No Launching Please
A Thematically Sinister Stage is when the developer inserts themed stages into their game - such as a Gusty Glade
stage or a Death Mountain
stage - wherein
the environmental hazards are quite persistent in attempting to get in on Everything Trying to Kill You
, thus becoming an intrinsic part of the challenge of clearing the stage. These hazards are fairly uniformly thematically-appropriate to the setting of the stage, whatever it may be
, because we wouldn't want something to be out of place, would we
? So long as the stage itself is also
one of the primary entities in the game trying to kill you (whether the stage is self-aware or not is irrelevant), it fits under this trope's umbrella.
General examples include most stages in Mega Man
or another Platform Game
, most fields in Zelda
games and Role-Playing Games
in general, and also in a Racing Game
where the stage can be hazardous rather than merely performance-limiting. In fact, pretty much any game where classical elements are a thing tends to also contain many variants on the Thematically Sinister Stage. Games which incorporate the Sorting Algorithm Of Threatening Geography
usually play it straight on every stage
, or most of them at least. In really extreme cases, Finagle's Law
is also applied
Although it frequently does
, this trope doesn't necessarily refer to the visual style of hazards; the Rule Of Escalating Threat
may actually be the theme of said... sinisterness
. Continue reading, this bears further explanation.
A level designer attempting
to create a Thematically Sinister Stage by varying the difficulty throughout the stage may unintentionally produce a stage in which Schizophrenic Difficulty
happens to be the theme the stage's design follows (causing players no end of frustration, and possibly inspiring them to call the resulting stage "poorly-designed"; or in the case of a last level, to call it a Disappointing Last Level
). This can
still be an example of playing the trope straight, but more frequently this would be considered an aversion, since it may cause the stage's difficulty to deviate from the expected threat level the design of the stage is otherwise patterned on. The few situations in which the trope is usually played straight because
of Schizophrenic Difficulty
all be deliberate aversions of this trope - and either way, it may
seem like the reasoning that led to the stage's design is a simple case of the design team running out of new ideas, and just deciding to throw all their ideas at you
- at the same time
. However! If this sort of design is justified by the plot, it can paradoxically
result in the design team having played the Thematically Sinister Stage straight. This tends
to be the case, especially so, when the entire game takes place in an Eldritch Location
or one in which All The Worlds Are A Stage
, and frequently is in a situation where those stages are also a Collapsing Lair
Direct aversions of this trope (partial or otherwise) may include: Environmental Anachronism Stew
, or an Unexpected Gameplay Change
in which the respective embodiment of anachronism, or the gameplay change, is represented by an out-of-place piece of scenery/obstacle from another stage with a different theme. The Marathon Level
and The Maze
are (by default) examples of playing it straight, though a certain sort of deliberate malfeasance
can break this rule.
For other editors
: Tropes or stages which are direct aversions of this trope would be useful to identify; post 'em if you've got 'em.
Example list (final will undoubtedly be huge, but try these on for size):
- A Green Hill Zone, Gusty Glade, Death Mountain, Slippy-Slidey Ice World, Lethal Lava Land, Prehistoria, or even a Single-Biome Planet, served with one or more sides of ye olde Cliff Hanger, Bottomless Pits (or comparable Lava Pit), or maybe a dash or two of Inevitable Waterfall, le Death Course, or a sprinkling of Bamboo Technology (or at least some natural form of Spikes Of Doom, such as jagged rocks, stalagmites, irrationally-inverted icicles, etc.) Can be sort of an outdoors Temple of Doom, assuming the place is actually inhabited.
- The ever-malevolent Temple of Doom, complete with Descending Ceiling, Smashing Hallway Traps of Doom and all manners of other sorts of Booby Trap and Malevolent Architecture. Remember, Lava Adds Awesome, especially when the Temple of Doom is located somewhere in or on Death Mountain!
- A Shifting Sand Land featuring Quicksand Sucks, killer tumbleweeds and heatstroke/dehydration hazards.
- The Tower or a Big Labyrinthine Building. While it's advisable to warn you about stairs, it's probably unnecessary. Also watch out for open windows and other natural death traps. For some unintelligible reason, a number of these also contain manmade obstacles that are each only recognizable as a Booby Trap; you'd think the occupants used them for a workout each morning, or something. See also: Dwarf Fortress.
- A malfunctioning-or-otherwise Advanced Ancient Acropolis or Eternal Engine, which - logically - has become a Death Course, usually including shifting air locks and one or more instances of Inconveniently Placed Conveyor Belt.
- A Sapient Ship that just doesn't like it when it has living occupants. Passengers may or may not be Thrown Out the Airlock as a convenient means of disposal, but there's always a more unpleasant way to go. After all, Space Is Cold; turning off the life support may mean you'll run out of air, but you'll freeze first, and it won't be that cool type of Harmless Freezing (unless the Sapient Ship has a conscience). If the ship doesn't have any sort of conscience (or you're trapped in a less sophisticated Womb Level of similar propensities) or it was engineered For Science!, it may prefer to see what happens if it drops you in the Acid Pool.
- A trip to The Lost Woods or Jungle Japes, specifically When Trees Attack; or such a trip that reveals the woods are actually a Garden of Evil (or at least The Hedge of Thorns, and maybe one which is also a Genius Loci or a Hungry Jungle).
- Bubbly Clouds, or when Levels Take Flight - need we say more?
- Down the Drain, Under the Sea, and Underwater Ruins are almost never not perfect examples of the Thematically Sinister Stage, particularly when the player character has Super Drowning Skills. If Water Is Air, there's usually some area where the water isn't air (it's oil, maybe, or a solution of water mixed with Deadly Gas), or an area with an undertoe or whirlpool that drags you to your doom, just to change things up. For some reason (occasionally logical), Bottomless Pits, Lava Pit, Malevolent Architecture, and the occasional entangling seaweed, poisonous coral, or narrow rugged passage can be found here, too. If technology is involved, watch out for depth charges, and make sure you keep your limbs and head inside the Shark Tunnel.
- Ghost Ship and Haunted House stages are plagued by paranormal hazards, poltergeists, and may or may not contain enemies that like to play Grand Theft Me with your character.
- Carnival Stages have hazards that only a Diabolical Mastermind would consider fun n'games. Like the good 'ol Monster Clown, the Bullet Train to Heck, and the giant-sized Mascot Mook.
- The Haunted House might play a supporting role in this situation.