Friday, October 16, 2020

Best Levels in Gaming History - Volume 21

With Halloween fast approaching, SuperPhillip Central scares up five more excellently crafted video game levels. Not strictly limited to the traditional definition of the word "level", Best Levels in Gaming History delves into the best areas, tracks, and segments of some of the best and occasionally the lesser talked about games in our hobby and industry. This time we're looking at a lot of remakes this go around, but truth be told, many of these levels have never looked (or played) better. On this edition, we have games like Resident Evil 2, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, and Paper Mario: The Origami King, to name just a few.

If you want to set aside some time to check out past installments of Best Levels in Gaming History, look no further than these 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
Volume Sixteen
Volume Seventeen
Volume Eighteen
Volume Nineteen
Volume Twenty

The R.P.D. - Resident Evil 2 (PS4, XB1, PC)

What better way to start off a Best Levels in Gaming History article in October than with one of the most masterful sections in any Resident Evil game? It's the starting area of the 2019 remake of Resident Evil 2, the Raccoon City Police Department, or R.P.D. for short. The area is a three-floor building that is otherwise simple enough in its layout, but locked doors requiring playing card suit-themed keys and puzzles needing solving make for a labyrinthine hellscape for players. It's one that's literally crawling with all manner of grotesque creatures, notably the undead kind. 

But, there's one specific monstrosity that makes the creepy corridors and rooms of the R.P.D. especially spooky. Mr. X is a bioweapon, a Tyrant whose strong footsteps signal his eventual approach. Essentially indestructible and particularly dangerous, Mr. X stalks his prey with ruthless efficiency. When those footsteps are heard, the hairs on one's neck are sure to stand up, because Mr. X's arrival means certain trouble at best and certain doom at worst. Attempting to make progress in the R.P.D., whether it be reaching a certain room, or solving a specific puzzle, can be a nightmare with Mr. X breathing down your neck. It makes an intense area of the game even more so, and makes the R.P.D. in the Resident Evil 2 remake an especially strong start for the game. 

The R.P.D. nails its atmosphere with incredibly claustrophobic environments, dark and dreary halls that can only be illuminated by either the "dead" of night or the player's flashlight. Rounding a corner or opening a door to another room is always a frightful experience due to the risk of a zombie or other undead creature being on the other side. In harder difficulties, the fear is very real with said undead being able to tear into your flesh and kill you with ease. The R.P.D. is a puzzle-filled, undead-infested hell of a first impression for Resident Evil 2 players that is a pleasure to explore and even better if you survive it!

School - Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 (PS4, XB1, PC)

Of the levels and skate parks in the recently released remake of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 and Pro Skater 2, one of my favorites of the bunch would have to be the School level of the first game. Wide open and ready for skating class to be back in session, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1's School is pumped and primed with opportunities to make insane combos and ample amounts of areas to skate around in and score big. 

There's the starting section where one can skate down the awning, the rooftop of the gymnasium, the bridges that cross the canals, and the two large and empty pools perfect for long grinds or high-stakes vert tricks, School allows for so many possibilities to pull off insane tricks and scores alike. 

The various goals in School are rather enjoyable to shoot for as well, from wallriding school bells and grinding tables, to trekking down the awning to nab the Secret Tape or comb the level for the almighty S-K-A-T-E letters. The School level as part of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 makes for a well done introduction to more wide open levels in the game, far more than the opening Warehouse level, which is an already awesome level by itself.

Shogun Studios - Paper Mario: The Origami King (NSW)

We now "flip" over to Paper Mario: The Origami King, the latest game in the series. Shogun Studios is a Japanese-style amusement park home to numerous intriguing points of interest. When Mario initially stumbles upon the theme park, he finds it overrun with King Olly's origami goons. Through acquiring the Master Key, he's able to enter the theatre where the boss Rubber Band has forced an audience of Toads to watch his various performances. 

Shogun Studios overflows with passageways, buildings, and secrets to uncover. The attractions inside offer a great amount of longevity even after Rubber Band has been bounced out of the theme park. There's an engaging shuriken-throwing mini-game available, where Mario uses his Hammer to strike shuriken launchers to chuck them into various numbered point targets. There is also a ninja house where the goal is to find as many--if not all of the--hidden ninja located all over the grounds of the attraction. 

The boss segment of Shogun Studios itself is just as entertaining as exploring the amusement park. Before battling Rubber Band, Mario must play in various performance scenarios on each of the three preceding floors of the Big Sho' Theatre. One involves a spaghetti Western where Mario must engage in a shootout-style duel against a trio of paper mache enemies. Another involves dodging dancing paper mache Shy Guys. The final floor features the battle against Rubber Band itself, the culprit behind all of the Shogun Studios shenanigans. Between the fun attractions of the amusement park and the culminating final showdown with Rubber Band, Shogun Studios is one of Paper Mario: The Origami King's strongest sections in a game full of amazing areas.

Cloud Temples - Spyro Reignited Trilogy (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

Let's continue with the oriental motif with a level from Spyro Reignited Trilogy, specifically from Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage. It's Cloud Temples, set atop mountains to make for one super majestic and ultra impressive level. Here, a clash between wizards and warlocks takes place, and it's up to Spyro to lend the wizards that call these temples their home some much needed help. 

Apart from the breathtaking views, elaborate architecture, and dazzling heights that Cloud Temples contains, there are a trio of enjoyable objectives to complete in order to acquire orbs. The most general of goals is to make it from the start of the level, outside the temple gates, to the inside where the finish is, defeating warlocks and charging rams along the way. Then, there's an objective where Spyro must defeat enough enemies to activate the Superfreeze power, enabling him to freeze foes to serve as platforms to reach Cloud Temples' bells in order to ring them. Finally, Spyro needs to closely follow the lovable but decidedly dimwitted Agent Zero to his secret hideout without being noticed. 

From the gorgeous views and fun platforming that the level possesses, to the engaging tasks that are asked of Spyro to complete, Cloud Temples is one of the highlights of the excellent Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage as seen--and as are part of--the even more excellent Spyro Reignted Trilogy.

Cortex Castle - Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled (PS4, XB1, NSW)

We just can't seem to get away from remakes apart from Paper Mario: The Origami King on this edition of Best Levels of Gaming History, can we? That's okay, though, when these levels are so stellar, does it really matter? Cortex Castle is one of the trickiest, most technical courses in Crash Team Racing and its remake Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled. That's due to the fact that the track features myriad sharp corners that serve as the castle's turns. 

From racing on the upper ramparts of Cortex's castle to blasting through the super-tricky turns inside Cortex's courtyard, this track isn't for the feint of heart. The shortcut in the tower section of the track requires precise timing to make a timely leap from an incline, over a chasm, and onto the wooden ramp bypassing an otherwise windy and lengthy path up the tower. 

The final stretch sees a massive, "N. Sane" jump off of a boost ramp from a tower above, all the way to the last section of track, two turns that are home to two bothersome spiders that can spin a costly web to steal some seconds from your lap time. Cortex Castle, like Mario Kart 64's Bowser Castle, is one of my favorite tracks from this era of kart racer--part by virtue of being a castle gauntlet course, and part because it's immensely challenging to master. The visual and graphical renovations only make Cortex Castle an even more impressive sight to behold and track to race on.

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