Down the Drain
"Were sewer levels ever compelling? From the beginning of gaming history, all they ever were was a way to needlessly pad out the game with mazes, insane jumping puzzles, bullshit death traps, switch flipping and giant rat stomping. It's just about the fastest way I can think of to kill my enthusiasm for any game [aside from main characters talking to their pet rats.]"
A level that takes place in the sewers. Common mechanics of sewer levels include maze-like layouts, Super Drowning Skills (or Super Not-Drowning Skills, depending on the game), water acting like conveyor belts, and requiring the player to swim through sections of the level (sometimes the whole thing). Hitting switches to somehow divert the flow of water to flood or drain certain areas is also fairly common.
See also Under the Sea for levels which are aquatic, but not set in a sewer.
Video Game examples
- Blaster Master's Stage 4 takes place in a very large maze of a sewer. The on-foot sections contain pools of sewer sludge (some placed around precariously narrow foot paths), and if Jason falls into one, he dies.
- There's a level in Cave Story where you have to be thrust along with the current, through huge groups of spikes and nearly-invisible foes - right after a boss that occasionally forces you to drown if you're not careful enough, all while firing extremely damaging projectiles at you. Thankfully, you can save first. Unfortunately, if you screw up in this area or the prior boss, the best ending is Lost Forever.
- Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia gives us two water themed worlds. The first of which is the Kalidus Channel, which you travel through on the way to the Minera Prison Island, and return to fully explore after finding a relic that allows free underwater movement. The second is the Somnus Reef, which is filled with enemies such that it's a chore to kill or even to sneak by, and most of them can poison you.
- Symphony of the Night doesn't technically have a sewer level, but the catacombs come close...lot of things which do heavy damage unless you're wearing Holy Mail/Walk Armor, lot of reused backgrounds. Inverse Catacombs includes That One (bonus) Boss, Galamoth.
- Castlevania: Circle of the Moon has the Underground Waterway, worse yet, unless you get a certain item from a less likely location you'd think of, most players would Sequence Break and tackle this level first, making all the water in it poisonous. Doesn't help this level is filled with Demonic Spiders as well!
- The Spring in the Sky in La-Mulana is literally up the drain. And to get the item which prevents water from continuously damaging you, you have to do a little painful swimming first. You also need to buy a helmet first from a Dungeon Shop to have a chance to getting past the waterfalls, at which point, Surprise Fish! The Tower of the Goddess doesn't appear to have water at first, but partway through you have to detour back to an earlier level to raise the water level. The swimming controls are not good.
- Shantae: the Dribble Fountain, which is some kind of aqueduct/sewer thing, is the very first dungeon.
- The Legend of Zelda series has had its share of water dungeons that could be filed under this trope.
- The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess also has a literal sewer as the first level for Wolf Link.
- The second half of Lud's Gate, the definitive Scrappy Level of Tomb Raider III, is a large underwater maze, compounded by the lack of air pockets and the clumsy controls of the UPV.
- Star Fox Adventures has an aquatic-themed dungeon focused on pipelines, pressure, and lots of other fun stuff—the Ocean Force Point. It's not an actual sewer, being a rather pretty temple, but this is the closest place for it.
- Ys II has a maze of subterranean canals beneath the Solomon Palace.
- Metroid Prime 2: Echoes features the infuriating (even by Down the Drain standards) lower levels of Torvus Bog. It's not the first underwater level in a Metroid game, but it might be the first that forces you through half of it without the Gravity Suit.
- Jak II and 3 have you go into plenty of sewer sections in Haven City, often to either get around barriers or do dirty work for Krew. Even Daxter hates it when Krew sends them off down there, but mostly cause he'll be running around in a smelly sewer without pants.
- You also go under the Port to meet up with Sig near the end of II, the entire first section of which has you traveling through an underwater section in the resident Mini-Mecha.
- The sewer level in Enter the Matrix was very long, full of difficult enemies, and for some odd reason, had areas which were a several stories high underground, requiring balance and platforming in order to successfully get through.
- Ninja Gaiden has the Absurdly Spacious Sewer that is The Aqueduct.
- Killer Croc's Lair in Batman: Arkham Asylum is utterly unchallenging, but incredibly tedious, as the player is forced to move slowly through miles of identical corridors, with Croc appearing every now and then, only to be taken down by a single batarang. Add, rinse and repeat.
- The sequel had a sewer level too but it was much shorter.
- X-Men Legends has you trudging through the old sewers of New York city, the level itself is fairly straightforward, but the challenge comes from fighting off dozens of Morlock mutants. As you fight further in, the Morlocks only seem to grow in number, but it gets particularly frustrating once you encounter the Morlock Goth, a mutant who can teleport and revive her fallen comrades and has a tendency to stay hidden in an entire mob of Morlocks who can easily slaughter your team without good crowd control.
- Devil May Cry 2 had Dante go through a sewer in the third mission (Lucia had this as her second) and Lucia later got an aqueduct level.
- The Spider-Man game for the PS 1 and PC had Venom's lair be in the sewer (with lava in What If mode).
- The Spider-Man 3 game had about three stages where Spidey tracked the Lizard through the sewers.
Beat 'Em Up
- Battletoads Stage 9, is a sewer level. It introduces previously unseen swimming controls, combined with an entire level full of imaginative one hit kills. There are even timed sequences where you run from giant underwater gears, with controls unique to this level. This is arguably redundant because most every level in the game has this.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Turtles in Time has Sewer Surfin' (which like the name says, scrolls automaticallly as you surf).
First Person Shooter
- Dark Forces, first in the Jedi Knight series, features a sewer level plagued by the Death Star trash compactor monsters (complete with conveyor belt-like currents) and a series of places where water levels (if you can call the stuff water) must be changed in the proper order. Apparently, a sewer that's convoluted enough can double as an Elaborate Underground Base.
- Redneck Rampage had a particularly terrible example towards the end of the first episode - a very big, labyrinthine series of grey corridors and tunnels with lots of swimming and switch hunts, resulting a jarring shift in pacing from the rest of the game, that wasn't helped much by having the level populated entirely by turd minions.
- Sewer Shark on the Sega CD exhibited this trope in an unexpected way: The entire game consisted of videos of sewers.
- Serious Sam 2 has a level at which Sam is forced to go through the sewer system to enter a castle. As he sees the entrance to the sewers he complaints to
CortanaNetricsa about it, and she says something about a mandatory sewer level in every game.
- Dead Space Extraction, a rail shooter, features a sewer on a space ship. It's a pretty big ship, though, with a standing crew of over a thousand, plus water for the hydroponics area, so it's justified.
- Batman Doom throws you into one of these as soon as you finish the first mission and the game proper begins ("Follow Killer Croc through the sewers"). Like in most such examples, the sewers are green, drab, moist, have enemies leaping at you from under water (these must be some tough gangsters to hold their breath in sewer water for so long) and have you walking on catwalks above big tanks of water.
- Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 both have maps where you spend a brief time within a sewer:
- No Mercy, which has an Absurdly Spacious Sewer with many passageways that lead to the hospital.
- Death Toll gets special mention for having an entire chapter take place in a sewer (which unlike most other sewers is accessed through a building on high ground rather than a manhole).
- The Passing has the second part of the underground tour take place in the sewer, with a gauntlet to wrap it up. Also an Absurdly Spacious Sewer, but wide open rather than maze-like.
- The Parish. You'll only spend a little bit of time in it; the real danger is the field of alarm cars at which the manhole comes out.
- Cold Stream's gauntlet finale also takes you on a short romp through a sewer tunnel, right after the scripted Tank attack.
- The original Call of Duty has a brief one, but it's not too sewer-levelish and contains no puzzles.
- The water treatment plant (Interval 3) in F.E.A.R., as well as one of the first levels in its expansion pack Perseus Mandate.
- Blood and Blood II from the same developers as FEAR both also have sewer levels, both at near-opposite ends of their respective games - the first game waited until the third episode (of four), while the second game shoved you into one after about three levels.
- In Guild Wars: Factions, the Undercity is a massive underground sprawl of sewers. The atmosphere is dark.
- Sewer maps appear a lot in City of Heroes and City of Villains when your character gets sent out on missions. The later game lampshaded it.
Sewer missions have always been beneath you. Hopefully someone will understand that someday.
- City of Heroes is simply packed with sewer missions where you're wading waist deep (depending on height) through toxic waste. These levels can be extremely infuriating, as some of them are remarkably easy to get lost in, not to mention the constant nagging feeling that you're wading around in the combined filth of an entire city.
- Ragnarok Online has the Prontera Culverts, which can house one of the weakest (and weakness is relative) Boss fights in the game.
- Kingdom of Loathing has the clan dungeon of Hobopolis, the fabled city of underground hobos. In order to access the dungeon, a player must first track down the city via a system of sewers.
- Tech-based superheroes in DC Universe Online have to go down into the sewers of Gotham to take out Scarecrow in their first mission.
- Earthworm Jim's "Down the Tubes" is a cross between this and Under the Sea.
- The original Mega Man had a drain/sewer portion in the second half of Wily Stage 3. (Also appeared in the remake, Powered Up.) It wasn't that frustrating, Megaman actually got a speed boost from the rushing water, although this meant that any powerups that enemies dropped that were passed up during the push forward couldn't be retrieved.
- The third Wily stage in the second game was also a sewer, lined with Spikes of Doom exacerbated by Mega Man's higher underwater jumping height.
- Toadman's stage in 4, Venus's stage in V (Game Boy, not NES)
- Toxic Seahorse's stage in Mega Man X 3
- Pumpman's stage in 10.
- Aquaman's stage in 8 had areas where swimming was necessary (a skill which has not been seen since.)
- Heatman's stage in 2 takes place in the sewers, but with lava instead of water.
- Xtreme 2 aka Soul Eraser for the Game Boy added instant death electrified water to Volt Catfish's stage.
- Rock Man 4 Minus Infinity had Toad Man's stage, but also turned Cossack Stage 3 into one as well. It had various liquids with differing gimmicks.
- Well, at least water made your jump higher...
- Mr. X Stage 2 in Rockman 6: Unique Harassment is an homage to the Labyrinth Zone and Scrap Brain Zone Act 3 from Sonic the Hedgehog 1. The air-bubble is different, though. Every time Mega Man exerts himself in this section, he exhales an air bubble and takes 1 point of damage. Luckily, this gimmick isn't around for the boss fight against the Dr. Cossack clone.
- One of the most loathed sections of Conker's Bad Fur Day, "U-Bend Blues", had you swimming through a long pipe filled with spinning fans that would instantly kill you with a single hit. And you had a dwindling Oxygen Meter. And once you got out of the water there were platforms with lethal blades revolving on them. And getting killed at any point in the process sent you back to the beginning.
- And if you hadn't collected enough Plot Coupons in the previous levels, you had to turn back.
- Bonus, the perspective was from directly behind Conker so it was pretty hard to tell how -close- you were to the damned things.
- Banjo-Kazooie, another Rare game for the Nintendo 64, also had one of its most frustrating segments in Rusty Bucket Bay, where the oil-contaminated water drained your Oxygen Meter even on the surface, and did so at twice the normal rate when you were submerged. The part involving swimming past instant-kill propellers to get a Jiggy was widely recognized as That One Sidequest, even by Rare themselves.
- A straighter example of this trope would be Clanker's Cavern, much earlier in the game. While a complete cakewalk compared to Rusty Bucket Bay, it was still fairly tricky, requiring you to spend quite a lot of time underwater and perform several tasks that were only hindered by the game's sub-par swimming controls.
- The Sewer Level in Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure is quite possibly the hardest in the game, which is saying something. If the second locked-in battle room doesn't kill you, the merciless Advancing Wall of Doom directly afterward will.
- Seen in Crash Bandicoot quite a bit. Crash 2 has its Sewer Or Later leves which just as fun as other stages and only remotely difficult on the Hidden and Skull Routes. Crash WARPED has it's underwater levels which are fun but become very annoying under Time Trial mode. It also had the 'Tomb Wader' level set in a nilemeter where the water level constantly shifted. Wrath Of Cortex brought back WARPED's underwater stages but due to somewhat poor level design and the horrible controls of the submarine, tended to be annoying even outside of Time Trial
- Ratchet and Clank Up Your Arsenal: The snot-like amoeboids are everywhere, sometimes spawning right behind and in front of you at once, the camera is awkward and won't turn unless Ratchet does, certain passages are blocked until you approach them from the proper side, the tunnels all look the same while the crystal locations are initially hidden, and best of all? If you want to find all of them, you have to find a special piece of equipment later in the game to explore the second half of the area...which is as lengthy as the first half.
- Thankfully, the sewers are (for the most part) not part of the major plot, but only for level grinding.
- The first chapter in Gish, called Sewers of Dross. However, this is one of the easiest chapters.
- SNES game Mr. Nutz had the character go through a witch's cabin, only to find a shrink potion, fall off the top shelf in the kitchen and then finding himself literally having to go down the drain.
- The pipe levels in Donkey Kong Country 3 provided quite a bit of variation. "Dingy Drainpipe" was your standard "swim through the sewers" level, but "Demolition Drainpipe" and "Surf's Up" removed the water and combined the sewer levels with Minecart Madness, having you speed through the pipeline in a metal toboggan. "Low-G Labyrinth", another water-free level, added Gravity Screw to a drainpipe level, while "Poisonous Pipeline" rather sadistically added the water back and reversed your left-right controls.
- World 2-3 of New Super Mario Bros. is one of these. In a DESERT.
- "The Impossible Maze" from Yoshi's Island, which provides the page image, involved no swimming, but it had a current which would push you to other parts of the pipeline. Getting through it requires pushing crates into position to get to pipes that are normally out of reach, and falling down the wrong path or losing your crate means starting over.
- Slimy Spring Galaxy from Super Mario Galaxy 2 also takes place inside a giant sewer.
- Stages 2–2 and 5-4 in Purple take place in sewer systems complete with fish and mines (that are out there to kill you). 4-2 has two with a strange background consisting of moving cherries (and creepy music to boot).
- Stage 3 in the arcade version of Bionic Commando, and Stage 2 in the NES / XBLA version.
- "Trial by Water," the fourth stage of the Wolverine game for the NES, involved swimming through narrow underwater passages lined with spinning blades.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has the dam level, the second half of which has Down the Drain mechanics. It's not as hard as Memetic Mutation would have you believe, but that doesn't mean it's fun.
- Disney's Where's My Water?, which is apparantly based on the Urban Legend concerning the myth of alligators living in sewers.
Real Time Strategy
- One of the underground levels in Pikmin 2 is more similar to the sewer level. It's also a bit more difficult than other "dungeon" areas thanks to the invincible Waterwraith that chases you down if you dawdle around on one level for too long.
- Straighter is the Shower Room. It's basically just a bunch of shower floors and drainpipes.
Role Playing Game
- Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines had a sewer level which was incredibly long and was full of high-level enemies around nearly every corner. It's even more difficult for the Ventrue class, as they cannot feed on the rats for health. Playing a Nosferatu requires you to stick to sewers for the majority of the game, because you're so hideous looking that people seeing you is a violation of the Masquerade.
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic has a level where you sneak into the Vulkar base via the Taris sewers.
- They were quite spacious too since they could fit a rancor down there.
- In The Elder Scrolls games, the larger cities often have sewer areas. Morrowind has Vivec's underworks, which you thankfully don't have to spend too much time navigating. They are fairly wide-open, but have most of the annoying properties of sewer levels (diseased creatures, water that's hard or impossible to get out of, drab colors). The Imperial City sewers that feature in Oblivion are at least as bad as Vivec's, and are also dark and not particularly interesting, either. You are also forced through them several times in the game—at least in Morrowind, you could usually find a sewer entrance that was right next to your quest targets. The trope was averted slightly in an expansion of Morrowind that took place in Mournhold. Although you could spend a lot of time in that city's sewers, they were well-lit and felt like just another dungeon. Plus, they led to the cavernous ruins under the city, which, while not underwater, were certainly something worth seeing.
- Final Fantasy VIII has an incredibly frustrating sewer maze in which Quistis, Zell, and Selphie get stuck and all the areas look exactly the same. Plus, you have to go all the way back to the start if you make a mistake. On the plus side, the maze doesn't have any layers, so always taking a left (or a right) where possible will get you to the exit eventually.
- Summoner (PS2/PC/Mac, Volition) has a semi-subversion…the sewer you have to enter in the big city is moderately well lit, plausibly plotted (most exits line up with the city above), and it's actually kind of fun as they're the size of the old Roman aqueducts. So what Goddamned monster do you find crawling in those tunnels? Bats? Rats? Giant bugs? no, GODDAMNED GOLEMS. And it's hella fun, as the topside fights with basic imperial soldiers and random encounters are the boring ones.
- The problem with it is that you're forced to go through the place from end to end at least five times, including several puzzles, and it doesn't change at all.
- The castle basement in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, where the brothers have to fix the plumbing (they are plumbers, after all). It ends up being a trap.
- There are sewer systems under the the Hub Level towns in both Paper Mario and its sequel, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door.
- The first dungeon of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is a sewer. It is used as a warehouse and as a base of operations for the bad guys, and has entrances to the thieves guild and the church. It also helpfully shows off the games water graphics.
- Baldurs Gate 2 starts with the player and the party making their escape via some sewers. Later on in Athkatla, there is another major quest (The Unseeing Eye) that takes place in the sewers.
- In Pokémon Ranger, the player must explore a dungeon called the Waterworks. It's exactly what it sounds like... except it's infested with poisonous gunk Pokémon called Grimer and Muk, which are polluting the water for the entire city. These Pokémon create slippery slime literally everywhere they go. So not only do we have the usual sewer level fare, but we also get Frictionless Slime.
- Dead Island had a rather long sewer level followed by a fairly short level then it was right back to the sewers.
- Dark Souls is home to the Depths. The area is a disgusting, pus covered sewer filled with giant evil rats, dangerous slimes, cannibals, the Gaping Dragon, and most dangerous of all, the basilisks.
- The Underground Waterway in Lust Grimm, which is filled with slimes.
Shoot 'Em Up
- Turrican II's second level is like this, until you jump in the water and it becomes Under the Sea.
Stealth Based Game
- The sewer level in Metal Gear: Ghost Babel is generally considered to be pretty good, although mostly because the music is cool. The sewer/swimming level in Metal Gear 2 was also reasonably inoffensive, since it helped you get between the Zanzibar Building and the Tower Building without having to get through Maze Wood and the deeply annoying Nariko Sand stage - but if your finger slipped, you could find yourself washing up on the wrong bank and having to backtrack a good half of the game with next to no health and a face full of mines.
- Let's not forget Big Boss' escape from Groznjy Grad in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. This was fairly short and the challenge mainly came from the lack of equipment as opposed to typical sewer level mechanics.
- The New York Sewers in Syphon Filter 2.
- The Cloaca Maxima Romulus Lair from Assassin's Creed Brotherhood.
- Silent Hill 1 is a rare example of having all the problems associated with this trope, but actually making it work. The sewer level is repetitive, dark, filled with annoying enemies and removes your monster detector to boot. All of this combines to make for one hell of a claustrophobic and eerie run, exactly what the game is aiming for.
- As a direct sequel to the first game, Silent Hill 3 recycles several locales as ShoutOuts. The sewer level is one of them.
- Subverted, though, in the Silent Hill: Shattered Memories re-imagining: the sewer level comes across as the next big scenario, but turns out to be a minor, brief, uneventful sequence lasting a short stretch and holding no encounters with anything or anybody.
- Basically any Resident Evil games set in Raccoon City will have one of these so expect on in Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City.
- Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare has a sewer level early on in Edward's scenario. Though not very long, Edward's speed is halved by being partly submerged in water, and the place houses a particularly nasty Eldritch Abomination that will pop from beneath to One-Hit Kill him if he takes too long to reach the exit. Except trying to speed up catches the creature's attention. You spend the level alternating between slow/fast pacing and trying to hold off the creature with all your ammo, which can knock it back unconscious for a few seconds AT BEST.
Third Person Shooter
- Inverted in Gears of War where you are required to go through a sewer, and you make the other people in your group go through it while your character laughs at them at every opportunity.
Non-video game examples
- Parodied in the Jhonen Vasquez comic Everything Can Be Beaten.
- The Shawshank Redemption: Andy's escape.
- Cyborg has a sewer scene where the water comes up to the characters thighs. Try not to think about what could possibly be floating around in there it too much.