Top 5 Sidescrolling Platformer Levels
Sidescrolling platformers could arguably be considered the building blocks of modern videogames. Videogames existed before the wide success of the NES and Super Mario Brothers but the impact that they had on the industry was so significant that they changed the way that videogames are made. There have been countless sidescrollers released and while some are fantastic and some not so much, level design has evolved and each game seems to put an interesting spin on what seems like an overdone genre. So, here are my top 5 favorite sidescrolling levels. Obviously I have not played every sidescroller ever created but these are the levels that struck me as being in a league of their own, rising above the rest as being true works of art.
1. Donkey Kong Country - Treetop Town
Donkey Kong Country is known as one of the best platformers of all time. It broke both graphical and procedural barriers and is a game that truly holds up over time. When talking about the best levels from this game, everyone immediately cites Mine Cart Madness. While I acknowledge the mine cart level's ingenuity and difficulty, I truly think that Treetop Town gives it a run for its money. Starting out with simple barrel cannon mechanics, the level eases you into using barrels to get around. By the end of the level, you are having to time your blasts so perfectly so that the flying Kongs can hit their targets, giving the end of this level a zen-like feeling that is reminiscent of music rhythm games. This level is a testament to intricately timed game design.
2. Rayman Legends - Castle Rock
I don't like the song "Black Betty." Never really have. Rayman Legends changed that. The sequel to the impressive Rayman Origins kept bringing the platforming innovations and Castle Rock is at the top of the list. Not the most difficult level to play, but definitely a difficult level to make. Every step, jump, attack, and collected item is set to the tune of Black Betty. You kick through a wave of enemies triumphantly as the drums and guitar hammer out the tune. Collecting lums goes in tune with the guitar solos, a line of lums representing the twinkling of musical notes shredding through the air. The level even has a big rock finish. It's amazing.
3. Super Mario 3 - First Airship
Super Mario 3 set the standard that all platformers now follow. The airship levels are iconic, setting the tone for the uphill journey ahead of the player. Each airship contained a different Koopa Kid to dispatch, each airship with a personality to match its owner. I picked the first airship because the is where each player could first grasp the scale of the game. The airship slowly plods along, causing each player to inch forward, not knowing what comes next. What starts out with cannonballs eventually turns into a bullet hell situation where cannonballs, bob-ombs, bullet bills, and goombas all turn up to make your ride an unpleasant one. You reach a pipe that takes you to Lenny, wand at the ready to take you out. Each airship feels significant but the first one holds a special place in my heart.
4. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - Casino Night Zone 1
Sonic 2 is a cheap entry to this list. It's like being asked to name the best comfort foods and coming up with chicken noodle soup. However, Casino Night Zone 1 is the best level in the entire Sonic franchise. This is where the game took a turn from linear levels with one clear main path to this stage, which is a wide open casino style playground. Stay high and avoid the fuss, go up the gut, using tubes and platforms to get through, or go low to experience the casino floor. Stop and play slots for a while if you want to risk some rings. This stage personifies the pure joy of platforming. Plus, there's that music. It's been 20 some odd years and this song is still stuck in my head.
5. Duck Tales - Transylvania
The Moon Stage from Duck Tales is often celebrated for its incredible music, but the Transylvania stage should is where the gameplay truly shines. This is the first instance where I remember a platforming level being a real puzzler. Using mirrors to warp around, Scrooge is charged with freeing the boys from the grip of the Beagle Boys so he can solve the mystery of the castle and find the treasure. The pogo stick element in this game is already a ton of fun and if you combine that with interesting puzzles, secret rooms, and brilliant level design, Duck Tales' Transylvania is all that you could want out of a platformer.