Hub worlds are home base. They are cozy places where you can escape from monsters, killer robots, or stumpy goombas. They link together disparate locations – from snow peaked mountains to volcanic caverns, you can go wherever you need from a hub world. Inspired by the recently released Splatoon 2‘s quirky epicenter of zany levels, here’s our list of The Game Fanatics’ five best hub worlds.
The Top Five Best Hub Worlds
Gruntilda’s Lair, Banjo Kazooie
Banjo Kazooie is often seen as the poor-man’s Mario 64. Its hub world, however, belongs in the video game hall of fame. Right off the bat the player is given free reign to explore the pleasantly pastoral Spiral Mountain. Following a string of tutorials, Banjo and Kazooie enter Gruntilda’s Lair outright.
All of the classic trappings of a hub world are there. There are connections to wonderful worlds like Mumbo’s Mountain and Click Clock Wood. There are level entrances that require a certain amount of jigsaw pieces (jiggies!) to unlock. And there are cauldrons throughout that create short cuts for players to teleport within the lair without backtracking for 20 minutes. But it’s what Gruntilda’s Lair does differently that makes it stand out.
Though most games with hub worlds keep area that safe and sound, there’s a surprising amount of danger in Gruntilda’s Lair. You’ll want to steer clear of the toxic waters just outside Bubblegloop Swamp just as much as you’ll want to avoid the grille chompas outside Clanker’s Cavern.
Then there’s Gruntilda’s good sister, Brentilda, who shows up from time to time to teach the player random trivia about her sister. For instance, did you know Gruntilda only ever had one boyfriend, or that she gets her clothes from the trash can? It seems super random at the time. But, by the end of the game, when Banjo and Kazooie are part of the sinister game show “Grunty’s Furnace Fun,” these facts become a matter of life or death. It’s a classic hub world that shouldn’t be forgotten.
The End of Time, Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger‘s hub world is weird. It isn’t until after the player travels through the Middle Ages and survives a post-apocalyptic future that the End of Time appears. It’s an area removed from time and space, furnished only with a lamp post, a port for your time machine, and a few time portals. It houses only two life forms – The Guru of Time Gaspar and the “Master of War” Spekkio.
Gaspar has been stranded in this limbo for thousands of years, waiting for Chrono and his party to appear. He guides them where they need to go and can bring the party to fight Lavos whenever the player chooses. (Though, honestly, you wouldn’t be able to take Lavos on for quite some time anyway.) Spekkio, on the other hand, is a being capable of shape shifting into progressively more intimidating creatures, testing the party and granting them magic as he pleases.
Chrono’s party wound up in The End of Time because whenever four or more beings enter a time warp, they’ll break the time continuum and wash up there. It’s a decent narrative excuse to keep the party at a three characters maximum. From then on, the player decides which party members to bring with them when they travel through time and which get to hang out twiddling their thumbs beneath the lonely lamp post. And that’s what The End of Time really is: lonely. It gives the player a brief respite but reminds them why they need to travel through time and stop the world from ending.
Timber’s Island, Diddy Kong Racing
It feels like time has forgotten Diddy Kong Racing in favor of its karting contemporary Mario Kart 64. And sure, DKR doesn’t have Rainbow Road or Moo Moo Farm, but what it does have is a full-fledged single player adventure. This adventure takes place on Timber’s Island. It’s a racer’s utopia packed with four initial worlds, hidden golden balloons (items needed to enter more difficult worlds), and Taj the Elephant.
Taj awards the player gold balloons after every race they win. He also lets the player change between karts, hovercrafts, and airplanes at will. It’s a feature that makes getting around Timber’s Island and unlocking late-game doors all the more entertaining. He’ll also periodically challenge you to a race around the island. That’s right: the hub world itself is a race track.
Throughout the game, Timber’s Island becomes more dynamic as you unlock spaceships that looks like light houses and find entrances to worlds hidden behind waterfalls. It adds a distinct sense of exploration to DKR which, for a racing game, is a commendable feat. An even more commendable feat would be for Rare to make another racing game, but let’s not hold our breath.
Firelink Shrine, Dark Souls 3
Firelink Shrine is an interesting Hub world, because it actually shows up twice. Though it exists in the original Dark Souls as a crossroads of sorts, it’s not quite a hub. The Nexus in Demon’s Souls is a hub. Hunter’s Dream in Bloodborne is a hub. The Firelink Shrine in Dark Souls 3 is a hub – and what a hub it is.
In the shrine there are five thrones with only one occupant – Ludleth of Courland. Ludleth can transpose souls for your character, strengthening weapons and items for you as you see fit. He sits there, lonely and tiny compared to his massive chair. The rest of the thrones have enigmatic transcriptions on their backs, vaguely denoting their former occupants. This sets an ominous tone that permeates the rest the game.
Most importantly, you can send various non-playable characters back to Firelink, and they can become infinitely more helpful to you at your home base. Blacksmiths, item vendors; you name it, they’ll be there. And, of course, once you light the bonfire, you can teleport from the Shrine to any other bonfire you’ve lit previously. It’s one of the few places in Dark Souls 3 you can feel some semblance of safety. The brief respite it grants should be cherished in such a trying game.
Princess Peach’s Castle, Super Mario 64
This entire list could have been filled with Mario hub worlds. From the Comet Observatory in Super Mario Galaxy to the jolly Delfino Plaza in Super Mario Sunshine, the franchise has had hub worlds on lock ever since Princess Peach’s Castle in Super Mario 64. Even if it wasn’t the first in existence, Peach’s Castle is the hub world by which all other hub worlds are measured.
From jumping into the giant portrait of Cool, Cool Mountain to looking up into ceilings and suddenly flying in the clouds, the castle is filled with wonderful things to discover. There’s a dangerous hidden slide, MIPS the Rabbit (who refuses to stay put), and even Toad, who just gives you a Power Star out of the kindness of his itty-bitty heart.
It also has the greatest easter egg of all time. Collect all 120 power stars, and the cannon that was tauntingly inaccessible in the castle courtyard unlocks. Jump in, fire off onto the castle’s roof, and who’s there to see you? Mario’s best bud, Yoshi. He talks some smack about how long he’s been waiting, but he gives you 100 extra lives and improves your triple jump. Sure, now that you’ve literally done everything in the game, it’s not the most helpful bonus in the world. But seeing Yoshi on top of Princess Peach’s Castle is what we should all aspire to do. It remains the best part of the best hub world in one of the best games of all time.
There you have it! Our top five favorite hub worlds. Do you disagree? Did we drop the ball by choosing the Firelink Shrine over the Nexus? Let us know in the comments! For all your news, reviews, and more, keep your eyes on The Game Fanatics.