Do you know what’s missing from a lot of modern video games? The joys of discovering and then trying to complete a bonus stage successfully. It used to be a common trope that games would have extra ‘bonus’ levels that differed from the main-game experience and allowed players to try and gain extra items. They usually employed different gameplay skills, and were often a race against time, meaning that they could be a stressful experience for players. Although, the rewards for doing well were often great, such as the ever-important extra lives.
Although it could be an absolute chore to play a badly designed bonus stage, it was a super fun experience when they were made well. It was generally great games with the most enjoyable bonus stages to play in what might not be too shocking a reveal.
Then, let’s dive into some of the best bonus stages in video games history and celebrate these exceptional moments of gaming gold.
Super Mario Bros. 2
Whilst maybe not being as beloved as the two games that sandwiched it, Super Mario Bros. 2 was still a solid entry in the Mario franchise. The platformer starring the world’s most famous plumber was first released onto the Nintendo Entertainment System in late 1988 and went on to sell 7.46 million copies globally.
The bonus stage that came at the end of every level brought the excitement of slot machines to a whole new generation. It popped up as long as you’d collected at least one coin, and allowed you to try your luck by slamming down on the A-button, hopefully lining up the brightly colored symbols to win a maximum of 5 1-Ups.
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Originally released into arcades in 1989, Final Fight has gone on to be one of the most inspirational side-scrolling beat-em-up games of all time. It’s easy to see why; the graphics were great, the soundtrack was brilliant, and the gameplay was totally addictive. No wonder, then, that it was a massive commercial success, with over 30,000 of its arcade machines being sold across the globe.
The game had a couple of bonus stages that had you unleashing all of your furies on inanimate objects for bonus points, which must have had concerned parents wondering if it was a virtual vandalism trainer. The supreme version for us was where you have to destroy an actual car as a timer counts down from 40 seconds, using only your fighting moves.
It became such an iconic moment in gaming, that the game’s developers, Capcom, recreated the moment in Street Fighter II, and the much more recent Super Street Fighter IV.
‘Earthworm Jim, he’s such a groovy guy, Earthworm Jim, he rockets through the sky’ went the lyrics to the theme song of the wacky cartoon that lit up kids’ television screens in the late 90s. Those lyrics ring especially true for this classic bonus stage, which appears in the run and gun platform game responsible for then birthing the TV show, 1994’s Earthworm Jim. Released onto both the Sega Mega Drive and the Super Nintendo, the game was a hit with both critics and audiences, mostly due to its off-the-wall humor.
The bonus stage was named Andy Asteroids? and appeared at the end of several levels. The gameplay involved having to fly Earthworm Jim on his tiny space-ship, known as the Pocket Rocket, through space, down a warp tunnel, to his next planetary destination. If that sounds simple, then you were also racing against Jim’s arch-nemesis Psy-Crow, and having to dodge many asteroids. It took lightning-quick reaction skills to make it through unscathed, so they were responsible for much anguish and much delight upon completion.
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