Here's a new bi-weekly feature that I'll be posting here: I (Heart) Great Design where I talk about some of the features and elements of games that have most impressed me and have stuck with me over the years.
So, in this first installment I would like to call out a particularily good level in a very overlooked game.
The Great Tower from the SNES game Skyblazer.
The Great Tower is the second to last level in the game and it is remarkable because it's a great example of a how to build a final area that culminates with you having to use everything you've learned about that game up to that point. This level features enemies from every area in the game and requires you to use every ability you've gained throughout the adventure.
It truly is the "Skyblazer final exam".
This is a design element that I believe should be in every game. Using the combined knowledge of everything you've encountered to overcome one final challenge, it's exactly how a game should build towards its conclusion.
Games that effectively pull this off: all of the games in the Legend of Zelda series.
The final dungeon in a Zelda game always requires you to use every piece of arsenal you've collected to get through. It's nice because it typically gives you another use for that all too specific item that was quite under-used throughout the game (I'm looking at you, Spinner).
Games that surprisingly don't: Metroid games (makes me so sad).
Actually, Metroid games almost always have disappointing final areas. The final area of a Metroid game is always a very linear, and straightforward experience (see: Tourian from Super Metroid or the Impact Crater from Metroid Prime), which is strange as this conflicts with the very nature of the rest of the game. These final areas very rarely require you to use an of your abilities either, they're the complete antithesis to what I'm pointing out in this entry.
It seems that Metroid can learn something from a 15 year old SNES game that hardly anyone has played. Or, (more likely), Metroid can learn from Zelda games...
Either way, I'd like to see more games use this kind of design in their endgame sequences.
The most recent example that I can think of is the Grandmaster Galaxy from Super Mario Galaxy 2. I could write a whole 'nother entry about the Grandmaster Galaxy. In fact, I'm going to do just that.