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Old 12-31-2019   #1
MascaraSnake
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Default How would you rate the official levels? - Part four!

Yes, it's this thread again. Now that 2.2 has been out for three weeks and you've had time to collect your thoughts, it's time for you to tell us what you think of the official levels. Rate on whatever scale you want (or not at all), comment on as many or as few stages as you feel like, but most importantly, tell us what you think so we can continue improving the game in the future!

To start things off, here are my own ratings and thoughts. I tried to keep things short, but as expected, I failed miserably.

Spoiler: Main campaign
Greenflower Zone Act 1 - 7/10
The visual makeover that this and its sister level got for 2.2 is nothing short of tremendous. One of GFZ's biggest flaws was always that as the first zone in the game, it didn't exactly put its best foot forward presentation-wise. The level design, while fundamentally sound, was occasionally quirky and showed its age, while the texturing and spritework were a little on the dull side. Now I'm happy to say that GFZ looks positively vibrant! Who would have known how much a difference some careful asset touch-ups, a skybox and a few trees could make?

Level design-wise, all of the quirks that bothered me in 2.1 have been addressed. No longer are there side areas off the main path that don't seem to serve any purpose. Instead, the level uses its limited space very economically to teach the player that exploration is a crucial part of this game. The slopes are very cleverly placed and add a nice extra dimension to the level in time attack. I even made my peace with the Crawla as an enemy, although I will not rest until its animation includes cut grass falling out of its nozzle. And hey, it even got a little longer after all these years!

If I were to put my game designer hat on, this score would be higher. This level has a particular purpose, and it serves it perfectly. Rating it purely according to the enjoyment I get out of it as a player though, I inevitably have to dock some points.

Greenflower Zone Act 2 - 8/10
I love how our level designers took this level's idiosyncracies and turned them from flaws or oddities into strengths: Some newly added spring shenanigans solidify the level's identity as "the one where you get taught about springs". I love that the SDURF is an actual threat now. The moving platforms are finally seamlessly integrated into the level instead of feeling like showpieces for "this cool new feature we took from Doom Legacy".

There's a lot of fun to be had with this stage now, even as an experienced player. The new character-based path split and the emblems that are hidden in it are very cool. Exploration was always GFZ2's main strength and it really shines now in that regard. Whereas some of the alternate paths and hidden areas used to feel like weird detours into territory you weren't really supposed to enter, they actually feel like proper parts of the level now. I particularly like how the river path turned out, where you use the slope momentum to jump over the fence. In general, slopes really help spice up sections that were previously dull or overly straightforward.

As far as pointing out flaws goes, I'd have to go into the really minor details: Because the level is so vertical and full of unconventional layout choices (as a result of originally having been made almost 20 years ago), applying textures to it is really hard. Some of the upper parts of the opening area especially turn into a mass of brown. The only choice we're left with to break up the visual monotony when there's no grass or water around is to use a lot of different GFZROCK variants, and that sometimes leads to things looking a bit cluttered. It's gotten better over the years, but I don't think we've fully solved this problem yet.

As with the first act, the worst thing that you can say about GFZ2 is that some of the later levels have even more cool and interesting stuff in them than this one. But for the first time in SRB2 history, I can honestly say that I really enjoy playing this level.

Greenflower Zone Act 3 - 8/10
I really like the changes we made to the pinch phase. For new players, it makes the boss easier to beat, but for experienced players, it's not quite as easy to bludgeon it into submission without ever allowing it to attack.

Techno Hill Zone Act 1 - 9/10
I was very satisfied with the updates this level got in 2.1 and didn't really see much room for further improvements in 2.2. Boy, was I wrong! The 2.1 version had a lot of cool stuff in it, but also long stretches that were pretty straightforward and didn't have much going on. This version keeps all the cool stuff but adds like five new interesting things to do around every corner! In particular, the first section of the level, up to the first factory, is so much more lively and engaging now. I'm also very happy with how the path split issues in the second section were resolved - instead of one path being a pointless detour that leads right back into the other one and another path being hidden away behind a hole in the wall, they're now combined into a proper second path.

Interestingly, the only complaint I have is the same one I originally voiced in the 2.1 version of this thread: The Knuckles path is just not as interesting as the rest of the level. Climbing up the conveyor belt at the start while dodging the gas jets is cool, but after that it's a pretty loose collection of rooms with not a whole lot of purpose to them.

Techno Hill Zone Act 2 - 10/10
I don't have a lot to say about this one. The two new paths at the beginning are fun and add some much needed replay value to that section. Apart from that, not much has changed besides some more polish here and there, and that's because not much needed to change. It's still one of the most fun and varied stages in the game in my opinion.

Techno Hill Zone Act 3 - 9/10
Again, this hasn't changed much because it didn't need to. I've never been big on boss fights, but I've always had a soft spot for this one. It's a simple but very fun concept.

Deep Sea Zone Act 1 - 8/10
Visually, this is probably my favorite level in the game. Which is funny because the 2.0/2.1 version was probably the worst-looking level in the game. The amount of detail and visual variety in this level is absolutely stunning.

Structurally, this is one of the most unique levels in the game. It's short but packed with an insane amount of paths and secrets. I love the effect this produces, where it feels like every time you play the level you enter a new path that you didn't even know existed before. Hunting for hidden items and emblems in this level is not for the impatient, but a total blast if you're into that kind of thorough exploration.

The level is also really generous with its gimmicks and throws so much cool stuff at you in quick succession. This finally allows waterslides to be just one gimmick among many instead of having to carry the whole zone, when it's just not versatile enough of a gimmick to accomplish that. The Crushtacean has slowly become one of my favorite enemies in the game - it completely messes with your expectations on how to approach enemies in SRB2, and I love it. The billiard mines are a ridiculous amount of fun to mess around with. The platforms that pop up and down out of the waterfalls are a really clever usage of both slopes and the waterslide mechanic. And using sliding gargoyles to open doors is a much better implementation of the "gargoyle puzzle" concept than the old DSZ's tedious "push gargoyles on buttons" shtick.

There are a few issues that prevent this from being one of my very favorite levels: The actual "deep sea" segments often don't have a whole lot going on - you're usually just trudging through the water while dodging a few enemies here and there. There are a few in-door sections that feel similarly filler-ish to me. Normally it's good for a level to have some "breather sections" (ha ha) that don't have a lot of action, but if those sections are underwater, they can become a bit of a slog. Also, the gargoyle-door mechanic is never properly introduced - you could easily go through the entirety of DSZ1 without ever encountering it and then wind up really confused in some sections of the second act.

Still, I like this level a whole lot and especially appreciate the variety it adds to the game.

Deep Sea Zone Act 2 - 7/10
It's a running joke in dev that this level sucks and needs to be remade. It doesn't actually suck. Its main problem is that it's a little bloated - it was created by stringing together some pre-existing bits, and you can kind of tell. Nothing here is actively bad, but some of the connective tissue doesn't really add much to the level either. Like the first act, the path layout is really convoluted and interconnected, but here it's less of a design choice and more a lack of deliberate structure. Unlike most other levels, I often feel a bit of relief when I reach the signpost, even though I've basically enjoyed myself the entire time.

But enough complaining. It might be more of a compilation of cool sections than a cohesive level, but a lot of the sections are really cool: the waterslide maze, the various crusher shenanigans, the spinwheels, that one funky corridor with the moving polyobject block... This is all strong content. If we can cut down on some of the filler material and replace it with some more cool stuff, we'll have a great level on our hands.

Deep Sea Zone Act 3 - 7/10
The old fight was tedious and not that fun, but we might have gone a bit too far in simplifying it. I feel like this one is over before it's really begun, and I'm not sure the fake Eggman balloons are really serving much of a purpose anymore.

Castle Eggman Zone Act 1 - 10/10
This is my favorite SRB2 level. I love its open design, with lots of vertical path stacking, and just a ton of different paths in general. I love how incredibly versatile the chain/mace gimmick is and how much mileage we get out of it. I love that the chain launchers allow you to do crazy aerial stunts. I love that the enemies in this level force you to think strategically. I love its atmosphere and the epic ending sequence. I can't think of a single thing I would change about this level.

Castle Eggman Zone Act 2 - 9/10
The only thing that holds this back from a 10 is that it's unfinished, and it's pretty obvious in a few spots. This is an incredible achievement, not just as a level, but as a piece of architecture. Look at it in a map editor - this isn't a level with a castle theme, this is an actual goddamn castle. Yes, it's insanely long, and it lags like shit, and a few parts are a bit confusing, and a few parts are a bit empty, and a few parts are a bit too hard, and some of the platforms are glitchy, but every time I play it, it puts a huge smile on my face to know that somebody went to all of the trouble of making this. This level has so much to offer, and I have such a blast playing this that I don't mind that it's a little rough around the edges. We've got all the time in the world to fine-tune this.

Castle Eggman Zone Act 3 - 7/10
This is definitely an improvement of the 2.1 version of this fight. It might still be a little contrived, but it's no longer a waiting game, and jumping over the maces to save some time is quite a bit of fun. My main issue with this is that the main phase of the fight is too hard for its placement in the game and clearly needs some fine-tuning. Knuckles especially has a miserable time because he can't jump over the maces as easily. The other thing is that the spectator Eggrobos are much cooler in theory than in practice. There used to be way more of them during development, but they were really annoying to dodge. So we removed a bunch, but now they might as well not be there at all because you can walk around them so easily. I don't think we've found the sweet spot between "will mess up if you get too close" and "there's no point in even going near them" yet.

Arid Canyon Zone Act 1 - 10/10
We went full speed ahead with the Road Runner influences on this one, and I love how well we replicated the crazy and out-of-control nature of it. The gimmick roster is such an embarrassment of riches: rope pulleys, cacti, TNT barrels, precariously tipping platforms, dust devils, oil slicks, Green Snappers, Minuses carrying TNT barrels and Green Snappers... What more could you ask for? It's by far the funniest level in SRB2 and maybe the most fun.

I absolutely adore the open design of this stage, where everything is interconnected with everything else. The Fang/Amy path is also really cool, probably my favorite one in the game. I love how it's one of the first things you see in the level, and yet it's only on maybe your second or third playthrough that you realize "Hey, wait a minute! I don't think I've been up there before!".

Arid Canyon Zone Act 2 - 6/10
This might raise a few eyebrows, but I think this is the weakest of the new levels. This is mainly because of how we executed the minecart gimmick. First of all, it desperately needs to be introduced in a safe environment at the start of the stage. Right now you can get all the way to the ending gauntlet without ever having ridden a minecart, and if you do that, you will definitely be completely overwhelmed. My other big problem is that all the minecart segments are entirely linear. There's not a lot to them mechanically - you can jump over hazards and you can switch tracks, and that's it - so the least we could do to give them some more replay value is to introduce some non-linearity. The ending gauntlet is 50 seconds of content that plays the exact same way every time, and that seriously hurts my enthusiasm for replaying the stage and docks points off the ratings.

My judgment may be a bit clouded because for the longest time this stage had severe structural issues, with some paths being way shorter and having less content than others. I think we've mostly resolved this now, although there are still a few unfinished areas that we papered over with filler content. Another issue we didn't get to resolve is how weak the Knuckles paths at the beginning are, although at least the Fang/Amy path is quite nice.

But there's a lot to like about the level too. I particularly enjoy the stronger emphasis on the dust devils - using them to launch yourself across a room is soooo satisfying! The Canarivores are a nice addition too. And even my misgivings about the minecarts are more about wasted potential than anything. I might wish we had done more with them, but what we did do is still fun and adds variety to the level.

Arid Canyon Zone Act 3 - 7/10
It's a solid fight, and the ending slapstick sequence is of course amazing, but I've never been too crazy about this boss for some reason. You can hit him while he's bouncing if you approach him from the right angle, but it doesn't seem to work consistently, so it mostly turns into waiting for him to stop bouncing so you can get a hit in. That's fine in the initial phase, but it starts to get a little tedious in the pinch phase where he continues bouncing for much longer.

Red Volcano Zone Act 1 - 8/10
This wasn't on the cards for 2.2 at all originally, but then it just kind of came together over the last year or so and it was such a pleasant surprise. This one takes all of the good parts of the original level (which I still insist was better than its reputation) and adds a whole lot more variety. I love how this stage manages to be difficult without resorting to lots of death pits. The combination of timed platforming challenges, lava eating your rings and genuinely dangerous enemies (I did the programming for the Pterabytes and I'm not sorry) works wonderfully. The rollout rock is a really cool movement gimmick and I'm looking forward to what crazy shenanigans we can do with it in RVZ2.

The reason this doesn't quite land at the top of the pile for me is that it's a little more straightfoward that I ideally like my levels to be. I like how well it executes the stacked paths thing, where there's a faster path on top and a slower and more difficult "failsafe" path below if you mess up, but the individual paths are fairly linear and closed off. There are some secrets and hidden areas, and a lot of them are really cool, but it's all a bit compartmentalized. I prefer the open, sprawling designs of levels like GFZ2 or ACZ1.

Egg Rock Zone Act 1 - 6/10
This level is seriously beginning to show its age. One of the big advances of 2.2 is that we've moved on from the gauntlet-of-gimmicks design philosophy that levels like this represent, and it has given our game a lot more depth and replay value. The enjoyment you get out of ERZ1 is almost exclusively based on how much you enjoy each individual gimmick, because there's not much else going on. And some of the gimmicks have aged pretty poorly: The zoom tubes and the 2D section feel more pointless with each passing year, and the outer space sections are pretty limited because you can't expect the player to do a whole lot while under a ten-second timer in low gravity. The room where you have to run up a spiral staircase while chased by gravity fog is still hot garbage, and I'm not sure why exactly this stage needs to have lava in it when we already have an entire zone dedicated to lava.

There's also the issue of linearity. Having one path split that lasts throughout the entire stage is better than nothing, but clearly not ideal. The character-based path split on the left path is a very primitive execution of the concept. We still have room for improvement when it comes to character-exclusive paths, but we're much better at them now than this. To add insult to injury, Fang and Amy are locked out of half the level because of like two sections on the right path where you need to be able to spin.

Still, there are some good bits in this mess: I still like the room with the flipping gravity and the conveyor belts a whole lot, and the Megaman blocks are fun, even though their execution could be better. Most of the level is still quite enjoyable despite its flaws, it's just that the rest of the game is now operating on a significantly more accomplished level.

Egg Rock Zone Act 2 - 7/10
This is plagued by many of the same issues as the first act, but it has a higher ratio of content I still enjoy. Some of the gimmick rooms are a little too slow-paced, particularly the gravity flip machine and the air lock room, but they're still basically fun. The parts that have aged the worst are powering up the laser cannon (a cool setpiece, but still kind of an awkward button hunt at heart) and the pointless cameos of a few gimmicks from previous zones (rope hangs, flamethrowers, THZ turret). The two biggest offenders, the shrink section and the laser miniboss, have wisely been removed, which has the added benefit of cutting the level down to a more reasonable length. I must admit I'm a little sad that the crate room is gone - I loved that feeling of "holy shit" when you're suddenly chased by giant Jetty-syns - but in general we never really managed to make the shrinking gimmick interesting. All in all ERZ2 is still a perfectly serviceable grand finale, even as it's showing its age.

Black Core Zone Act 1 - 5/10
As time goes on, I am less and less enamored with the idea of a race against Metal Sonic. It seems cool for the first one or two playthroughs, but ultimately it's just a linear gauntlet of pretty uninteresting platforming on a timer. The point where it gets into jumping across moving square platforms in reverse gravity is usually where I start questioning if I really feel like playing through the game's ending sequence again, and the upside-down corridor lined with spikes right afterwards cements that feeling. The only bit that I find particularly novel or interesting is where Metal Sonic cuts through a line of spikes to open up a shortcut for you.

Black Core Zone Act 2 - 7/10
Now that Metal's attacks in the first phase of the fight are properly telegraphed, I have warmed up considerably to this boss. The last iteration of the pinball attack, where he charges at you six times instead of three, gets overly tedious - at that point you either get the idea or you're just scrambling about trying to stay alive somehow. Otherwise I think this fight is pretty fun. I have two technical issues with it: His strafing can sometimes be a bit too extreme, and it's caused me to have some real trouble getting him to spin out as Amy. Adding a pinball sound effect in the pinch phase has helped somewhat to telegraph what's going on there, but I still think his sprite should not turn around when he bounces back from the barrier, to make it clearer that he's no longer aiming and is just bouncing back and forth.

Black Core Zone Act 3 - 6/10
Having to lure Brak into the acid while he does his stupid Doom walk is annoying me more and more each time I play it. He should really just be doing a straightforward chase. Otherwise, this fight is fine, but a little on the safe and uncreative side. Not surprising given what happened the last time we tried to get creative with Brak, but I'm still holding out hope for a more exciting final boss at some point.

Spoiler: Bonus stages
Frozen Hillside Zone - 6/10
Eh. Back in 2011 this was a breath of fresh air. At a time when most levels were more focused on grand ideas and epic setpieces than solid execution, this one stood out because of its solid layout and the restrained and thoughtful implementation of the snow gimmick. Nowadays I tend to notice how nondescript a lot of the platforming and level architecture is. I feel like this stage would benefit a lot from slopes to break up the monotony in some sections and add a bit of vertical variety.

Pipe Towers Zone - 6/10
Likewise eh. I still think all those arbitrary shaped blocks and platforms make the level feel cluttered rather than exciting. I appreciate cleanness and simplicity in level design a lot more than I used to. Otherwise it plays fine, but it suffers from Fawfulfan's usual workflow of designing the main path first and adding alternate paths later - many of the alternate paths are very short and off the beaten track, and don't really offer anything that's distinctive. The mushroom gimmick and the Thwomp blocks are nice, but I feel like they aren't used to their full potential.

Forest Fortress Zone - 7/10
This is a time capsule into an alternate reality where 2.2 was released in 2016. And it turns out this 2016 version of 2.2 would have been... pretty good! Not nearly as good as it ended up being, but a definite improvement over 2.1. This version has a calmer, less dramatic feel, and it doesn't have the extreme openness that I like about the final version. The chain gimmick isn't as streamlined yet, and a few paths are a bit unfinished. But overall it's quite fun and it has some nice bits that didn't end up making the cut for the final version.

Techno Legacy Zone - 4/10
Hell no. I'm fine with Forest Fortress Zone because it feels sufficiently distinct from CEZ1 and is an enjoyable level in its own right. This is neither. The vast majority of this was strictly replicated in the new version of THZ2 and is therefore obsolete, and the parts that weren't were cut for a reason. There are exactly two things that I like about this that don't have a direct counterpart in THZ2: One is the hidden conveyor belt going around the starting area - or at least the idea of it, because the execution is pretty clumsy. The other is the slime tunnel in the final room that leads to the token, which I still think we should incorporate into THZ2 in some form. Apart from those things, any interest in this stage is purely historical, and I don't think content that's of purely historical intent is best presented as a regular playable level.

Haunted Heights Zone - 9/10
It's back, and better than ever! The one thing this stage always lacked was alternate paths, and that's resolved beautifully now. The Fang and Amy paths with the spiderwebs especially are really cool. This level is a really creative mixture of familiar gimmicks used in new ways, and a few completely new ones thrown into the mix. My only real complaint is that some of the new areas have turned out a little cramped as a result of being squished into a pre-existing level structure.

Aerial Garden Zone - 7/10
There was a time when this got by on sheer sprawling epicness alone, but with things like CEZ2 in the game now, the goalposts have shifted. Extremely precise platforming over death pits is cool and all, but it does get tiring after a while. Some of the more extreme rooms in the AGZ2 section in particular, where it's just a bunch of tiny platforms in a seemingly arbitrary layout, haven't aged that well. I'm glad that the terrible spring platforms are gone and replaced with PolyObjects, but the PolyObject platforms really need some visual indicator for where they turn around. I'm not sure why the water section needed to be brought back given that it was cut for a reason, but at least it's just an alternate path and not a mandatory section. On the plus side, the bees and Fang's emblem are deliciously evil.

Azure Temple Zone - 10/10
Slope-less or not, I still enjoy every last second of this. I guess I must have some kind of masochistic streak.

Spoiler: NiGHTS stages
Floral Field Zone - 8/10
It does what it needs to do, and the alternate path at the start adds a little extra depth. Not much else to say apart from that.

Toxic Plateau Zone - 9/10
This stage was already strong in 2.1, and with a few tweaks and additions it's still strong in 2.2.

Flooded Cove Zone - 8/10
Trimming some of the fat really worked wonders for this one. It's not one of the most distinctive Special Stages, but I do really enjoy the Super Paraloop bit.

Cavern Fortress Zone - 10/10
I think this one's my favorite. It's got the perfect mixture of fast sections, paraloop tricks, hazards and a really clever bit with the sun emblem. Replacing the pillars in the final corridor with maces worked beautifully. The new paint job is gorgeous as well.

Dusty Wasteland Zone - 8/10
This is so much more interesting than the old one, and ever since sphere worked his magic on it, it looks fantastic too. I'm a little sad that the bit with the moving TNT crates was cut, and I hope you bring it back at some point. I have only two small issues with this: One is that the downward-moving elevators can be skipped entirely because there's a gap between them and the wall. The other is that some of the cacti in the final section blindside the player a little too much.

Magma Caves Zone - 9/10
Why change what's working? This is still one of the best Special Stages, and the new emblem placements are cool too. The only real issue is that the final room is a little too disorienting now that the lavafalls are opaque.

Egg Satellite Zone - 10/10
With the entry to the laser fan fixed and the ending part improved, this is really the perfect grand finale for the Special Stages now. Only thing is needs is a visual upgrade.

Black Hole Zone - 9/10
I guess I'm just forever doomed to suck at the wave and the donut blocks, but that's more down to my incompetence than any issue with the level design. This is still as strong as ever, and I'm glad you made the moving hoops at the end stationary. Those were the one hazard that always felt cheap to me.

Christmas Chime Zone - 5/10
Architecturally, this is still a hot mess of random unconnected structures strewn all over the place. Track-wise, it's okay but does nothing that the Special Stages didn't already do better. And I don't understand why we removed the ability to roam this in 3D, since that was the only thing that made this halfway interesting in Record Attack.

Dream Hill Zone - 6/10
This is a NiGHTS stage. It has multiple mares. The item layout is not as smooth as in Rob's stages. I have nothing to say about this.

Alpine Paradise Zone Act 1 - 6/10
For reasons of nostalgia alone, I'm glad this is finally in the game, but the item layout hasn't aged that well. There are a lot of gaps where it's not very clear where I'm supposed to go. Compared to the Special Stages, the track offers a huge amount of vertical space but doesn't really use it well. I'm also sad that unlike in the original, there's no real reason to roam this in 3D. But hey, it's still pretty!

Alpine Paradise Zone Act 2 - 5/10
This stage honestly doesn't warrant being in the game twice. The item layout of this version is even weirder and it seems close to impossible to keep the drill meter filled. It's also often not clear which items belong to the current mare. I really don't have a clue how I'm supposed to score attack this thing, and I usually end up kind of flailing around and hoping for the best.

Spoiler: Multiplayer
lol did you really think I would rate these?

Last edited by MascaraSnake; 12-31-2019 at 03:11 PM.
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