Best "Levels" in a Video Game

In older video games, levels were pretty clearly defined. Super Mario divided everything up into worlds, while Donkey Kong had different screens.

I got to thinking of what the best levels are, but I’m willing to define level as a “section” of a game. This opens things up to just about any video game. As long as you describe a clear section of a game, it can be considered a level.

I’ll start:

Psychonauts: The Milkman Conspiracy - This whole level takes place in the mind of a disturbed milkman. You travel his mind, which looks like a crazy suburb filled with G-men(yes, G-men). All the G-men play roles in the community, varying from Powerline Workers to Housewives. My favorite are the sewage workers. You have to gather the correct tools to pretend to be each kind of role. It’s weird, fun, and brilliant.

What levels or sections of video games do you think are the best?

That’s exactly what I thought of as soon as I saw the thread title, but really, anything in Psychonauts is head and shoulders above almost everything else.

Yeah, I was going to say the Milkman stuff in Psychonauts. When the squirrel takes your picture, god how I laughed. And the housewife!

I’m always a fan of high-stakes last levels.

The final Bruma gate in Oblivion.
The ruined Citadel in Mass Effect.

Going back a bit; the flying fortress level from Sonic 2 was ace n’all.

That’s a great game, and a great level. I love how the whole level messes with gravity.

I can’t think of a better level in that game.

In Half Life 2, the level where your gravity gun is upgraded… superb.

If only it had been upgraded earlier, while you are still outside the citadel.

I found that to be anti-climactic myself. It was so easy and the level design so boring there that it felt like an afterthought.

Thinking of the “best” on this one is tough. There’s a lot of ones that are interesting in context of the game as a whole but don’t really stand alone (Cydonia in X-Com for example, where you’re finally taking the fight to the invaders). So I’ll arbitrarily pick Emerald Hills 1 from Sonic 2. The early Sonic games had superb level design with multiple paths and challenges. I think the level design in the second game is an improvement over the first (Sonic 3 I think gets a little too busy to be the “best” and Sonic CD has some amazing levels but the layout is crazy). Some sections of the game become more linear than others which is why I chose Emerald Hills 1, it has a nice balance of sections to race through.

The Omaha Beach level in Medal of Honor was pretty amazing.

I’ve always been a big fan of the Rainbow Road courses in the Super Mario Kart games, especially the very first one. Great challenge, and great music. Took me a long time to be able to finish without getting knocked off the stage once, let alone winning.

Pretty much every level from Psychonauts is head-and-shoulders above most games made since. I especially liked Napoleon’s strategy-board-game-platformer.

The snow-slide level in Super Mario 64 is one of the few things I’ve sought out not because I needed any achievement or reward, but just because it’s fun.

Then, the final level of Rez will always hold a special place in my heart for how it takes visuals and music that were already genre-breaking to a whole new level.

Finally, the case vs. von Karma in the first Phoenix Wright is one of the most intense gaming experiences I’ve had. Very well-written game, that one.

I loved Fort Frolic, Sander Cohen’s level in Bioshock. All that dead splicers in under white plaster, his strange voice in the Radio - that was beautiful. The end, when you finally get to use the bathysphere, is great.

Shalebridge Cradle from Thief: Deadly Shadows is probably the scariest experience i ever had in a computer game. I recommend the game for that level alone. PC gamer did an in depth article about the level that you can read here.

Fort Frolic is a great example.

Ravenholm in Half Life 2.

AvP2, there’s one stage where you’re fleeing a whole shitload of aliens and you have to run down this long, open passage outside while turning around periodically to shoot the much faster aliens.

Final stage of Portal.

Colossus #13, Shadow of the Colossus

It’s a bit easy, but picking up enemies and tossing them at other enemies is incredibly good fun.

Yes! Rainbow Road is awesome.

…for the first thirty seconds, and then a total bitch because you have to get back up again.

I generally don’t like “scary” games, because I tend to get wayyy to into them and leap off my chair and things like that. It would be okay, but I have a glass desk. But yeah, Ravenholm is phenomenal… especially the part where you’re sort of locked at the bottom of an elevator shaft with the chick and the lights stop working, and you have to kill zombies using just a flashlight. I may be conflating part of Episode 1 with the main game there though.

Big Blue in the original F-Zero and Level 3 of Apidya (warning: link contains music) are awesome just for the music, although Big Blue was my favorite track layout anyway.

World in Conflict is full of great levels. In the single player game, there’s a small town at night that has a bunch of houses with Christmas lights on the houses and in the yards. It’s really pretty until it gets nuked.

I really enjoyed the final car (Warthog) race down the interior of a spaceship at the end of Halo.

Far Cry has a speedboat chase down a twisting river - you’re going like a bat out of hell, trying to steer a powerboat while manning the machinegun and grenade launcher to fend off other boat crews, bad guys on the shore and IIRC, at least one helicopter. The only way I found to do it required keeping the boat at full speed the entire time. I was hooting and hollering the whole way.

Neither of those are groundbreaking, just a ton of fun.

In Return to Castle Wolfenstein I played the stealth level repeatedly. In Ultimate Doom, Episode 4 gets addictive if you like short, puzzle-like levels.

The Dream Den in Pikmin 2.
Getting the Libra/Computer in Pikmin.
Planet Sarathos, in Ratchet: Deadlocked
The overworld hub in Zelda: The Wind Waker
The Healing Garden in Advance Wars: Dual Strike
The Hoverbikes level in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi for SNES.
Boss Rush from SSBB.
Level 17 from Tetris DS.
The Donut World Ghost House from Super Mario World.

Shalebridge Cradle, from Thief: Deadly Shadows.

Holy God, no videogame has ever frightened me so badly as this one level. It’s absolutely brilliantly designed.

The Giant World in Mario World 3 always holds a special place in my heart. I barely played worlds 2 and 3, since I’d just get the whistle and go to 4.