Alright, enough of all this holiday stuff! Let’s talk about something else that’s even more relevant to this time of year: snow and ice levels in video games! The bane of some, the favorite of others, we’ve all played through countless areas encased in ice, sprinkled with snow and possibly howling with a chill wind. Environmental extremes are a staple of video games, after all, from old school platformers to racing games, epic role playing games and even survival horror. With so many possibilities, what are our own favorite ice levels or areas? Will we have surprising unknown selections or skew traditional? Find out in this round table, and tell us your own fave ice areas/levels in the comments.
Love them or hate them the ice level is a staple of the platformer genre. I know I’ve played my fair share of good and bad ice levels, and when it comes to my favorite I have to split it two ways: favorite music and favorite level.
As far as music goes, I dare you to find a better ice level theme than that of Sonic 3‘s Ice Cap Zone Act 1 or 2. Whether it really was composed by Michael Jackson or not the beats get you in the mood to go gliding through the snow as fast as you can. Don’t believe me? Check out the grooves for yourself.
As far as levels go, though, I’d have to pick Super Mario Bros. 3 level 6-10. Why? Three words: Hammer Bros. Suit. Seriously, where else in the entire game can you find this serious piece of hardware just waiting to be picked up? Mushroom houses don’t count. 6-10 also has the distinction of being one of the few levels that has melt-able ice blocks with coins inside. Best. Ice level. EVER!
The best ice stage? Well, they’re all pretty cool (I’m not sorry), but when it comes to the stage that can ice all the rest in terms of both freezetastic weather and gaming prowess, there’s only one on my mind: Chill Penguin’s Abandoned Missile Base in Mega Man X. Now that, my friend, combines two parts of what the Mega Man series is all about, and certainly the Mega Man X series, to go a little further. Since X was a crazy spin-off of the original Blue Bomber’s series, fans probably didn’t know what to expect. Well, Chill Penguin– essentially the first non-tutorial stage of the game– gave a great round for those same fans. Plenty of walls to climb (climbing? in my Mega Man?) abound, both literally and figuratively, and upgraded versions of old Mega Man mobs reminded every player that this was the same world as before– just one hundred years in the future. And so while being the stereotypical ice stage, Chill Penguin’s base also lent something very essential to the budding X series: a low bow to the old, and a cold open (so alone) to the new.
And so even the most hardened of Mega Man players realized that there was something very different about Mega Man X— especially when Dr. Light showed up in his first capsule. It was epic: “So you’ve come. X, I gave you the ability to choose your own path in life, and I hoped the world would allow you to choose a peaceful one. But now it seems you are destined to fight.”
Sure, it sounds like a retread of the first Mega Man‘s “Fight! Mega Man! For everlasting peace!”, but in the context of a game like Mega Man X, and from the mouth of (the one! the only!) Dr. Light, it at least seems like so much more. Mega Man X– and the player– are ready to fight.
Oh, and Chill Penguin is pretty cool, too. He’s a penguin. Who’s chill.
My favorite winter wonderland comes from a Zelda game. That’s right; I’m sounding like a broken record but am damn proud of it! Surprisingly, though, I’m not talking about Ocarina of Time: its Ice Cavern and the frozen take on Zora’s Domain were fine, but they were simply too small a part of the game to make a truly memorable impact. This time the praise has to go one of the series’ most inventive entries, Majora’s Mask.
Snowhead is the second dungeon in the game and both it and the areas directly preceding it are some of my favorite snows levels of any game. The dungeon itself is a snowy, icy tower that does more than have a awesomely chilly aesthetic, but is a memorable dungeon in its own right. What really stood out in Snowhead were the constant leaps you had to make from one side of the tower to the other by nailing jumps with the Goron Mask’s rolling-dash maneuver (sort of like a bigger, browner, rockier, less hedgehog-y version of Sonic). And while it has nothing to do with the snow, the dungeon’s boss, Goht, remains one of the franchise’s most memorable.
But what really makes Snowhead stand out is the great change it goes through after beating the dungeon. It starts as a frozen wasteland, the grand waterfall has come to an icy halt and the mighty Gorons have been completely oppressed by the cold. Once Goht is defeated and the unnatural winter ends, the area transforms into a beautiful meadow, with lush and vibrant flowers given life by the sudden spring. Altogether, it gives a great sense of the immense power possessed by the cold and gives you even greater appreciation for the game’s designers for being able to create two aesthetically unique and interesting worlds out of a single place.
I’m so proud of Andy for choosing Snowhead as his favorite snow level. To be honest, the thought hadn’t even occurred to me. When I thought of my favorite snow level, I thought of a whole region: the Shiver Region from Paper Mario. From Shiver City to Starborn Valley, the Shiver Region stands alone as my favorite snow level. As you move through Starborn Valley, snow of all shapes and sizes fills the screen, as Mushroom Kingdom’s aurora borealis lights up the night sky.
It is a perfect winterland: calm and quiet. Yet it is home to one of the most powerful bosses in the game. Standing at the pinnacle of Shiver Mountain is the Crystal Palace, home of the Crystal King. The Crystal King is one of the hardest, and most badass bosses in any Paper Mario game. He can hit you for some serious damage, and also has the ability to heal himself. Not to mention he has three Crystal Bits to help him put Mario and his friends in a world of hurt.
One of my favorite ice-themed levels was White Land in F-Zero. While it isn’t an “ice level” in a traditional platforming sense, it does feature a lot of frictionless track, which lets you slip without good traction, and the background is clearly a deserted, ice-filled planet that is barren of all life and exists only to host an F-Zero track. After all, why would anyone who is not Bigfoot want to live there? Good question.
You know, I have another favorite ice level. It just so happens that Atlus’ Dual Hearts (admittedly a PS2 game) has an ice/snow level of its own. It’s full of yeti, snowballs, starlight, and brightly-lit winter cabins with a steaming hot cup of cocoa waiting, full of marshmallows. Maybe I’m letting the imagery get away from me. Anyway, each of the levels in Dual Hearts is based off of a character’s dream, and as you later discover, this particular character happens to be Santa Claus. So, this is one of the few games (save Elf Bowling) that features Santa as a main character.
I’m sure everyone is going to pick the most fun or exciting snow and ice levels they’ve ever played and that’s probably what I should do as well. Why the ice slide levels in Super Mario 64 or slippy slidey-ness of the Ice Climbers-inspired levels found in the Smash Bros. franchise would both be perfectly valid choices for such a round table, amongst countless others. In fact, gaming is full of exciting and enjoyable snow-based levels.
But I’m not going to talk about any of those, am I? No. Instead I’m talking about Snowpoint City in Pokémon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum. And not because it’s fun, enjoyable or exciting, many of the emotions we normally associate with snowy conditions, but instead because it’s tedious, unnecessary and makes you want to jab yourself in the eye with a fork after about five minutes of trudging. Like the way snow actually is.
You may be aware that, for the last month, the UK has been suffering prolonged and unrelenting cold weather, complete with snow, ice and temperatures well below freezing. And for me, and nearly everyone else over the age of six, the magic has thoroughly worn off, leaving us all incredibly numb, ill and with sore backsides where we’ve slipped on the ice. And that is exactly why I think Snowpoint City and its surrounding area is such a great example of wintry conditions; very few games portray snow as a cumbersome, annoying and problematic issue.
For while you may not think Pokémon is the most realistic series in the world, when you are getting stuck in clumps of snow, can’t see the screen because of a blizzard or your Pokémon are being thrashed by hail you know this is exactly what snow is like.
M. Noah Ward
I feel a little embarrassed for not remembering the Snowhead temple in Majora’s Mask since that’s one of my top 3 favorite Zelda games, but the temple frankly didn’t leave an impact with me (though the mechanical goat boss was kind of cool). In fact, most ice levels annoy me. I dread when I get to an ice world in any platformer game like Super Mario Bros., but sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised by them, as I was with one level in Kirby’s Epic Yarn where you journeyed through a village made of giant mitten houses that would slowly roll down a blind, forcing you to clear out quickly lest the fabric security system get you. It was just all so charming, though.
That’s not my favorite ice area, however. I actually have three, and, unsurprisingly, they don’t punish you with an annoying, “Oh-oh-oh! Oops, your character/car just slid off the platform/track! Hahahaha! You’ve been challenged!” First up is Santa’s domain in Secret of Mana. After going through some traditional snowy forests (pine trees with clumps of snow– seen that before!), you arrive in a pine-tree-free forest in which every leafless tree is encased in an iridescent casing of ice. They glimmer like the shiny side of a DVD, and then you get to a large European-styled castle where Demon Santa awaits (he’s just misunderstood). The area was so remarkable and memorable to me because it was the first ice area I truly liked.
Similarly, I’m in love with the Anouki villages in The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. Once more the snow has a multicolor iridescence (maybe I’m just attracted to shiny things) and the igloo-styled huts the Eskimo-penguin-deer Anoukis live in have a very cozy, colorful decor that makes me want to return on holiday for a cup of hot cocoa and an Eskimo-penguin-deer hug.
But the area I played over and over again was in a snowboarding game. I love a good snowboarding game, particularly the SSX series, and SSX Tricky remains my favorite. My favorite course? Untracked, which is remarkable since Tricky‘s updated courses are all outstanding (Tokyo Megaplex! Aloha Ice Jam! Merqury City Meltdown!), but after that fantasy course overload, going into an all-natural environment is all the more special and, most of all, phenomenal thanks to the musical inclusion of Hybrid’s “Finished Symphony”. I’d play the course over and over to hear the song and enjoy figuring out the shortcuts in this hint-free wilderness to max out points. Hybrid went on to be a favorite musical artist of mine, and Tricky, as aforementioned, my favorite SSX title.
Those are ours. How about yours? Favorite dungeon, race course, or pacifist no-slip area that Noah would appreciate? Tell us in the comments.