You know, in video games there is always some level that takes place on rails. It can be a Train Level, a Roller Coaster Level and, of course, a Mine Cart Level. But before that, let’s talk about rails. Why you ask? Because shut up and learn.
You see, a rail is a conveyance, that usually consists of steel rails installed on ties (sleepers) and ballasts on which the wheels of the trains or carts move. Sometimes there’s a third rail that provides electric power to the train.
The oldest, man-hauled railways date back to 6th century B.C, with Periander, one of the Seven Sages of Greece, credited with its invention. By the 16th century, the invention of mine carts made the transportation of minerals from mines a lot easier, but it wasn’t until the invention of the locomotive around the 18th and 19th century that the transit by rail became the best way for the transportation of people and goods, even until modern times.
However, rails are not only used by trains or mine carts. On January 20 of 1885, Mr. LaMarcus Adna Thompson obtained the patent regarding roller coasters which were made out of wood and used a specialized rail system that supported the intricate track layout with rises, loops and other tricks.
In real life, riding on the rails tends to be fun and safe. In video games however, it tends to be a different story. Below are some classic levels, and by that I mean that they are usually hard as hell. The reasons for why are the following:
In a level like this, if your cart crashes and falls, then that means you too are going to feel the force of impact or fall. Now if that wasn’t enough, this usually counts as instant death. Thankfully, there are levels in which this is not a problem.
You basically can’t do much on levels like these. Why? Well, to begin with, you are not controlling your character like you normally would. Instead, you are controlling the cart or train, a cart or train that can’t stop, go back to another point of the track, or even slow down. Not to mention that some of these levels are auto-scrolling, which means that in some cases, even if you don’t die by falling off, you’ll die as soon as the beginning of the screen reaches you. This is also known as “The Advancing Wall of Doom” (topic of another entry in the future).
For some reason, these railroads always seem unfinished and poorly designed. Many of them have big gaps in which you can easily fall off if you are not careful. Not to mention that in some locations, these rails look really dumb or imprecise to begin with. You may have to think twice before jumping.
This is something that you’ll see a lot on these levels. “The upcoming obstacle” is what I like to call the signs, posts, bridges, or basically any object that appears in your way. An object that you can easily avoid if you were walking instead of being carried by a train or cart. This is even more annoying because these objects appear very fast and will even move, so you have to calculate your own maneuver as soon as you see them.
A bunch of enemies appear from the wagons or carts in order to kill you if you don’t kill them first. These enemies will shoot you down, put obstacles in your way, or go full on kamikaze and try to crash your cart. In some platformers, these guys are actually more helpful than harmful because you can use them to reach some bonus spots.
The final, and one of the most annoying of all, is the emergency transfer. This is basically when you have to move from one wagon or cart to another in order to successfully get to your destination. Kind of like changing trains at the subway, except now you are jumping from cart to cart, riding at speeds up to 100 km/h. And just to add more salt to the wound, some of these detours only lead to traps. Luck or memorization are the only methods of survival as you jump or fail to jump from wagon to wagon.
Now you see why people hate these levels and why it’s important for me to write about it. And with that in mind, I will now break down the different types of levels on rails and rate the sub categories.
I love these kinds of levels (big trucks also count). Most of the time they are used in run and gun games, shooters and platformers where you have to focus more on the enemies that appear rather than the obstacles. These levels usually take place in the old west, because let’s be honest, trains and assaults by cowboys are like peanut butter and jelly, they just work great together. The main difference between this level and the others is that you’ll find a boss to fight here or at least at the end of the level. Train levels are used in quite a few games such as Megaman 5, Megaman X4 and Megaman X5 (Platformer/Run and Gun), Sunset Riders (Run and Gun) Final Fight (Beat’em Up), Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (Third-Person Shooter), Uncharted 2 (Action-Adventure/Platformer/Third-Person Shooter), Resident Evil 0 (Survival Horror/Third-Person Shooter), Final Fantasy 6 (RPG), TLOZ: Spirit Tracks (Action Adventure/Train Simulator) among others.
1-Constant Dependence: Low. Some games took place inside the train where you can’t fall from it. Even in games where you fight over the train, it’s hard to fall.
2-No Control: Very High. I can’t think of a game where you can control the train except for train simulators.
3-Cheap Labor: Low. There are few games where they did an unacceptable job on the rails for the train, except for maybe that Star Wars game.
4-Upcoming Obstacles: Normal. There are always bridges or signs in the way. They are a problem but they aren’t too annoying or commonly seen. Normally the level will give you a warning about their approach or at least you will see them from far away, avoiding surprises.
5-Stowaways: Very high. This is basically the main point of the levels. Outlaws leap out from the doors or windows of the wagons and start to shoot you as soon as they spot you.
6-Emergency Transfer: Normal. Jumping from one wagon to another that is separating from the rest of the train is something that you don’t see very often, but when it does happens it requires that you jump fast or you die.
Roller Coaster Levels
Probably not as common as train levels or mine cart levels, but that doesn’t mean you can’t escape from them. Usually seen on levels related to amusement parks, roller coasters offer a similar experience to that of mine carts, but with loops, spirals and even enemies to fight while you are walking over the wagons at 60 km/h. Some of the games that include this are Tiny Tunes Adventures: Trouble in Wackyland (Platformer) Donkey Kong Country 2 (Platformer), The Adventures of Batman and Robin (Action), and Hot Blooded Family (Beat’em up), among others.
1-Constant Dependence: Normal. There are levels in games where you are just moving your character to avoid certain objects, but you can’t fall or miss the roller coaster, or at the least, it’s very hard to do it.
2- No Control: High. There are just a few games where you can control them like a mine cart level. The only one that comes to mind is Tiny Tunes Adventures: Trouble in Wackyland, where you can swap the wagon upside down to avoid certain objects or enemies.
3- Cheap Labor: Normal. Thankfully not as much of a problem but you have to be prepared for anything weird.
4-Upcoming Obstacles: Normal. Such as pikes, blades or bombs.
5- Stowaways: Normal. There are always guys that will appear out of nowhere to challenge you to a fight. Be prepared to avoid being tossed out of it and get ready to commit several cases of homicide; because, let’s be honest, surviving the fall from a roller coaster is something very hard to do.
6- Emergency Transfer: Low. I can only think of a few games where you have to change your wagon.
Mine Cart Levels
Yes, we are finally here, the mine cart levels. Every retro gamer knows what I’m talking about, and each of them knows the frustration of playing these levels. These usually take place inside caverns or near them, and my god they are annoying as hell. We will see these in Pac-Man 2 the New Adventures (Point and Click Adventure), the Donkey Kong franchise (Platformer), Rocket Knight Adventures (Platformer), Tomba 2 (Platformer/Metroidvania) Spiderman/X-men (Platformer), and TLOZ: Skyward Sword (Action-Adventure). I can only think of 2 games where this is fun: Resident Evil 4 (Third-Person Shooter/Survival Horror) and Gunstar Heroes (Run and Shoot/Platformer).
1-Constant Dependence: Very High. You are going to crash or fall on these levels until you learn the whole course.
2- No Control: Low. You can control the mine cart in most of these games. In some of them you can even control the speed, but there are still no breaks and you can’t reverse.
3- Cheap Labor: Very high. There are gaps and crazy curves all over the place. You better learn where they are before it’s too late.
4-Upcoming Obstacles: High. Spikes, signs and big rocks will be in your way. You better be prepared for them.
5- Stowaways: Normal. These games usually focus on you trying to survive the whole track instead of beating the hell out of a bunch of enemies. When they do appear, it’s just to put traps in the way or just laugh at your misery.
6- Emergency Transfer: High. Here we have little control of our mine cart, a poorly designed track, obstacles all over the place, a bunch of people prepared to kill us, and we can’t just jump off the rails like normal people would think to do. We have to ride numerous mine carts all over the place that might lead us to traps if we are not careful enough. If all these reasons aren’t enough for you to hate mine carts, then honestly, I don’t know what else it would take.
And yes, we can’t forget the enemies here. Thankfully there aren’t too many varieties in this entry in comparison with the others.
Usually found in train levels, these are not only the bad guys who are out to kill you, but also those in charge of maintaining the trains. I can’t say too much about the bosses except that they are really hard to beat in most cases, because they’re armed to the teeth with bullets. Be careful if you have low health and try to take them on, because unless you know their pattern, you are probably going to die very soon. Some games with these types of bosses include: Sunset Riders (The boss would change in the Genesis to Paco Loco while the SNES has El Greco) and Star Wars: Shadows of The Empire, where you fight one of the most hardcore drones in the whole series.
I really don’t know where this idea came from, but it’s certainly used in platformers. Trains are one of the few transports that can be the level and the boss at the same time (I will talk about those soon). In most cases, the train is a robot programmed to destroy anyone who tries to interfere with their navigation. I’ve seen this in X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, Megaman 5 (where you basically fight a robot that’s a train inside a train level, so for me that counts) Megaman X4 where the train is a mini-boss, and of course, the only exception, the Ghost Train from Final Fantasy 6 that can be defeated by a Phoenix Down or just a really good suplex.
Mine carts and roller coaster levels on the other hand don’t usually have a boss at the end, but of course there are some exceptions that deserve to be named.
The Devil Dragon From “I Wanna Be the Guy”
This is one of the most trollish games in existence (and yes, this is a genre now). Basically any time it seems like something is easy or safe, it isn’t. And of course, it has a mine cart level. Let’s see how well I did.
And after that you had to face the devil dragon, who is basically the combination of the Yellow Devil from Megaman 1 and the Giant Dragon of Megaman 2. The first step in defeating this dragon is to run to your right and begin jumping on the squares. The second is dodging his fireballs. The third part is trying to avoid the big blobs that move from one part to another in the order in which they appear (The devil dragon will do this three times, each time will be different but if you die don’t worry because you’ll know how to dodge them this time). Lastly, he will chase you, and believe me, you better start running fast, because if you stop, you’ll die.
This Train Robot in Rocket Knight Adventures
This boss may seem hard when you don’t know how beat him, but the key is to be as close as possible to cause massive damage with your sword and fire blasts. I recommend spinning in order to cause some serious damage while you are invincible to their attacks. The last part is the easiest one. Get as close to the train as possible and begin attacking. By this point he is just crap on the rails.
The Joker from The Adventures of Batman and Robin
This fight takes place in an amusement park on a roller coaster, and it’s hard as it sounds. The Joker will constantly be throwing bombs at you that somehow defy physics (well, it’s the Joker after all). You can choose to either dodge or punch them so I suggest both. This stage has many signs in the loops of the track that will cause you a lot of damage and make you fall from the wagon if you don’t duck. You’re stuck until the game lets you jump into Joker’s wagon. Once there, it’s Batman Time.
And of course here’s Ellmac from La-Mulana
I’m not going to play La-Mulana. I already suffered a lot with the game, I Wanna Be the Guy! This time, I’ll let you to face the challenge. Now you tell me if you think that you’ll play that part again.
Seven Force from Gunstar Heroes
Hands down, this is by far the best fight of all mine cart related levels. Your enemy here is a former member of your team that became evil who pilots a robot with seven different forms, each of them more dangerous than the last one.
I hope that you enjoyed this entry. This is by far the largest article I’ve written on Gaming Rebellion so far. The reason for that is because this is basically an entry about three levels in one to compensate for the other months without Level Playing Fields. Now if you excuse me, I have to take a train.