From the hidden block in the first Super Mario Bros. or the original Easter egg in Atari’s Adventure, secrets and video games have gone hand-in-hand almost since the advent of the entire medium.
However, not all secrets are little messages or items - some are entire landscapes that have been hidden incredibly well by crafty developers.
Locating these areas often takes a lot of time, patience, skill, and yes, sometimes cheating, but the joy of discovery always make it worth it.
With this countdown, we’ll be discussing the best-of-the-best in terms of secret worlds and areas that flourish in the most concealed segments of digital code, and we’ll be happy to tell you how you can access them and discover their secrets.
We’ll be going through entire generations of games, from classics on the Nintendo Entertainment System and PlayStation, all the way through to the current generation with the PC and PlayStation 4.
You might be familiar with some of the hidden worlds we’ll be covering, and others might be not be, but the one thing that all of our entries have in common is how increasingly difficult and obscure the means of accessing each one ends up being, whether it’s through simple codes or diabolically random requirements that no one in their right mind would even begin to consider.
With that said, here are the 25 Hidden Levels In Iconic Video Games Only True Fans Have Found (And How To Find Them).
25 Dark Souls - The Painted World of Ariamis
The Souls series seems like it was specifically designed to mystify players at all times… before beating them into submission, of course.
Within the gloomy, desecrated world of the first Dark Souls, there’s a strange respite found within the wintery world of a painting.
For players to find their way into this completely hidden realm, you’ll need the Peculiar Doll, which can be found in your cell within the Undead Asylum.
The painting itself is located in Anor Londo.
If you do decide to go into this completely new world, be prepared to stay there for awhile.
24 Modern Warfare - Mile High Club
While not exactly a secret level for those of us who are patient enough to sit through a game’s credits, the Mile High Club remained a mystery for those who mashed every button on the controller after beating Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
If you resisted your base instincts, you were treated to a quick, unrelated mission of an anti-criminal unit battling aggressors on a plane.
While it’s far from a noteworthy addition to the game, it did serve as the inspiration for the incredibly fun Spec Ops missions in Modern Warfare 2 and 3.
23 Diablo II - Cow Level
In Blizzard’s StarCraft (and its BroodWar expansion) there was a code called “thereisnocowlevel,” and the phrase has become something of a running joke with PC gamers and developers, but what did it actually refer to?
In Diablo I, there was a viral rumor that there was a “cow level,” and the rumor became so bad that Blizzard themselves had to shoot it down. That is, of course, until there really was a cow level in Diablo 2.
You’ll need to acquire Wirt’s Leg, beat the game, go back to Act 1 on the same difficulty level, go to the Rogue Encampment, combine the leg with a Town Poral Tome, and then enter a red portal.
Be forewarned: despite the humorous concept of cow enemies, the difficulty is enormous.
22 Pokémon Red/Blue - Glitch City
The original Pokémon Game Boy games weren’t strangers to insane theories and rumors, like the “PokeGods” or the existence of actual glitches like MissingNo. on the shores of Cinnabar Island.
There’s also a genuine secret location, but it wasn’t one intended by the developers. This place is called Glitch City.
To explore this place yourself, go the Safari Zone, start the quest, attempt to leave, answer “no” when asked, go back into the Zone, and then save the game, turn it off, and start it back up.
Now leave the Safari Zone for real, answer “no” again, then walk around for 500 steps.
Before you know it, you’ll be warped to this incredibly weird location that easily lives up to its name.
21 Doom (2016) - Retro Levels
Doom’s 2016 revival was heralded for bringing the fast-paced gameplay and monstrous atmosphere of the original into the modern world, but it took a little more of the old game with it than you might think.
In multiple levels throughout the reboot, you are able to access hidden sections that are identical recreations of classic Doom levels, down to the pixelated textures.
We’ll give you the coordinates to the first one, but leave the fun of discovering the rest up to you.
In Level 1, go through a blue gate. Keep left until you find a yellow structure, drop down, and in a gap you’ll find a lever that you need to pull. After that, head right and you’ll find yourself in a major blast from the past.
20 Sonic Adventure 2 - Green Hill Zone
Despite die-hard fans claiming otherwise, the Sonic Adventure series has aged excruciatingly poorly, but SA2 does have one thing going for it, which is a level so secret it was thought to be a myth: a 3D remake of Sonic 1’s Green Hill Zone.
You’ll need all 180 Emblems to get there, and that’s much harder than it sounds.
You’ll need to beat the Chao challenges, complete every mission in every stage, and get an A rank on everything. Most of this requires a level of precision and reliability that the game is simply incapable of providing, so prepare for a broken controller (or two.)
If you actually succeed, you’re in for what is easily the best (and most functional, for some reason) level in the entire game.
19 Rogue Squadron - "Chicken"
Rogue Squadron on the N64 is one of the best Star Wars games ever made, and it holds up even to this day.
While it would eventually be outdone by its Gamecube sequel, the original game was the finest Star Wars dogfighting experience that players could have on their home consoles for years.
Aside from its excellent gameplay, Rogue Squadron was infamous for tons of cheat codes, including a complex one that allowed for players to actually fly a Naboo Starfighter before the release of Episode I.
However, the best secret was a small level where players took on the role of an AT-ST and laid waste to a city, and it’s an absolute blast.
To access it, you simply need to punch in “CHICKEN” within the Passcodes menu.
18 Donkey Kong 64 - Debug Room
Donkey Kong 64 is a fantastic 3D platformer made by the exceptional Rare, which brought all manner of classics to the N64 such as Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, and Blast Corps.
However, the company might have gone a little overboard with DK64, considering that it held the world record for the amount of collectibles within the game.
Something that the record failed to mention, however, was the game’s secret Debug Room.
Populated by an eerie, unmoving Donkey Kong, a balloon, and a few platforms, it’s easily accessed by collecting all of the Blueprints, going to Snide’s HQ, enter the Bonus Menu, and hold B and press A.
Be careful, though, as you won’t be able to escape the room’s clutches.
17 Super Mario Bros. 3 - The Warp Whistle House
Alright, Toad’s house in World 1, Level 3 isn’t a fully-fleshed out secret level per se, but it’s a mind-bogglingly hidden secret area that seemingly no one in their right mind could have discovered without outside help.
In Level 3, you’ll be passing an area with multi-colored, rectangular platforms in the background, which you can jump on. Land on a white one, and then duck for a few seconds.
You’ll eventually go “behind the scenes,” allowing you to run past everything, including the end of the level.
You’ll end up in Toad’s House, and he’ll give you a Warp Whistle for your efforts.
Toad has a few more secrets up his sleeve, though, which we'll get to later.
16 Shadow Of The Colossus - Secret Garden
Shadow of the Colossus has one of the most atmospheric, mesmerizing, and fully-realized landscapes in the entire history of gaming.
It has utterly captivated players since its release, and many have gone on to discover incredibly strange ruins and leftover content by hacking through the game and going out of bounds.
While there are many rumors about other secrets, there is only one that is legitimate: the secret garden.
To find it, you’ll need to take a lengthy and arduous climb up the Shrine.
If you make it, beware the fruit, as it will lower your stamina and health.
15 Rayman 2 (PS1) - Playable Prototype
Rayman 2 is one of the most re-released games in the history of video games, and rightfully so considering the fact that it’s a superb 3D platformer that holds up exceptionally well.
In the PlayStation version of Rayman 2, there’s actually a hidden, playable prototype of what Rayman 2 was supposed to be before making the jump into 3D, but it’s not exactly easy to access.
You’ll need at least 90% of the game’s collectible Lums to access it, and considering that there’s a colossal 800 of them, it might take a while.
14 Super Mario 64 - The Slide
The release of Super Mario Bros. was a pivotal moment for video games, as it was instrumental in resurrecting and revolutionizing the medium through great gameplay and secrets.
Fast forward to Super Mario 64, and Nintendo revolutionized video games once again with the first true 3D platformer, an analog stick, and a wealth of more incredible secrets.
While the Princess’ Secret Slide is common knowledge now, it was an incomparable moment of discovery for players being immersed in this new world for the first time.
If you haven’t yet discovered it, simply go to the upper-right door within the first floor of the Castle, and then jump through the right-most window of Peach.
13 Freedom Fighters - Liberty Island
As an underrated third-person shooter during the PS2 era, Freedom Fighters tasked players with living out a Red Dawn situation, retaking New York from invading Soviets.
It has an impressive, non-linear mission approach and even more impressive squad controls and AI that lead to epic shootouts against your enemies with teammates who felt real fighting by your side.
The game also had an excellent secret level where the fight is taken to Liberty Island, and it is truly a warzone.
To unlock it, you’ll need to power through the “Against All Odds” difficulty, which is no small feat.
12 A Link To The Past - Chris Houlihan's Room
Imagine winning a contest from Nintendo to have your name appear in an upcoming game, only for it to be completely hidden away from players for reasons unknown.
This exact scenario happened to Chris Houlihan, but he ended up with the last laugh since his top secret room exists, and has become a legend amongst gaming communities the world over.
To see the room for yourself, start at the Sanctuary, use the Pegasus Boots to make your way to Hyrule Castle, and enter the secret passage from the South.
You’ll end up in Chris’ treasure-filled room, and be able to read a little message: “My name is Chris Houlihan. This is my top secret room. Keep it between us, OK?”
11 Goldeneye - The Island
The granddaddy of all console first-person shooters, GoldenEye, developed by the incredible Rare, is a true classic that still holds up today thanks to its objective-based missions, great score and excellent gameplay.
In the game’s first level, Dam, players need to make their way through guard checkpoints and then bungee jump off the edge of the titular dam in order to infiltrate a chemical weapons facility.
However, if you take out your sniper rifle and zoom in across the dammed up water, you’ll see a curious island way out in the distance.
This is a relic of a deleted objective. The only way you’ll be able to make it out there is with GameShark codes or emulation.
10 Barkley: Shut Up And Jam Gaiden - Deathtemple in Hell
In the canonical JRPG Barkley: Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa, players assume the role of Charles Barkley in a post-Space Jam world, whose use of the Chaos Dunk resulted in a decimated NYC, causing basketball to be banned.
An absolutely hilarious game, Barkley also contains a secret world: to access it, you’ll need to be a compassionless monster: do not give the kid in front of the church any money, nor the hobo by Dr. Allard’s office.
Also, don’t apologize to Wildman and don’t help Dick Vitale out.
Do that, then pass away, and you’ll find yourself in an incredibly surreal world populated by angry forum posters, the game creators themselves, and a warped version of “Proud to be an American” playing on loop.
9 Rampage: World Tour - "Secret Days"
The Rampage franchise is about giant mutants razing every city on the face of the Earth, and it’s a ton of fun that was reasonably captured with Dwayne Johnson’s recent movie adaptation.
World Tour was the second game in the franchise, and despite having over one hundred levels (called “days” in-game), the developers felt that you might need a few more in the form of super-secret (and often surreal) stages.
To access them, you’ll need to be entering Atlanta, Louisville, Phoenix, or Fairbanks, and then, as the name of the city appears, jump thrice if you’re George, punch thrice if you’re Lizzie, and kick the same if you’re Ralph.
If done right, you’ll end up some truly weird places, including the Underworld and an Area 51 knock-off.
8 Super Mario Bros. 3 - White Toad House
If you go into a level, wander through it, and then mysteriously feel the urge to duck for a few seconds on a white rectangle in order to backstage, you'll find a secret house that wasn’t obscure enough.
Our odd pal Toad has yet another incredibly hidden home that you’ll need the best of luck to find unless you know the method.
In World I, Level 4, players are pitted against a auto-scrolling stage. The level itself isn’t difficult, but if you want the White Toad House, it suddenly becomes a nightmare.
You’ll need to collect precisely 44 coins on the stage, and should you succeed, the hidden house will appear on the world map.
7 Star Fox - Out Of This Dimension
The original Star Fox on the SNES is already kind of weird thanks to its primitive polygons, which look more like a trippy, avant-garde student movie than like actual spaceships.
Little would one know that truly trippy imagery and content awaited within a hidden level called “Out of this Dimension.”
To reach this incredibly eerie level, with its uncomfortable music and giant slot machine, you’ll need to do Route 3’s Asteroid Belt, pass the first giant asteroid, shoot the second until it explodes, and then crash into the weird creature that appears.
This trip will actually end your game, so consider yourself warned.
6 Donkey Kong 64 - The Control Room
Earlier in the list, we mentioned Donkey Kong 64’s creepy debug room, and the ever-starting, ever-silent, ever-present Donkey Kong clone that resided within.
There is another secret area in the game and, thankfully, there is no soulless doppëlganger to greet you.
To find the secret, you’ll need to head the front of DK Island, wade into the water, face the shore, dive, and then press B repeatedly while you get near the land.
With some practice, you’ll clip under the island, and you’ll need to swim to where the waterfall is.
If you do it right, you’ll end up in the control room of K. Rool’s ship, which was only seen in cutscenes… until now.
5 Bomberman 64 - Rainbow Palace
As many franchises made the jump to 3D during the '90s, there was a whole spectrum of success, with Mario and Link being the top, and Bubsy being the absolute bottom. Bomberman was somewhere in the middle, though.
Abandoning the traditional grid-based gameplay, Bomberman 64 was more of an action-puzzler, and was an excellent game for anyone’s N64 collection.
Upon beating it, being subjected to a melancholy ending, and then watching the credits, you might notice a mysterious structure floating in the air during some of the scenes.
To actually get to the Rainbow Palace, and get the true conclusion of the game, you’ll need to acquire every last Golden Card, but the reward is worth the work.
4 Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - The Rooftop
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a phenomenal game. It had a tremendous effect on the franchise, forcing it to transition from action-platformer to RPG-lite Metroidvania.
The game is filled to the brim with all kinds of secrets, enemies, items, and more, including an entire inverted castle that needs to be unlocked, but its greatest secret is how to achieve 200.6% map completion.
To do this, you’ll need to use a glitch that allows you to go on the Castle’s roof.
In the bottom-left corner of the first bell tower in the Royal Chapel, use the Sword Brother’s spell and, while it’s being cast, transform into a bat and charge left, which should take you outside.
3 Super Mario Bros. - 256 Secret Levels
This is a well-known secret these days, but it was an absolutely incredible phenomenom in the past. The original Super Mario Bros., already loaded with secrets, was also home to a very large and unintended realm: Minus World.
However, there’s some far more expansive hiding beyond that looping realm.
Get yourself a top-loading NES, Tennis, and SMB. Play a little of 1-1, but pull the game out with the power on, put in Tennis, and then hit reset.
Play a few minutes of Tennis, pull it out, and replace with SMB, then hit reset again.
If it’s all done correctly, (and if nothing broke) say hello to an insane 256 new levels, all of them totally bonkers.
You could also use a Game Genie to access them, but that’s less exciting.
2 Sonic 2 - Hidden Palace Zone
Sonic 2 is one of the greatest 2D platformers in existence, and it is still somehow better than 90% of the rest of the mascot’s catalogue.
While the game’s Zones were all iconic and unique, there was one that didn’t make the cut of the final game: Hidden Palace Zone.
Not to be confused by the area of the same name in S3&K, the Hidden Palace was first seen in preview screenshots.
After discovering its unused music in the sound test, players could use GameShark to access a garbled mess of the Zone’s remnants, but if you want to play the Zone in its full glory, you’ll need the 2013 mobile re-release.
Here, the stage has been fully completed (and found by falling into the infamous pit in Mystic Cave.)
1 Super Mario Bros. 3 - The Treasure Ship
This is the third time that SMB3 has appeared on our list, and that should be a testament to just how many truly obscure secret levels await within its many worlds, but none are as mythic as the Treasure Ship.
This ghostly vessel is only capable of being summoned in Worlds 1, 3, 5 and 6.
You’ll need a Hammer Brother on the main map, and you must finish a stage with a coin total that is a multiple of 11, with the tens digit of the score needing to match that multiple.
If you can actually pull off these obtuse steps, you’ll find yourself in one of the most well-hidden areas in all of gaming.
Can you think of any other hidden levels in video games that most fans haven't found? Let us know in the comments!