Water levels in gaming aren't always among it's finest moments. In fact, I'd go on the record as saying that more often than not, they're more irritating than challenging. Most times, water serves as an obstacle to get through - you have to mash the jump button to stay afloat. Or they slow your movement to a crawl. Even worse, they instantly kill you once you touch it. With obstacles like this, why would you ever want to play a game like that?<br /><br />However, as with everything, there are exceptions to the rule. Every so often, a water level comes around, where we play it and think: "This... is... amazing." In my mind, a truly exceptional water level has to be amazing to look at, accompanied with beautiful music, and above all, a real blast to play. Note that games that are just set underwater or are water-themed don't count - there has to be some interaction with the water itself. So, without further ado, let's all look at some levels that personify these three qualities - the Top 10 Greatest Water Levels.<br /><br />Also, possible SPOILER ALERT.

Ah, Mario Kart. I think no matter how old I get, I'll always enjoy this game. I know there's balancing issues, and the ever-unpopular Blue Shell, but it'll always be fun for me. I enjoyed Mario Kart 64 a whole lot with friends, and one particular course we've played is Koopa Troopa Beach. This track is notable for being one of the first tracks to have a shortcut that you didn't need an item to access.

Koopa Troopa Beach is a basic circuit race around a small island, but as you might think, the ocean levels rise and fall. So, if your kart is submerged in water, you start to slow down a bunch - and when you're neck-and-neck with a friend, every second counts. As you go round the beach, you find a ramp that goes straight into a small cave in the mountainside. You'll need a mushroom to boost yourself in, which makes it worth holding onto for that big shortcut. However, there is a mini-shortcut that all depends on the water level - if it's not too high, you can drive on a small sand trail and cut out a few seconds. But, if there's too much water, you'll get slowed down, and that can mean last place if it happens at the wrong time.

This track is one of my favorites from Mario Kart 64, and it was good enough to be worth including in Mario Kart 7, for the 3DS. There are a few changes though - players can drive completely underwater (thanks to the new kart adaptations) and the two shortcuts are now one shortcut that uses the glider. However, it's still a great course, and while the water changes are a bit subtle, they do have a big bearing on your racing, which makes things all the more interesting.

Fun Fact - Koopa Cancellation
In Mario Kart DS, among the game's files, there is one unused track entitled "nokonoko_course", which is Koopa Troopa Beach's course name in Japanese. It is only playable by using either an Action Replay or a ROM hack.

Ocarina of Time's Water Temple is pretty much at an infamous status by this point. Any gamer worth his salt will probably know something about this temple and it's many twists and turns. Most known for it's incredible difficulty, the Water Temple is by no means an easy task to get through. Requiring a lot of use of the Iron Boots and Hookshot, if you're gonna start this temple, you'd better make sure you've got at least an hour or so on your hands. If you've beaten it, you know the troubles Link faces - changing the water level constantly, equipping and dequipping the Iron Boots, and climbing a waterfall with descending platforms. It's not for the faint of heart at all.

And then, after completing puzzles for the longest time, you come upon a pretty iconic mini-boss. Dark Link, the evil representation of of Link (who's pretty much all that is good), is one tough cookie. Starting off with the same amount of health as you, the ability to Z-Target and the fact that he gets stronger as the fight goes on makes him a difficult fight. He also reacts to your moves, making him hard to attack. Remember to stock up on the potions - you're gonna need'em. And when you start your fight against Morpha, if you don't keep moving, get ready to bite the dirt.

I know, I know, the difficulty is pretty much all I talk about here, but in reality, if you can get pass that, I find this to be one of my favorite temples in Ocarina. The temple has a wonderfully mysterious atmosphere to it. I think that the water level puzzles are a great mechanic, even if it probably could have been executed a bit better. Though the constant equipping of the Iron Boots add a giant chunk of time to this temple, I like this temple more than some, and I think it deserves to be on the list.

Fun Fact - Aonuma's Apology
Eiji Aonuma, a dungeon designer for Ocarina of Time, apologized for the difficulty of the Water Temple in a 2009 interview. To remedy this, Aonuma made the Iron Boots easier to use with the 3DS version. He also made more markings on walls to help direct the player through, with an additional camera scene to show an easily missed Small Key.

I can't speak as to how much I love this game. I love the feeling of being alone in this giant world, with nothing but sixteen giant boss battles to go take on. To me, it's almost like a bigger Hyrule Field - there's pretty much nothing to do here except ride to the next colossi. But the sense of atmosphere I get when I'm riding through a giant field, passing large cliffs and beautiful mountains is a feeling I can't help but enjoy. The music is suitably epic - which if your game is all about boss battles, has to be. Each colossi has it's own traits that make it cool and change up the formula a smidge, but the Hydrus is all about open water.

I'm actually terrified of being in open water since an Ecco the Dolphin playthrough that went horribly wrong, so I was already in a very precarious situation (and yes, I know how childish that sounds). The fight doesn't start until you're in the water WITH the 70 foot monster, so I was suitably scared. The trick to beating this boss is to dive down towards Hyrdus and grab on to the tail while he thrashes about in the water. When you do, the real fight begins. As the Hydrus dives beneath the surface and then above it, it's up to you to run and stab the electric spikes located on his back. There is a bit of a rush, as he only does this for so long, after which he does a really deep dive that you couldn't hold your breath long enough to stay in. The whole battle feels amazing, and with my fear of open water, it made me feel rather accomplished that I faced my fears.

Overall, there are better colossi in the game, but defeating the Hydrus remains one of my favorite accomplishments. The fact that I had to fight something in a large open lake with no place to run had me on the edge of my seat.

Fun Fact - We're Gonna Need a Bigger Grip
Hydrus is one of two colossi that you fight in water, however, he is my favorite. Estimated to be about 280 feet long, he is quite the monster. If you climb the tower you see just before you fight Hydrus, at the top you can see his electric spikes discharging in the water. However, because the fight only initiates when you enter the water, Hydrus remains stationary.

Hydrocity Zone is a pretty amazing level. The stage design is excellent, the music's really upbeat, and that serves to really make this level a blast. I don't usually enjoy Sonic water levels, as they kind of defeat the purpose of going really fast, but I enjoy the platforming challenge. Hydrocity Zone has two acts, of which I think the second is better. It's also notable for being the only level that features air bubbles in Sonic 3.

Act One has you fall into a giant pool of water right at the very start. You'll have to dodge pits, enemies and spikes as usual, but the underwater mechanics make things tough. There are certain areas where you can gain a whole lot of speed, and zoom through the level if you're skilled enough. At certain points, there are walls you can break, after which the currents of water push you through with no control over where you're going. In Act Two, there's a wall on the left that's constantly coming towards you. This makes it really hard, because now you need to rush through the flooded corridors without dying. And then, there's also the whole oxygen thing - Sonic can't breathe underwater, which means if something goes wrong and you take too long, you might die before you can find the next oxygen bubble.

Oh, and there's that whole terrifying drowning music that plays. Pretty much one of the scariest themes I've ever heard. The combination of music and level design make this a really great level to play through. It provides enough challenge that for me, even if I'm not going that fast, makes it a really good Sonic level, and one of my favorites.

Fun Fact - The Ancient City
In Archie Comics' Sonic the Comic, this zone is known as Hydro City. It was constructed years before Echidnapolis, where Knuckle's descendants came from. Knuckles had to escape from an enemy called the Overlander, who followed him down. Knuckles was later able to defeat him, though one of his friends, Monk, died in the process.

Ah, Banjo-Tooie. This, and it's predecessor, often are among the holy grails of 3D platformers - in fact, I'd go as far as to say that the Banjo games are better than Super Mario 64. From the heydey of the "collect'em all" genre, comes one particular level of importance - Jolly Roger's Lagoon.

The lagoon in question is the fourth level in Banjo-Tooie. According to the signpost on the outside, it's a tourist resort and is "fun for all the family." When you enter into this level, it seems like just a quaint little seaside village. But then we meet the mayor of this town: Jolly Roger, a rather flamboyant dude to say the least. Upon first meeting him, we find that Merry Maggie, his friend, has been missing, and (surprise, surprise) we have to find her. Another mission involves defeating Lord Woo Fak Fak, a giant anglerfish who lives in Davy Jones' Locker. Upon finding and defeating him, we get another Jiggy (along with some pretty great humor).

The level, I think is great to look around and just explore. The music is amazing as well - the pirate's shanty really matches the town - making it a joy to listen to. It keeps things calm - making it fun to play through the level. Jolly Roger's Lagoon is a great way to pull off a water level - lots and lots of exploration, but it never becomes a grind to get through. A true example of a great water level, and moreso, a great level in general.

Fun Fact - Perfect Dark's Aliens
Kazooie asks the aliens in the UFO if any of them are named "Elvis". This is a reference to the game Perfect Dark, where there is one alien named Elvis. It's also a reference to what some people believe happened to Elvis Presley, strangely enough.

I'll admit it now - I'm a total Mega Man fanboy. This may or may not have affected the placement of this game on the list, but, nonetheless it's a great level. Mega Man 2 is my favorite in the original 6 NES games. Bubble Man, while not my favorite Robot Master, is worthy of a spot on this list to me.

Bubble Man's stage design is one of my favorites. You start off by working your way into Bubble Man's fortress, which is situated near a waterfall. Soon after, you enter a water-filled portion, where the physics of your game suddenly get thrown out of whack: you now jump over twice as high. I know, I know, by today's standards that's completely unremarkable (and also sort of common game logic) but it represents a significant change in challenge for the time. The original Mega Man did not have jump physics tweaked when you were in water, so this simple change was a real jump from the last one.

The music is wonderful - as I think of all the music from Mega Man 2. As with all the Robot Masters, I believe that each stage really shows each one's own uniqueness, which is what I think of Bubble Man's theme. It's not as flashy or amped as the other themes in Mega Man 2, but suits the stage you're in. I think the fanboy in me took over for this entry, but again, it's one I think deserves to be on this list.

Fun Fact - Bubble, Bubble, movement trouble
Originally, the story behind Bubble Man is that he has a defect in his system which renders him unable to walk underwater (as Mega Man does). However, Bubble Man is able to swim. By the time of Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters, Bubble Man has the ability to walk underwater again.

Yep, the second level with "Jolly Roger" in the name. Jolly Roger Bay is a level in Super Mario 64. I felt this was one of those levels that had to be on the list. While there have been many great underwater levels in the Mario franchise (and especially in the 3D games), I'd wager that Jolly Roger Bay is the best among them all. Overall, the level isn't much to look at on the surface, but once in the water, the level opens up wide, showing a virtual cavern all hidden beneath the surface. Not to mention the entrancing music - puts me at peace every time I hear it. As you dive deeper, the music's layers start coming in, and fills in the music beautifully.

Like most of the game's levels, there's tons to do here. I mean, the first mission involves you diving down and exploring a sunken pirate ship (and after rising the ship, there's the red coins star) There's also a giant eel swimming around down there - with a star in tow. There's an ocean cave with treasure chests galore. So much to do, giving a bit of variety to the level. It's a great level by any stretch of the imagination, and even now, 16 years later, I think the game still holds up very well.

And to be fair, I know I said I like the Banjo games better than Mario 64. I do - don't get me wrong - but for my money, I'd rather play this level than any of the Banjo-Kazooie water levels.

Fun Fact - The Jolly Roger
The Jolly Roger, the pirate ship you find in the level, appears in the painting you enter into the level with. That is, if you've been playing the American version of the game. If you were playing the Japanese version, they only have a picture of bubbles. In the DS remake, regardless of region, the picture is just of bubbles, and the frame is turquoise instead of golden.

Earthworm Jim - another great 2D platformer. The whole premise of Earthworm Jim is one of my favorites - I mean, an Earthworm inside a super-powered suit with a ray gun. WITH amazingly fluid animation. Sounds like a great game from the get-go. Down the Tubes is a level from the original Earthworm Jim that has our titular hero underneath the surface inside these clear tubes. The variety in this level keeps it feeling fresh, and stops it from being just another run-jump-shoot level. I think that the background looks amazing - an underwater city in the middle of the ocean. With the combination of coral and rocks in the back and foreground, it only serves to enhance the feel.

For example, at the very start, we start running through these crystalized sort of tubes, with some basic enemies to go through. However, things start getting tougher when we encounter some bigger enemies you can't just shoot and destroy - you'll have to hide from them. Above you, you'll find some bars to grab onto so you can hide from them. After some more platforming, you come across my favorite portion of the level - the hamster ride.

Yep, you read that right - a hamster ride. He IS a worm, you know.

How did that hamster get here? Who knows. It provides my personal favorite part where you must mount your trusty hamster and plow through a whole group of enemies. Jim's freaked-out, buggy eyes as he rides the hamster make for something really hilarious. After that quick ride, you get to yet another portion of the level - the submarine dome. It's your job to navigate through the various enemies, jagged rocks, and sharp turns all while making sure you replenish your 30 seconds of oxygen and keep your glass dome safe from leaks. The whole concept is crazy, but it works. And really, isn't that what you'd expect from an Earthworm Jim game?

Fun Fact - From Humble Beginnings
Earthworm Jim recieved his trademark super suit by complete accident. One morning, while out and about, some crows started chasing him. While on the run, the suit fell from space and landed on Jim, transforming him into the hero we all know and love. With his newfound limbs and power, he took out his gun and blasted those darned crows to kingdom come. Jim then goes on to defeat the enemies that want to take the suit back, which could possibly destroy the world as we know it. Onwards, to save the Earth!

Coral Capers is the fourth level of Donkey Kong Country, located in the first world, Kongo Jungle. Being the first underwater level of DKC, it's not too hard, but provides a very nice look into what lies ahead. It's calm, serene, a nice look into the depths of the ocean. If you ask me, the whole level flows (see what I did there?) quite nicely, and has some very nice graphics for it's day. It's also notable for being the first level to feature our swordfish friend, Enguarde, which provides us with more mobility and swiftness beneath the water.

However, if you've played this level before, you know that what REALLY stands out here is the beautiful music that plays. To me, it reflects the calmness of the ocean - it's tranquil. Peaceful. It always puts me in a trance when I listen to it. Coral Capers is fairly straightforward, as it is a beginning level, but it gets you to understand the basics of underwater movement in the game. Something I quite appreciate is that movement speed here isn't slower, but somewhat faster, which makes me feel like I'm really making progress through the level (especially when Enguarde is around).

Overall, Coral Capers is fine look at the water levels to come, but is also great looking for it's age, and comes with one of the greatest music tracks I've ever heard in my gaming career.

Fun Fact - A French Fish
Enguarde the Swordfish gets his name from the French word "Engarde", commonly said before commencing a swordfight or when fencing. Enguarde probably got this name due to his large, sword-like nose. So far, he has tied Squawks the Parrot with number of appearances, but holds the record for playable appearances.

Yep, the number one game on this list is Rayman Origins. I've only recently been able to play the whole game, and I'll tell you this - it has my highest regards. For me, it strikes very close to taking over Super Mario World as my favorite platformer of all time (if only it weren't for those darn sentimental feelings). Rayman Origins is a wonderfully wacky game. In a world full of browns and reds, I have to say that Rayman Origins is unaplogetically colorful. It uses such a wide array of colors in a fashion that makes the backgrounds really pop. Even the animations are so diverse that you'll never get tired of moving around that world.

But this isn't a Top 10 list about why you should play this game (because there are way more than 10 reasons). This is a list about the greatest underwater levels in gaming, and Rayman Origins, without any doubt in my mind, holds the honor of the greatest water level ever made. With a strong emphasis on gameplay, the Sea of Serendipity blends everything I could ever want from an underwater foray into the depths. The swimming mechanics are tight, fast, and never get in the way of the gameplay. Also, they give you the ability to just stay still underneath the surface - no constant pushing of the jump button here. If you need time to think things through, or maybe just enjoy the scenery, this simple tweak makes it easy.

We start off by entering into a little sea shanty town, where we get the ability to dive underwater (and yes, that's an unlockable ability). We then fall under attack by some pirates, and escape danger by taking a detour through a sea cave. As you swim through the cave, you're greeted by colorful aquatic life. There's even a portion where you have to swim through a giant school of fish that hide a few enemies inside. As you dive deeper and deeper, the light of the sun starts to disappear, slowly but surely. Soon, we're down in pitch black deep sea caverns, with long, creepy sea creatures lurking in the dark. To keep safe, we have to keep near the flourescent glowfish, which scare off those who would wish our band of adventurers harm. Finally, after a few tense minutes, we come out into a giant clearing that gives you a view of the entire ocean - a sight that's truly something that needs to be seen.

The music itself is worthy of a mention here. The soundtrack for this game consists of very simple tunes, but in this world, the Lums (or the collectibles) all sing along and make the music you hear. The relaxed, peaceful music show the beauty of the ocean life. The tense, stressful music accent the scary sea creatures hidden from sight. And finally, the acoustic humming of the "Glou Glou" theme makes the majestic view even more majestic.

The perfect combination of music, visuals, and gameplay make for the best water level I've ever played, and takes the number one spot on this list.

Fun Fact - Give Me a Hand
Rayman, as you could guess, has no limbs. The original Rayman game had the titular character able to throw his fists from a very long distance. In Origins, however, he has lost this ability, and can only punch with a seemingly normal range. However, his charge attack retains the same charging animation as he had from the original game.

So there we have it. We all know that water levels tend to get a bad rap, but in the grand scheme of things, these levels have the potential to be among the greatest of levels. The reason why water levels exist most of the time can be to just add challenge to a game, but there's a thin line between challenging and annoying. But this selection of levels are the cream of the crop - living proof that water levels can be not only awesome to play, but a true masterpiece that we'll remember years down the line.

List by 99Winters (03/26/2013)

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