The Best Video Game Bonus Levels of Yesteryear

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  • If there’s one great video game extra that has fallen by the wayside in recent years, it’s the bonus stage. Once a staple of top-quality content, this acted as a game within a game, functioning autonomously of the player’s main mission and often coming complete with its own set of rules.

    Allowing you to earn points and one-ups, these extra levels tended to reward certain skills inherent in a successful player – fast fingers, good recall, and split-second reflexes, for example – but part of their beauty was that, in the end, they didn’t really matter. They were a pleasant distraction when the main story became too intense; a way to mix it up when your brain was fried.

    Their sole purpose was to be fun. It didn’t affect the overall gaming experience one iota if you didn’t complete them, but they were still a really enjoyable way to spend the odd hour; which is what was so awesome about them.

    Given that we’re feeling nostalgic, we decided to take a look back, and to revisit three of the best bonus levels of days gone by.

    The Shooting Range from Resident Evil 4 (2005)

    When it comes to understanding the origin of bonus rounds, there’s speculation that they were inspired by the bonuses available from casinos. As writes, these vary widely in form, and can be anything from deposit-based promotions to extra free spins. Like the bonus levels found in video games, the idea is that they’re an added extra – one that enhances the player experience without being fundamental to it.

    These actually provide a really good example of why bonus rounds were so popular for so long, with the casino version still being very much in use today. Indeed, these act as such a strong incentive for players that there are entire websites dedicated to curating them and sharing the best bonuses with interested individuals.

    If the same sort of sites existed for video games, then it seems likely that Resident Evil 4 would number among their most popular offerings – in particular, it’s Shooting Range bonus round. In a world where you’re on a rescue mission to liberate the president’s daughter from a host of infected villagers, it seems natural that gun skills would come in handy, and these are rewarded in this fun level.

    With the mysterious merchant having a shooting range handily available for you to practise your skills, it’s possible to earn extra points by firing at and hitting the villager-shaped targets. It’s fun, exciting, and a really good opportunity to hone your in-game skills.

    Test Your Might from Mortal Kombat (1992)

    If you really want to throw it back and pull a bonus round from the retro archives, then 1992’s Mortal Kombat also had some great added extras, including the Test Your Might mini-game. An arcade classic, this appeared after every few battles, and encouraged players to demonstrate their strength by breaking through various blocks in order to earn bonus points.

    It sounds simple, but it was actually kind of challenging, requiring some serious skills to do well. The better you did at it, the harder it became, with the materials becoming increasingly strong. When players got to the very top level, for example, it was diamond they were faced with breaking.

    So popular was it that the mini-game was included in a number of later instalments, such as Mortal Kombat X, where losing led to death.

    Car Smashing in Street Fighter II (1991)

    Another retro addition to this list is the car smashing level that featured in 1991’s Street Fighter II. This was a bonus game that was deliciously destructive, encouraging the player to try and cause as much damage to the on-screen vehicle as possible.

    While it first featured in Final Fight, it was also included in this later instalment, and it was this second outing that made it so popular. Allowing you to play as various characters to complete the stage, it outfitted gamers with dozens of fun and innovative ways to wreak havoc.

    This extra level didn’t have any real purpose, but it sure was enjoyable when you were in the moment and immersed in the action.

    Are bonus rounds something you’d like to see making a reappearance?