The Best Video Game Bonus Stages

by Kyle Hilliard on Dec 04, 2013 at 12:30 PM

Bonus stages are a strange video game phenomenon. They take the player outside of the main world and story of a video game to throw them into random, consequence-free scenarios that often have little to nothing to do with the rest of the game. Even heroes working against dangerous world-ending timers often find time to stop and visit a casino or pause to punch a car to death with their fists.

We don’t see these stages as often as we used to, thanks to a focus on storytelling and consistent tone present in most modern video games, but maybe it's time for them to make a comeback. These are some of favorites.

Sonic 2, the half-pipe – When Sonic’s second adventure premiered in 1992, 3D gaming was still an exciting and far away dream. Seeing Sonic and Tails traveling through a 3D half-pipe, coupled with the ability to run up the sides of the wall was impossibly cool. It was one of the best arguments to present in your playground debates against the Super Nintendo, and there wasn’t much of a counterpoint.

Super Mario Bros. 3, memory game – Super Mario is a game about jumping on nondescript brown blobs with feet, bashful turtles, and collecting coins. To see a familiar card game – those things you played with before you got your Nintendo – was a surprise. It was simple, easy to understand, and eventually made a return in DS games like New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario 64 DS. It offered a nice break from all that exhausting jumping and gave worthwhile bonuses.

Street Fighter II, car fighting – Beating up your friends in Street Fighter is a timeless joy, but it will never be as exciting as beating up a stationary defenseless car. It’s fun to break stuff, and a car falls into the category of “stuff,” but we rarely talk about how strange this bonus game is. Why are you randomly beating up a car? Are you trying to impress a girl? Whose car is it? What kind of girl would be impressed by your ability to beat up a car? It’s bizarre, which is why it’s also perfect.

Skull Monkeys, guiding you like a father figure – Skull Monkey’s is a lesser-known PlayStation platformer with an amazing clay animated art style, and some of the best music to ever grace a bonus room. The room itself is of little consequence. It’s full of collectibles and lives, but doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from the rest of the game. The thing that does stand out, however, is its soundtrack. A voice sings to you while you collect your freebies claiming to guide you like a father figure, and a mother figure. It’s creepy, but some how reassuring.

Aliens: infestation, knife game – Aliens: Infestation is one of the best recent Alien games (not that the competition was too fierce), and one of the reasons it is so good is a clear understanding of the culture of Aliens' marines and why the film was so good. The knife game is simple, but it expertly emulates one of the movie’s memorable scenes.

Yoshi’s Island, watermelon spitting – Between all the baby wrangling, flower collecting, and red coin seeking, a handful of bonuses show up between levels. All are fairly entertaining, but one involves Yoshi abandoning the child he has promised to protect, in order to spit watermelon seeds at a strange masked enemy. I don't know where Yoshi puts baby Mario during these sequences. Presumably he's taking a nap.

Mortal Kombat, test your might – It might not be as cool as beating up a car with your bare hands, but Mortal Kombat allows you to beat up assorted materials of increasing durability like wood, steel, and eventually diamonds! It’s far less clean up, and you don’t have to get the insurance companies involved.

Super Mario Sunshine, platforms a plenty – Super Mario Sunshine throws a wrench in Mario’s superior platforming by giving you a special water pack that radically changes the way you jump and move. The whole game is built around using the pack in interesting ways, which is why it’s so disorienting when it is taken away from you. The stages are incredibly difficult and have one of the best renditions of Mario’s theme ever created.

Earthworm Jim, andy asteroids – In a game about an earthworm in a space suit who travels to hell, the moon, fights bungee jumping boogers, uses his own head as a whip, and fights evil goldfish – maybe racing a rocket through space against an astronaut crow to the tune of high-speed fiddle and banjo music isn’t that weird.

Call of Duty: Black Ops, dead ops arcade – Call of Duty is a series often derided for playing it safe and shying away from experimentation, but people often forget about Call of Duty: Black Ops bizarre bonus game. Shortly after the game's release, players figured out that you could get out of the chair you were strapped in and explore the room that served as the game’s start screen. There’s a computer in the back of the room that holds the Dead Ops Arcade game – a fairly complete twin-stick zombie shooter. It was a big, unexpected surprise for Call of Duty players.

Were there any we missed? Is your favorite not here? Would you like to see more bonus stages like this in modern games? Or would a high score battling dance contest between chapters of The Last of Us ruin the rest of the game?