Water In Video Games

A tribute to some of the best and worst water in video games throughout the years
September 21, 2009
By Morrow Gordon

I don't know when it started, but for as long as I can remember, I have loved the water. I love swimming. I love the look and feel of water. Whenever I see a waterfall, I immediately want to dive right in.

Humorously, I feel the same exact way when it comes to videogames. I was born in 1986, so videogames have been around my entire life. Throughout the years I have (and still) owned an NES, SNES, Genesis, Dreamcast, N64, Gamecube, Wii, PS, PS2, PS3, and Sega Saturn, and through all of the games I have played, some of my favorite moments were the ones that gave me the freedom to go where I wanted to....even if it killed me!

If you have played videogames, then you are familiar with the infamous "Invisible Walls." An invisible wall is exactly what is said, it is an area of a game that is seen but inaccessible by the character you are playing. It is one of the most FRUSTRATING aspects in video games.

(I want to jump in!!!.....but I can't....)

The fact that you can't jump over a box that is half your height is ridiculous. But the games that let me do what I wanted stood out. There are chiefly three categories that make good water games:

1. Swimming: A good videogame should let you swim or at least get in the water.

2. Throwing Guys: This is one of my favorites. Even if I can't touch the water, at least let me throw my enemies into it!

3. The Look: The water needs to look cool. Even in the early days, water looked cool and extremely blue.

From the early days of the NES, water has been a great aspect in action/adventure games. Mario started this with the water levels. However, it was perfected in "Mario 3" when you were allowed to dive in and swim around.

If you were lucky, you could even get the Frog Suit!!!

"Mega Man 2" leaped boundaries in one of my favorite levels ever with the gorgeous Bubble Man stage, featuring cascading waterfalls and bright colors.

"Contra" also allowed your character to jump in and test the water while you blasted away some enemies.

One of the more frustrating moments is in the original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" game. If you fall in the water, you drown and have to start the whole level over....TURTLES CAN SWIM!!!! So why can't the "Ninja" turtles!!!

However, there is actually an underwater level in the game where you have to disarm bombs and go through an impossible maze of electrified seaweed....Just to dip into the sewers in the third entry in the series was more refreshing than you could ever know....

The "Sonic the Hedghog" series had some great water in it, but when you started running out of air, the most frightening music and countdown timer in video game history would start and you would rush as quickly as you could to find an air bubble only to be one second too late....those moments still haunt me today....

("Sonic Adventure" on the Dreamcast also had some awesome water.)

Surprisingly for what a great system it was, the Super Nintendo, didn't have many great/innovative water moments. The only few that come to mind are "Bubsy" and "Mickey's Magical Quest." (I know there are more).

Oh! I can't forget the great levels in "Donkey Kong Country"!

However, this leads me to my Zelda section. The Zelda games are my favorites of all time. In the first, you weren't able to swim, but you could cross on a raft. The second has a few moments but nothing to note (see picture above). But my favorite game of all time had it. "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past" on the SNES was the first time that Link could jump in and swim towards his goals. Now that is adventure!

Zelda 64 also provided some of the best water moments.

Let's not forget the awesome part when you could dive off Gerudo Valley into the river below.

A notable mention is "Mario RPG." Especially the hot spring in Nimbus Land that refills your energy.

The Nintendo 64 was a huge step when it came to water. Needless to say, "Mario 64" had some wonderful water levels and gave me the freedom to swim around in a 3D world for the first time.

"Mystical Ninja," like Mario, had that classic N64 water that was clear and refreshing looking, but didn't have any ripples the way that "Wave Race" or "Diddy Kong Racing" did.

One of my favorite games of all time is the 1997 classic "Goldeneye 007." However, I think one of the game's ONLY noticeable flaws is the water issue. I would rather the game allow me to fall in and drown rather than place an invisible wall that keeps me from doing so! It pains me that you were originally going to be able to drive a boat across the water in the first level, but this was erased from the final version.

Fortunately, the next N64 Bond game "The World Is Not Enough" not only lets you jump, knock baddies off ledges, and ski, it also lets you swim!!!! And it feels GREAT.

The other early N64 first person shooter, "Turok," let you swim which made the game feel much more like an adventure.

"Blast Corps" had some great looking water you couldn't swim in, but you could swim in some of the crappy looking ponds!

Rare's 64 platforming offerings included some of the best water around.

"Banjo-Kazooie" and "Donkey Kong 64" had some wonderful looking water and levels.

The Playstation didn't offer much water moments save for a few scattered around, like Costa del Sol in Final Fantasy 7 (again, I know there are more).

My favorite probably being the pool area in "Tomb Raider 2." It was cool to explore Lara's estate as well.

But the PS2 and PS3 have some great moments.

"Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" unfortunately killed you if you stepped foot into the crystal waters, which drives me crazy, BUT the next game "GTA: San Andreas" let you swim wherever you wanted!

A completely underrated game, "Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb," had some great swimming moments, but the best came when you could throw the baddies into the water or off a cliff (especially when you got to do it to Nazis).

Nowadays, water looks great but it almost looks TOO real to me. My favorite era was the N64. It had the crisp and blue feeling that doesn't really exist except in paradise, but it does in videogames. And I love it. But the digital water scene is changing and bringing out some great moments, just check out "Uncharted" for the PS3.

Even though "Assassin's Creed" would kill you if you stepped in water (but it was awesome because you could throw guys into the water), "Assassin's Creed 2" will allow you to swim and even sneak around in it!

The only big problem in "Little Big Planet" for me was the absence of water (you can create the illusion of it in level create mode, but it isn't the same), but I heard rumors the next game might feature Sackboy being able to go chasing waterfalls and not sticking to the rivers and lakes that he used to!

So, it gives me great pride to say that the future of water games will continue to move forward........

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