Snow and ice have been represented in gaming for as long as I can remember. Some people hate the slippery platforms and the other inevitable winter hazards, but I like them. Maybe I’m a masochist, but I just can’t get enough of trekking through waist high snow and skating over snowy cliffs.
I decided to put together some of my favourite winter/ice themed levels to share with you this holiday season. Maybe you’ll find a level inviting you to challenge its blistering cold temperatures.
Ice Mountain Zone – Sonic Advance
Sonic Advance was a great return to form for the series in 2001 and no level stood out to me quite like Ice Mountain Zone. Ice Mountain Zone creates a wonderful winter land atmosphere by throwing you directly into a snowy flurry. The falling snow effect is brilliant, but it’s the awesome background littered with pine trees and snow-capped peaks that make you feel like you’re really in the mountains.
Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse – Snowy Valley
Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse is one of those games that will always light up my day, especially its fifth stage known as Snowy Valley. Snowy Valley is a short level, but it’s full of icy goodness. One of the coolest things to do in Snowy Valley is use Mickey’s firefighter suit to shoot water at ice crystals to make frozen platforms. Of course, there are also adorable little yeti creatures that break free from the side of Snowy Valley’s crystalline hills and lots of sliding opportunities as well.
Snowy Valley’s theme song (see 12 Wintry Video Game Themes to Enjoy During the Holidays) is incredible and makes this occasionally empty level feel a lot like waiting outside in a storm by yourself. Snowy Valley also has perhaps the most gorgeous indigo colored aurora borealis in gaming history.
Diddy Kong Racing – Snowflake Mountain
Another game featured on 12 Wintry Video Game Themes to Enjoy During the Holidays brings back a lot of Christmas memories. Snowflake Mountain is one of the worlds in Diddy Kong Racing and is a full on winter experience. As you enter Snowflake Mountain, sleigh bells are added to the music and the snow begins to fall. Snowflake Mountain is technically a lobby and not a level, but it contains four brilliantly crafted winter tracks.
You get to race in Snowball Valley, over Everfrost Peak, on Walrus Cove, and through Frosty Village. Everything you’d expect from wintry, Christmassy levels can be found here: giant candy canes, trees strung with lights, icy platforms, snow, and a village celebrating the holidays. Oh, and that music. Those brilliant holiday themed tracks make Snowflake Mountain one of the best winter themed areas ever.
What? A PC game makes the list on a website that primarily covers Nintendo news and games? Well, yeah. Coldfront is a community made Team Fortress 2 map that Valve has adopted as part of the game. It’s the perfect map to play during the holidays because it features a lot of snow and a chilly atmosphere. Throw in some winter related items like the Spy-cicle, Wrap Assassin, Holiday Punch, or any holiday related hats and you have the perfect map worthy of a Christmas Eve battle.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game – Scene 3: Let’s Melt Snow and Rebuild N.Y. City
Going to the arcade to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of many video game related highlights from my childhood; playing it at home on my NES was even better. One thing in particular that made the NES version better than the arcade game was the inclusion of new levels. That’s where Let’s Melt Snow and Rebuild N.Y. City comes in.
You’ll fight a bunch of snowball throwing Foot Soldiers, robotic snowmen, and encounter traps such as tractors and snow covered holes. At the end of the stage, you’ll discover that New York became a winter wasteland thanks to Tora and his weather changing device. Defeat Tora and destroy the weather changing device to melt New York City!
Battletoads – Arctic Caverns
Few have made it to the Arctic Caverns thanks to the ultra-difficult Turbo Tunnel stage that precedes it. With patience – and by patience I mean multiple visits to memorize every single obstacle – it’s possible to reach this icy cavern. Those that have made the trip will agree that it is wondrous.
Arctic Caverns lives up to its name with a lot of icy floors, giant snowballs and snowball throwing snowmen. Though it can be tricky to navigate its icy platforms, it’s one of my favourite ice levels of all time. The level gives me a surreal feeling thanks in part to its near unreachability, but mostly because of the dreamy, blue and purple glacial walls that serve as the caverns backdrop. Its theme lends to its mystical and magical atmosphere.
Ristar – Planet Freon
Welcome to Planet Freon, the fifth planet in this criminally underplayed Genesis game. Planet Freon carries a lot of the usual winter level tropes, but does so with a ton of charm. Instead of icy platforms just being a pain in the arse, Ristar actually loses complete control and slides across until solid ground appears. Purple and blue run rampant in the background, snow is falling, and more snowball throwing enemies appear. However, Ristar doesn’t seem to be bothered by the snow. Leave him alone for a few moments and watch him build the cutest little snowman.
Donkey Kong Country – Snow Barrel Blast
If Ice Mountain Zone threw you into a snow flurry, Snow Barrel Blast from Donkey Kong Country throws you directly into a blizzard! Well, the level starts off like any other, but gradually the snow begins its assault. The further you get the heavier it falls. By the end of the level your vision is blanketed by a wall of snow which makes barrel blasting harder than it ought to be.
Using the falling snow effect to create a hazardous journey is quite brilliant, and definitely one of my favourite uses of snow in gaming.