Top 10 Underwater Video Game Levels
Underwater portions of video games generally turn players off. Even in good games, the underwater level is often the weakest part, such as with the Water Temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or the deep sea levels in the Super Mario games (complete with all manner of squids, killer fish, and other monsters). This is because gamers and game developers are both land-bound animals, and trying to conceive a fully three-dimensional underwater environment is far outside their everyday comprehension. However, particularly savvy designers have used water to make brilliant and entertaining worlds. Here are ten of the best levels composed mainly of H2O.
10. Bubble Man's Stage, Mega Man 2 (NES)
While most video game characters are hindered when they go underwater, the briny deep actually helps Mega Man. Bubble Man's level was the first of many underwater stages in Mega Man games, and it introduced the Big Bomber's unique submarine controls. Although the Blue Bomber could jump much higher underwater, this proved a double-edge sword, because Bubble Man decorated his ceilings with spikes. One-hit kill spikes. Not only did Mega Man have to fight evil robot shrimp, crabs, and angler-fish, but he had to leap carefully, because one false jump would send him to his doom. This was a clever level design from Capcom, evidenced by the amount of times it's been imitated in other Mega Man games.
9. The Outsides of Rapture, BioShock 2 (PS3 / Xbox 360 / PC)
The underwater sections of BioShock 2 are short and bland, and they consist merely of the character going from one section of Rapture to another. But that's the point. So much of Rapture takes place in claustrophobically-tight spaces that it's easy to forget the game is set in a sunken city. With the between-level sections, you get a chance to see the endless deep surrounding Rapture, and you can appreciate just how far from home you really are. They also offer a nice break in pacing and some extra power-ups to those willing to explore (by virtue of sea slugs that leak ADAM, the substance used to fuel the Plasmid-powers you and your enemies have).
8. Atlantica, Kingdom Hearts (PS2)
The Little Mermaid level in the original Kingdom Hearts was a polarizing level. Some found the fully three-dimensional controls of Atlantica a source of frustration, after spending the rest of the game on land. Others found the freedom exhilarating, allowing complete exploration of one of Disney's greatest animated films. I put myself in the latter category, but the mixed reception of Atlantica made it so that in Kingdom Hearts 2, gamers were instead "treated" to an optional Atlantica that consisted entirely of a rhythm mini-game. This succeeded in receiving unilateral disdain.
7. Atlantis, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (PS3 / Xbox 360)
It's a shame that the Marvel Universe's Atlantis doesn't get more attention, because it provides a genuinely compelling landscape.The human / Atlantean hybrid Namor rules the depths with a complex moral code, his alliances with the surface world and its superheroes open to fluctuation. But his constituents too often consider him a traitor, and they advocate a more hard-line treatment of us landlubbers. In Ultimate Alliance's Atlantis level, the heroes help Namor out by fighting a variety of water-breathing ne'er-do-wells, including villains like Attuma, Krang, and Tiger Shark (the latter of whom is actually a human thug modified with shark DNA). Unlike other water levels, characters can move and breathe freely, thanks to a convenient dose of Reed Richards' nanomachines.
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Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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