Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Best Levels in Gaming History - Volume 22

Spring has sprung, and with it a new season featuring more of the Best Levels in Gaming History! We've reached the 22nd volume (wow!), and there's no signs of stopping. Whether they be actual levels, missions, maps, or even this time around, golf courses, these sectioned-off portions of games are some of the greatest ever. We've got a packed list of franchises represented this time around--we start with Spider-Man, move on to Sackboy, Crash Bandicoot, and Yooka-Laylee for some platforming fun, and end things by checking in on our backswing with some Mario Golf. 

If you have some time to spare or are simply yearning for more great gaming levels, then no look further than every installment of Best Levels in Gaming History right here with these convenient 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
Volume Twenty-One

Hold onto your web-shooters - Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales (PS5, PS4)

Our opening Best Level in Gaming History is also the adrenaline-pumping opening to Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales, "Hold onto your web-shooters". After the events of the original Spider-Man game from Insomniac, Miles Morales has taken on the mantle as a second Spider-Man and has the original Spider-Man as his mentor. The two are entangled in a mission to oversee the transport of a convoy of R.A.F.T. prisoners who had escaped in the previous game. A helicopter malfunction results in a crash and the escape of several prisoners, including one rambunctious member of Spidey's rogue's gallery, Rhino.

While Spidey takes on Rhino, Miles focuses on the brawn that are the more manageable prisoners. Here, players learn the ins and outs of the most basic of combat: punches, kicks, web-shooting, evading attacks--that sort of thing. After two mobs of enemies, with the second batch having long-range weaponry in the form of guns, Spider-Man wrestles with Rhino, as the latter charges through the city, with Miles pursuing. 

Eventually, the three make it into a mall, where Miles takes over the Rhino-riding duties, weaving through stores, displays, and avoiding taking damage. The fun goes from the top floor straight to the bottom floor, and the rampage continues, even blasting through J. Jonah Jameson's Christmas-themed podcast set, much to Jonah's dismay and utter rage. 

The chase continues through the city streets, causing much more unintended collateral damage, but it ends when Rhino smashes himself, with Spidey and Miles in tow, into a flammable tank, which explodes upon impact. After Miles takes care of some crowd control of the escaped prisoner kind, Spidey #1 finds himself on the receiving end of Rhino's offense, leaving him unable to move. It's Miles' turn to shine, armed with an unknown and mysterious new electrical power that courses through his body, Venom Power, Miles does battle with Rhino, ultimately defeating him.

Between the amazing set pieces on display, whether it's the carnage on the streets or the rampage through the mall, the intense action, great and amusing dialogue, or how seamlessly everything happens (whether on PS4 or PS5), the opening mission in Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales starts the game on an insanely impressive note. And the entertaining ride only gets more enjoyable from there.

Flossed in Space - Sackboy: A Big Adventure (PS5, PS4)

Let's move on from one PlayStation Studios game to another, this time with Sackboy: A Big Adventure, a game that was runner-up on SPC's Games of 2020 list. For good reason, too, as the Sackboy's Super Mario 3D World-like platforming adventure was a masterclass of wonderful design, enjoyable and accessible platforming, and abundant imagination. So many of the levels could be selected from the game and represented for this type of article series, but if you've played Sackboy: A Big Adventure, then you probably already know what level type is most worthwhile.

This obvious pick is any one of the music levels featured in the game. These levels take a licensed track from popular music, such as Britney Spears' Toxic or Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' Uptown Funk, and almost seamlessly syncs the running and jumping action on screen with the music. It's similar to Rayman Legends' lovely music levels, though these in Sackboy are not levels you just run like there's no tomorrow. No, in Sackboy, you play these levels at your own pace. 

Really, any of the five or so music levels featured in Sackboy: A Big Adventure could easily be selected for this volume of Best Levels in Gaming History, but I'll pick my personal favorite, featuring Foster the People's Houdini. The level Flossed in Space, an obvious but still clever riff off of Lost in Space, features a copious amount of portals that warp Sackboy to and from destinations, moving platforms, and a stupendous intergalactic space theme that is all complemented beautifully by the backing music. Part of my love for this level stems from the actual song, which is quite the bop, and another part is just how well executed the transitions between portions of the song are. It's an overall incredibly fun, sensationally original level that oozes with personality, much like the overall adventure of Sackboy itself.

Off Beat - Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time (Multi)

On the subject of 3D platformers, let's turn our focus to a much more difficult game. While I didn't necessarily love Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time for several reasons--as you can read in my review--there is no question or hint of denial on my end that a multitude of levels within the game are abundantly packed with creativity and genius. My pick for my favorite level within Crash 4 comes from the New Orleans-inspired music level Off Beat.

Off Beat starts out innocently enough with a vertical climb of boxes and platforms to the rooftops, and this is where the real fun begins. Complete with rising and lowering block platforms with mischievous faces painted on them, ghosts that bugle out and drop painful-to-the-touch notes from their trumpets, helpful bipedal cannons that assist Crash by blasting him across the city skyline with ease, and even a parade featuring familiar Crash characters and even a Spyro the Dragon appearance, Off Beat is a level that is hardly one-note. It's fun to run through, features limited "gotcha" moments that I felt plagued this game throughout its adventure, and is just jam-packed with creativity.

Cliffside Quest - Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair (Multi)

From 3D platforming to 2.5D platforming, we turn to the wildly charming, clever, and well executed Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair from Playtonic Games. While Yooka-Laylee was a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie that didn't quite stick the landing, with Impossible Lair, Playtonic successfully nailed its take on the Donkey Kong Country-style with some insanely ingenious additions as well.

The levels in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair are pretty much all wonderfully well done, but nearly all of them are somewhat linear affairs. That's what makes the Cliffside Quest level so unique in Impossible Lair. The premise is simple: Yooka and Laylee are greeted with a statue of villain Capital B., and inside a protected shield is a bee, essentially the "goal" of the level. However, in a "so close, yet so far" type of scenario, Yooka and Laylee need to track down six gems that are scattered on all corners of this nonlinear level in order to unlock the shield and complete the level.

Whether in its springtime version or its frozen variant, Cliffside Quest has myriad platforming challenges to take on, and most of these are relegated to specific rooms and chambers. There are climbing challenges, where Yooka and Laylee must avoid killer lasers as they climb, there are enemy gauntlets, swimming situations, and much more to track down all six gems to satisfy the conditions of clearing the level. It's a scavenger hunt of sorts, and one that is enjoyable in either variant of this atypical, untraditional level in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair.

Mario's Star - Mario Golf (N64), Mario Golf: World Tour (3DS)

We wrap up this 22nd volume of Best Levels in Gaming History with a first. Yes, in the 21 previous installments of Best Levels in Gaming History, we've never seen a golf course ever represented. Time to give the game of golf its proper due with some representation, and why not with Mario Golf: Super Rush for the Nintendo Switch fast approaching!

One of the most creatively designed courses in Mario Golf history comes from the very first Mario Golf for the Nintendo 64. Mario's Star is the ultimate course in that game, and what makes it so creative in its design is how each hole is essentially art of famous Mario characters and enemies comprised of things like bunkers, water hazards, rock, fairways, greens, and more. As you can see in the attached photos, the noble and honorable Princess Peach gets immortalized in this course with a striking portrait (and one hard hole of golf, might I add!).

It's more than a gimmick, though, which is much appreciated. The designs lend themselves well to a challenging round of golf, but one that is ultimately fair in its difficulty. Mario's Star would reappear as one of the six downloadable courses in Mario Golf: World Tour for the Nintendo 3DS. In fact, every course in the aforementioned DLC are courses from Mario Golf for the N64 that have been remixed, remade, and mostly renamed for World Tour.

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