Water levels are classically the most hated levels in video games. They tend to feature clunky controls, diluted graphics, and frustrating enemies. A truly great game can be almost ruined by a single water level and this has created a general stigma against them. A few of these types of areas aren’t so bad, like in Megaman 2 for example, but the majority range from bad to awful. The following are worst of the worst, seemingly designed for no other reason than to get you to tear your hair out.
5. 2-2 (Super Mario Bros.) – This class level is one of the first water levels to ever be made. The moment you entered, you realized that everything you were used to in this game had changed. Mario was much slower and swam rather than jumped when you pressed the A button. The B button was worthless, unless you had fireballs. Hopefully you did, because without them, you were a sitting duck for enemies that targeted you like heat seeking missiles and that moved at about twice the speed you did. The awkward swimming controls gave you almost no ability to dodge and made traversing the level a chore even if you could unleash a constant stream of fireballs to clear the way. Without them, you were actually better off small than big because you were slightly less likely to hit foes with a smaller Mario.
4. Aquatic Ruin Zone (Sonic the Hedgehog 2) – This level just about ruined everything good with the game. While submerged in the water Sonic was slow, couldn’t roll into a ball, and jumped about half as high as normal. To add insult to injury, you had a time limit on how long you could remain underwater that wasn’t visible on the screen, but beeped increasingly fast as you ran out of time. Certain sections required you to move through the water in areas with moving blocks that entirely prevented you from moving on for a few seconds and if you missed a jump, you simply couldn’t escape the water before you air ran out. Even worse, if you did succeed at that section, you needed to perfectly time some platform jumps or be forced to repeat the section. If the designers were trying to send people running to the SNES, this level was the way to do it.
3. Water Temple (Ocarina of Time) – This is often cited when gamers speak of the worst water level in gaming history and it pretty much deserves all the hate it gets. Swimming controls are horrendous and fighting while underwater is near impossible. Whole sections of this temple require you to use the iron boots, which is even worse than swimming. You move ponderously slow while wearing these things, prolonging an already painful experience. Also equipping them is an arduous process that requires seemingly unnecessary inventory management. With a controller that had eight different buttons, you would think the designers could have found some way to make this process a lot less tedious.
2. Atlantica (Kingdom Hearts 2) – This level combines two of the most awful parts of game design into a medley of painful game play. First it has terrible swimming controls. As a late cycle PS2 game, there is simply no excuse for that. Plenty of games had figured out the trick to good swimming controls by this point. Second, the entire level was a series of quick time mini-games. One or two of these can be fun, but an entire level of them is just painfully exhausting. This is particularly disappointing because Atlantica was actually better in the original game. Swimming controls were just as awful in the original, but at least you got to fight Ursala in a truly momentous and memorable battle at the end of the level, rather than sing her to death as you do in this game.
1. The Dam (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) – No game has ever quite managed to figure out how to fail at a water level as bad as this one. Swimming controls are actually moderately responsive compared to most other games and yet the level is still agonizing. To start the entire level has a time limit and completing it within that limit requires some moderate speed. But speed is just about the last thing you want. The edges of the level are lined with seaweed and coral. The latter hurts you and former kills you instantly. There are also electric barriers that appear and disappear at times. You need to disarm eight bombs in two minutes and twenty seconds. Some of these bombs are located in out of the way alcoves and the safe gap to swim is usually only a few pixels wider than your turtle. Threading the needle is near impossible without getting hurt, especially when you are trying to move with speed. The entire purpose of this level seems to be nothing more than an attempt by the programmers to kill off some of your turtles. There is simply nothing fun here and, to add insult to injury, the level doesn’t seem to have any meaningful purpose in the story of the game.