Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Best Levels in Gaming History - Volume Twelve


One of my favorite aspects in gaming is level design. Levels have always fascinated me, and as young as I can remember being, I loved drawing up little maps for games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Mega Man X, for example.

My personal history aside, we last looked as some of my favorite levels in gaming history back in July. I think it's high time for another peek at what some of the greatest levels ever devised are with this twelfth volume. This volume contains levels and areas from Final Fantasy VII, Saints Row IV, and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, to name just three. 

If you missed a previous edition of Best Levels in Gaming History, have no fear. I have collected the links of all previous eleven entries in my long running series for your convenience!

The Bombing Mission - Final Fantasy VII (PS1)

So many RPGs prior to Final Fantasy VII started the same-- in bed or in an otherwise subdued fashion. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy VII kicked things off as if bidding adieu to the old style of RPGs the series was associated with in the past, and saying "I am Final Fantasy VII. This is a new generation of Final Fantasies. Hear me roar." And boy, did Final Fantasy VII's opening bombing mission at a Mako reactor in Midgar roar like a lion on steroids.

You play as a part of an anti-Shinra (a corporation with a firm hold on the government throughout the world) militant group AVALANCHE. As the ever-sociable (not) Cloud Strife, your team of militants rush out of a steam locomotive and towards the Mako reactor, one of many in Midgar that AVALANCHE considers Shinra to be using to suck the life out of the planet.

The Shinra rebels leap from the locomotive, knocking out the guards at the station platform. Barret, leader of AVALANCHE, runs forward after giving the newcomer Cloud instructions to follow him. After a battle with two blue-clad soldiers, Cloud and the anti-Shinra militants run into the Mako reactor for the goal of planting the bomb.

Final Fantasy VII's first boss battle occurs, having Cloud and Barret temporarily team up to take on the Guard Scorpion robot. Despite an incorrect translation when and when not to attack the robot, it is an easy battle, as expected from a first encounter with a boss. From there, the bomb is successfully planted and a ten minute countdown is given for players to am-scray or else get blown up with the Mako reactor. 

After exiting the reactor, a tremendous explosion occurs from it, jostling the entire massive city of Midgar with it. AVALANCHE's mission this time around is a success, and so is the developers' attempt at creating one of the most exciting, adrenaline-pumping, and fun openings to any Final Fantasy game, much more to most RPGs. 

Zero Saints Thirty - Saints Row IV (PS3, 360, PC)

We go from one opening mission to another with Saints Row IV's ridiculous first mission. Well, really, most of Saints Row IV's missions classify as ridiculous, but I digress. A nuclear threat has gripped the United States thanks to former STAG commander Cyrus Temple. It's up to a joint effort by the Saints and MI6 to save the day, the country, and look pimpin' while doing it.

Saints Row IV starts out with the Saints in a chopper en route to the missile silo that Temple is holed up in. Upon arrival they meet up with an MI6 agent named Asha Odeckar and proceed to do some reconnaissance on a nearby hilltop. However, the Boss of the Saints' patience isn't the greatest, so he (for purposes of consistency and my own sanity, I'll refer to the Boss as a "he") runs, guns blazing and knives ready to strike into combat, absolutely ripping all of the terrorists outside of the missile silo's entrance a new one. The rest of the group follows into the missile silo and proceeds to give the player control of the Boss, running, shooting, and carving up terrorists with his knife. 

Upon reaching Cyrus, the two duke it out with their fists, a fight revolving around quick time event button presses for the player to successfully pull off in order to win. When Cyrus reaches for a machine gun in a box, the Boss leaps to a nearby gun and blasts him over the railing, into a vat of hazardous material. Before Cyrus is fully bathed in the liquid of certain death, he triggers the nuke to launch. Target? Washington D.C.

Throwing caution to the wind once more, the Boss decides to apparently sacrifice himself to stop the nuke, leaping towards it and hanging off the side. For the award for perfect use of a licensed song in a video game, as the nuke enters the nighttime sky, Aerosmith's "Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" begins playing as the Saints give their final goodbyes to the Boss as the Boss rips into the circuitry of the missile. Heck, even Asha has a goodbye message for the Boss, although it's what you'd expect from someone who just met the Boss less than ten minutes ago.

Regardless, the Boss victoriously destroys the warhead, leaps from the missile, giving a thumbs up as it explodes behind him, and falls into his seat in the oval office, returning to work as president of the United States. With a quick kicking up his feet onto his desk, another mission to earn America's eternal love and gratitude is in the books.

Saints Row IV's Zero Saints Thirty mission sets the stage for the entire game. This is a game that is here to give player insane moments and crazy good fun. It successfully carves a niche for itself in a genre of open-world sandbox games and distinguishes itself from the Grand Theft Auto franchise in the process.

Mute City - Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (3DS)

Super Smash Bros. fever is hitting SuperPhillip Central! I've got it! Do you?! I've been really enjoying Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. I take it as an appetizer to the main entree, the Wii U version, releasing in less than two weeks! It only seems appropriate to bring up one of my favorite new stages within the 3DS game.

Mute City features 2D platforms and original sprite vehicles cast on top of the Mute City race from the original SNES F-Zero game. Typically the layout has two 2D platforms on either side of the Blue Falcon that races along the course. Along the way, different vehicles like Pico's Wild Goose, for example, enters the battlefield from one of the sides of the screen as a makeshift platform. Just don't stay too long on these secondary vehicles, as they'll quickly retreat out of the battlefield.

There are plenty of new stages in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS that I really admire and love battling on, but Mute City somehow manages to blend retro visuals with the enjoyable Mute City track environment to make for my favorite.

Bury My Shell At Wounded Knee - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES)

Taking place aboard a train in the Wild West in the year 1885-- wait, are the TMNT and Back to the Future series in the same universe? That would have been some kind of crossover! ...Anyway, sorry about that. Taking place aboard a train in the Wild West in the year 1885, Bury My Shell At Wounded Knee takes the pace of Turtles in Time and ramps it up. It sure beats sailing one mile per hour on a pirate ship, does it not?

This level has a lot to it beyond the moving background, however. There are large barrels that can be used to a turtle's advantage, hitting them into a row of enemy Foot Soldiers. There are Foot Soldiers that pull up to the train via horse and dismount onto the train itself-- showing some mighty fine athleticism, mind you. There is also the ending enjoyment of challenging the killer croc with a nasty fashion sense, Leatherhead, in a one-on-one, one-on-two, or if you're in the arcade, one-on-three, one-on-four battle. (Seriously, was it necessary for me to type that all out?) 

Anyhow, Bury My Shell At Wounded Knee is like an old West train ride-- bumpy, entertaining, a thrill from beginning to end, and it always concludes with you battling a bipedal talking crocodile!

Nintendo - Super Monkey Ball 2 (GCN)

I conclude this edition of Best Levels in Gaming History with an ode to one of Nintendo's home consoles of yesteryear, the GameCube. As an owner and lover of the system, I have a wide assortment of software for my purple little lunch box. Two of my favorite titles on the system are both Super Monkey Ball games. (We don't talk about Super Monkey Ball Adventure on this site.) 

I always found the second game the more entertaining of the two, due to the ability of grinding for a multitude of extra lives and continues. That's how I was able to play the final level in the ultra-hard series of Master levels in Super Monkey Ball 2, simply entitled "Nintendo."

The level has you rolling on a slowly spinning Nintendo GameCube. You have to be incredibly careful with your finger-work, as if you fall into one of the cavities on the underside of the system, you would have no momentum to get out. Thus, when the GameCube turned over, you would fall into the abyss below. 

Unlike many of the later stages in Super Monkey Ball 2, the Nintendo level was fair and didn't require running at full tilt and hoping for the best like how more stages than many would have liked were designed. It was all about going over the edges of the ever-turning GameCube at a sufficient enough pace that you didn't go too fast and slide down the side, or too slow and not have enough momentum to get to the other side. 

At the end of the level, the top hatch of the GameCube system opened, revealing the level's goal inside. I can't tell you how badly I cursed when the system's lid unsuspectingly opened with me on top of it. Into the bottomless abyss I went, along with my hopes and dreams...


How did you enjoy this edition of Best Levels in Gaming History? Which levels would you add to the list? Perhaps they will a part of a future installment!

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