10 Most Annoying Types of Video Game Levels


Not every game that gets released needs to be a totally original to be worth playing. Sometimes we want something familiar to unwind, or something that builds on an established formula. Nintendo have been turning out reiterations of Mario, Zelda and Pokemon games for more than two decades without it denting their sales. But there are some particular level types that get done to death. They get used so often or are so frustrating that gamers roll their eyes every time they appear. They speak of unoriginality and padding and we’ll be happy to see the end of them.

Just a quick disclaimer: there are some good examples of these level types being used, but as a whole they tend to be frustrating. Perhaps there’s an another article in that.

#10 – Weird Fetish Clubs

This one is much more genre specific than the rest of the list, appearing in stealth assassin games and sometimes sandbox games. The trend of including a level that requires infiltrating a fetish club came about towards the end of the 90s when some games were doing their best to mark themselves as  ‘mature’. Ironically this distinction was (and still is) often made by including a juvenile level of sex and gore. At some point in almost every assassin based game from Hitman: Contracts to Dishonored the player will find themselves in a room with chained up leather clad sex slaves.

Most Egregious Example: Hitman Contract‘s ‘Meat King’s Party’ is the clear winner here. Having already established itself as the thinking players game by featuring mature content the series all but threw it’s respectability out the window by opening their third entry of the franchise on this mission. You infiltrate a bondage and opium party taking place in a slaughterhouse with two goals in mind. First is to find a missing girl, whose arm is all that remains after you find a Saw-esque torture chamber. Then you must eliminate the grotesquely obese head of the party. This level will undoubtedly put a bad taste in your mouth.

Hitman The Meat King's Party

#9 – Vehicle Sections

Some games seamlessly integrate vehicles into their action with such skill that they feel natural and add to the fun. Some games force the player behind the controls of a poorly designed, unplayable and pointless sequence that does nothing but annoy. There are two ways this has been poorly implemented in the old and new schools of gaming technology. It used to be levels where the player would be unceremoniously put on some high speed jobbie and would be timing jumps for a few minutes. Then after Halo introduced sections of shooter with combat vehicles featuring all the heft of a balloon the gaming industry seems to feel that poorly handled jeeps are a requirement.

Most Egregious Example: Whilst GTAIII‘s Dodo airplane will go down in history as the worst virtual vehicle ever, it’s never required in any mission and the programmers never expected players to try and use the damned thing (a vast over-overestimation of the target audience there). Instead we’re going for the infamous VTOL from Crysis, which Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw described as ‘waking up from a twenty year coma and celebrating the occasion by drinking six bottles of Maddog 2020 and piloting a light aircraft carrying a cargo of hippopotami’ and likened it to trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube with your elbows.

Crysis Vlog

As for the old school example…you know what it is.

By the way, if you never made it to the end of the game you missed the intro clip being played in reverse.

#8 – Conveyer Belt Levels

More common in the golden era of platform games, less seen in the 3D era. In theory it works – the idea behind platform games is for the player to traverse a series of platforms and making those suckers move if a logical obstacle. That doesn’t prevent these bastard levels from being frustrating as hell. It’s hard to pick what’s more annoying…the ones that propel you forward forcing you to predict unseen death traps or the ones that go against you, slowing you down. Then there’s the evil ones in Sonic CD that would randomly switch direction, sending you hurtling directly into whatever you were avoiding.

 Most Egregious Example: Plenty of Mario, Zelda, Sonic, Castlevania, Double Dragon and Donkey Kong games are guilty of this, but I’m going for an early level in Super Star Wars. Luke Skywalker has to traverse the tank treads on the Jawa sand crawler, which means the level moves vertically. This means that when you miss a step you plummet all the way to the beginning.

Super Star Wars Sandcrawler

#7 – Backtracking Through Levels

Urgh. So you’ve finished designing an awesomely detailed and epic level and the idea of working on another one seems like a drag. Only one thing for it…get the player to trudge through the same level again! Some game designers can put this to good use, such as in Arkham Asylum where each revisit is from a different location with different threats and new areas to access. Others prefer just to waste everyone’s time with needless strolls through the same places. Some games were just shameless about it, like Metal Gear Solid sending players across the entire base whenever a weapon restock was required to pass through an area that absolutely HAD to have a healthy stock of chaff grenades.

Most Egregious Example: So you’ve finally managed, through pain, sweat and blood, to finish the extremely punishing and downright cruel Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins. Oh, I’m sorry…did you think that was it? Nope – back to the beginning to backtrack through the ENTIRE game right from the start. And it’s on a harder mode. Hope you saved some quarters.

Ghosts_'N_Goblins_Map

Whilst the developers laugh at you.

#6 – Hub Worlds

Hub Worlds have become a necessity in modern gaming. They exist as areas that you return to between levels to replenish inventory, chat to NPCs, collect your next mission or chose your next level. Given that they get included more out of requirement than any attempt to enhance the entertainment value of the game it’s amazing how frustrating they can be. Huge, boring areas where you walk the same route to do everything, boring characters who you have to repeat the same conversations with until you chance onto the one who serves a purpose and putting all the shops ten miles apart…players just want to get in and out, not stop and browse!

Most Egregious Example: It has to go to Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Not only did it make hanging out at Stark Tower a dull, repetitive chore but it disabled all characters ability to fly, making it even more dull by forcing the superheroes to plod their way around talking The Avenger’s C-list roster.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance Stark Tower

#5 – Ice Levels

Freak’n ice levels. Again, like the conveyor belts, it’s a logical progression for plat formers – doesn’t mean we like it. The usual running and jumping dynamics apply but now you lose control of your character the moment their feet touch the ground. You slip and slide around, stumbling off edges and losing the ability to judge your jumps. Part of the continued enjoyment of gaming is perfecting these inane abilities and having no control over them goes against the grain. When done well the slipping around can be fun, but it’s usually annoying.

Most Egregious Example: Can you think of anything more stupid than an ice level in a tournament fighting game? Namco sure can’t, they put one in Soul Calibur II – a game where you lose if you fall out off ring. Now you can lose while throwing a kick!

Soul Calibur 2 ice arena

#4 – Forced Stealth Missions

Stealth games are fun. You get to creep about on rooftops and through the shadows wiping out your enemies without anyone being the wiser. Of course most developers understand that having the option of stealth is preferable to being forced to do it. If you get caught out it’s better to have the stakes raised rather than an automatic game over, forcing you to start over. Some game developers prefer making the player hate them by having them replay the same obstacles again and again. This is extra irritating when it’s a game that isn’t stealth based – they just slip in a pointless stealth level because they didn’t feel confident enough in the rest of the game.

Most Egregious Example: Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass is one of the many criminally over-rated entries in the Zelda franchise, packed with plenty of pointless diversions. Most annoying is the sequence that occurs in every dungeon that requires the player to avoid a bunch of unkilliable foes in tight corridors who can kill you in one hit. Then you get to do it again on the way out.

Phantom_(Phantom_Hourglass)

#3 – Escort Missions

Gaming is a care-free endeavor. Put us behind the wheel of a car and aim us at a racetrack, turn us into an invincible one-man army and cut us loose or give us a sword and set us on an epic quest and we’re happy. What we don’t want is responsibility. Do not give us responsibility for anything more complicated than a bazooka. Trying to protect children and hostages does not help players unwind while we partake in our favorite hobby. When it’s a situation involving a companion whose death puts you back to the start of the level and happily runs in the front of danger you’re looking at a controller embedded in a screen.

Most Egregious Example: Resident Evil 4‘s Ashley and her hollering was a strong contender for these title, as was Goldeneye‘s Natalia and her bullet magnet ability. The clear winner, however, is the 2012s downloadable indie game Amy which takes everything you hate about escort missions and extends it out to a full game. A game with unresponsive controls, crappy graphics and irritating characters.

Amy game

#2 – Water Levels

Oh gawd, why do they do this? Even in games when the character is normally instantly killed by contact with water (until the sequel) they put aside a level where they dump the player into the water and force them through an annoying as piss sequence of bobbing around with unkilliable enemies in a poor representation of aquatic activities.

Super Mario Bros. was the first game to annoy gamers with this kind of level, setting up all the tropes that would come to annoy everyone. The mechanics are dreadful – forcing players to constantly hammer the jump button in order to keep Mario buoyant or drag himself slowly along the bottom. The enemies are all invulnerable to basic attacks and will kill Mario in one hit. Tight fits and moving obstacles in later levels make things worse. All they needed to make things unbearable is a limited oxygen supply. This set-up gets repeated in every Mario and Donkey Kong since.

Most Egregious Example: Sonic was the first thing that came to mind when fishing (boom tish) for examples, since it strips the game of its selling point – speed – and adds limited oxygen while not allowing the player to actually swim. But then we remembered this:

TMNT dam level

If you remember the 80s then you just muttered “that…fucking…dam” through gritted teeth. In the first, and highly anticipated, game based on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game you get dunked in the second level. Already a Nintendohard game this finale to the second level was eye-bleedingly frustrating. Not only do you get the usual control issues associated with water levels but you use them navigate through stinging seaweed which (as the above picture shows) cannot be avoided, instant death traps, alternating lighting walls that switch on and off faster than you can swim and you’ve got only two minutes to find your way through the maze.

#1 – Sewer Levels

Nothing – NOTHING – makes me roll my eyes like seeing yet another sewer level. No level types gets over-used quite like a the sewer. Why they think that players want to see more of these is unknown, since they’re often bland, repetitive and often only serve only to pad out the playtime – wait, maybe that’s it…

Easy to design and then copy/pasted to drag them out there are many annoyances associated with sewer levels. Small, irritating enemies, such as rats and bats, serve to annoy. Previously unseen swimming mechanics get thrown in. Players are slowed down by having to wade through sludge or, even worse, instant death kills by touching water. Sudden drops and spike traps are surprisingly common in sewers. Many are mazes requiring manipulation of switches to progress just to annoy everyone further.

There are dozens of best-selling video games that rely on the sewer level to speed up the production process by allowing developers to churn out levels that feature only a few basic patterns and reject enemies repeated into infinity.

Most Egregious Example: Star Wars: Dark Forces was a hot contender for this slot since it sends you back to the same room five times to hit the same switch and only features one enemy who pops out of the water without warning, but the more recent annoyance of Dead Island takes the urinal cake.

Dead Island set itself apart from the rest of the zombie sub-genre with it’s bright and colorful setting. Ruined cities and spooky mansions made way for beaches, palm trees and the bright sun reflecting of crystal clear waters. Bludgeoning the undead with a paddle by a poolside bar is certainly a nice change. And then…bloody sewer level. A long one with approximately three different wall types. It drags on and on. Eventually you emerge blinking into the sun…for about three minutes before you get dropped into another sewer. Tedious doesn’t begin to describe it.

Dead Island Sewer

This wasn’t in the trailer…