The Most Memorable Video Game Level Select Screens

It’s always ‘open world’ this, ‘fast travel’ that. What ever happened to a good ol’ handy level select screen? Point, click, and that’s where you’re going. Sometimes it’s a simple 2D world map for your characters to traverse, maybe it’s a chapter or character select screen with fun animations or background music. Sometimes the level select is a level itself!

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Despite being something of a dying art form, level select screens have plenty to offer. Hidden areas, visually attractive backgrounds, and important game stats are all hallmarks of great levels select screens. Other times, it’s the repetitive earworm on the soundtrack that keeps you from clicking that stage for just a few extra minutes.

10 Plan Out Your Journey In Slay The Spire

A section of Slay the Spire's map for each Act

Slay the Spire’s map gives you all the tools you need to plan out and anticipate the difficult road ahead. For all your preparedness, you’ll still probably lose half your health to a floor one Jaw Worm, but at least you have some say in what ends up killing you.

The map is your level select, showing you upcoming elites, rest sites, and even which boss you’re inevitably squaring off with. You have limited control over navigation, but knowing is half the battle. The other half is dying to Act 2 Slavers.

9 Baba Is You, Map Is Win

A section of the main map and logic operators in Baba is You

Baba is You uses logic-based rules sets and boolean operators to change the way in-game objects function. It’ll have you yelling phrases like “Crab is Win!” and “Wall is Stop” at your screen. The logic rules also apply to the titular Baba, which, if the name of the game is to be believed, is you.

Baba’s level select screen looks fairly standard: move between numbered stages with no real story implications. Simplistic, until you realize the logic rules on the overworld serve a purpose. Actions in later levels allow you to manipulate and change the logic of the map itself.

8 Take A Break From Shooting In Cuphead

Mugman traveling in World 2 of Cuphead

Cuphead’s overworld looks like a Candy Land board game expansion, complete with hidden coins, bebopping rubber hose mausoleums and Saturday morning cartoon characters of both helpful and sinister persuasions. It’s a colorful romp that offers a moment’s reprieve from the relentless wave of bosses that make up the rest of the game.

Related: Cuphead: The Best Character Designs

Take note of the unassuming boss level entrances. A cruise ship you say? Bet there’s some sort of sea monster here. Oh, it’s actually tagteaming boxer toads that morph into an angry sentient slot machine? Of course it is, Cuphead.

7 Pick Your Battles In Mega Man

The original boss/stage select screen in Megaman

You can take the level selects out of gaming but you’ll never take the mega out of the man. The original Mega Man’s world select screen is iconic, using the bosses of each level as your only insight into what you can expect. The guesswork’s not too hard though. Hmm… I sure wonder what Fireman’s level is all about.

Nearly every Megaman title follows this pattern, though the sprite work has come a long way from the first game’s particularly frowny Iceman. It’s a clear case of nailing the formula from the beginning. If it ain’t broke, you know?

6 Catch The Setlist In Guitar Hero 3

Part of Guitar Hero 3's setlist

Mainstream rhythm gaming peaked with Guitar Hero 3, using its cumbersome guitar-shaped controller to let you step into the tattered shoes of a hardcore rocker while jamming out to Alice in Chains in your mum’s basement. The series sold the illusion, succeeding in no small part to simple additions like its thematic song select screen.

This entry borrowed the previous games’ ‘setlist’ screen for picking songs and showcasing high scores, but it also made some minor improvements. It added artist credits and release dates under song titles, so you’ll never forget who sang Barracuda ever again.

5 Warp Between Worlds In Crash Bandicoot 2

Crash Bandicoot Standing Outside a Warp Room

Crash Bandicoot 2 re-imagined the first game’s linear level progression as a sort of mini hub, complete with clusters of five levels and an old-fashioned boomer save point. It was always fun deciding how to tackle the stages, and the entryways showed you exactly which elusive gems you could grab in that level.

Related: Crash Bandicoot: Best Levels In The Series

These hubs were a safe place to practice game controls, and the second cluster of stages even featured a cute and cuddly polar bear cub that would reward you extra lives… if you stomped on its head enough times.

4 Pipe Down In Super Mario Bros. 3

World 2: Desert Land, from Super Mario Bros. 3

The overworld in Super Mario Bros. 3 felt like an organic part of the game itself. It featured multiple worlds with different themes, branching paths leading up to boss stages, and an assortment of obstacles, including locked doors and boulders. Nothing an experienced plumber couldn’t handle.

Experienced players were probably familiar with the World 9 Warp Zone, which could be accessed via magic whistles. World 9 was a central hub for skipping to other worlds, and existed in a pre-internet era where secrets like this were still genuinely awesome to discover on your own.

3 Beat A String Of Levels In Kirby’s Epic Yarn

Kirby traveling between stages in Kirby's Epic Yarn

Kirby games haven’t always used traditional level select systems, but Kirby’s Epic Yarn puts the ones that do to shame. This game’s level design is like strolling through the arts and crafts section of your local department store, just with more Waddle Dees and crochet rocket-shooting robots.

This entry’s delightfulness extends to its overworld, which is full of NPCs, level entrances, and backdrops all presumably made from materials purchased at a discount thrift store. It all comes together to sell the storybook aesthetic of the game, with the level select screen being just one of many imaginative areas.

2 Dodge Random Encounters In Final Fantasy Tactics

A section of Ivalice, the Final Fantasy Tactics world map

Final Fantasy Tactics combines immersive gameplay and storytelling into an adventure that rivals the best of what the Final Fantasy name has to offer. Its map prioritizes a visual experience over an interactive one, and serves as a simple level select screen rather than a fully modeled world map.

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The map of Ivalice oozes flavour, and there’s a sort of tension that comes from trying to navigate from one side to the other. Simply progressing through and unlocking new areas makes you wonder just how many locations they can fit on this relatively small screen.

1 Aim And Shoot In GoldenEye 007

A complete set of playable levels in GoldenEye 007

Many gamers look back at GoldenEye 007 fondly, despite the first-person shooter controls handling like a sack of wet noodles. James Bond’s foray into 64-bit territory included a typical chapter select screen you’d expect to see in a narrative-driven game like this.

The ‘classified’ manilla folder backdrop was aesthetically perfect for intermissions between stages and various menus. The level select screen even included the clever touch of using the crosshairs to fire at the chapter you wanted to play. And, honestly, who can forget the music on this screen? It was much catchier and more memorable than it had any right being.

Next: The Best Platformer Levels Of All Time

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