Top 5 Opening Levels in Retro Video Games and More

by | Apr 5, 2018 | Retro | 2 comments

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The opening level in any video game is important because this where gamers get their first impression. If the first fifteen to twenty minutes don’t deliver then most people would shut the game off, thinking that the rest of the experience would be the same. While there are a lot of great opening levels in video game history, here’s a look at the ones that truly stand the test of time and can even be considered hallmarks for future game developers to take into consideration.

The game’s opening did a great job in establishing the feel of the Rapture.

5. Bioshock

The opening sequence in Bioshock instantly lets players feel the foreboding mystery and horror that awaits them underneath the ocean’s surface. Following that fateful plane crash, players are instantly tossed into the dark and twisting world of Rapture. And it’s intoxicating in such a good way. You can’t help but get an eerie sensation as you walk through that pod that takes you deeper into the city, listening to the old audio recordings, and seeing what kinds of brutal enemies await you around every corner. It’s simply such a unique experience.

There are a few games that somewhat emulate the same system presented here. These include Half-Life and Resident Evil 4.

Probably the most-played retro video game level in existence.

4. Super Mario Bros. World

I got a future rule for video game designers: 1-1 should always be included in every video game design class.

I’m sure everyone and their mother’s know this level. The first few areas of that stage are designed to teach players the mechanics without the use of a single text box. It is one of the most iconic stages that lets players experiment and learn how the game is played. It also does so in such a natural way that you feel accomplished for beating it. It’s iconic and memorable after all these years for a reason, and to this day is one of the best-designed opening levels in any game — retro or not.

Some games that take a cue from this smart, “teaching without text boxes” approach include Shovel Knight and Mutant Mudds.

I’ll admit, I cried during the opening scene. I’m not scared to say that.

3. The Last of Us

Sure, the opening of Uncharted 2 is iconic, but The Last of Us took the approach of using an explosive, all-action opening, and emotional depth to the next level. They did it in such an amazing and memorable way.

The opening sequence of this game is so emotionally heavy it will make even the manliest of men cry. I’m not scared to admit that I shed a few tears in the first 15 minutes of the game. It’s sad, frightening, and scary. And it does so all while having fun with the engaging level design and combat mechanics. The prologue even ends on a dark note that really makes first-time players go,

“No way, did they really just do that?”

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim also takes this approach, using a dragon attack right at the beginning, but it falters because the first few minutes are as explosive as this. Honestly, it just isn’t.

It’s a bitter-sweet opening to one of the most bitter-sweet retro games.

2. Chrono Trigger

Where The Last of Us and most other games open with high-octane action, this time around you start out in a peaceful celebration. Chrono Trigger begins with a festival and your main interaction with other party members and NPCs are through mini-games. However, your actions here are judged later on in the game and the main plot is carefully woven into this festival as well, tying things neatly into a strong, consistent narrative. Very few games can pull this kind of opening so well and Chrono Trigger easily stands on top of them all.

One of the few games that emulate this kind of opening to a really good degree is The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. It also begins with a festival of sorts and the main plot is also well inserted into the celebration’s course of events.

Mass Effect 2 has one of the strongest openings in video game history.

1. Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2, in general, is a masterpiece of a game but its opening really showcases a good impression. The opening sequence is riveting, action-packed, emotional, and it helps the player learn about the mechanics, story and what’s at stake without ever slowing down the pace. In that opening sequence, you’ve already gotten a hold of the game’s combat, the characters, what kind of personality the main character has and what lengths he or she will go for the crew and so much more. Some games that have such a strong, similar opening that blend all of these elements together include God of War, Final Fantasy VII, and Metal Gear Solid.

Opening levels serve to introduce the game, mechanics, and the overall feel of the game. That’s why they’re so important. These are my top five opening levels in video games so far. Do me a favor. Pick one of these five up, give it a shot, and let me know what you think. These openings are so good that it’d be terribly difficult, maybe impossible, to forget.

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