5 Reasons Underwater Stages Are The Worst Parts Of Most Games
Sewer sections are historically the most hated parts in video games (and in the real world, we assume). We get it; we want to experience places that are cooler than what real life has to offer us, not places that make us miss our day job – and especially our cool-ass secret night job. We want to change that – no, not because we love chilling in our local sewers, but because we believe water levels are the true kings of bad level design.
Water always comes as a hindrance
While it's true that some underwater levels don't straight-up suck, we must ask the question: has there ever been an underwater part of a game that's more fun than the rest of the game?
Unlike sewer levels, which are mostly just cosmetically different from regular video game levels, underwater levels always come accompanied by at least one hindrance – slowed-down gameplay. Look, if we wanted the same game but slower, we'd just get the European versions of PS1 and PS2 games.
No dev ever designs underwater levels meant to make us thrive underwater.
Oh wait, Sora gets a Merkid tail in Kindom Hearts 2, maybe this will rock-
It's always about making it harder, slower, or unnecessarily creepier.
Underwater stages are either too far removed from the rest of the game…
Remember Ecco The Dolphin? It's Sega's attempt at making an underwater game from the ground up – and it's still not very good.
The only nice thing we can say about its confusing mechanics is that they force most players to quit before they ever learn that this kids' game has one of the scariest final bosses in video game history waiting for them.
With that in mind, it's unfair to expect that a company would put the same resources and effort they put into a whole game into one of its niche aspects. The better the game, the more obvious the discrepancy in quality from the rest of the game to its water segments will be. Remember Devil May Cry's revolutionary fighting mechanics? Yeah, the game has an underwater level where all we do is swim around looking for crap and shoot harpoons at enemies from a first-person perspective.
Huh, how come underwater levels were absent from all the other games in the series?
…Or too similar but much worse
Remember how The Legend Of Zelda: The Ocarina Of Time lives rent-free in all top-3 video game lists of all time even though it features an excruciating water temple that everyone hates? It's the same game but slowed down and with the need to constantly swap to heavier or lighter boots to navigate the map.
Also, remember how Sonic The Hedgehog is a weird game because its design already punishes Sonic whenever he goes fast but gets even weirder by making him go underwater, a place where he has no more powers than a regular person on a blue fur suit?
The slowed-down gameplay, the constant stress of having to find air bubbles, and a filter that kills the colorfulness that made so many kids bully their parents into buying this game looked like a good idea to whom? The devs of the original God Of War had a good idea. The game forces players underwater, but it equips us with completely unrealistic-but-completely-fun boosts that don’t make the whole thing a slog.
The new God Of War for the PS4 does it even better, as it gives us a boat that prevents us from ever needing to swim or go underwater.
Making them fun requires making them dumb
It's a lose-lose situation because water really is a tough enemy in real life. If we want an underwater segment to be fun, it'll have to be unrealistically dumb. We cannot fire guns underwater as we do in games, and neither can we do this:
Final Fantasy X's Blitzball underwater minigame is pretty good and it gets a pass for sacrificing all semblance of realism because it features the word “Fantasy” on the title, but not all games can afford that. Most underwater levels will have to pick between realism and fun. A game that does underwater well is Abzu, but that's an exploration game, not exactly a fun affair.
Is it gorgeous? Yes. Fun? Yes, for people who bought the game knowing they were going to get an exploration-based experience. Nobody wants DOOM turning into a fishing expedition for an entire level. Devs should focus on the development of underwater games and just kill underwater levels in non-underwater games forever.
Because the devs seem to have made a secret bet (that they can't win)
We could weave the conspiracy theory that all the great developers get into a bet in an attempt to come up with an underwater level that's great for no reason other than to just rub it on the faces of other devs. Like, the first Metal Gear Solid had an underwater segment – it was optional and only came about if players needed to make a jump to avoid capture. After that, it took players like 5 seconds to get back out of the water and players never had to do anything similar ever again in the game. Also, Solid Snake, the main character can smoke underwater.
Metal Gear Solid did everything else very well, got a bunch of game of the year awards, and ended up revolutionizing narrative in video games forever. That leaves us wondering whether Hideo Kojima thought “welp, there's nothing else we haven't done yet, so let's make a huge mandatory underwater segment for the sequel! It should be confusing and also filled with mines!”
There’s a reason we mammals left the sea, and maybe it’s because it’s hard to make underwater games fun (and also to program them while underwater).
Top Image: Square Enix