Top ten nostalgic theme park levels in games


When I’m not writing for Pixelitis, I intern for a historic theme park on Coney Island. Being in the amusement park industry as well as being a gamer, it’s always fun when the two worlds intersect.

Amusement parks in gaming are usually some of the most fun (and difficult) levels around. Incorporating rides into your game design allows you to provide new, level-specific challenges unique to particular portions of the game. And you just can’t beat that fun and eccentric atmosphere!

The following is a Top 10 list of gaming’s best amusement park levels  ranked by creativity, ride-incorporation and of course: pure nostalgic fun.


10. Joilant – Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil

JoilantThis whole country is an amusement park! The sprawling Kingdom of Joy makes clever use of its platforming challenges. Rides prove to be more obstacle than entertainment; the Jungle Slider, a level in which you surf down a log flume, is probably the highlight of this world.

The end boss—a flower-covered clown…thing is just as candy-colored as the rest of the setting.


9. Clown Man and Magic Man’s Stages – Mega Man 8 / Mega Man and Bass

Magic ManSince Mega Man and Bass is often considered an “expansion” of Mega Man 8, I’ve included both games for this entry.

Perhaps a shout-out to one of the original Luna Parks, Clown Man’s stage is set in a toyland in New South Wales, Australia. Magic Man’s level is basically the same location, only set against a night-time backdrop. Both worlds feature infuriating trains dangling over precipices of doom and plenty of maniacal toy-soldiers dropping death from the sky.

These stages’ trickiest trap is a tic-tac-toe belltower where Mega Man has to scale the side of a castle tiled with Xs, Os and Skulls. In the background, a clockwork soldier will pop out every few seconds to ring a bell, which in turn highlights either the Xs or Os,  which potentially drop Mega Man to the lower floors.

You obviously don’t want to get caught standing on the skull tile when that bell rings.


8. Lakeside Amusement Park – Silent Hill 3

CarouselThis is one theme park you probably wouldn’t want to go to.

It’s one of the first locations you visit in the game, as well as one of the last. This decrepit, run-down theme park has not escaped the dark influence of Silent Hill’s Otherworld. Creepy and bloody rabbit mascot figures litter the park.

One major boss battle takes place on a carousel occupied by demonic horses. And then there’s that infamous haunted house maze that will not only test your nerves, but your running speed.


7. Pinna Park – Super Mario Sunshine

pinna2Super Mario Sunshine is full of tropical locales that just make you want to go on vacation. Pinna Park mixes its tropical island setting with an assortment of nautically themed rides, all which must be utilized in order to complete puzzles.

The best part of this level is the epic boss battle when Mario straps himself into a roller coaster to take down a giant mechanical Bowser.


6. The Cartoon Wasteland – Epic Mickey / Epic Mickey: The Power of Two

WastelandNotable in that the whole game seems to take place within the confines of a theme-park, The Wasteland is a warped conglomerate of several Disney World locales. This fever-dream of Disneyland and Disney World memorabilia is populated by evil, broken-down, mechanical chimeras made up of Disney villains and heroes.

The locations within The Wasteland take inspiration from the real parks found in Disneylands all over the world. There is something darkly refreshing about seeing such a gritty take on what is ostensibly a children’s theme park.


5. Twinkle Park – Sonic Adventure

Twinkle ParkThe Sonic the Hedgehog series has seen some gloriously executed casino levels, and I neglect their inclusion purely on technicality. Twinkle Park is a starry adventure land visited by several characters throughout the game.

What’s cool about Sonic Adventure’s individual character storylines is that you get to experience a new aspect of Twinkle Park each time you play. As Sonic you get to pilot a hover car down a cybernetic racetrack. Amy’s chapter finds herself trying to escape from a crazed robot in a spooky funhouse.

And then there’s Big the Cat who gets to…well…fish in the little pond outside the play castle.


4. Witchyworld – Banjo-Tooie

Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie has always been full of off-beat humor, and this level fits right into the quirky world of Banjo-Tooie.

WitchyworldOriginally designed for the first game in the series, Witchyworld is cantankerous adversary Gruntilda’s idea of a crooked theme park. Closed due to a hilariously morbid rate of ride deaths, Witchyworld features several different areas: a Western theme park, a space world, and…a Hell land.

Not only are the rides extra deadly but the concession stands are just as gross.


3. Krazy Kremland – Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

KrazyKremlandPart2Krazy Kremland from the fantastic Donkey Kong Country 2 was probably one of the first theme park levels I’ve played, and only after taking a million years of plodding through the volcano world (I was six years old at the time.)

Not only does the world include some extremely diverse level themes, like bee-hives dripping with gooey honey, roller-coaster tracks illuminated by fireworks and a twisted road of thorny vines in the sky, but it’s also home to some of the best level BGMs in gaming. Stickerbrush Symphony anybody?


2. Carnival Night – Sonic the Hedgehog 3 / Sonic 3 and Knuckles

CarnivalnightSonic the Hedgehog gets double the love on the list, but it’s absolutely warranted.

When one thinks of balloon-filled, corkscrew-laden Carnival Night what are they more likely to think about: the Michael Jackson-composed BGM or the barrel? Answer: that damn barrel.

One particularly confusing drum platform towards the end of the Second Act has stumped many a young Genesis gamer back in the day. The fault partially lies with Sega for not explaining the mechanics of it in the manual: players need to alternate pressing up and down on the barrel/drum/cylinder in order to get enough leverage to pass it.

Seeking out gaming tips on the internet was still largely impossible in the mid-90s, so figuring out strategies for the barrel proved much more difficult. For those who did get past the drum, I’m sure your memories of Carnival Night inspire more fondness than frustration.

A little fun fact: PC players were treated to a different, non-Michael Jackson-y version of the BGM.


1. The Gold SaucerFinal Fantasy VII

GS2One of the most inventive theme park settings in gaming lore, Final Fantasy VII’s Gold Saucer is a fun diversion from saving the world.

The Gold Saucer is actually massive tower in the middle of the desert sprouting several plateaus, each sporting a distinct amusement park.

The Gold Saucer hosts several mini-games within the walls of its neon arcade, including a battle arena, haunted hotel, a romantic gondola tour, a Chocobo racetrack, and a roller-coaster ride that functions as a rail shooter.

Though several important plot points take place at the GS, its main function is to allow players to let some steam off by partaking in its diversions. Even so, it functions as one big sidequest as well: the points you earn from its mini-games can go towards acquiring some powerful weaponry and accessories.

The Gold Saucer has been such a popular series location that it’s rumored to make a re-appearance in some form in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.


Honorable Mentions:

  • Ishizaka Land – Killer 7
  • Millennial Fair – Chrono Trigger
  • Nintendo World – Nintendo World
  • Editor’s Note: Amusement Park – Legend of the Mystical Ninja


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Author: Maxwell Coviello View all posts by
Maxwell Coviello is a graduate of Hampshire College with a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Media Communications. A gamer from a young age, his interests are in RPGs both obscure and weird, adventures, and survival horror games. He has previously written for NEXT Magazine and OUTinCHI and has a background in LGBT and social justice issues. You can usually find him hunting the wild Cactuar of Coney Island, raiding the Froyo Dungeons of Queens, or serving as sentry for a certain toy store in Midtown Manhattan.

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