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Gimmick Level
Gimmick Levels are parts of a videogame where some aspect of the game, such as the visuals or the layout, is radically changed, but the general gameplay remains the same. (If the gameplay does change, then it's a Mini-Game or an Unexpected Gameplay Change.) These sorts of levels can exist in any game, but they are far more likely in action-oriented games, where they serve to break up the normal gameplay and keep it from getting stale.

Though there are innumerable ways that a level can be called a "gimmick", they generally fall into two categories:
  1. The "Technique level". This forces you to master a little-used or barely challenged ability to get through the stage. Some examples would be utilizing Wall Jumps to scale a tall cliff, or using a sonar sensor to find your way through a pitch-black maze. This is different (at least, it should be in most cases) from a Cardboard Obstacle, as you actually have to be good at said ability, not just able to use it. This form of Gimmick Level doesn't require a change in coding or visuals, just a change in the layout and placement of objects.
  2. Some aspect of normal gameplay is twisted or altered, such as super-bouncy platforms, reverse-gravity levels (in games where this would be more complex than just turning the screen upside down), or your weapon being replaced with a whip. If taken too far, the Gimmick Level may end up being an Unexpected Gameplay Change.

Subtropes:

Stage-long Interface Screws and Stock Videogame Puzzles could also be considered Gimmick Levels.

Examples:

  • Earthworm Jim loved these sorts of stages.
    • The first game, along with several genre changes, featured levels where you lost your power suit and had to crawl around as an earthworm, a level where you were in pitch blackness, and could only see the eyes of the hero and his enemies, and the first part of the final stage had you slow-fall (by using your head as a helicopter) down a long, narrow spiked chasm. The Bungee-Jumping level, and the Bathysphere portion of the Water Level border more on You-know-what.
    • Earthworm Jim 2 had many other variations, such as a level where you play a blind cave salamander swimming through an intestinal tract (and briefly answering nonsensical questions in a mock quiz-show at one point), a level where you have to burrow underground with your modified gun, an isometric shooter level where you push a crate of dynamite tied to a balloon so you can use it on the level's boss and one where you inflate your head to float upwards through the level. The Earthworm Jim series is known for its surreal craziness.
  • The Donkey Kong Country series had more and more of these as it went on. The first one had some gimmick levels, but they were mostly in the minority. The second was roughly half-and-half (half gimmick levels, half non-gimmick levels), and by the time the third came out, the non-gimmick levels were in the minority. Some of the more memorable examples are: A mostly swimming level where your left/right controls are reversed while in the water, a level with significantly decreased gravity, a level where through the entire thing an offscreen enemy is shooting at you, a Scrappy Level where lightning is constantly trying to strike you, and a level where a hungry fish is constantly following you and have to feed normal fish enemies to him to keep him from attacking.
  • Every Metroid Prime game so far has had at least one "Freaking Huge Spiderball Maze" that the player must navigate.
  • Gauntlet II sometimes had stages where the walls were invisible.
    • The original had a whole world of invisible-wall stages, though only a small chunk of said stages actually had invisible walls.
  • Any Sonic the Hedgehog level with bumpers and plungers (e.g. Casino Night Zone). Sonic Spinball excepted, of course: it featured pinball stages as its whole schtick.
    • Possibly the most extreme version of this is Wacky Workbench from Sonic CD. You'll probably spend less than half the level on solid ground.
    • The last level of Sonic & Knuckles (when playing as Sonic) breaks from the standard platforming of the previous levels by having Sonic start off as the invincible Super/Hyper Sonic. This is necessary, as the whole level is spent in outer space; if Sonic doesn't keep collecting rings in order to stay invincible, he'll become regular Sonic again and immediately fall to his death.
    • All of the Sonic Unleashed stages in the 360 and PS3 version that comes directly after a main daytime stage requires heavy use of one of Sonic's skills. For instance, Windmill Isle's stage tested the player's ability to use rails, Savannah Citadel's tested the Sonic Drift, Rooftop Run's tested the Homing Attack, and so forth. These were always Nintendo Hard. This would return, toned down in difficulty, in Sonic Generations, and uses stage gimmicks rather than abilities.
  • Super Mario Bros. examples:
    • World 6-2 of Super Mario Bros. 2 is based on a bird-mounting ride, rather than the usual platforming.
    • World 5-3 of Super Mario Bros. 3, also known as "The One With The Shoe". (There are a few more levels with the shoe that didn't make it into the final game, but can be accessed through hacking.)
    • Super Mario World has the special level Tubular, where Mario needs to be in balloon form through the whole level or die very, very quickly. Almost all the special levels, for that matter, were this to one degree or another. Another one, say, had a water level that constantly rose and fell.
    • Super Mario Sunshine had many levels in which Mario was left without the F.L.U.D.D. to navigate through them. Although if you beat them you could come back with F.L.U.D.D. for a new challenge.
    • Super Mario Galaxy has several Gimmick Levels, the most recognizable ones being those involving the Wiimote's motion-sensing abilities to control different actions, like balancing Mario on top of a rolling ball, riding a manta ray around a course, or using a fan to blow a bubble around an electrified maze of doom. This makes the game better because you hardly ever do the same thing twice (though those types of levels do appear at least twice each: One where you can practice with them, and then the harder variations that appear later).
    • Similarly, New Super Mario Bros. Wii has levels where the Wiimote operates something the characters ride in, like a movable platform.
    • The sequel, Super Mario Galaxy 2, adds flying on a bird.
  • Metro 2033 has the "Child" level, where a kid is riding on your back, making your look controls drift strongly. By the way, there are still plenty of mutants around, and they still want to eat you.
  • The Battletoads series was largely built around rapid-fire Gimmick Levels, where the titular amphibians do anything from rappel down pits, to climb giant snakes, to ride wall-clinging unicycles while being hotly pursued by a Negative Space Wedgie. And there there's the speeder bikes. The damn speeder bikes...
  • Commander Keen part four has an underwater level, where you must swim rather than jump.
  • Streets of Rage 3 had plans for a a level where the cast rode on motorcycles; this was scrapped during development, but through cheat codes the level can still be partially accessed.
  • Future Wars, an adventure game, ends with two lengthy arcade sequences instead of further puzzles.
  • The middle section of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Licensed Game is a series of boxing matches. However, these can be bypassed in a few ways, one of which was the source of the "I'm selling fine leather jackets." line used in many later Lucas Arts games.
  • Rayman
    • A level with a first half where you can't stop running and its second half where the controls are reversed.
    • There is, in addition, the level with the clearly evil clone that followed your every move several seconds behind.
  • Quite a few examples across the Final Fantasy series:
    • There were a couple of "miniature dungeons" in Final Fantasy III which the characters could only enter with the "mini" status effect, which aside from making them small reduced their attack and defense stats to 1. Thus, it became a lot more beneficial to make everybody a mage.
    • Final Fantasy VI had a'plenty:
      • Multi-party battles. Different mechanics for them. In the first half of the game, if you die, you return to the beginning with one hit point for everyone, and the real goal is to keep the enemies from reaching Terra or Banon. In the second half, one party has to hit switches for the other party(s).
      • Fanatic's tower, where you can only use magic. Did we mention many enemies have auto-reflect? Demonic Spiders ahoy!
      • The Zone Eater, a Womb Level complete with a rising and falling ceiling with holes in it. If you get crushed, it's a Non-Standard Game Over. Lots of those in Final Fantasy VI. Another obstacle is a series of bridges with guards that knock you off if you touch them. Naturally, you don't take damage, and there are actually good items down there.
    • Final Fantasy V had an underwater level. You had 20 minutes to finish it.
    • Final Fantasy VIII had a few multi-party levels, including The Very Definitely Final Dungeon.
    • The inverted floating castle in Final Fantasy IX, where the only weapons that do any real damage are the ones each character starts out with.
    • Final Fantasy XII had the evil, evil Demon Wall battle. Not often do you get to run away from a boss. And unless you're power-leveled, it's the only way to win. Also, any optional Esper.
  • War Craft III: The Frozen Throne has a bonus level inspired by the custom-made "Tower Defense" maps. Instead of building a base as normal, you had to line up special towers only available in that mission along a maze to shoot down attackers. 2 regular levels also took inspiration from custom maps to mix things up. And then there was the Orc campaign, which was an RPG. A rather simple one since it still used the same interface, but still pretty good.
    • And that is just the (official) tip of the iceberg of uses of the game's engine and powerful editor, which people have used to create all sorts of games. One of them, Defense of the Ancients, has become a game of its own.
  • While most World of Warcraft bosses have somewhat unique combination of abilities very few manage to get to the level of "gimmicky". The list for Wrath of The Lich King:
    • Heigan the Unclean - "Heigan's dance" - you have to move around the room in the fixed pattern to avoid getting one-shotted by flames.
    • Malygos - at the end of encounter all the raid gets on red dragons and you have to use dragons' skills to finish him off. For some reasonnote  a lot of people suck at that and the fight ends up as a Scrappy Level.
    • Flame Leviathan - get on various tanks and battle a really huge tank.
    • Yogg-Saron - steadily decreasing sanity level and the need to refresh it or kill him before it runs out.
    • Twin Valkyr - switching between light and dark attributes to counter their attacks and deal more damage to them.
    • Profssor Putricide - one of you has to turn into a monster and eat up the poisonous goo he splatters around.
    • Valithria Dreamwalker - you have to deal with numerous mooks while healing her (with massive buffs for your healers).
    • There are a few from other expansions.
      • To defeat Lord Rhyolith in the Firelands, you must attack his feet to make him turn so that he goes over the volcanoes (which results in him getting a Damage-Increasing Debuff), and he does not reach the lava at the edge (which results in him spewing magma and wiping the raid). Do that for long enough, and you get a standard burn phase, though.
      • To win in the Spine of Deathwing encounter, you must force the Hideous Amalgamations to eat up the residues left by Corrupted Bloods, and after they absorb enough blood, kill them near the plates to expose the Burning Tendons, which you must then destroy.
      • Garalon from Heart of Fear has a completely different approach to tanking. He will follow a person with pheromones (who must pass it to someone else every so often to minimize raid damage), and both tanks must stand in the frontal cone attack he does to prevent him from getting a damage increasing buff. Everyone else must destroy the boss's legs and stay out of the purple circle underneath the boss, to avoid him using Crush on everyone.
      • Dark Animus from Throne of Thunder is quite complex. At the start of the fight, the small golems fill with Anima, and every time you kill one, its anima transfers to a nearby golem. Your goal is to consolidate the anima into one or two of the Massive Anima Golems before activating the Dark Animus, then destroy the Dark Animus before it absorbs all the Anima and uses a raid-wiping ability.
  • Tron 2.0 had lightcycle races in a few parts of the game. Then again, they were in the movie.
  • Crash Bandicoot (and too many 3d platformers to name) have levels where the player has to run away from a rolling object of death and towards the camera. Worst. Idea. Ever. The series also had the character riding atop ever-running animals, and vehicle levels. Incidentally, many people consider that when the games moved to Playstation 2 and the amount of Gimmick Levels overrode that of normal levels, the series Jumped the Shark.
  • Every single level in Braid.
  • The level "We Don't Go To Ravenholm..." from Half-Life 2. Designed primarily to show off your shiny new Gravity Gun (though it's also a pretty good Survival Horror-style level). There's even an achievement for beating it using nothing but the Gravity Gun.
  • Diablo II had the Secret Cow Level. It's a secret level, full of cows. They are armed with halberds, walk on two legs and there are lots of them. In the original Diablo, there were rumours of a secret cow level that did not actually exist. So they made one for Diablo 2 to shut the fans up.note 
    • Diablo III has Whimsyshire, an extension of a previous Take That to complaints that the more colorful visuals in III would "ruin the atmosphere" of the game and series.
  • Wario Land has quite a few of these in the series, with most of the levels in general introducing a new gimmick needed to proceed. Such as the board game and casino levels in Wario Land 4 and Shake Dimension, and also Launchpad Labyrinth in said Shake Dimension game.
  • Supported with some justification in Total Overdose's technique sidequests. Many of them underscore a technique that's available through the entire game but not necessarily obvious to the player, and by training it through the challenge, the player can incorporate it into story stage environments for more effective combat and better score. Example: Fly on the Wall Challenge requires the player to get X number of headshots while flipping sideways upside down through the air within Y number of minutes, while crowds of thugs storm from either direction of a narrow courtyard. The only way to achieve gold standard on this is to become proficient at sideways walking up a wall, leaping off of it and aiming. This is an enormously powerful offensive and defensive maneuver best learned before the heat of later missions is turned up (plus it's style amplified.)
  • Every level beyond the first in Illbleed plays with the game in some way:
    • In "Revenge of Queen Worm", you don't use the horror monitor, and you have to avoid the worms.
    • In "Woodpuppets", you spend about half your time in the stage turned into one of the titular monsters.
    • In "Killer Department Store", you get your prize money at the beginning, but can lose it to some of the traps in the level.
    • "Killerman" is a pseudo-whodunnit that takes place behind the scenes of the park.
    • "Toy Hunter" has you turn into Cork, the main character of the (fictional) Toy Hunter franchise, and follow his latest adventure by uncovering "story elements" dotted throughout the stage.
  • Hotel Mario had these in every hotel, with Mario and Luigi having to point them out in each of the introduction scenes for the hotels. Of course, the elevators have a habit of switching directions on you in later levels.
  • In the first Marathon game, there was one vacuum level. You had an oxygen meter that constantly drained and you couldn't use your assault rifle, but everything else was the same. After it, everything went back to normal for the rest of the game.
  • Doom 2 had a level that punished you if you stuck around to fight the demons. Moments after the level started, there began a chain reaction of explosive barrels which would kill you if you didn't run straight for the exit.
  • The Immortal had a level with flame jets emerging from the floor and fireballs shooting from the walls - all relatively easy to avoid on foot - but you couldn't traverse the level on foot. The floor was infested with giant sandworms, so you had to fly on an insanely difficult to control Flying Carpet.
  • Pretty much the point of Jumpman and Jumpman Junior - every single level would have a unique gimmick for you to deal with, from floating platforms to invisible floors to moving bombs to an alien invasion.
  • Every single level of Psychonauts. And except for That One Level, it's awesome.
  • In The Hunt has the Channel stage, a river running through a city overrun with death machines. Trouble is, your character is a submarine limited to the water, and unlike all the other stages, the water in the channel is very shallow. You will have to utilize your Superior Firepower Surface To Air Missiles to the max here as almost all the enemies, including the boss, will appear above the water.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures on the SNES was mainly regular platform levels of one sort of another, but halfway through the game it had an American-style football stage where you had to run, jump and tackle your way with the ball to the goal line within the time limit.
    • There was also a Tiny Toons sports game on Genesis where each level had a different gimmick. Besides a basic gym, there was a field with spots where the characters could trip, Monty's house would have vehicles hit you, etc.
  • Apogee's Monster Bash has the second-last level of Part 3. You can fly on a broom and shoot lightning bolts in that level, in addition to the normal gameplay mechanics.
  • Dragon Age: Origins has the Fade sequence, which drops the player into Dream Land. Much hated by many players for being very difficult if you ignore the gimmick, the trick is that the player is granted special shapeshifting powers needed for both solving puzzles and surviving the battles. Each form has its strengths and weaknesses, and players must learn which form and powers are appropriate for each situation.
  • Jett Rocket has the Jett Ride level, which takes place on a wave racer course filled with mines. It's also the only non-glitch place in the game you can get the "Speed Run" award, with a little trickery.
  • Spyro the Dragon features this in the form of "Speedway" levels.
  • In Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded, every pre-boss level plays as a different video game genre. For instance, in Olympus Coliseum, fights are turn-based RPG-style.
  • This turns up fairly frequently in the main Mega Man series.
    • In Mega Man 1, Guts Man's level is almost entirely moving platforms that will drop you off at certain points.
    • In Mega Man 5, Gravity Man's stage has constantly switching Gravity, and Wave Man has a waterski shooter level.
  • A lot of Rockman 4 Minus Infinity is made up of these kind of levels.
    • Skull Man's stage is mostly bottomless pits and the only way across them is to use the various gimmick platforms to cross them.
    • Pharaoh Man's stage had the pyramid's curse.
    • Bright Man's stage. The first half is a Blackout Basement and the second half has the Semi-Yoku Blocks.
    • Toad Man's stage has only frog or toad-based enemies.
    • Cossack Castle Stage 1's second half is a SHUMP stage with the Balloon Adapter.
    • Cossack Castle Stage 2 had Mega Man use the Wire Adapter for its second half.
    • Cossack Castle Stage 3 took place in a sewer with various gimmick-based liquids.
    • In Wily Castle Stage 1, Sniper Joe-themed enemies are the only enemies found there.
  • The final case of the first Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game is a bonus stage of sorts; it wasn't included in the original Game Boy Advance version. When Ace Attorney was planned to be re-released for the Nintendo DS, the fifth case was added which allowed players to dust for prints and closely examine evidence.
  • Conkers Bad Fur Day has several parts with their own unique gameplay, including riding a pitchfork, driving a hover bike in a race, riding a dinosaur in a boss battle, fighting a Dracula-inspired boss while turned into a bat, etc.
  • Puggsy which is usually a puzzle/item based platformer, had a level where you are in a tiny spaceship and have to avoid all of the walls to get through.
  • A common feature in early Super Nintendo Entertainment System titles was a level to show off the fact that the system's hardware handled rotating backgrounds. Such levels included:
  • In every Halo incarnation, there was a "warthog level". Not necessarily needing to actually have a warthog, some missions (such as the trendsetting last mission in Halo: Combat Evolved) have long driving sequences where the main obstacles are the terrain, not the enemy.
    • Starting with Halo 2, there was at least one major flying sequence, too. By Halo: Reach, some of those flying sequences were in space.
  • Thwaite has a few levels with unusually fast missiles to test reaction time and a few levels with all splitty things.
  • Albion can be described as a typical early 1990s JRPG made in Germany. Only the visuals keep switching between usual 3rd person sprite JRPG and 1st person pseudo-3D la Wolfenstein 3D or The Elder Scrolls: Arena. Oh, and there are several sets of sprites for different areas. It's as if several unrelated games were being written in parallel and then were stitched together with a surprisingly strong plot. At least the game mechanics stay consistent through the game.
  • Many Super Mario World ROM hacks. A short list includes:
    • The entirety of Brutal Mario, which is literally nothing but Gimmick Levels.
    • The entirety of Super Mario LD, which (until the author vanished off the internet) was basically a long string of gimmick levels and bosses, including the somewhat infamous Gradius inspired stage shown here.
    • The VIP series. All five (six?) of them.
    • The Kouhai series (three Platform Hell gimmick hacks played by raocow).
    • The Ore World series (basically a poor man's Brutal Mario).
    • Super Mario :p:p:p, which had a weird puzzle game like level and a Final Fantasy inspired Iggy Koopa battle.
    • The entirety of The Mario, which had level gimmicks like laser shooting Mecha Koopas and giant Thwomps.
    • The entirety of SMW YEAHH.
    • Many levels in the Touhou inspired Scarlet Devil Mario series.
    • S Mario. Gimmick in this case means stuff like random wind that pushes you around, power ups that immediately kill you or... the one and only case of 'go left or spin jump and die on the spot while sliding around on ice and dodging homing missiles'. You can see the latter here as raocow nearly breaks down playing it.
    • Just about all levels in the Brutal Mario inspired Mario End Game hack.
    • Or to be honest, about 40% of all hacks on SMW Central and about 80% of all hacks on Japanese ROM hacking sites are nothing but these. Whether that be shoot em up levels, bullet hell inspired levels, Blackout Basement style levels or ones with such things as 'go right or spin jump and die on the spot' is dependent on the game in question.
  • Metal Gear Solid is fairly consistent stealth gameplay with some quirks, but the VR Missions/Special Missions/Integral expansion pushes the engine to its limits so the player can do things possible by coding but virtually impossible to actually perform in the game - especially the Variety Mode, Puzzle Mode and NG Selection. One stage requires the player to blow up surveillance cameras by attaching C-4 to guards and detonating it when they pass under the cameras. Another requires the player to solve a Lights Out puzzle involving throwing grenades at distant columns to make them grow or shrink. Another stage has a single (robot) guard in it whose vision cone is super large, requiring the player to slip past by putting the box on, inching forward when he turns his back, and repeating. There's another where you have to punch guards into each other so they all fall over like a string of dominoes. There are also multiple murder mystery missions, a mission where you are the Ninja, a mission involving shooting down a UFO (although the gameplay itself is quite conventional) and one involving goading two kaiju into fighting each other to save Meryl.

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