Continuing the trend of top ten lists going, this week’s piece seeks to identify the environment the player finds themselves in, usually referred to as a ‘Map’ or perhaps a ‘Stage’. Those included on the list were incredibly well suited to their respective games, and were worthy of recognition.
10. Tomb of the Nine Gods (Neverwinter)
For years, Tomb of the Nine Gods or, T9G or TONG as affectionately referred to by the community, was the cream of the crop in terms of an epic dungeon’s difficulty. It boasted some of the hardest bosses, a couple of the most challenging boss fights, and a general stressor on coming to Olay with a well aligned team of five. Boss fights against Avatar of Orcus, Withers and Ras Nsi had built-in requirements; the former and latter required parties with good damage dealing capabilities, while Withers was a major survivability challenge. Not unreasonable, but to the point where this dungeon’s status as an end game forte was unquestionable. It has lost its luster a bit over the years, as the popular DnD MMO has introduced new modules that have left it behind. However, it has no doubt left its impact as a thrilling dungeon crawl with potentially amazing rewards waiting any elite party up to task to take it on.
9. Blackwood Sanatorium (Until Dawn)
A sanatorium in a horror film naturally arouses tension and causes the player to be on guard, poised to try and shake off a jump scare at every moment and around every corner. Still yet, this one from the Supermassive Games’ classic delivered in all aspects. It was a great location for many tense, horrific and downright scary scenes throughout the game, but it was also a great source for a lot of lore that could help better connect the player to some trickier aspects of the overall storyline. Information about the mysterious and deadly Wendigo, the twelve dead miners within the large mountain and even a bit of info depicting the events when the Wendigos started wreaking havoc can be found by an adventurous, curious player. Overall a great place to explore and experience in a masterful game.
8. Jellyfish Fields (SpongeBob: Battle for Bikini Bottom)
Both the 2003 classic and the remake released in 2020 did a brilliant job with this one. This is ultimately a tutorial map in the game, showing the player how to make use of their surroundings, along with some help figuring out how to use various controls. Despite the fact that SpongeBob is marketed more towards children, this map doesn’t do as much hand holding as one might expect from a tutorial. It’s a fairly lengthy map, a few good puzzles and confrontations with Plankton’s robots, and an overall beautiful series of graphics. Heavy Iron Studios in 2003 and Arc in 2020 were both masterful in constructing this map, and it was thus a shoo-in to appear on this list.
7. The Ringed City (Dark Souls III)
This was an overall engaging, challenging and well suited grand finale with which to send the Dark Souls franchise off with. It harbors two excellently crafted boss fights, the map layout is creative and interesting, and there are many different unique kinds of enemies to fight. Between this and contending with frequent Player-versus-Player ‘invaders’, there’s almost never a dull moment touring the Ringed City, making it a good pick for this list.
6. Bowser in the Fire Sea (Super Mario 64)
All three Bowser maps were well made, but Fire Sea would have to ultimately take the cake. The platforming is pretty fair, the map layout and graphics were well made, and the OST is pretty engaging as well. There’s just something to be said about how cool it is watching the Koopa King reside over a huge body of lava, where the map ends on a topsy turvy platform as the player confronts him.
5. Kamoshida’s Palace (Persona 5/Royal)
It’s easy to tell that, out of all the palaces in the game apart from maybe Maruki’s in the remake, Atlus devoted more resources to making Kamoshida’s work well than any other Palace. It’s a well built tutorial map with interesting combat, good puzzles and a well built boss fight at the end. The storyline also really carries this quite well in addition, introducing three of Joker’s friends in creative, unique ways and really painting Kamoshida as an incredibly well written villain as well. Atlus ultimately does a really good job reeling players in with this opening Palace, and it deserves a spot on this list because of that.
4. Frantic Factory (DK64)
There is a lot to love about this map from the Donkey Kong classic. It has a funny albeit serious OST, it has a nice plethora of enemies to defeat, and it really does a good job stressing the ability make good use of DK and his crew’s unique talents to make it to the end. One of the most endearing things on this map that is fondly remembered by the gaming community would be the insertion of an arcade machine in the middle of the map, where the player may go experience even more nostalgia in playing the original Donkey Kong game. Overall a beautifully crafted map that has stood the test of time. Even as future DK games began to beat a dead horse with an obligatory generic laboratory map, Frantic Factory definitely stands out as a good one.
3. Battleship Halberd (Multiple Kirby and Super Smash Bros games)
In Kirby games, this map represented a fun trek through a loaded airship with a confrontation against Meta Knight, one of the coolest characters in Nintendo, looming. In Smash games, this map is ironically a fun trek outside a loaded airship, with the exception of Brawl’s Subspace Emissary mode that enables adventuring within the interior. In SSE, the interior and exterior get spotlighted in many notable confrontations. A couple of huge boss fights occur here, a nifty little anime style fight scene between Sheik and Fox takes place, a similar thematic of Kirby’s heroics in lifting either Princess Zelda or Peach off the ship under siege takes place and the overall silent journey of Meta Knight attempting to retake control of it is fun to follow as well. Late in the SSE, the confrontation the Ancient Minister and Ganondorf vs Meta Knight on the Halberd is thrilling to watch as well. Outside of the SSE, the Halberd enjoyed the spotlight on both the casual and, for awhile, competitive scenes of Smash as well. Before long in Smash 4, better competitive stages were found and it was cast aside, but it enjoyed its moment in many, many suns, and as such definitely deserves a spot on this list.
2. Revelations (Call of Duty: Black Ops 3)
This map shines for a multitude of different reasons. It is a riveting experience for older and newer players, as older players get to enjoy the nostalgia of touring a selection of maps from the past, while newer players get that and both types of players get to experience them meshed together quite well. The Easter Egg and associated boss fight are also hectic experiences. This map is good for many things; the aforementioned Easter Egg, high-round pushes as players attempt to combat the undead for as long as possible and more casual playthroughs on the map, where players can just sit back and take in the incredible visuals and structures of the Black Ops 3 finale. Over time, the only real criticism that could be had involving this map is that, from a storyline perspective, it would probably have been a better idea for Treyarch to have allowed the Aether storyline to end at the conclusion of this map’s Easter Egg. Still, it would be wrongful for that to detract from this map’s overall experience, making it an obvious for this list.
1. Fangbreaker Island (Neverwinter)
Many of the same positives that can be said about Tomb of the Nine Gods can also be said about Fangbreaker Island or, FBI, making it a good pick for the top of this list. However, the dungeon crawl is even more exciting and exhilarating, the landscape of the map is even more beautiful and luscious, and the associated storyline is even more brilliant. Moreover, if a player so desired and had the time to burn, they can put on display their overall skill at the game by attempting to solo the map as a whole, which T9G makes impossible via its boss fight mechanics. At the end of the map, a story-based cliffhanger is thrown the player’s way that serves as an excellent climax moment and adds to the overall thrilling experience touring through this map is. Sure, the infamous “Frost Giant hill climb” can beat newer players down into the ground quite a bit, but that simply serves to offer the map its own unique challenge that makes it memorable as a whole. Definitely an amazing map all around, and it captures the top spot on this list.
Der Eisendrache (COD: Black Ops 3)
Stormy Sea (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon DX: Red Rescue Team)
Anor Londo (Dark Souls 1)
Derdrieu (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)
Central Yharnam (Bloodborne)