[Enjoying your Memorial Day weekend, U.S. Dtoiders? Thinking about doing some swimming? If not, maybe this top ten underwater levels will get you in the drowning wading mood. Want to see your own writing on the front page? Write something awesome and put it in the C Blogs. -- Kauza]
A recent blog post about someone's hatred towards water levels in games got me thinking about my own feelings regarding water levels. The underwater sections of games usually tend to be my favorite part of the game, so I'm sometimes surprised to see such animosity towards those levels when the topic is discussed online. Perhaps I'm a little biased, because I have a rather intense interest in oceans and underwater creatures and environments, but I still find a lot of underwater levels to be fun to play and not just interesting to look at.
10. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask - Great Bay Temple
This time around, instead of having Link awkwardly walking around underwater in iron boots, with sword and shield in hand, they came up with the brilliant idea of allowing Link to transform into a being more suited to moving around in an underwater environment. As a Zora, Link's underwater movement is made incredibly easier and quicker. He can dash through the water and jump out at high speeds, much like a dolphin. No more sluggish walking across the sea floor. He's also no longer unrealistically equipped with a sword and shield underwater, as the Zora form comes equipped with its own means of attacking with fins and an energy shield. Transforming is also made much less tedious since you can equip the mask to a C button, rather than having to open up the menu.
The Great Bay Temple is still a very complex and difficult level, and I often still get lost, but at least movement is no longer the problem. Another plus side to the temple is the gigantic boss, Gyorg. I have a fascination with massive aquatic beasts, so I found Gyorg to be both terrifying and really awesome. Twilight Princess probably wins for my favorite massive aquatic creature, Morpheel, but I didn't really care for the rest of the level -- or the rest of the game for that matter.
9. Mega Man Legends 2 - Nino Ruins
Fortunately, they sort of make up for this by giving him the ability to jump very high and go very long distances while jumping, and also providing him with hydrojets which increase your movement speed anyway. You can also drain the ruins or flood them again, so you don't spend the entire time underwater. The main reason I love this place so much is because of the level design. The structure is absolutely beautiful and very large, giving you a lot to explore.
My favorite area in the entire series also happens to be in the Nino Ruins: the huge underwater room with the manta ray-like Reaverbot that you can ride on top of. At first, the room seems terrifying, since it's very dark and there's a huge Reaverbot who may or may not be hostile, but once you explore the place a bit it becomes quite beautiful and mysterious. I also love the music in this place, and you get to fight my favorite character, Klaymoor.
This level also contains the most original method of replenishing your oxygen than any other game I've played. If your party is ever on the verge of drowning, all you have to do is make out with the nearest lip-sticked merman, who may or may not be a machine and who will refill your lungs for you. I'm still not sure whether I should find this hilarious or very creepy, since the mermen kiss everyone in your party, including a man, a woman, a little boy and a dog. I guess if they really are machines then perhaps it's OK.
The boss fight here with Draygon definitely caught me off guard the first time around. I was not expecting to fight a huge, hideous alien monster. I had expected something more serpentine, or something with tentacles or fins. This is the reason I would avoid the ocean abyss at all costs, you never know what could be down there!
This wasn't really a problem for me during the first half of the original Tomb Raider, because there were never any enemies in the water until about halfway through the game. Suddenly, you fall into a sewer and are confronted by a large, angry alligator, and you practically shit yourself because you can't shoot it or attack it in any way, even while it's gnawing on your torso! The only thing you can do is swim for your life until you find a place to pull yourself out of the water, and then shoot the bastard from dry land. Ever since that moment, water in the Tomb Raider series has terrified me.
The most panic-inducing underwater level, however, has got to be 40 Fathoms from Tomb Raider II. You begin the level stranded in the middle of a vast underwater cavern after the submarine you were riding crashes, with huge sharks swimming around just waiting to sink their teeth into you. You must quickly find a place to surface for oxygen while avoiding the sharks, which you can't attack unless you managed to find the harpoon gun with sufficient ammo in an earlier level. It's definitely a frightening experience, which is exactly why I love it so much.
5. Super Mario 64 - Dire Dire Docks
I never beat Donkey Kong Country Returns, but I read somewhere that they didn't include any underwater stages in the revival, which makes me very sad. The underwater stages were hands down my favorite part of the Donkey Kong Country series!
The setting of this battle really makes the whole experience quite epic. You swim amongst the broken, mossy ruins of a civilization, in a lake of indeterminate depth, while a monstrous, eel-like Colossus swims beneath you, threatening to attack you with it's electrified appendages and then dragging you down to the watery depths as you try to cling to its back. I would not dare set foot in that water if I were in such a situation, but Wander braves the terrifying circumstances to take down the massive underwater Colossus to save his loved one. It's a truly spectacular scene.
Most of Nintendo's side-scrollers use a similar format for underwater levels, including Mario, Kirby and Donkey Kong games. You don't have a breath meter, and swimming is a relatively easy task once you get the hang of it. It mostly involves avoiding enemies and obstacles, and making it to the end of the stage. This is probably the level that most people would immediately think of when being asked about underwater levels, and the theme song would probably also immediately pop into their head!
This increased jumping ability could lead to other problems, however, since the ceiling and walls of the level were often lined with spikes that could kill you instantly if your jump was more powerful than you intended, but that's where the difficulty of the level comes in. Without a difficult stage, Bubble Man would have no place in the Mega Man series. Bubble Man used the underwater nature of his stage to his advantage, and gave us one of the finest examples of an underwater level in video gaming.