Let’s face it. Everyone was on Snow Miser’s side. Even if you can’t stand snow days, there’s no denying that walking outside to see what would have been an all too familiar neighborhood completely blanketed in white during the holidays is a pretty site. But what if you’re not the snowman making, snowball fighting, sledding type? Fortunately video games have a habi—I mean tradition of including snow in a small portion of their games in some form or another. Here are ten of the best. All the fun of Snow Day without the blistering temperature freezing your joints.
10. Snowy Toronto: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Not so long ago (this very year in fact), there once was a movie tie-in game that –gasp- DIDN’T SUCK! And it just so happened that its opening level took place on the violent snow ridden streets of Toronto Canada. I am speaking of course of the downloadable game Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. It’s opening level, Snowy Toronto, is without a doubt enticing beyond belief. The music is amazing, the animations are full of personality, and the snowy backdrops are a near perfect representation of the vision Bryan Lee O’Malley intended in his very first volume of this epic tale of epicness.
9. The Frozen Tundra: Little Big Planet
There is a point in Little Big Planet where the game decides it’s time to let up on the happy juice and get serious. It is the first stage of the eighth world, and you have just finished seven other worlds that where absolutely stunning, each level design more breathtaking than the next. The Frozen Tundra is no exception. Media Molecule’s talent of capturing the spirit of snow using fabric-like textures is unreal. The music is great and you even get to go Dog Sledding. Yet half way through this level things start to get much more industrialized as you find yourself dodging missiles, electric fences, and oodles of explosions. So while Frozen Tundra may have been our last lighthearted view of this vast colorful world, it also cranked up the intensity and reminded us, “Oh yeah, we’re on a mission. Sackboy’s coming for you, Collector!”
8. Cliffhanger: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
So Sgt. Roach and Captain Soap have to infiltrate a Russian Airbase to recover a satellite module. Naturally, said base is located on the top of the Kazakhstan mountains, so what follows is one of the most captivating and impressive uses of snow terrain to be seen in games thus far. It begins with Roach and Soap literally climbing the mountain with nothing but some mountains shoes and a handful of ice picks (think of it as the HD version of the Ice Climbers]. Once at the top of the mountain, they headshot some guards, steal the module, blow some stuff up, and make a run for it in a high speed snowmobile chase, wherein they escape by making a fifty foot leap from one canyon to another. So much for modern warfare. Realistic? Not really. Badass? Abso-freakin-lutely!
7. Surface 1 & 2: Goldeneye
While Modern Warefare 2 was indeed quite a visual feat, Surface 1 & 2 were some of the very first instances of snow transgression in the first person perspective we saw. These stages from the original Goldeneye are so memorable due to Rare’s ability to create atmosphere in snow levels: The sharp sound effects of the winds contrasting with the very subtle music, mixed with the deep contrast of the pitch white ground with the pitch-black sky created a very powerful mood. You felt almost like a ghost on this mission.
6. Unbearable: Crash Bandicoot 2 Cortex Strikes Back
Crash Bandicoot 2 had dozens of snow stages, and Naughtydog made the most of them by giving Crash unique animations exclusive to these levels. You could see his breath when he was breathing, he would shiver if he stood still too long, and there would be crunching noises when he ran through the snow. I know I’ve complemented music a lot in this list already, but this had to have THE most catchy snow tunes I’ve ever heard, easily. But of all the snow levels, I’m going to have to go with Unbearable, because it combines two of my favorite level types in one. It is both a front-view chase stage, and a riding Polar stage. Only this time I wasn’t running from a snowball but rather a GIANT ANGRY POLAR BEAR while riding on another polar bear. Can you say genius?
5. Snowman’s Land: Super Mario 64
How could I not put this on the list? Super Mario 64 is one of the most famous games in the verse, and while its predecessor, Cool Cool Mountain, may be more memorable, Snowman’s Land had a lot more going on. Mario has to out-maneuver Mr. Blizzard and a Chill Bully, plus he get’s to explore igloos that are a lot bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. He can even get his hat blown off and still keep playing. That’s Mario for you. “It’a me, Mario, and I’m going to rescue the princess… as soon as I finish Shell Shredding for red coins.”
4. Feezeezy Peak: Banjo-Kazooie
This counts the second stage on the list made by Rare. Banjo Kazooie came out very close to the same time as Mario 64, and both of them had snow levels that coincidentally featured giant snowmen in them. Close call, but I like this one better. Freezeezy Peak just looks more festive to me. I mean just look at that giant snowman with his pipe, green eyes and striped scarf that you can use as a slide. It not only captures the spirit of snow day, but Christmas as well. You get to deliver presents to sad polar bears, help light up a Christmas tree, as well as fight killer snowmen. You even transform into a walrus and enter a sledding race, just like so many of my Christmases as a child.
3. Heart of Ice: Uncharted 2 Among Thieves
Naughtydog is officially tied with Rare for 2. In all seriousness, Uncharted 2, in addition to having awesome everything else, had some astounding snow pieces, whether it was dangling over an icy cliff after a fierce train wreck or simply looking over at the mountains in a peaceful Tibetan village. Yet the highlight of these locals has to be when Tenzin takes our pal Drake mountaineering into a hidden cave, and among the icy terrain is this temple that is so massive and so incredibly intricate that I can’t even come up with an analogy for it. It’s just beautiful. Oh… and it’s also guarded by Yetis. Totally not kidding. Freaking Yetis!
2. Snow Barrel Blast: Donkey Kong Country
And Rare takes the lead for 3. I think everyone who’s played this game at least once will remember this stage. Donkey Kong Country’s art style was already years ahead of its time and Snow Barrel Blast was no exception. Long before Goldeneye and Banjo ever existed, these guys were already crafting incredibly atmospheric locations covered in snow. They made the terrain rougher to walk across, the enemies were tougher to spot, and the snow had varying wavelengths. Sometimes it would be very calm and appear only in the background at first, but would aggressively fall harder and harder until it eventually overtook the front of the screen. It actually feels like you’re caught in a freaking blizzard. For the time, that was crazy.
1. Snowpeak Ruins: Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess
Twilight Princess had dungeons that hit on practically every single elemental type: Grass, Fire, Water, Earth, Ice, Light, Wind, and Dark (all that’s missing are metal and electric). But of all of them, the only one that momentarily made me scratch my head was the ice one. Most dungeons in a Zelda game take place somewhere obvious, like a cave, or a hidden temple, or inside something’s mouth. But Snowpeak Ruins… is a house. Yup, a house. You walk in and the owners are just chilling out, like “Hey Link, how you doing? You want the mirror? Oh yeah, it’s right up stairs. Could you get the key for us? Just look out for the ice skeletons and the armored lizard we keep locked up in the closet. By the way, would you like some Reekfish soup?” So yeah, for a game that’s pretty dark and moody most of the time, Snowpeak was one of the few locations in Twilight Princess that felt lighthearted and genuinely funny. Even the slide down the mountain to the house was fun. It had some classic “slide the blocks across the ice into their proper spot” puzzles, you got to shoot cannon balls at ice breathing dragons, and once the area is cleared, the owner Yeta is kind enough to take you right to the mirror of twilight personally. Finally, a dungeon that doesn’t have the urge to drown things out with some elaborate—
I take it back. This winter wonderland just turned into a freaking nightmare. One of the creepiest points in an already creepy game, followed by an Ice Boss that makes Chill Penguin look as intimidating as a bowling pin. But hey, at least afterwards they will go sled racing with you for heart pieces.
So there you have it. 10 Snow levels that make the absolute most of the cliché they are attached to. But trust me, there’s only about 78 gazillion more out there. Any favorites?
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