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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Carhuavilca

Level Analysis of a few Nintendo games.

Hello reader! I analyzed a few of my favorite levels and areas of some popular Nintendo titles. I break down what makes each level fun, unique, and memorable. Let me know your thoughts!



Example 1: Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze: High Tide Ride.

I chose this level from this game because I think it is an excellent demonstration of brilliant level design. Donkey Kong games are known to be challenging, and the original game was a huge success. A type of level design that was particularly interesting in Donkey Kong games was the introduction of cart levels. In these levels, Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong get into a cart and go through a cavern or cave. The platforming aspect is the same, except you are in a cart that is going at a fast speed and you have to jump when certain obstacles appear, or when the tracks are broken. High Tide Ride is level 4-2 in Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. By this point in the game, the player is familiar with the controls as they are halfway through the game. The objective of each level is to guide Donkey Kong to the end and get closer to the final boss. However, High Tide Ride combines so much variety in one level, which sets it apart from the other levels in Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze.

Figure 1: Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. Level 4-2 High Tide Ride.  


If you refer to figure one, you will the start of the level High Tide Ride and it starts off as your typical platforming level. This adds to the suspense of the level because the player does not suspect this will be a cart level, which only makes the level that much more exciting. After jumping on the platform, there is a barrel, which is a staple in Donkey Kong games. It launches the player onto a cart and the cart level begins.

Figure 2: Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. Level 4-2 High Tide Ride.

  This level is unique because most cart lines have almost always taken place in a mine or cave. The first cart level was called "Mind Cart Madness." In Tropical Freeze, they allow the player to enjoy the beauty of the environment. It is sunny and tropical, the complete opposite of a dark mine. Kremers (2010) did state that a good level has to be "pretty, hard to master and of sufficient quality" (Kremers, 2010, p. 9). However, the most important reason why I believe this is a brilliant example of good level design is due to the internal goals it satisfies. High Tide Ride simulates being on a roller coaster for some parts of the level. It uses a variety of camera angles that add a layer of difficulty and make the level more interesting and stand out.

Figure 3: Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. Level 4-2 High Tide Ride

Figure 4: Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. Level 4-2 High Tide Ride 

Figure 5: Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. Level 4-2 High Tide Ride

If you look at figures 3 through 5, you can see the variety of camera angles and these changes, which may seem small add difficulty to the level, demanding the player to demonstrate more skills. With each of these changes, more enemies or obstacles present themselves, giving the player very little time to react. This made the level fun because it was challenging, and motivated the player to beat it. I lost this level multiple times and it was never too difficult but challenging enough to motivate me to keep trying. As Kremers (2010) said, internal goals should motivate or “empower the player, give the player a sense of achievement and provide addictive, fun gameplay” (Kremers, 2010, p.9). For these reasons, I believe that High Tide Ride is a good example of good level design.


Example 2: Super Mario 3D World: Champion’s Road.

Figure 6: Super Mario 3D World: Champion’s Road Isometric Map.


Champion's Road was another example I chose as an example of good level design. This was the final level of Super Mario 3D World. This level was by far the most difficult of the entire game. It combined every possible form of platforming. In short, it was the ultimate platforming level in the entire game. The level is divided into 4 sections, 5 sections, if you include the flagpole area. To get the next part of the level, you had to survive the obstacles and make it to the warp block, which would take you to the next section. Each section tested the player's platforming skills, and each section was more challenging than the one before it. If you refer to Figure 6, section 4 is the one with the brown background. This one was the hardest of section and upon completing this successfully, you essentially reach the end. However, you run into the issue of time. There is a time limit and because the last section is so long, if you do not budget your time wisely, you will die. Not only does the player have to worry about this, but to add an extra level of cruelty, the game designers added this in section 4.



Figure 7: Champion’s Road. Section 4


If you look at Figure 7, you will see laser’s in the form of a circle that the player must avoid. Those white and orange circles with a key symbol on it need to be collected, there is a total of 5 in this section. Finally, those yellow and orange platforms Mario is on are speed up platforms, so the player has to balance all three obstacles and then make it to the warp block. Gathering all 5 keys does not automatically transport you to the next section. I learned that lesson the hard way.

 This progression of adding difficulty was mentioned in Jesse Schell's The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses. In the book, Schell mentions that there is this sweet spot of challenging but not so hard that it frustrates the player to the point of quitting. Nintendo accomplished that balance perfectly in Champion's Road. By creating a longer and more challenging level, it allowed platformers to test their abilities and master this level. This level also satisfied internal goals that were mentioned by Kremers (2010). This level was incredibly addicting because you would get so far and then lose, you felt this need to prove yourself you can beat the level. Beating this level was a huge sense of accomplishment and it was so much fun, which was the goal the designers were aiming to achieve.


Example 3: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Figure 8: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Map

 For my final choice, I picked Nintendo's Breath of the Wild. I am going to use their whole open-world map of Hyrule as the "level" for this paper's purposes. If you refer to figure 7, the completed map for Breath of the Wild is there for you to see. Open world environments are becoming more popular, and Nintendo exceeded everyone's expectations with their open-world Zelda game. The map is enormous, and the best part, fully interactive. I consider the whole map as one giant level, with smaller levels inside of it.

 The design and approach of the open-world in Breath of the Wild was genius. It encouraged exploration and awarded the player for doing so, like Kremers (2010) said, is an internal goal "good" levels accomplish. The way the designers accomplished this was by creating the "Shrines" and "towers" and scattered them across the map. The "towers" were towers that Link had to climb. Once at the top, he would use his Shikah slate, and that would add that particular area to your map. These towers are needed, so you know what towns and stables are in your area. If the player did not reach the top of the tower, the map would be grayed out, and the player would wander with no sense of direction. The towers were not always so easy to climb. Monsters are guarding the nearby area, or the tower is taller than the previous one, and Link does not have enough stamina to make it to the top.

To get more stamina or health, Link must collect 4 orbs which he can get at Shrines. Shrines are mini-puzzles, and upon successful completion, you receive one orb. By having these shrines, and having them scattered all over the map, it encourages exploration, and in turn, teaches the player how the game works and how to have fun with it. "good level design teaches the player how to play and enjoy the game" (Kremers, 2010, p.26). Not only does the open-world do this with the inclusion of shrines and towers, but Link learns about the environment around him. Link can interact with the environment, unlike previous games. Link can climb trees, cut down trees, kill birds or animals for meat, harvest fruit, and more. The player learns this very early on while hunting for shrines. On page 26, Kremers (2010) said that "good" level design shows the player:

  • "the physical rule of the environment

  • the abilities of the player's in-game character

  • the behavior of enemies

  • the game's reward systems." (Kremers, 2010, p. 26-27).

All of this is accomplished in the first 10 hours of gameplay in Breath of the Wild. Once the "tutorial" is over, the player can freely explore the world and has a full understanding of how the controls work. I say tutorial freely because the first part of the game is almost linear, and until you complete the three tasks, you cannot move on. You have to complete 3 shrines and interact with the old man guiding you to get past the "tutorial" mode. The player cannot proceed unless he completes this, which is a standard Nintendo tutorial mode called "the skill gate" (Kremers, 2010, p. 34). This game truly was an excellent work of art that was an excellent example of "good" game and level design. It really gave the player this sense of immersion and accomplishment to explore and find new areas. Each experience was incredibly unique and was a fun learning experience for all.



Images Cited

Figure 1: Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. Level 4-2 High Tide Ride. Retrieved from

Figure 2: Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. Level 4-2 High Tide Ride. Retrieved from

Figure 4: Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. Level 4-2 High Tide Ride.  Retrieved from

Figure 5: Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. Level 4-2 High Tide Ride.  Retrieved from

Figure 6: Super Mario 3D World: Champion’s Road Isometric Map. Retrieved from

Figure 7: Super Mario 3D World: Champion’s Road. Section 4. Retrieved from

Figure 8: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Map Retrieved from




Kremers, R. (2010). Level design: concept, theory, and practice. Wellesley, MA: A.K. Peters.

Schell, Jesse. (2008). The art of game design: a book of lenses. Amsterdam; Boston: Elsevier/Morgan Kaufmann,









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