Hacked Off: Underwater Levels

It’s that time of week again, where I force you to sit down and listen to me rambling on about things I don’t like in games. The title says underwater levels, so I assume that’s what annoys me this week. So, let’s dive straight into the depths of my dismay.

When characters take the inevitable plunge into water missions, everything good about the game seems to evaporate. Okay, I’ll try and stop with the water puns as it might dilute their impact. The controls appear to go out the window and make games become uncontrollable masses of rage. The camera seems to go everywhere and anywhere you don’t want it to, and the character movements are slow but still so difficult to actually make it go where you want. Then there is the added fun of running out of breath. So, by the time you start getting the hang of swimming or even make any decent progression towards the target, you have to go up for air or look for bubbles. Then you have to get used to it all again, and it’s not like learning how to ride a bike, it’s difficult and easy to forget.

Bubbles being a form of air is ridiculous, not the idea that one bubble could realistically give you another 2 minutes’ worth of breath, it’s the way they float around. It becomes more effort than what it’s worth as you have to try to steady yourself next to the bubble depository and then torpedo yourself in its general direction hoping you clipped it just a little so you can continue. If you miss, you then have the choice of waiting for another or swim after the bubble in the worst chase scene ever. Swimming back and forth, frantically trying to balance the controls until you either hit it or it disappears.

Every swimming level just reminds me of Banjo-Kazooie. Now this is one of my favourite games of all time, if not the top one, so I don’t hold it against the game, but nonetheless it just gives me nightmares. Clanker’s Cavern is a level I dread coming to, just because of the swimming. In particular, the part where you have to go swimming through the key keeping Clanker held down. You have to swim around this small circular area and go through a tiny hoop three times. You are too far down to realistically keep going up for air and so bubbles appear around you. Now, the mixture of bad controls and the distance Kazooie propels you after just one breaststroke means this takes a while. The bubbles need near perfect judgement in order to get them. As a kid many hours were spent trying this and heartbreakingly watching the bird and bear drown just because of my incompetence. In Banjo-Tooie they seemed to think swimming was their best gimmick and put it everywhere, which is one of the reasons I don’t enjoy the sequel half as much.

The reason underwater levels deserved my wrath this week is because I have been playing a bit of Super Mario Maker. There was not a particular level that comes to mind, it’s just every time I come across one I seem to sigh. They’re just tedious and drawn out. This goes for all Mario games as they don’t add any exciting gameplay, just annoying enemies that nearly always kill me. It’s so annoying having to keep pushing the A button so Mario can float in one spot. Then there are the enemies and spikes that make traversing the level even more annoying, also moving slow is a no bueno. Basically, everything a swimming level has to offer is just bad.

People seem to cry when games don’t let players swim, but there is a good reason for that. It’s because it will be awful. This mainly applies for free roam games, as if a different genre of games puts in water it tends to be an actual mission or a fancier invisible wall. Besides, isn’t water a better reason for not being allowed down a certain way than furniture stacked up 3ft or even just plain old nothingness? In a free roam game, are there actually a certain kind of people who like to spend most of their time in the water, as if they wish to adopt Aquaman’s mantle? Sure, having the ability to swim on the water’s surface, it makes sense if you accidentally land in it or want to go across a lake, then it’s frustrating for the character to drown. It’s just why do people want it used extensively? Even if a game doesn’t let you swim, what I do, and this might sound crazy, is just avoid the water.

GTA V had a beautifully designed seabed, and water I suppose. That didn’t mean at the first chance I took a dip and swam underwater. When I eventually got around to swimming underwater, I swore to never put Michael in that position again, as none of us were having a whale of a time. Did people actually buy the game based on how many underwater missions or activities there were? The sea was just a big old bowl of nothing. I didn’t even find a shark in the game, and I was told I should as they were pretty damn cool. I spent time splashing about but never seemed to find them, and after about five minutes I would retreat until the next time my intrigue was tickled by finding them.

It’s like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. People went crazy for the underwater levels, but after doing it once, the charm wore off. I bought the game to be a pirate not a mermaid. I’m the head of a ship, why must I personally dive in, could I not just get one of the crew to risk their lives instead? Sure, it looked beautiful, but that’s about all it had going for it.

Swimming on top of water is fine, but it shouldn’t be used as a key mission part. As who is having fun just swimming from point A to point B? It just feels so slow, I know it’s not, but it does. Oh, and adding in sharks or other fish that wish to eat you, doesn’t make it fun. As what are you meant to do, feel the change in water movements and then get out a sword and flail around until you kill whatever is lurking? I just want to have to get through this water without hassle so I can resume on land where the game actually is.

 

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