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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Carhuavilca

Level Analysis of a few Nintendo games.

Updated: Apr 3

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 'High Tide Ride' from Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze because I believe it exemplifies brilliant level design. Donkey Kong games are renowned for their challenging nature, and the original game was a massive success. One particularly intriguing aspect of level design in Donkey Kong games is the introduction of cart levels. In these stages, Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong hop into a cart and traverse through caverns or caves. The platforming mechanics remain the same, but the added element of speed in the cart creates a thrilling experience, requiring players to time their jumps to navigate obstacles and broken tracks.

'High Tide Ride' is level 4-2 in Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. By this stage, players are familiar with the game controls, having progressed halfway through the game. The objective of each level is to guide Donkey Kong to the end and advance closer to the final boss. However, what sets 'High Tide Ride' apart is its incorporation of a wide variety of challenges within a single level, distinguishing it from the others in Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze

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


If you refer to Figure One, you'll notice that the beginning of the level 'High Tide Ride' follows the typical platforming format. This initial setup adds to the suspense of the level, as the player doesn't expect it to transition into a cart level, heightening the excitement. Upon jumping onto the platform, players encounter a familiar element in Donkey Kong games: a barrel. This barrel serves as a staple mechanic, propelling the player onto a cart and initiating the cart level experience.

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

This level stands out for its uniqueness, as most cart sequences in Donkey Kong games traditionally occur within mines or caves. The first cart level, "Mine Cart Madness," set this precedent. However, in Tropical Freeze, the developers allow players to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings. The setting is sunny and tropical, in stark contrast to the dark, underground environments typical of cart levels. As Kremers (2010) noted, a good level should be "visually appealing, challenging to master, and of high quality" (Kremers, 2010, p. 9). Yet, what truly elevates 'High Tide Ride' as a prime example of excellent level design are the internal objectives it fulfills.

Throughout the level, 'High Tide Ride' mimics the sensation of riding a roller coaster, especially in certain segments. The use of various camera angles adds an extra layer of complexity, enhancing the level's appeal and making it stand out from the rest

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

Figures 3 through 5 showcase the variety of camera angles employed in 'High Tide Ride,' each subtly altering the gameplay experience. These seemingly minor adjustments heighten the level's difficulty, requiring players to showcase their skills. With each shift in perspective, new enemies or obstacles emerge, leaving the player with little time to react. Despite the challenges posed, the level remains enjoyable, striking a balance between difficulty and motivation.

I personally faced numerous defeats on this level, yet it never felt overwhelmingly difficult. Instead, its challenges spurred me to persist and improve. As Kremers (2010) suggests, internal goals should empower players, fostering a sense of achievement and providing addictive, enjoyable gameplay (Kremers, 2010, p. 9). 'High Tide Ride' exemplifies these principles, making it a prime example of well-crafted 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 stands as another prime example of exemplary level design. Serving as the final challenge in Super Mario 3D World, this level proved to be the pinnacle of difficulty within the game. It seamlessly integrated every conceivable form of platforming, offering the ultimate test for players.

Comprising four main sections, or five if you count the flagpole area, Champion's Road demanded players to navigate through a series of obstacles and reach the warp block to progress to the next segment. Each section relentlessly tested the player's platforming skills, with the difficulty escalating with each subsequent challenge.

Section 4, depicted in Figure 6 with the brown background, emerged as the most formidable hurdle. Its completion marked a significant milestone in reaching the end of the level. However, players encountered an additional complication: time constraints. The prolonged duration of the final section posed a risk of failure if players did not manage their time wisely. To further intensify the challenge, the game designers introduced this time pressure precisely within section 4.



Figure 7: Champion’s Road. Section 4


In Figure 7, you'll notice circular laser formations that players must skillfully avoid. The white and orange circles adorned with a key symbol serve as collectibles, with a total of five scattered throughout this section. Additionally, the yellow and orange platforms Mario traverses are speed-enhanced, requiring players to adeptly navigate all three obstacles before reaching the warp block. However, gathering all five keys doesn't automatically transport players to the next section—a lesson I learned the hard way.

This incremental progression of difficulty, as described in Jesse Schell's 'The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses,' emphasizes finding the delicate balance between challenge and frustration. Nintendo masterfully achieves this equilibrium in Champion's Road. By crafting a lengthy and demanding level, players are prompted to test and refine their platforming skills. Moreover, the level fulfills the internal goals outlined by Kremers (2010). Its addictive nature stems from the desire to conquer its challenges, resulting in a profound sense of accomplishment upon completion. Ultimately, the designers successfully achieve their goal of providing an engaging and rewarding gameplay experience.


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

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

For my final selection, I've chosen Nintendo's Breath of the Wild, utilizing its expansive open-world map of Hyrule as the focal point for this paper's analysis. As depicted in Figure 7, the completed map of Breath of the Wild showcases the magnitude of Nintendo's achievement in creating an open-world Zelda game that surpassed all expectations. Open-world environments have gained immense popularity in recent years, and Nintendo's approach to Breath of the Wild's map sets a new standard.

The sheer size of the map is staggering, yet what truly sets it apart is its full interactivity. I view the entire map as one colossal level, containing numerous smaller levels within it. Nintendo has ingeniously crafted a world where players can explore, discover, and interact with various elements seamlessly, fostering a sense of immersion unparalleled in gaming.

The design and implementation of the open-world in Breath of the Wild showcased sheer genius. It not only encouraged exploration but also rewarded players for doing so, as advocated by Kremers (2010) as a hallmark of 'good' levels. This was achieved through the introduction of "Shrines" and "towers," strategically scattered across the map.

The "towers" served as pivotal points that Link had to ascend. Upon reaching the summit, he would activate his Sheikah Slate, thereby unlocking that area on the map. These towers were indispensable for navigation, providing crucial information about nearby towns and stables. Failure to scale a tower would leave the corresponding area of the map shrouded in gray, leaving the player directionless. However, the towers were no walk in the park. They were often guarded by monsters or presented formidable climbing challenges, such as increased height or insufficient stamina for Link to reach the top.

In Breath of the Wild, enhancing Link's stamina or health requires him to collect four orbs obtained from completing Shrines. These Shrines, scattered throughout the map, offer mini-puzzles, rewarding players with an orb upon successful completion. This design choice not only incentivizes exploration but also serves as a means of teaching players the game mechanics and how to derive enjoyment from them. As Kremers (2010) aptly notes, 'good level design teaches the player how to play and enjoy the game' (p.26).

The inclusion of Shrines, along with towers, contributes to this educational aspect of the game. Moreover, Link's interactions with the environment are crucial in understanding the world around him. Unlike in previous games, Link can engage with various elements of the environment, from climbing trees to hunting animals for resources. These early experiences, particularly in the pursuit of Shrines, serve as tutorials for players, illustrating the fundamental aspects of the game's environment, character abilities, enemy behaviors, and reward systems, as outlined by Kremers (2010) on pages 26-27.

Within the first 10 hours of gameplay in Breath of the Wild, players undergo a comprehensive tutorial phase that equips them with a thorough understanding of the game mechanics. This initial phase, while somewhat linear, is crucial in familiarizing players with the controls and core concepts of the game. Completion of three essential tasks, including interacting with the old man and completing three Shrines, is necessary to progress beyond this 'tutorial' mode—a standard Nintendo approach known as 'the skill gate' (Kremers, 2010, p. 34).

Upon surpassing this introductory phase, players are granted the freedom to explore the vast world of Hyrule at their leisure. Breath of the Wild excels in providing players with a deep sense of immersion and accomplishment as they uncover new areas and delve into unique experiences. Each encounter is remarkably distinct, offering players a fun and enriching learning journey.

In essence, Breath of the Wild stands as a masterpiece of game and level design, exemplifying the principles of 'good' design outlined by Kremers (2010). Its immersive gameplay and rewarding exploration make it a truly exceptional gaming experience.



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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