The phrase “water level” is practically an invective when discussing video games. The vast majority are slow, sluggish sections of the game that range from a frustrating slog to a reason to sell the game back to Gamestop. A good water level is a true rarity and a great one is almost unheard of. Still, a few games go above and beyond when designing these types of challenges. The following are the top five greatest water levels in video games.
5. Atlantis (Marvel: Ultimate Alliance) – What differentiates this level from the average water filled level is that the game mechanics don’t change in the least. For story reasons, your characters move and fight in exactly the same way they do on land. In essence, this level is simply an opportunity to explore a beautiful underwater setting and fight rarely seen Marvel villains, without any of the drawbacks usually associated with these types of levels. This would rate higher, but the thing that keeps it from being terrible also means it doesn’t stand out that much.
4. Sewer Surfin’ (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time) – This level works almost exactly the opposite of your average water level. The turtles move even faster than normal and the pace of the game actually increases rather than slows to a crawl. Compare this to the dam level from the original NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game and you can see exactly how big a difference can exist between good and bad. With this level the franchise redeemed itself from one of the worst level designs in the history of video games.
3. Ancient Cistern (Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword) – Only about half this level is actually in the water, but those sections are actually enjoyable. Link swims with a skill roughly equal to that of Mario, which is to say, very well. Furthermore, this level introduces the whip and has one of the more amazing boss fights in the entire series. If the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time had been like this, the Zelda franchise would not be synonymous with terrible water levels.
2. Bubbleman Stage (Megaman 2) – One of the classic problems with water stages is that you slow down. And while you do slow down in this stage, that actually works to your advantage often. The reason is that your jumping becomes epic while underwater. You can practically jump straight up the entire screen and the slow descent allows you to easily control those jumps. Suddenly slightly sluggish movement actually gives you greater precision. And since Megaman attacks from range, slow movement is pretty much not a problem when fighting. Brilliant level design seals the deal by rewarding you for mastering this new high jumping skill and even taking advantage of it during the boss fight.
1. Cosmic Cove Galaxy (Super Mario Galaxy 2) – Swimming is pretty much a guilty pleasure, rather than a pain, in both Super Mario Galaxy games. Beach Bowl Galaxy from the first game is also an amazing level, but Cosmic Cove Galaxy has a feature that truly earns it the top spot. When you are done exploring the vast underwater area, either swimming lazily or grabbing a shell and racing around like a torpedo, you can freeze the entire world and literally ice skate across the level. The dual nature of this level makes it almost like two separate levels and truly makes it the best water level in video game history.