Nintendo and the curse of water levels

Nintendo water levels curse Star Fox 64 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Super Mario Bros. Banjo-Kazooie Metroid Prime

Most players groan when a water level appears in their game, and it’s not hard to understand why. For the most part, water levels feel they’re taking away the fine-tuned movement that players had already gotten used to during the rest of the adventure, and it comes at the cost of a slower pace and unenjoyable movement. Nintendo is no stranger to creating water levels across its varied franchises, and many of them have suffered from these issues too. Whether that means introducing new mechanics like managing oxygen levels, wrestling with poor camerawork, or just a general sense of distraction from the core gameplay, these are the water levels that we would rather avoid playing.

Metroid Prime – Sunken Frigate

In almost every way that counted, Metroid Prime took the formula of the 2D Metroid series and translated it perfectly into a 3D first-person adventure. Exploration from a first-person perspective brought a whole new level of immersion to the series, while the combat was also made tenser by seeing the intimidating creatures up close for the first time. It’s a well-paced and expertly designed journey, with the exception of one area. During the Sunken Frigate section where Samus must travel through a submerged spaceship with extremely limited visibility, the game slows to a crawl and introduces a tedious encounter.

Nintendo water levels curse Star Fox 64 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Super Mario Bros. Banjo-Kazooie Metroid Prime

Enemies can knock Samus off platforms during this part of the game, and thanks to the decreased visibility it doesn’t feel like the player can do much about it. While that may have been intentional on the part of Retro Studios to induce some fear into gamers, it’s an example of a water level that changes up the core gameplay at the cost of the fun players were having prior.

Star Fox 64 – Aquas

Many fans of the Star Fox franchise would still argue that Star Fox 64 is the best entry in the series. The aerial combat felt agile and dynamic at the time thanks to solid gunplay and maneuvers that you could pull off in the Arwing. However, that all changed when it was time to take control of the Blue-Marine. The vessel was a submarine that players had to use in the only underwater level of the game, Aquas.

Nintendo water levels curse Star Fox 64 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Super Mario Bros. Banjo-Kazooie Metroid Prime

A core issue with the level is that the watery environment was slow and difficult to navigate thanks to crushing darkness and a lack of any helpful lights from the Blue-Marine. It completely bogged down the pace of a game that was elsewhere providing players with an excellent sense of freedom in the skies or in space.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – The Water Temple

To this day, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time stands as an all-time classic Nintendo title and a revered entry in the Legend of Zelda series. Alongside Super Mario 64, it pioneered what 3D games could look like for Nintendo, and its excellent evolution of the dungeons, combat, and exploration of the Zelda formula was ground-breaking. On the other hand, one nearly universal complaint about the game was a singular dungeon focused on traversing underwater spaces, and it is one of the most infamous Nintendo water levels.

The Water Temple is disliked by even some of the most dedicated Zelda fans, and it’s clear to see why that is. Link’s running, rolling, and horseback moves are all rendered useless as the majority of the dungeon takes place completely underwater. Link controls far slower while swimming, and to make matters worse, the only way to swim up or down is to equip and unequip the iron boots from the inventory screen, which gets tedious fast. Somewhat dark and similar-looking areas do nothing to help the poor signposting, meaning that players also could get lost easily. The 3DS remaster improved signposting and made the dungeon easier to navigate, which is great for new players and fans that want to replay it, but the temple remains untouched in every other edition of the game.

Super Mario Bros. – Any water levels

Everyone knows how extremely important Super Mario Bros. is and what it did for the industry. Its perfect platforming mechanics turned Nintendo and Mario into household names. Yet, water levels have been a sore spot for many Mario fans, and it started from the very first game. In any water section of the game, the player has to contend with losing their wonderfully floaty jumps for a slow and plodding control scheme.

Mario sinks like a rock if left to his own devices, and so players are forced to constantly press A to make him swim upwards. While it can be a fun challenge at times, it exists in stark contrast to the fun jumping that players were enjoying elsewhere in the game. The squid-like Bloopers always feel faster than Mario while they chase the player down, and having to also contend with a variety of other enemies means that players have to carefully time their button presses to make Mario swim past these dangers.

Banjo-Kazooie – Clanker’s Cavern

Under Nintendo’s wing, Rare was on fire during the Nintendo 64 era. It released hit after hit like there was no tomorrow, and Banjo-Kazooie was among the most beloved games from its catalogue. The jolly vibes of the bird and bear duo were often paired with enjoyable platforming challenges in colorful environments, but that changed when it was time for players to enter Clanker’s Cavern. The swimming controls in this level were less than ideal, but the design also changed from more open environments to cramped pipes that afforded much less room to move.

Drowning suddenly becomes a constant issue to consider, especially when it is difficult to swiftly swim to the main source of air or to any nearby air bubbles. A new enemy type in the form of a metal crocodile is there to pile on the pressure. Camera movements make it harder to see where you’re going, and the general aesthetics of the level are murky and all-around unpleasant to stick around in for long.

What are your least favorite Nintendo water levels?

Chirag Pattni
Psychologist and long time gamer. Has a love-hate relationship with technology and enjoys all things Japanese.