World 3-6: Mount Must Dash - Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)
Super Mario 3D World is bursting at the seems with brilliant level designs, with just about every stage having its own unique feel to it. World 3-6 incorporates elements from what is arguably the plumber's best spin-off series, Mario Kart. Using the classic Mario Circuit tracks from the original Super Mario Kart as the level layout, Mount Must Dash is all about moving at break neck speed. Boost panels are scattered all throughout the level, discouraging slow movement. This level can be a little tricky when three or more players are involved, especially if everyone isn't on the same page. But when it's just one person or everyone playing is in sync, blasting through Mount Must Dash feels as cool as a summer breeze. Then speedy nature of this level makes it great for time trial purposes.
Magnet Man Stage - Mega Man 3 (NES)
Mega Man games have been lauded for the exceptional stage designs. Egoraptor even pointed out the the Classic Mega Man games have been excellent teaching tools for players without holding their hands. Magnet Man's stage is a shinning example of this. Magnets obviously play a big roll in this stage and you're introduced to several of them early on. These magnets fly through the air as you traverse over bottomless pits while avoiding the magnetic pull. Once you get below the surface, more magnets are introduced but instead of pulling you upward, these are wall mounted, so they pull you left or right. Nothing too threatening, but you can get pulled into a few enemies if you aren't careful. At the level's midway point, those blasted disappearing blocks make an appearance and this is by far the most challenging portion of Magnet Man's stage. The disappearing blocks are divided into mini sections. The first section is easy to pass through but by the second section, those wall mounted magnets make a return to screw up your jumps. By the time you reach the third section, you'll have to deal with those infernal blocks, the magnets and bottomless pits. This last block section is usually the one that has players seeing red. It can be difficult, but the level slowly introduced you to every single one of these hazards one step at a time. You really can't say it's unfair because the game didn't spring it on you. Not only is Magnet Man's stage fun and challenging, but it comes with a super catchy, upbeat musical theme.
Stage 4: Dice Dance Days - Gunstar Heroes (GEN)
Treasure's first game is arguably their best. Of the first four levels the game let's you choose in any order, the fourth one is easily my favorite. It begins with your standard run and gun fair, complete with a few mini bossers, but when you reach the halfway point, the stage throws you what has got to be one of wildest curve balls in the history of gaming. On the wall is a giant board, not unlike the fold out ones you see in board games. Each square on the board is it's own mini level and when you go depends on what number comes up when you throw the die. You could be sent to do battle with a Pong-inspired boss, a creepy-looking smiley face, a tiny shoulder with insane strength, a maze, the list goes on and on. Gunstar Hereoes was already a stand out game in the genre with it's combined weapon mechanics and melee moves in addition to the gun play. Dice Dance Days just helped further cement it as one of the most astonishing run 'n game games ever.
Grassland Groove - Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)
A savanna in Donkey Kong Country? This may seem out of place, but considering all the jungle and forest locals in the series, it really is surprising that it took them this long to place this kind of environment in the DKC games. When you're not admiring the lovely scenery set against a sunset backdrop, you'll be platforming on dancing trees, climbing across swaying giraffe necks and moving down stone, grass covered snakes. Grassland Groove has oh-so-crystal-clear inspirations from The Lion King. The only thing missing is the Circle of Life playing as background music, but considering what David Wise came up with, it's highly unlikely that you'll miss it.
Stage 3 - Contra ReBirth (Wii Ware)
All out action is par the course for a Contra game but each entry always has a level or two that is just flat out crazy awesome. Such a level from Contra ReBirth comes in the form of the third stage. You start out on a supply truck and are soon assaulted by mooks, a barrage of missiles and a ninja robot that throws so much ammo at you, you'd think you stepped into a Cave shooter. At several points in the stage you'll have to quickly platform across robotic camels while making your way back to another supply truck. One misstep during these segments can end up costing you many a life. The third stage of Contra Rebirth is undoubtedly the most adrenaline filled stage of the whole game and is an excellent contender for the most outrageous level in the history of Contra titles.