When it comes to designing a video game, one of the most important aspects is what the player is going to be playing in. More properly known as level-design, this chunk of the development process should be one of the first priorities to AAA and indie developers alike. Think about some of your favorite levels in gaming, specifically platformers. I can safely say that one of my favorite platforming levels is the Black Betty music level in Rayman Legends. An already exceptional game, this level was the cherry on top of one of the best gaming sundaes in recent memory. Knowing the song, I was able to time my jumps to the beat, resulting in a very unique platforming experience that I love to tell people about.
It is important to note that I enjoyed that level in Legends for more than just the musical experience though. My love was the result of a solid gameplay experience under that musical number that I had gotten used to because of the levels before. It was a culmination of the tight controls, fully realized art-style, and a game that challenged my skills. While Rayman Legends surpasses in all of these aspects, it still would not be the gem it is regarded as today if it had lacked in the most crucial of parts: level design.
Luckily for us gamers, it didn’t lack. Each world Rayman adventures through varies greatly from the one before it. Worlds go from limiting a player’s vision to having entities chase them throughout, from varying placements of enemies to the musical numbers mentioned earlier. Legends works because it takes all of these established ideas and injects variety into them. Once the player starts getting comfortable with the swimming mechanics, the game switches them up by adding spotlights and bombs creating a need to speed through areas. This creates a whole new experience that takes the players’ submerged maneuvering skills and forces them to take it to the next level.
Rayman Legends is a game that other modern platformers should look to in regards to level design, but it isn’t the only one at the top of the pile. Super Meat Boy has a few tricks up its sleeve that make its level design stand out a bit from your standard platformer. The way the levels draw you in, especially later on in the game, is unmatched. Each and every one starts off with an obstacle, one that usually takes a few tries to overcome. Once beaten, another obstacle is presented. “This is cake”, you say to yourself before failing for the first time. On your fiftieth try you finally overcome it, only for the cycle to start again. This doesn’t sound like a fun game at all does it? Why was it so successful then?
Super Meat Boy works because it allows the player to incrementally be successful. It indulges in that “just one more time” feeling and incorporates it not only into each level but into each obstacle. Every time the player dies, they restart the level from the beginning; consistently running the same path over and over until it starts to become routine. They start getting really good at the earlier parts of the level; causing them to not get discouraged when they die, but rather to want to try harder to master the rest of the segments that make up the level. It’s a cycle that continues throughout the game, and gives it an addictive feeling. It is a treat to experience the levels this game has to offer; and to get that feeling of mastery with each one.
In a time where the indie gaming scene is bigger than ever, it takes a lot more effort to create something unique that will really stand out to players. Developers looking into creating platformers, as well as other genres, could really learn a lot by studying the level design of these two games; because it’s something that makes them stand above other games.
Let us know which platformers you think have great level design in the comment section!