Friday, March 25, 2016

Best Levels in Gaming History - Volume Sixteen

Today's Good Friday, so let's talk about something good! No, let's talk about something great. No, something excellent. No, something-- well, you get the idea. It's Best Levels in Gaming History, and we've arrived at the sixteenth volume of this long-running series of articles. These levels, maps, areas, tracks, etc. on this list are the cream of the crop, the cleverest, the smartest designed, and feature things that make them worthwhile over the competition. We have a wide selection of games this volume, everything from Star Wars Battlefront to Kingdom Hearts.

Before we get to the five new entrants into the Best Levels in Gaming History hall of fame, check out all past volumes with the following links:

Volume One
Volume Two
Volume Three
Volume Four
Volume Five
Volume Six
Volume Seven
Volume Eight
Volume Nine
Volume Ten
Volume Eleven
Volume Twelve
Volume Thirteen
Volume Fourteen
Volume Fifteen

Forest Moon of Endor - Star Wars Battlefront (PS4, XONE, PC)

The Star Wars series is home to some incredibly impressive locales, whether it's the deserts and canyons of Tatooine, the cloud city of Bespin, the cold caverns and wilderness of Hoth, and yes, the forested home to the Ewoks in the Forest Moon of Endor. The version in the latest Star Wars Battlefront is an idyllic wonderland of trees, brush, and bushes, perfect for sneaking up on the enemy, setting up vantage points, and engaging in some immensely intense firefights.

Whichever mode you decide to play in, you can bet that you'll have a hard time not wanting to admire the tranquil beauty of the heavily detailed tree trunks, grass, and brush that covers the map. Just don't spend too much time scoping out the sights as your squadron needs you!

Fortuna - Star Fox: Assault (GCN)

Continuing with the science fiction theme, though with much different source material, Star Fox Zero is due out in less than a month from now after seeing a five-month delay. While the quality of that game is up in the air, though previews have been kind, the quality of Star Fox: Assault on the GameCube is more well known. It offers exactly three levels of traditional awesome on-rails Star Fox action, while the rest is done in full range mode with on-foot action, which is a subject that fans are mixed about with more fans disliking that direction than liking it.

Regardless, Fortuna is the first of ten missions in Star Fox: Assault, and it's a two part mission. The first takes place in Fortuna airspace, having Team Star Fox chase after the remnants of Andross' army, led by his nephew Andrew Oikonny. The combat is superb, the action is heavy, and all the goodness of the gameplay of Star Fox 64 is present in this mission.

The fun continues on Fortuna, a grassy world full of vegetation and Oikonny's forces. While the former is nice and quaint, the latter has got to go. Jetting through jungles and into an outdoor robotic production facility, Fox McCloud and crew lay waste to enemies throughout their path to meet Oikonny and take him down once and for all. After an easy boss fight against Oikonny, the true villain of Assault makes its presence felt with a second boss fight, the nefarious Aparoid insects. Both boss fights feel like the old days on the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64, and had the development team adhered to this type of gameplay for the rest of the game, perhaps Star Fox: Assault would be put in a better light with its most hardened critics.

Destiny Islands - Kingdom Hearts (PS2)

A collection of quaint islands in the original Kingdom Hearts where series protagonists Sora, Riku, and Kairi call their home, the Destiny Islands are essentially a safe haven for beginning players new to the Kingdom Hearts series. Even upon future play-throughs, the opening scenes and tutorials that occur on the islands aren't anywhere near as tedious to go through as say, Twilight Town in the immediate sequel.

Multiple islands make up the Destiny Islands, including the main stretch of land where the school is, a small-sized beach and dock, as well as a town in the distance that is unavailable to do anything but see from afar. From across the main island is a smaller island where a cove is located, a raised island where Sora can take on Riku in a practice sword fight, and so much more.

I like the ambiance of Destiny Islands, and it helps that Yoko Shimomura delivered an exquisite and infectious tropical theme to complement the area well. The Caribbean-like setting and beginner-friendly tutorials of Destiny Islands make it not just a memorable location, but one that obviously is important to the entire Kingdom Hearts series for kicking all of the following events of future games off.

World 4-S: Naval Piranha 2: Now It's Personal - Yoshi's Woolly World (Wii U)

After defeating Naval Piranha in the World 4 fortress and collecting every flower in each level of the world, a special level becomes unlocked in true Yoshi's Island tradition. This level is no walk in the park, because quite frankly, if you try to just walk through this fast, auto-scrolling level, you're gonna get gobbled up by a very mad, gigantic Piranha Plant.

Yes, Naval Piranha is back, and this time it's personal. The level is an auto-scrolling one that requires Yoshi to remove obstacles in his path to avoid a pursuing Naval Piranha. This level is one of the most difficult in Yoshi's Woolly World, but thankfully the collectible rule isn't the same as it was in Yoshi's Island. You don't need to get full health, all five flowers, and twenty beads in one run. You can do it across multiple runs, and this is almost necessary unless you have amazing dexterity and a strong resolve.

Near the 3/4ths mark of the level, no longer can you throw yarn balls at Naval Piranha to slow the beast down. Instead, it charges much faster, forcing Yoshi to speed up his movements or face a ferociously frightful fate. Clear obstructions out of the way quickly, Yoshi! The goal ring is in sight! Yoshi's Woolly World will most definitely see other levels on future installments of Best Levels in Gaming History, but there's no doubt in my mind that World 4-S is one of the game's greatest.

Gravity Man's Stage - Mega Man 5 (NES)

We end this edition of Best Levels in Gaming History with some retro goodness in the form of Mega Man 5. While not the most critically acclaimed Mega Man game, Mega Man 5 features some really well done levels. My personal favorite, not just from Mega Man 5, but from the entire Mega Man series on the NES is Gravity Man's stage.

This stage predictably uses a gravity gimmick to it, where upon hitting arrows lit up on walls, Mega Man falls into the direction of the arrows. These arrows only go up or down, never to the left or right. You're always either on the floor or on the ceiling. This gimmick is used to great effect, sometimes requiring you to do some perilous jumps where you start out on the ceiling, jump, and wind up on the floor, all the while passing over a problematic bottomless pit.

Gravity Man himself is a fun fight as well. You're never on the same plane as him. He constantly switches gravity between the floor and ceiling, so Mega Man's only opportunity to deal damage is when both combatants pass each other in the center plane. Gravity Man's weakness is the Star Crush from Star Man, but charged buster shots work just as well as the boss isn't too tough. The main danger here is crashing into Gravity Man himself.

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