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The idea that water levels are inherently worse than other types of levels is not at all the fault of water levels themselves. It's mostly because swimming controls aren't that easy to get right, so many people fuck it up, and as it turns out, that's pretty much all it takes to ruin the entire experience. So, you think the Water Temple is bad? Well, that's probably because all you have in Ocarina of Time is a shitty dive, so you have to depend of the metal boots to weigh you down, and you have to equip and un-equip those through the pause menu. Of course, that's not really the dungeon's fault, it's just a flawed mechanic. But even then, there are plenty of games that do it right, yet get overlooked, so in the end the common water level is still looked down upon by a majority. Seeing as this is an injustice, I wish to stand up and speak out for water levels!
Water levels can be wonderful! The element of water adds a lot to an environment, and allows for a ton of really well made game mechanics, not to mention that it's often beautiful to look at. Being full of potential for both eye candy and interesting level design, it's not hard to understand that water levels continue to be present in video games, despite the hard times they get online. As much as you may dislike them, if they were gone, they'd leave a big, water-shaped hole in our hearts.
Ratchet & Clank has become a gigantic franchise at this point, and one that has shifted focus a bit since the beginning. Not that much, granted, but it took a very combat focused turn already by the second game, and it hasn't looked that far back ever since. Because of this, the very first game is notable for having levels that are far less like battlefields, and much more like traditional platforming levels, with a greater focus on exploration. Swimming especially was something that was done much more often in this than the sequels, and Jowai Resort probably makes the best use of swimming in the entire game. It's a level that's very basic to begin with, but it really opens up once you get the O2 mask, at which point you can swim around endlessly, exploring the level and its secrets in a completely new way. It's the kind of level that was worth going back to, and that's what earns it a spot on my meaningless list.
When you think about games that have done water well, you probably won't be thinking about the Sonic games. I'd argue that this might be intentional, as water is mostly used as a mild punishment for missing a jump. The most interesting case of this would be Aquatic Ruin Zone form the second game, as this is basically split up in two "lanes". There's the dry land on top, and water on bottom. Both will lead you to the end, but the dry lane will give you a much easier time. This is in my opinion a very interesting way to design a level, and I'd like to see more be done with this idea at some point. If you want me to pick between Act 1 and Act 2, I'll go with 2, mostly because of the goofy boss.
#8 - Zora's Domain (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess)
People forget this! Everyone is busy complaining about the Water Temple (which I also like, btw), but nobody seems to give much credit to Zora's Domain, especially not this version, even though it's totally the best! I'm guilty of this myself, but after recalling this place, I really do think it's a shame that it gets so overlooked. It's a really nice landscape, it's pretty to look at, and it's fun to play around in. Even though I consider myself a 'challenge' type of player, I like areas like these to break up the action, especially for games like Zelda.
#7 - River of Pain (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
Is it called the River of Pain? I'm not entirely sure, but in any case, this place is dope! It's essentially a huge reward screen, but a very subjective one, in that it's up to you to decide what's considered a "reward". Do you like a nice, quiet walk down the river, or do you prefer being greeted by tons of burning people who scream in pain? Well, what you get depends on how you play the game, specifically how many people you kill, and how you do this. Aside from that, this place has some really cool secrets, and even though The Sorrow isn't really a boss fight as much as he's a trick by the developers, it's still a really cool trick.
Yo harr ho, we're in fuckin pirate land, tomateys, what up!?
It might not be the best pirate level in the universe, but I still like this one a ton, and it did some cool stuff for its time. It's also good fun to play, so I give it the number 6 spot. It's far from the last pirate level on this list, so don't worry. There isn't that much I can say about it, unfortunately, but it's still one of my favourite levels in the game.
Jolly Roger Bay would have been a nice and pirate-y follow up to the last one, but if I claimed to like that over Beach Bowl Galaxy, I'd be lying so hard my pants would be ashes within milliseconds. BBG is pure bliss! It first comes across as more of a playground than a level, but every star has a new and interesting objective, and I recall a kickass secret star in there, too! Still, the simple joy that comes from swinging, exploring and playing in the water is pretty amazing. It's one of the most relaxing and vacation-like levels that I can think of (Super Mario Sunshine might have it beat though, not that I've played it myself).
"Water". Or, more specifically, a gross combo of saliva, mild stomach acids and other fluids that you don't want to think about. Still, it's definitely a water level, if a less traditional one. It doesn't hurt that it's awesome, considering it mostly takes place inside of a huge dinosaur named Dexter (who has a comparatively tiny head)! Swimming in Ape Escape is not very precise, but it never really has to be, and it's easy to pull off, so capturing the monkeys swimming around in this level shouldn't be a problem (why are they doing that anyway, ew!). The ones to look out for are those who have somehow taken over parts Dexter's body, now using it as some sort of machinery. Poor silly looking giant dinosaur...
Sunken ship levels are cool by default, but what if you yourself sunk the ship? What if it was just a regular ship level until you fucked it up? For those who don't know, Wario Land II is a brilliant game, for countless reasons, and this is one of them. The standard objective of the SS Tea Cup level is to drop the anchor, in order to stop the ship from escaping. But if you manage to find to hidden weak point, you can destroy it, causing the ship to sink. The following level is a flooded, broken down version of the previous one.
Is your mind blown right now? Yeah, thought so...
How fucking cool is that!? It's such a genious way to change up a familiar level and have you approach it in a completely new way! The following underwater ruin levels that you then unlock are cool too, but god DAMN! This is probably the biggest reason I've always been pro-water levels. This is like the anti-Water Temple!
If you wanna beat out the anti-Water Temple, you gotta step up your game!
Strangely enough, this one is from Sly 3, a game that I considered mostly inferior to Sly 2, especially when it came to the level design. Then everything changed when this level appeared and slapped me in the face for being a fool! Another pirate themed level is great in my book, but naval combat? That not only came out of nowhere, but it was awesome! I spent so much time on that part of the game, sinking thousands of enemy ships in the process. Super good times!
The reason Blood Bath Bay is this high on the list is that it not only showed that water levels can be great, but that a water level can be the best level in an entire game by a long shot!
#1 - Gloo Gloo (Rayman Legends)
This level features a (somewhat) sillier version of Woo Hoo by the 5, 6, 7, 8's. Not only that, but it has you run, jump, kick and swim to the rhythm of the song, while dodging several obstacles on the way. The backgrounds are all hand drawn, and amazingly detailed. It's beautiful to look at, beautiful to listen to, and beautiful to play. It's something I never thought would exist, especially not within a franchise I already knew and loved.
This level is fucking unbelievable! Every complaint that you could possibly have towards water levels is destroyed, and replaced with fast, fun and flowing gameplay, resulting in the purest of joy! It's number one because I believe it has the power to forever change the belief the water levels suck by default, should it be exposed to enough people. Smooth, charming and infinitely replayable, this level is an absolute masterpiece! Cheers!
If there are any other water levels you think are cool, feel free to write about them below. Not that this message is needed or anything, you'd totally do that no matter what. Fun times ahead!