Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bad Levels in Gaming History - Volume Four

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 are 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 newest 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.

Miss out on Volume One, Volume Two, and Volume Three? Click those links, then!

One Shot, One Kill - Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Multi)

We don't feature the Call of Duty franchise a lot on SuperPhillip Central. It's not really our type of series, and we wouldn't want to review something we don't have an interest in. It wouldn't really be fair of us to bother. Anyway, we did enjoy Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and that was the title that truly cemented Call of Duty is a blockbuster multi-million selling franchise.

Modern Warfare features plenty of awesome scenarios, but it also comes with some immensely obnoxious moments, some of which simply aren't that fun to play due to the sensational amount of aggravation involved.

The level One Shot, One Kill has an example of this at its conclusion. It has you and an injured superior pinned down near a Ferris wheel, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a helicopter to take you boys home. The aggravation here comes from the multitude of enemy soldiers, each equipped with fully automatic rifles that can tear you a new one in a matter moments, that you have to contend with. Did we neglect to mention that you and your superior must survive for a bit over five minutes? You have a limited amount of Claymore mines to work with, used for protecting your AI superior. If he somehow bites the dust (and it's very likely that he will), you fail the mission. Not only is that scenario easy to have happen, having yourself perish mid-confrontation is also quite easy to see occur.

One might think that hiding behind the Ferris wheel itself for cover is a good strategy. Why, it may seem that way, but then you get the privilege of being assaulted by attack dogs, each ready to rip into your red, white, and blue flesh with an instant kill move that can only be avoided with extremely narrow timing. If you wish to persevere elsewhere in this skirmish, you'll be greeted with a barrage of grenades. This is a scenario where even the Terminator would have issues with, much less a regular U.S. army soldiers, regardless of what the commercials on TV tell you. One Shot, One Kill ends with an insanely hard and not very fair encounter with a seemingly endless amount of enemies to take down and survive against. That's why it kicks off our list of Bad Levels in Gaming History for this fourth volume.

Air's Rock - Golden Sun: The Lost Age (GBA)

If you're a fan of lengthy levels and areas that take hours of time to complete, then you will likely find Golden Sun: The Lost Age's Air's Rock to be a pleasure cruise. For the rest of us, we probably would have enough when we discovered that the dungeon takes as long as the original Golden Sun's final dungeon. This wouldn't be so bad if this was a late place in the game to visit, but it's actually near the start of The Lost Age! Your party is at a relatively low level, your hit points and Psynergy points are in the low amount spectrum, your equipment is mediocre at best, and the enemies aren't pushovers, unlike those that you've encountered already. Sound fun? Great! Here's some more stuff!

Trial and error gameplay is what you receive with several opening maze and platforming puzzles. This requires your party to be using its low amounts of PP to use a certain skill repeatedly, meaning you run out of Psynergy points rather quickly. As you make your way to the top of Air's Rock, believing the hardest parts are behind you, you encounter the realization that you're actually not even halfway done with this dungeon. Still sound fun? Well, let's continue!

You must then enter inside the stone and move downward, as you progress closer and closer into the mountain's core. This is all the while facing off against even stronger enemies and more time-consuming and repetitive puzzles. Once you've reached the center of the mountain, you must make your way to the top of the mountain again. This time, however, you are able to use various activated tornado devices to shoot your way up to areas that couldn't be reached before. The end of this part of this dungeon is the end of your journey through the insanely long Air's Rock. It's not just a feat of endurance to conquer this dungeon; it's a test of one's insanity. Oh, and the game doesn't even bother to mention that you need to come to Air's Rock for a Psynergy magic that is required to advance the story in the first place. How nice of the developers! Not. If somehow this all sounds like no big deal and a lot of fun, may we introduce you to a game called Superman 64? You'll probably find pleasure in that torture (albeit much, much worse torture) as well.

Babel Tower - Xenogears (PS1, PSN)

Based on the Tower of Babel, a tower from the Bible that was humanity's way of essentially saying to God, "Hey, you. We're defying you. Take your now-useless Great Flood and get lost!", Xenogears' Babel Tower hasn't been entered for over five centuries due to the ancient Ethos Society sealing it shut with powerful magic. That is, until Fei's party manages to enter Babel Tower themselves. If you ask us what Xenogears' take on the tower was built for, our answer would be pure frustration. Unlike the Bible's version of the tower, Xenogears' Babel Tower actually served its purpose quite well... unfortunately.

It wouldn't be so bad if it was just a straight up climb. However, the developers had a different idea in jazzing up the player's process in ascending the tower. What happens when you have an RPG and you introduce platforming, a mechanic that has no place in the game, in order to cross chasms? Well, you get a recipe for disaster, and that's exactly what Babel Tower is.

You see, Xenogears came out before the PlayStation's implementation of the analog stick. This meant you were stuck using the d-pad for movement. While this setup was less than ideal, what really makes this trek through Babel Tower frustrating is that you can enter into a random battle mid-jump. That wouldn't be so bad if after the battle you didn't fall downward like a two ton safe. That's not even taking into account the very awkward leaps Fei and friends must make at the beginning of the tower that are hard enough without any battles to impede your progress. That alone takes a good chunk of time to perfect the first time! All this adds up to being forced to retry segments of the tower because you keep falling after battles that begin in mid-jump. It's incredibly frustrating and tedious, and it's one of those points in the game that make us disinterested in playing through Xenogears again.

Desert of Death - Breath of Fire III (PS1, PSP, PSN)

As if the name didn't come across as unfriendly enough, Breath of Fire III's Desert of Death is a slog of a place to travel through. It's an area that can get severely boring and tedious, even when you know what you're doing. If you don't, you'll curse the heavens, the stars, and the developers for even coming up with this hellish spot in the game.

The kicker here is that in the English version of Breath of Fire III, the translation was fouled up. This results in the trek through this sand-filled nightmare being much more difficult than it needs to be. You need to have an incredibly precise directional sense to get through the desert. You are required to use the stars in the nighttime sky as your markers to know where to go and how to find the exit here. Since there's a star that is placed in the sky merely to trip you up and trick you, this makes for a pretty rough and obnoxious part to an otherwise enjoyable RPG to overcome.

In addition to these problematic issues, wandering around in the desert for an extended period of time causes you to become thirsty, needing to drink water. Run out of water, and your maximum amount of hit points will continually lower with each step until Ryu and party rest at an inn. After all of your work through this tedious part of the game, you arrive at the end of the Desert of Death, only to be greeted by a boss battle.

 ...Now don't that just beat all?

Mario's Castle - Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (GB, 3DS VC)

The final level of Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins has Mario returning to his overtaken by Wario castle after collecting all six of the eponymous golden coins. What is a generally fairly easy game ramps up in difficulty to roller coaster levels in an instant.

Mario's Castle is a three floor nightmare of a level that requires really tight and precise platforming, great reaction time, and steady thumbs. The obstacles include moving platforms, giant Piranha Plant statues that shoot out fireballs at intermittent times, and large pits of lava that will cook Mario's hind parts instantly.

Not only is this level more than double the length of every other level that Mario has previously conquered within the game, but it also features nothing in the way of checkpoints. This means that wherever you die, even in the three stage fight with Wario, the final boss of the game, you must restart the level at the very beginning. That's just poor and unfair design in what would otherwise be a giant jump in difficulty for players of Super Mario Land 2.

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