While the modern gaming landscape is filled with incredibly immersive and wonderful titles as far as the eye can see, a certain magic about the medium has been lost. With the prevalence of hacking and data-mining, nearly all of a game’s secrets are divulged immediately upon release (or even beforehand). While that’s certainly exciting for those who want some instant gratification, it’s also frustrating for developers and those who love to discover such oddities for themselves.
Perhaps that’s why so many people are still drawn to older eras of video games, along with the memories of contemplating the vast mysteries of what these aging cartridges held. Some of the most cherished secrets of all are the coveted “hidden levels.”
In the earlier days of gaming, rumors would run rampant about hidden characters and items, but none were more captivating than the promise of some untouched, holy ground that had been hidden away from all but the most stalwart of digital explorers.
In our list of 25 Hidden Levels In Retro Games, Most Players Still Haven’t Found, we’ll be talking about some of the most hidden realms of an era long since passed, along with some of the methods needed to reach them. We realize that the word “retro” means many different things to a lot of different people, so we’ve done our best to reign things in and draw a very specific line: 8-bit, 16-bit, and a slight sprinkling of the N64/PS1 era are as far as we are going to go.
Now that we’re ready to explore, let’s get started!
25 The White Toad House In Super Mario Bros. 3
Secrets are sort of synonymous with the Super Mario series, and that fact is mightily apparent in Super Mario Bros. 3. Toad Houses (or Mushroom Houses) abound all over the world maps in SMB3, many of which have helpful items.
That said, one particularly hidden house has incredible powers, and it’s ridiculously difficult to discover.
You’ll need a specific amount of coins on specific levels to make the White Toad House appear, but it’s the effort will yield great results, like extra P-Wings.
24 The AT-ST Rampage In Rogue Squadron
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron on the N64 is easily the best Star Wars game on the system, followed very closely by Episode I Racer (sorry, Shadows of the Empire, but you just haven’t aged well at all). Aside from crazy cheats that let you fly as the Naboo Starfighter or a car (of all things), you could also access an entirely hidden level with vastly different gameplay.
Simply plug in “chicken,” and destroy hapless citizens as an AT-ST walker.
It’s pointless, yes, but it’s fun as all heck.
23 DK64's Debug Room
Donkey Kong 64 is infamous for its unprecedented amount of collectibles, but that doesn’t make it bad. In fact, one of its best aspects is learning how to efficiently conquer each level, developing a Zen-like state as you scoop up every banana.
The task seems daunting due to how enormous each world is, and there’s even a hidden one you were never meant to access.
By getting all the blueprints and inputting a button command at Snide’s HQ, you’ll end up in the debug room. Enjoy being trapped for eternity as a clone of DK stares into your soul.
22 Wolfenstein In Doom II
The Doom series is no stranger to hidden levels and alternate paths, with the tradition continuing in the latest entry of the franchise, and likely with its follow-up. Despite how cool it is to access retro-styled rooms in Doom 2016, nothing is as exciting as accessing a recreation of a Wolfenstein 3D level in Doom II.
If you find it, you’ll soon realize you’re locked up in the infamous castle and need to shoot bad guys and various beasts to escape.
It’s a blast from the past, but also a blast.
21 Crash's Hidden Warp Rooms
While Crash Bandicoot’s pseudo-3D gameplay may not have aged as gracefully as Super Mario 64, the orange-furred mascot still has an army of fans. Despite Crash’s more straightforward, action-platforming gameplay, there are still many secrets to be found, including a mysterious warp room.
In Crash 2, you’ll need to stand on multiple peculiar platforms to open hidden levels in the chamber.
Another secret warp room appears in Crash Bandicoot Warped, and you’ll need to access it and its levels if you want 100% completion.
20 Special Zone In Super Mario World
Super Mario World has loads of secrets and inventive methods for discovering alternate exits. The explorative elements are mysterious, intriguing, and a lot of fun, but there are some secrets more hidden than others, like the “Special Zone.”
You’ll need to find a secret Star Road in Star World, but when you do, you’ll be treated to eight new levels.
We hope you brought your skills with you, too, since almost all of them are bone-crushingly difficult. Also, if you beat all the levels, you’ll change the season on Yoshi’s Island and mutate certain enemies!
19 The Boss Rush In Mystical Ninja
Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon is one of the N64’s weirdest games, and we don’t say that lightly. You play as a group of ninja who must defend ancient Japan from a space-faring theatre troupe who aim to turn the world into a stage. There are also fully-voiced musical numbers and giant robot battles.
There’s more to the game, though: if you manage to locate every fortune cat, you’ll be treated to a secret.
While it’s not necessarily a “hidden level,” you’ll be able to relive the awesome mecha fights whenever you wish!
18 The Black Hole / Out Of This Dimension In Star Fox
The original Star Fox was crazy at the time due to its then-impressive 3D graphics, but its choppy framerate makes it difficult to enjoy now.
Despite this, discovering the trippy hidden levels will impress even the most jaded of players.
“The Black Hole” and “Out of this Dimension” are two incredibly bizarre worlds that require obscure methods to access, but in the words of General Pepper, “[they’re] worth it,” particularly due to the battle against a rogue slot machine while “The Saints Go Marching In” blasts in the background.
17 Rogue Squadron's Death Star Run (And More)
We’ve already mentioned the truly unique treat that the passcode “chicken” yields for Rogue Squadron players, but there are other hidden levels as well. Rogue Squadron is notoriously difficult, so discovering these extra stages, and earning enough medals to see them, is a daunting task.
If you succeed, you’ll have access to a race, the Battle of Hoth, and an unusual Death Star run.
They are all incredibly difficult challenges, too, but it’s worth it to see a Death Star run that’s almost nothing like the movie.
16 The Warp Whistle House
This might be old hat to gamers of a certain age, but there’s a great deal of players who are just discovering the supremacy of Super Mario Bros. 3, of which even Super Mario World falls victim to. By finding secret Toad Houses, you can get Warp Whistles to let you skip around the game, but discovering them is… obscure… to say the least.
In Stage 1-3, find a white block, duck until you enter the background, and run right until you reach the end.
There you’ll find a hidden house and your prize!
15 The Chris Houlihan Room
Another well-known legend, the Chris Houlihan room is less interesting than the story surrounding it. In short, Nintendo Power held a contest, and the winner would be granted the reward of having their name in a future game.
Chris Houlihan won, but his secret room in A Link to the Past was more-or-less cut. Or was it?
You’ll need to glitch the game to find it, but it’s there, and there’s a message waiting for you. Just keep it secret, okay?
14 The Wood Zone In Sonic 2
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is unquestionably one of the best platformers of all time, and its moment-to-moment gameplay is only trounced by none other than Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Sonic 2 was a massive success, and it remains a favorite to this day, especially with all the curiosities left in its code
One of these is the Wood Zone, a forested stage only accessible with cheats on a specific prototype build.
It has many similarities to Metropolis Zone, and the two are theorized to be linked through the game’s cut time-travel mechanics.
13 The Castle's Rooftop In Symphony Of The Night
Alright, so this isn’t actually a “level,” per se, but it’s a critical location that you’ll need to access if you plan on achieving the coveted 200.6% map completion. In the awesome Symphony of the Night, you’ll trek through Dracula’s Castle like you do Planet Zebes in Metroid. The gameplay is open and exploration is highly encouraged, and there’s a secret area you can access by using a glitch.
In the first bell tower of the Royal Chapel, use the Sword Brother’s spell while changing into a bat and heading to the bottom left.
If done right, you’ll be outside!
12 Coco's Hidden Level In Warped
We’ve already mentioned a variety of hidden warp rooms in the Crash Bandicoot games that need specific requirements to enter, but only lightly touched upon the fact that they offer altered levels that already exist, along with entirely new ones, and this level is one of them. In Crash 3, “Hot Coco” can only be accessed by crashing into a particular sign in the 14th Road Crash level.
The stage itself is a surprisingly open-ended jet ski stage that only asks you to smash 70 crates.
It’s fun, but it’s hard, due to bombs being placed near your targets.
11 GoldenEye's Lost Citadel
GoldenEye was, for many, the pinnacle of multiplayer antics on the Nintendo 64. Sure, Smash Bros., Mario Kart, Mario Party, and others were great, but few could compare to the thrill of getting berated for “screen-looking” or raging against the treachery of friends who chose Oddjob.
All of the multiplayer maps are fun and iconic, but there is one more that many are unaware of, and it’s “Citadel.”
Though unfinished, it appears to have a great sense of verticality, which would have made it unique amongst its peers.
10 Super Mario Land 2's Hidden Chamber
Super Mario Land 2: The Six Golden Coins is fondly remembered as a tried-and-true Game Boy classic and, much like its predecessor, features many unique and unusual elements in its enemy and stage designs. Unlike its predecessor, though, Super Mario Land 2 has an easily executable glitch that allows Mario to slip through the floor and into a glitched out dimension.
Using this technique, you can find a fully functional but totally unused room in the first level of the Tree Zone.
To try it yourself, pause the game as you are heading down a pipe, then hit select.
9 Perfect Dark's Perfectly Hidden Missions
Perfect Dark is GoldenEye’s spiritual sequel, and although it doesn’t star Bond, it does feature a futuristic, cyberpunk world rife with espionage and even aliens. With a nearly identical objective system to GoldenEye, missions can be completed at three separate difficulties, the higher of which increase the complexity.
Accomplishing these goals yield secret levels, the hardest of which to get are SOS Maian and War!
While it’s fun to play as aliens, getting the missions is an arduous task, and your rewards are just as difficult.
8 The Infamous Minus World
One of gaming’s greatest legends, “Minus World” has captivated curious digital explorers since it was discovered decades ago. In Super Mario Bros. on the NES, by squeezing yourself between the bricks at the end of 1-2, but not breaking them, you’ll illegally enter the Warp Zone.
Taking the left or right pipes will lead to a realm labeled “-1,” which is a never-ending water level.
That said, you could also take the middle point for a straight skip to 5-1, but that’s not as exciting.
7 The True Ending Of Bomberman 64
Bomberman 64 is one of the best sleeper hits on the N64. Successfully expanding upon Bomberman’s very concept, the game is a fantastic mix of stuff blowing up, exploration and inventive puzzles.
When you beat the game, you’re treated to an unsatisfying and rather dark ending, and then the credits roll. During the ending sequence, keep an eye for a floating palace you’ve never set foot on.
That’s the Rainbow Palace, and you’ll need all 99 Gold Cards to visit.
There, you’ll get to challenge the greatest puzzles in the game and finally see the true ending.
6 The Hidden Palace Zone In Sonic 2
Infamously teased in previews, but never to be seen in the final product, Sonic The Hedgehog 2’s “Hidden Palace Zone” caused a lot of turmoil in the always-tumultuous Sonic fanbase. With nothing but the aforementioned picture and the Zone’s unused music being present in the Sound Test to go by, fans aimed to track down this truly hidden Zone.
Using a GameShark, players were to successfully locate its garbled remains.
They’d also be rewarded in 2013, as the Zone was completed for the mobile port of Sonic 2.
5 Pokémon's Glitch City
Pokémon Red and Blue are notorious for the sheer amount of surprising and often spooky glitches that populated their troubled code.
While everyone is familiar with MissingNo. or the absurd abominations located in the Hall of Fame, Glitch City has much less spotlight.
To access this mind-warping location, go to the Safari Zone, try to leave, say no, head back into the Zone, save, turn the game off, turn it on, then actually leave (despite saying “no”) and walk around until the timer goes off.
You’ll be warped to a location no mortal was ever meant to see.
4 Dk64's Weird Connection To "Stop 'N' Swop"
While this isn’t a “level,” it is a genuine location… just one that no longer physically exists. Knocking DK into his house with grenades at the game’s start triggers a cutscene where he teleports into the heart of Crystal Caves.
In early release photos, there was some kind of refrigerator with Banjo and Kazooie on it nestled into the corner of DK’s house in the exact area where the teleport occurs. It’s theorized that this has to do with the mythical Ice Key (which is in this game’s data, too) and its use in the equally mythic “Stop 'N’ Swop.”
3 Banjo-Kazooie's Sharkfood Island
Speaking of “Stop 'N’ Swop,” this mysterious cut feature was first mentioned in Banjo-Kazooie, and there are multiple hidden elements that few players realize they can access in entirely legitimate ways. Using codes in the Sand Castle, you can actually access the Ice Key, along with strange multicolored eggs.
Critically, you can raise up Sharkfood Island and set foot within its unexplored interior.
Inside you’ll only get one of the odd eggs, but it’s still an enormous thrill for players who always wondered about Mumbo’s teases at the end of the game.
2 SMB3's Greatest Treasure: The Treasure Ship
For many players, Super Mario Bros. 3’s Treasure Ship was so rare that they thought they must have dreamt it up.
Make no mistake, though: it’s real, but it’s ridiculously obtuse to summon.
In Worlds 1, 3, 5 or 6, you need a Hammer Bros. wandering around, and you must beat a level with an amount of coins that are a multiple of 11, with the tens digit of the score matching the multiple. Do this, and the ghostly vessel is yours for the plundering!
1 The 256 Extra Levels In Super Mario Bros.
We’ve discussed a plethora of hidden levels, modes and even cut (but accessible) locations, but none of them are a match for the number of secrets in the original Super Mario Bros.
You were wrong when you thought the game ended in World 8. There’s a whole 256 more levels to go.
Play SMB for a little, pull out the cart, slip in Tennis, then hit reset. Play some Tennis, pull that out, put back in SMB then hit reset again. If done right, you’ll be thrust into a world of 256 nightmarish, broken levels that will cause Lovecraft-styled madness.