What Is Your Favorite Game Level?

Screen Grab Credit: Narelle Ho Sang
Screen Grab Credit: Narelle Ho Sang

Super Mario Odyssey did a fantastic job melding a nostalgic love for the older retro Mario titles and its more modern 3D games. Its levels are inspired, creatively designed to balance a sense of wonder with a good challenge.


New Donk City’s Traditional Festival is the perfect example of that. Mario takes part in the celebrations while Mayor Pauline from the original Donkey Kong sings a jazz tune. Mario rides a warp pipe to a 2D construction site straight out of the original game, jumping over barrels and fiery oil cans. The 3D shifts were an amazing reminder, not just of Mario’s history, but the evolution of gaming since its arcade origins. The song, “Jump Up, Superstar,” hearkens back to Mario’s identity as Jumpman. The inverse state where Mario jumps upside down is emblematic of how everything has been turned upside down. The final sequence recreating Donkey Kong is simply wonderful.

Illustration for article titled What Is Your Favorite Game Level?em/em

There’s so many areas of Odyssey that I loved. And when I think about my favorite levels I’ve played in the past year, there are numerous instances. By level, that can also include dungeons, quests, or side missions. I think of the witch mecha stage from Bayonetta 2, the sidequests of Nier: Automata, and the incredible labyrinths of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Persona 5’s palaces were strange and twisted, while some of the Fallout sidequests had me questioning my humanity. I even wrote about one of my favorite classic levels in Mega Man 2’s Quick Man Stage.

The question today, Kotaku readers: what is your favorite game level?

Peter Tieryas is the author of Mecha Samurai Empire & Cyber Shogun Revolution (Penguin RH). He's written for Kotaku, IGN, & Verge. He was an artist at Sony Pictures & Technical Writer for LucasArts.

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Howard the Duck

I have quite a few. A few popping into my head right now:

Fort Frolic in Bishock. Sander Cohen’s artistic insanity is such a great break from the political insanity of the rest of the game. This video does a great job unpacking it:

Old Gotham in Arkham City. It takes the game from being just about Batman versus his usual baddies and Strange and expands it’s scope by bringing Ra’s Al Ghul into the very origins of Gotham itself. I loved that, Gotham not just being Batman’s playground but that of someone worse, and it’s a theme later explored by Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls arc to great effect. There are so many more parts of that game I could mention, but I digress.

The Lake Kingdom and as you said, the donkey Kong sequence in Mario Odyssey. I specifically single that kingdom out because it’s a water level that’s actually fun, and the soundtrack reminds me of Noki Bay from Sunshine, which has a pleasantly relaxing theme to it. As for the DK, I loved that for similar reasons as you.

On a similar note, Zora’s Kingdom in Breath of the Wild. It was the first of the four Divine Beasts I tackled, and I love the story of the Zoras, as well as the flashbacks. It was both beautiful and heartbreaking.

I could think of more, but I don’t wanna gab all day.