Feature: Best Underwater Levels On Nintendo Switch

Best Underwater Levels On Nintendo Switch 1
Image: Nintendo Life

We’re fast approaching summer, and there’s no better time of year to go for a dip in the ocean.

Of course, if you’re reading this on 2nd May 2024, then you probably know that Nintendo is offering its own virtual “dip” in the ocean in Endless Ocean: Luminous, the surprise new game in the Endless Ocean series. And while we might not have loved the game, it did make us appreciate vthe underwater levels and sections of video games.

An underwater level might strike fear into a person’s heart, but there are plenty of excellent examples out there. We’re not talking about terrifying drowning noises in Sonic games, or the electric seaweed from the Dam Level in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — we’re talking about the serene, the beautiful, the sometimes scary, but the almost always excellent.

Below, the Nintendo Life staff have picked their favourite water levels that you can dive into on Switch. We may have taken a few liberties here and there, but water is always involved. Put your diving suit on and get ready to take a dip, then tell us your favourite water levels in the comments below!

NL staff key: Alana Hagues (AH), Gavin Lane (GL), Jim Norman (JN), Ollie Reynolds (OR)

Coral Capers – Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country Coral Capers
Image: Nintendo Life

In my eyes, Donkey Kong might just be the standard for good water levels Acting as your introduction to the Kongo Jungle, Coral Capers is a little bit eerie, with piranha-like fish swimming towards you and croctopus’ blocking your path. DK and Diddy control beautifully, and life is made even easier with the introduction of Enguarde, your friendly swordfish.

Traipsing through the jungles of DKC, Coral Capers is a breath of fresh air early on and a good tease of the excellence to expect for the rest of the game. In fact, the whole series has a pretty good track record with water levels, from Donkey Kong Country 3‘s Floodlit Fish to Tropical Freeze‘s Irate Eight. Oh, and you know it’d be criminal to not mention Aquatic Ambience, right? AH

Hydrocity Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Hydrocity Zone Sonic 3
Image: Nintendo Life

Sonic has had its fair share of pretty terrible water levels, but Hydrocity Zone totally bucks the trend. In Hydrocity Zone, you enter with a splash, being plunged underwater from the heights of Angel Island. While walking to the right slowly through the water, hitting a switch sucks you down a water tunnel where you grab onto poles and avoid spikes. Then you are thrown into yet another watery area, where springs and treasures await.

This is just the opening few seconds of the stage, but Hydrocity Zone is fast. It doesn’t use the water as a way to slow Sonic down — it lets him run wild whenever you want. Huge water slides that you spin down like a helter-skelter? Check. The ability to run on water? Check. Absolutely amazing music? Check — for both zones. The Sonic Mania version is pretty good too. Hydrocity Zone should be regarded as the template for water levels — it’s that good. AH

Clanker’s Cavern – Banjo-Kazooie

Banjo-Kazooie Clanker's Cavern
Image: via Nintendo / Rare

Let’s put aside the fact that in real life these waters would be fetid and murky and awful. And let’s ignore the questions raised by a giant metal fish chained in a dingy cavern where, presumably, he was constructed and, presumably, he will one day perish, dissolving into the drink as iron oxide eats him away over a thousand years.

Let’s, instead, focus on how wonderful this level is. Helping out poor Clanker is a genuine treat (after you get over the shock of his toothy entrance), and while swimming through a dark and cavernous… cavern is a recipe for navigation and camera headaches in many a 3D platformer, Rare gives you enough room to experiment and get used to the controls in the tank around Clanker before testing you in more compact spaces. GL

Water Temple – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Ocarina of Time Water Temple
Image: Nintendo Life

I have written previously about how this one isn’t all that bad, actually it’s really rather good. And if we’re talking about the best underwater offerings on Switch then I’d be a fool not to bring it up again. Yes, the Iron Boots are a pain, but once you get past that minor inconvenience and your menu navigation muscle memory kicks in, what you’re left with is very well-designed dungeon with a dynamite mini-boss and super smart central gimmick.

The backtracking ain’t going to be for everyone, I get that, but the main level-switching puzzle is a beauty and one that I honestly believe was better on the N64 original before those neon strips were added for the 3DS remake. Give me a temple with one clever mechanic over an ‘activate the four doo-dahs and you’re done’ every day of the week. JN

Bubble Man – Mega Man 2

Mega Man 2 Bubble Man
Image: Capcom

For the uninitiated, Bubble Man’s stage might seem kind of hellish. After all, although Mega Man moves in the same way as when he’s on land, the gravity while you’re underwater is completely out of whack. This means that general movement is slower than usual, and jumps can send you skyrocketing into the air; a fact greatly exacerbated by the spikes lining the ceiling.

When you’re clued up on the general layout of the stage, however, it can be an absolute blast. What helps greatly (and increases the potential enjoyment even more) is if you beat Metal Man’s stage first and use its weapon, the Metal Blade, during Bubble Man’s stage. Those darn frogs, jellyfish, and shrimp become nothing more than mere annoyances when you’re chucking circular saws in every direction. OR

The Crater Edge – Subnautica

Subnautica Crater Edge
Image: Unknown Worlds

Diving into the waters of Planet 4546B means you have to be pretty brave, particularly as you explore The Crater Edge, which is part of a huge aquatic volcano. Sitting at the edge of the map, The Crater Edge is full of some of the scariest and most dangerous “fish” you can find. But exploring this dark dank ocean can be utterly thrilling — if you know what you’re doing.

Subnautica can be relaxing if you want it to be, but the dark depths that await will still test your nerves. Don’t mess with those Ghost Leviathan — if you see something glowing, stay away from it. AH

Lake Kingdom – Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey Lake Kingdom
Image: Nintendo Life

Mario is another franchise that seems to know how to make a good water level. Yes, Dire, Dire Rocks is iconic, and Super Mario Galaxy has some excellent water-based levels, but the serene, pastel Lake Kingdom has to be my favourite.

Lake Lamode is home to some of the best fashion designers in the world. The dresses are beautiful, the underwater flora is floaty, and the inhabitants are quirky. It’s probably one of the most relaxing levels in Super Mario Odyssey — and I can’t say that for many water levels. The underwater buildings, plaza, and even the stores are all submerged in pristine white-marbled buildings. Put simply, Lake Kingdom is a joy. AH

Tower of Antsudlo – Sea of Stars

Sea of Stars Antsudlo
Image: Nintendo Life

Despite pulling together these beauties for this list, we are well aware that a lot of water levels can be a bit of a nightmare full of tricky mechanics and tedious design. But this couldn’t be further from Sea of Stars’ Tower of Antsudlo, a dungeon so chilled that I almost forgot the dreaded underwater theming while playing.

The beauty of this one for me is in its simplicity. Tower of Antsudlo looks intimidating on the surface (or ‘under the surface,’ if we’re being picky) with a multitude of branching paths and moving water pipes, but it’s actually pleasingly linear. You learn the mechanic, you put it into practice, you repeat. Simple. There are no nasty camera controls or movement migraines to navigate, instead you have a pleasing central puzzle which is kindly there to hold your hand throughout.

Oh, also — shock! horror! — the music slaps. JN

Rapture – Bioshock

Bioshock Rapture
Image: SK Games

Yes mate, it counts. From the moment you scramble up to the lighthouse and step into the bathysphere until (spoilers) the end, you’re underwater! Bloody city’s totally submerged, innit, and it’s got levels. It’s in.

The best thing I can say about Rapture is that despite it being a dirty, leaking hellscape filled with ghoulish denizens turned insane through gene-splicing, some sleek Art Deco styling and a winsome ’40s playlist can really work wonders. Add in dramatic uplighting and vintage amusement arcade trappings and it’s a wonder Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen didn’t co-opt this style for every room he ever changed. You know, rather than painting everything purple when the owner’s solitary stipulation was ‘no purple.’

Yes, Rapture is a horrible, horrible place, but it’s also one of gaming’s most immersive locales. Or should that be subversive?… Oh, stop picking holes and scroll down to the next entry. GL

20,000 Lums Under the Sea – Rayman Legends

Rayman Legends 20,000 Lums
Image: Nintendo Life

20,000 Lums Under the Sea is one of the more unique entries on this list. If you’re wondering what you get if you cross underwater exploration with a spy novel, well, here it is.

Inspired by Mission: Impossible, James Bond, and Splinter Cell (via Polygon), 20,000 Lums is a foreboding world that follows an entire spy mission. Some levels are above-ground, some involve you swimming and infiltrating a base, and others have you sneaking through corridors and solving puzzles. It’s a fantastic twist on the traditional water level, and changes things up just enough so you’re not driving yourself mad swimming around as Rayman. AH

Aquas – Star Fox 64

Star Fox 64 Aquas
Image: via Arwingpedia / Nintendo

As one of two oceanic planets in the Lylat System, Aquas is a pretty unique and memorable world in Star Fox. You’ll visit Aquas during the “hard” route and lets you pilot the Blue Marine. If you like power kicks, then you’ll love this submarine with its unlimited homing torpedoes.

You’ll need to use those torpedoes to make your way through what can be a pretty difficult level. there are ruins to destroy to open up paths and plenty of strange creatures to avoid. And to top it all off, a giant mutant clam lies in wait at the end. Going by this list, space and water makes for some pretty scary locales. AH

Aquarium Park – Sonic Colors Ultimate

Sonic Colours Ultimate Aquarium Park
Image: Nintendo Life

Take everything that makes Hydrocity Zone fun and put it into an underwater park. That’s oversimplifying things a little, but Aquarium Park is all about beautiful scenery and fast-paced water platforming.

Adorned with East Asian-inspired buildings and covered with a dome, Aquarium Park weaves paths above and below water, leading Sonic down a Dragon Road-style runway. It teaches you new ways to use the Drill Wisp, giving you even more speed and flexibility under the water. It’s that mix of the artificial park and the beautiful, serene underwater areas that leave a lasting impression, and it’s easily one of the best water levels in a 3D Sonic game. AH

Blue Hole – Dave The Diver

Dave the Diver
Image: Nintendo Life

Dave loves nothing more than spending time in the Blue Hole, and I can’t blame him. Upon the first dive, I was enraptured with the beautiful, peaceful nature of the ocean. Even with dangers lurking in the depths of the sea, I was happy to swim around and take my time gathering fish.

You see, the Blue Hole is more than just an ocean. It’s home to the Sea People, and houses many ancient ruins from a long-gone time. An entire glacial region is hidden deep, deep beyond the normal depth levels. The sea creatures get scarier — but you also get more powerful. Even with the threat of danger, there’s nothing more exciting than jumping into the ocean and gathering fish. Fighting sharks is less stressful than the sushi business, okay? AH

Ocean – Abzû

Image: 505 Games

Abzû is probably the most beautiful game on this list. It’s also the most chill. If you don’t want to swim away from sharks or fish, then Abzu is absolutely the game for you — particularly if you enjoy discovering things. Even though it’s inspired by the cosmic ocean and Sumerian myth, Abzu’s ethereal world is more welcoming than some of these other mythical, magical oceans.

Just like Journey — which many of the developers at Giant Squid worked on before — Abzu is thoughtful, simple, and methodical. It’s all about taking things at your own pace. Plus, who wouldn’t with these sea-green waters, blossoming pink seaweed, and an array of gorgeous, colourful fish? Is this cheating? Maybe. But Abzû’s underwater wonder is a sight to behold. AH

Labyrinth Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog Labyrinth Zone
Image: SEGA

This makes my personal picks because, even with its many spikes, badniks, spiked badniks, and the existential dread that comes from that five-beat countdown to death by drowning, it’s just so pleasant to look at.

The warm stone blocks, hanging vines, crystalline growths, and clear green waters of this zone make for a refreshing combo after Spring Yard. Throw in some cascading falls, a few ancient mechanisms, and a beautifully bouncy loop from Masato Nakamura, and this is a lovely place to get lost. If you’re going to die frantically moving left and right trying to summon a bubble from a tiny crack, it may as well be somewhere pretty. GL

Do you have a favourite underwater level? Are you itching to dive into Endless Ocean Luminous? Let us know in the comments.

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