Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Best Levels in Gaming History - Volume Six


Like Best Boss Battles in Gaming History, it has been more than one year since our last look at some of the loveliest levels in gaming past and present. We make you wait no longer with volume six of Best Levels in Gaming History. Additionally, we promise the wait between volume six and volume seven won't be anywhere close to as long as everyone's been waiting since our last episode of Best Levels in Gaming History. This segment celebrates the best levels gaming has ever seen. They're fun, they're well designed, they're just plain cool, etc. You no doubt want to get caught up on our previous selections. Well, we have the links all organized in a nice and neat location right here:

Boarding the Airship - New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)

The final level of the seventh world, Meringue Clouds, in New Super Mario Bros. U is another airship level. However, unlike airship levels in all previous Mario games, this one has you needing to board it instead of automatically starting on the airship. The level starts out on the ground level below the mighty airship of Bowser Jr. This shouldn't be too hard at all. Oh, there's an auto-scrolling screen. So what? Wait a minute. What's that?! A giant mechanical Bowser hand comes from the airship and wants nothing more than to crush Mario and his friends. The hand periodically slams its palm down onto the ground, and anything underneath it gets squashed like a bug. The hand can also clinch into a fist and punch a hole through anything that stands in its way-- blocks and the ground included.

After the midpoint flag, Mario finds himself needing to ride a platform that is controlled by the player tilting either the Wii U GamePad or Wii Remote to move it along. This is all the while dodging flame jets a la Super Mario Bros. 3. Once this part has been finished, it's time for the battle with Bowser Jr.

This fight is quite challenging, much like the level it is contained in. Bowser Jr. rides in a clown car, much like his father did in Super Mario World. However, this one has arms with boxing gloves attached to them, allowing Bowser Jr. to punch out the blocks that Mario stands on. Dodging Bowser Jr.'s advances and tossed Bob-ombs is what is needed to survive Junior's assault. When his arm extends and rests on the ground, it's Mario's cue to run up the arm and jump on Bowser Jr.'s head. Two more hits like this and the boss battle is beaten and this awesome level is complete.

The Train - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)

Cool and magnificent set pieces are no stranger to Naughty Dog's Uncharted series, but one of the most fun and most memorable ones comes from Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. It takes places aboard a moving train, where hero and treasure hunter Nathan Drake must climb from car to car, taking out enemies on top of and inside each car. It's as fast paced and awesome as it sounds.

Things get even more heated, however, when a helicopter armed with machine guns and missiles enters the fray. Nate runs from car to car, jumping to a car at the last minute as the helicopter blows the one behind him up to smithereens. As the exploded car tumbles across the tracks, it flies towards Nate. Is this the end for the dashing Nathan Drake? Never! A stroke of luck has the train entering into a tunnel before the train car can land on Nate. Phew! Best count your blessings, Nate, as you are one of the luckiest guys on the planet!

The train section continues with Chapter 14, allowing Drake to jump into a turret to finally get some revenge on that blasted chopper. Did we say Nate was one of the luckiest guys on the planet? Well, the train sort of gets off the tracks, tumbles towards a cliff, and gives Nathan Drake a brush with death. Just another ordinary day for Nathan Drake.

Three Leaf Clover - Grand Theft Auto IV (Multi)

One of the best missions in any Grand Theft Auto game is Grand Theft Auto IV's Three Leaf Clover, no doubt a nod to the movie Heat. It has Niko Bellic, Patrick McReary, and crew robbing $1 million from the Bank of Liberty. The group, wearing ski masks, enter the bank with guns in hand and demand to know the location of the vault, where they enter to steal the money. Unfortunately, the po-po, FIB, and Noose soldiers surround the building, leaving Niko and company to enter a shootout with them. Not such an easy task with a five-star warning level and several armored enemies.

The gunfights exit from the steps of the bank onto the city streets. By going through alleyways, running, gunning, and hiding behind cover, Niko and the gang make their way to the subway tunnels where attempt to lose the authorities. The goal is to head back to the streets and find a four-door car so the crew can outrun the police, lose the warning level, and head to the safehouse (Packie's mom's house) to finish the mission, splitting up the $1 million four ways so each get $250,000.

Three Leaf Clover is an action-packed mission that takes quite a while to complete. It's a bit of an endurance mission, requiring great aim, finding good cover, and keeping one's head cool.

The Village - Resident Evil 4 (Multi)

Resident Evil 4 was the type of game that started the series' shift from survival-horror to action. However, unlike its successors, Resident Evil 4 struck a nice balance between the two genres. The Village, the first section of the game, is an excellent example of this.

Rookie Raccoon City cop turned sophisticated U.S. government agent Leon Kennedy arrives on the outskirts of a Spanish village. The first house he comes across houses a very mean host. He attacks Leon with little hesitation, so Leon subdues him. It's clear that Mr. Kennedy is not welcomed here. If that encounter wasn't enough of a hint, then hopefully the booby traps in the form of trip wires and bear traps made it clear.

Finally, Leon arrives in a small village. He surveys the area, but is noticed by the villagers. They come after Leon, who decides to hide inside one of the homes. These villagers have the capacity to think and team up, calling forth Mr. Salavador, a formidable chainsaw-wielding cretin who wants nothing more than to slice Leon's head right off his body.

Leon quickly bars the door with a dresser, but he's not out of the woods yet. A ladder smashes through the upstairs window, allowing the kill-crazy villagers to enter from the second floor. The goal here is to survive the onslaught until the village bell rings.

Now, one can simply climb up the ladder of the adjacent tower and continually kick it over until the bell beckons the villagers, but that's the easy way. Who wants to do that? No, the real fun comes from running like a chicken with its head caught off, popping caps into the villagers' asses and feeling your heart race as you attempt to survive.

The bell finally rings, and the villagers retreat. Perhaps they did leave to play some bingo, Leon. The Village in Resident Evil 4 is a fantastic level because it thrusts players into the mix almost immediately. There is no long exposition-- there's just pure unadulterated action as Leon fights for survival against the infected horde that wants to take his life.

Bramble Scramble - Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES)

Located in Krazy Kremland, the amusement park world of Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, the level Bramble Scramble can be anything but fun for beginning players. These level types are full of tricky timing, tricky jumps, and an abundance of thorny hazards.

Bramble Scramble has Diddy and Dixie scampering through thorn-filled areas, climbing and hanging from ropes, dodging enemy fire, and trying not to get poked (those thorns leave quite the mark on a monkey!). We really enjoy this level because it seamlessly transitions between Kong-based platforming an animal-based amusement.

Two times during the level the Kongs are carried by Squawks the Parrot. The Kongs aren't defenseless while being carried, as Squawks can shoot out an unlimited supply of nuts from its beak. This is a necessity, as there are sections in the level where Zingers (bee-like creatures) and dragonfly enemies fly into the Kongs's path. The player needs to fly carefully as Squawks, avoiding the flight paths of Zingers and evading other enemies.

There's a part of the level where one can play as Squitter the Spider. He can shoot out webs that can act as platforms. His part in the level allows the Kongs into a secret area through a seemingly solid thorn wall. This is where the DK Coin is hiding.

Bramble Scramble is an intriguing level that is incredibly challenging but oh-so-rewarding when it is finally completed. There are so many terrific level choices in Donkey Kong Country 2, so you will no doubt be seeing more in future installments of Best Levels in Gaming History.

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