedium) where Batman must tiptoe his way across floating wooden planks.
Meanwhile, Killer Croc leaps out of the water so many times in attempt to scare you that it quickly becomes "the Croc That Cried Wolf." It stops being alarming or intense after about the fifth jump-scare out of around thirty or so. Each time Croc leaps out of the water, a simple throw of an automatically-targeted Batarang knocks old ugly back into the murky drink. Killer Croc's lair is a blight on what is otherwise a near-perfect action game.
Crystal Caves - Donkey Kong 64 (N64)
Donkey Kong 64 is arguably an immensely and overly bloated collect-a-thon that took the amount of objects and trinkets to gather that Banjo-Tooie had and ratcheted that number exponentially. That's a big part of why the game is so understandably overwhelming to many players. Another part of that is definitely the level design. While most of the levels are indeed large, they're at least designed well. Crystal Caves, one of the last areas of Donkey Kong 64, does not follow such a trend.
The problem with Crystal Caves is that so many areas look so similar to one another, and this is thanks to the abundance of brown and blue walls that fill the cavernous complex. It makes trying to navigate yourself around the level a chore. That's not to mention gigantic stalactites falling from the ceiling intermittently, though this is only upon the Kongs' first visit to the level. Not only all of this, but Crystal Caves easily has some of the most arduous and, dare I say, unfair challenges for Golden Bananas within the entire game. This all adds up to one very annoying and irritating level that despite its awesomely chill tune is anything but enjoyable.
The Black Throne - Darksiders (PS3, 360, PC)
It stands to reason that one of the most difficult dungeons in an action-adventure game like Darksiders would be near the end of the game. That is remarkably and definitely true for Darksiders' Black Throne dungeon.
The dungeon's aim is to use the area's special item to redirect a trio of beams of light in the dungeon's central chamber. This can have you gnashing your teeth, pulling your hair out, and smashing your controller against your knee (perhaps that's just me) as you try to wrap your head around the convoluted portal puzzles being presented to you. Don't feel bad if you need to consult a guide or walkthrough just to make it through these puzzles.
Even then, a guide will only help with the puzzling aspects of the Black Throne. There's still plenty of ridiculously powerful foes to contend with, a lack of health pick-ups to nab, and an unrelenting amount of checkpoints. There's a point in a level where its challenge goes from fair and difficult to cheap and agonizing. The Black Throne goes beyond the point of being the former and dives directly into the latter.