I’m a Mega Man junkie, always have been, and one of the main reasons I adore those games is because of the level select: being able to choose the order of the stages you tackle not only injects variety into every session, but it feels like creative expression. It’s not just ‘Do I go in weakness order or do I not?’ When you don’t have long to play, maybe you start with your favorite levels and stop after a stage or two. Or maybe if you want a challenge, you try the more difficult levels, or select them completely at random, without regard for weaknesses. Mega Man games, especially the original series, are my comfort food: I often play the Robot Master stages of one game, stop at the Wily Castle, and then move on to the Robot Masters for the next game in the series.
But I noticed something a little peculiar, after awhile. It’s not just Mega Man. Taking stock of the other games I really appreciate, I came to notice something unified them: the ability to choose which stage you play. My favorite shmup on the Genesis: Thunderforce III, where you choose which planet from which to start. My favorite action-platformer on the NES: Clash at Demonhead, which has a complex world map of interconnected routes. And despite my general lack of skill at the series, I’ve always adored the Darius games for their alphabetically-branching paths, where you choose the next stage to attempt after each aquatically-themed boss. I mean, I even really like 8 Eyes, though by all accounts it’s a pretty poor Castlevania homage… but it has a Mega Man-style level select.
So my question is this: does anyone else have a special place in your heart for games that let you select your starting stage or the sequence through which you play, and also, are there any recent games that have adopted this style of level-selection? It feels like there are fewer and fewer of these, maybe because of the design difficulty of letting you jump in anywhere and still have a satisfying experience, but I love 'em and want more of 'em!