Friday, July 6, 2018

Bad Levels in Gaming History - Volume Eleven

Bad Levels in Gaming History is back to kick some less-than-stellar level butt! "Levels" is simply a catch-all term used. As you'll see with this volume of Bad Levels in Gaming History, "levels" can mean stages, courts, dungeons, areas, race tracks, and more. "Bad Levels in Gaming History" is just more elegant of a name than "Bad Levels, Stages, Courts, Dungeons, Areas, Race Tracks, etc. in Gaming History", wouldn't you say?

This volume features a handful of classic franchises with most being all-star characters that see modern takes on their respective series. Such franchises represented this time around include: Crash Bandicoot, Mario Tennis, Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy, and even a bit of a precursor in some ways to Grand Theft Auto, the Driver series.

If this volume of Bad Levels has you yearning for more, check out the ten past installments conveniently linked to below:

Road to Nowhere - Crash Bandicoot (PS1), Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

One of two of the most challenging levels in the already difficult original Crash Bandicoot (and the game itself is occasionally difficult for all the wrong reasons), Road to Nowhere is forward-scrolling trek across a seemingly endless amount of bridges. Simple enough, right? No. Not at all. The bridges are practically hanging by a thread with loose planks that quickly fall to the abyss below once Crash steps on them, meaning you have to move, move, move! Many of the jumps require pinpoint precision as they are only one plank surrounded by gaps. Add in some slippery sections of the bridges, and you have one recipe for frustration.

This wouldn't be so much of a problem if Crash Bandicoot's perspective wasn't so bad in this level. Not only do you have limited sight distance thanks to the thick fog permeating throughout Road to Nowhere, but the perspective of the camera makes it tricky to see where Crash is going to land. Mistiming jumps and just completely missing planks in general are common occurrences in Road to Nowhere, so much so that many players have found the easiest way to get passed the arduous jumps in the level are to completely avoid doing them. It's as "simple" (since again, you're a slave to the camera perspective and difficulty to see where Crash is going to land) as landing on one of the rope railings on either side of the bridges and crossing them that way. You don't miss out on any boxes, as they are all located on the islands sprinkled throughout the levels in between bridge crossings.

Still, just knowing that so many use this exploit just to get through an otherwise messy level to get through due to design problems with Crash Bandicoot as a game itself, Road to Nowhere got the first honors of being skewered on this volume of Bad Levels in Gaming History.

Savage Sea - Mario Tennis Aces (NSW)

Since Mario Power Tennis on the Nintendo GameCube, the Mario Tennis series has been no stranger to various themed, fun, gimmick courts. When I say "gimmick", I mean that the courts have special hazards or obstacles on them to impede upon an otherwise normal (well, in normal in the Mario Tennis sense) match of tennis.

Mario Tennis Aces has these as well, and thankfully, for the most part, you can turn off hazards on courts if you desire. In a game with limited options, it's fortunate that at least the ability to turn off court hazards is available to players. Well, that is except one particular court in the game, which has by far the most obnoxious gimmick in Mario Tennis history, Savage Sea.

Don't be fooled by the bright sunshine and colorful and calm ocean waters that surround this ship-themed court. Here within all this beauty and wonder belies one truly tricky and annoying obstacle that makes for a difficult challenge whether playing on it in Adventure Mode or Free Play. The deck of the ship where the action takes place houses a particular annoyance right in the middle of the net, a mast, which bounces balls off of it in sometimes unpredictable ways. These are such ways that sometimes it's simply impossible to get to the ball without the foresight needed to do so. Furthermore, unlike the rest of the hazards in Mario Tennis Aces' courts, there is no way to remove the mast for a traditional Aces match. What it amounts to is a court that would otherwise be at a climactic and enjoyable setting turned into a complete and utter aggravation.

Iron Fortress - Sonic Forces (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

How does one screw up a 2D Sonic level after essentially getting them down pat in previous games? As Dr. Ian Malcolm of Jurassic Park would say, "Sonic Team... finds a way." The 28th stage of 30 within Sonic Forces is Iron Fortress, a level situated inside Dr. Eggman's gigantic tower where the final events of the game take place.

Iron Fortress is home to annoying red missiles that launch from boxes, electrified portions of level, wheels that spin Classic Sonic around in all 360 degrees, and one of the most frustrating and shoehorned parts of Sonic Forces, an auto-scrolling section placed directly above a bottomless pit. First of all, there's really no rhyme or reason for there to be auto-scrolling in the first place. There is nothing chasing you--no Death Egg Robot, no wall of instant-death spikes--nothing. Instead, you just get pushed and possibly crushed by an invisible wall.

Couple this with all of the obstacles and level mechanics I previously mentioned and Sonic Forces' clunky jumping, where letting go of the analog stick means that Classic Sonic's midair momentum instantly stops, and Iron Fortress is an annoyance of a stage entirely. It's not impossible; it's just harder than it needs to be due to several bizarre design decisions and Classic Sonic's midair handling, which unfortunately affects the other two characters in Sonic Forces as well, Modern Sonic and the custom avatar.

Karnak Castle - Final Fantasy V (Multi)

We have a lot of classic franchises represented on this volume of Bad Levels in Gaming History, and that continues with Final Fantasy getting representation tonight. This particular bad level, or in this case, area comes from Final Fantasy V, a Super Famicom game that initially skipped the West. This was thankfully rectified with a PS1 release, and now Final Fantasy V is available on a whole wide range of platforms currently.

The area of Final Fantasy V that is especially troublesome is Karnak Castle. This castle has you facing a 10-minute countdown, which you are tasked with escaping before it is destroyed along with you. Quickly you find out that 10 minutes isn't that sizable of an amount of time, as time keeps on ticking through every thing you do in the game--movement in the castle, collecting treasure, dialog, battles, and yes, even a final fight in order to escape Karnak Castle against a powerful boss.

While all this already seems a bit troublesome to take on, Karnak Castle is further the aggravation due to having a dungeon previously and immediately before it. After completing the prior dungeon that leads to your party's transportation to the castle, there is no option to save your data. This means that if you don't make it out of the castle in time or you perish in battle, you have to start over from the previous dungeon. Not exactly the most time-considerate section of Final Fantasy V, but it's for sure one of the most irritating in the game, and possibly the series on the whole.

Tutorial Mission - Driver (PS1)

Crash Bandicoot, Mario, Sonic, Final Fantasy--these are definitely classic franchises that have proven to stand the test of time. While Driver is a classic franchise, it hasn't exactly lasted in gaming. The first game was pretty rough for beginning players, and one would think a tutorial mission would assist in getting players' feet wet. After all, a tutorial mission should teach you the basics, get you comfortable with the controls, and then let you move on easily.

This was definitely not the case with Driver's tutorial mission. Instead of teaching, Driver simply told you to do a checklist of driving maneuvers with little input into how to actually do them. To add insult to injury, for a game that proudly prided itself on having a big driving playground to explore in its metropolis, you were stuck in a dingy parking garage until you finally completed the series of tasks required of you. Many players never got to see the outside of the parking garage due to how difficult the driving checklist was to complete.

In a cruel taste of irony, after the tutorial mission was finished, the rest of the game--outside of the last mission or so--was a breeze to play through. It's easy enough when you've spent 12 hours (might be some slight exaggerating here) learning the basics and trying to escape that wretched parking garage by doing some inane, asinine checklist of parking maneuvers!

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