Listmas being what it is, I’ve always tried to do at least one list a year that’s somewhat in keeping with the season. As a resident of the Midwest, this is a season that’s usually defined by snow and lots of it. Once mid-November hits, it’s a subject that’s always on our minds in some way, shape, or form. If we’re getting a lot of it, every conversation must being with at least some kind of comment about just how much there is and how dealing with it is such a pain. If we’re not getting a lot, or if it’s unseasonable warm like it is this year, then opening comments must be about how strange and/ or disappointing it is that we haven’t seen any snow yet. Last year, I’d thought I was running out of snowy levels to talk about, but all it took was a quick revisit to the ol’ collection to remind me that I had forgotten a lot more than I’d thought. Video games are flush with snow and ice levels to rant about. So in keeping with Midwestern custom, let’s talk about snow (levels)!
Slipslide Ride – Donkey Kong Country
Video by Youtube user: MegamanNG
I’ve already talked about Snow Barrel Blast and it’s infamous blizzard and difficulty in a past list, so we’re going to stay away from it an its cousin, Ice Age Alley, this time. Instead, let’s take a look at the one and only ice cave in the entire game. I’d mostly forgotten how much simultaneous fun and frustration there is to be had in this stage. All of it springing from its unique slippery/iced-over ropes. As tough as it was getting the hang of these again, I have to say that I wish these would come back someday. Jumping from rope to rope as Donkey/Diddy helplessly slid up or down made for a surprisingly nail-biting, zinger-cursing, good time. To those who’ve played Donkey Kong Country Returns: Tropical Freeze, did they bring them back? Please tell me they did.
Black Ice Battle – Donkey Kong Country 2
Video by Youtube user: Saestrol
Speaking of slippery stages, how about one where you either how to roll with the sliding or die immediately? Aside from Animal Antics, Black Ice Battle has to be one of DKC 2’s most dreaded stages. It’s not particularly long, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in sheer intensity. Zinger jumps after every ledge, black barrel dudes taking every opportunity they can get their well-well worn feet on to take you lives, precision attacks into porcupine and gator pairs. Black Ice Battle takes no prisoners and I’m so very happy to leave it alone for at least another year.
Hoth – Super Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back
Video by Youtube user: GameGrumps
Hoth on the other hand, I think I could live without ever having to play it again. This is the opening level in a game that’s infamous for its astoundingly crushing difficulty. It’s there to dispel any illusions you might have had that this game was going to be a fun romp through the landmark moments of one of your favorite Star Wars movies. Instead of the barely habited ice ball in the movie, this version of Hoth is chock-full of life that’s just itching to find out what a jedi tastes like. Fire your blaster until it overheats. Swing that lightsaber around like your life depends on it, because it does. Hoth is beatable, and you’ll feel like a truly accomplished gamer once you do. However, there’s a price to be paid for that accomplishment. One paid in tons of time and occasional bouts of yelling.
Snow Man’s Land – Super Mario 64
Video by Youtube user: Nintendo64Movies
Had enough of Hoth? Then why not spend some time in Snowman’s land, one of if not the best snow-themed platforming sandboxes? I absolutely love this level. It’s just so chill (pun kind of intended). No matter what star you’re chasing, it’s so easy to just drift off and grab another one. Don’t feel like climbing up the snowman? Then why not explore this ice maze sitting over there? How about teaching that blue bully a lesson. Do what you want, we don’t mind. Add the ability to surf all over the place on a koopa shell and you’ve got yourself one of the best snowy playgrounds in gaming. Super Mario Odyssey’s Snow Kingdom could perhaps give it a run for its money in sheer sandboxiness, but it doesn’t have a several-story-tall snowman to scale so I can’t really give it the win here.
Crystal Caves – Donkey Kong 64
Video by Youtube user: marioworld69
Okay so this is technically not an ice or snow level, but it looks like one and that’s close enough in my book. I love this level for reasons similar to Snowman’s Land. It’s incredibly relaxing. The challenges are fun, the enemies are easy, and the cave itself can be a wonder to behold at times. Actually, relaxing isn’t really the right word. Thanks to the music and long intervals between actual challenges, Crystal Caves is more sleepy than relaxing. It’s the perfect level to play on a cold winter evening whilst bundled up in a blanket with some hot chocolate.
Ice Cavern – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Video by Youtube user: Raw Gameplay
Going back to actual ice caves, I think the Ice Cave in Ocarina of Time has caught just about everyone off-guard the first time they encountered it. It’s not that the cave itself is unexpected, it’s that the atmosphere is rather unusual. It’s just so…quiet. Hauntingly so. It kind of feels like Link is an intruder in this little world of ice and echoes. There’s no grand boss or evil to confront in this cave, just a handful of monsters and a piece of equipment to collect. It’s certainly a dangerous place, but it doesn’t seem to be the same kind of dangerous that defines the game’s other dungeons. Aside from maybe the Forest Templ, I don’t think there’s another Zelda dungeon that comes anywhere close to this strange mix of calm and danger.
Crystal Glacier – Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage
Video by Youtube user: JohnnyDFox
Crystal Glacier on the other hand is just the opposite. This is a level full of life, color and cavemen for some reason. I don’t think I’d call this one my favorite levels in the Spyro games, but as a winter level it works very well. It’s got a level of discovery to it that’s largely absent from the other entries on this list. It’s comparatively small by today’s standards, but for what it is, theres a lot to find and explore. It’s challenges are all rather charming too. Whether Spyro is flying through a cave clearing it of strange mint-colored bugs or guiding a lost snow leopard home, Crystal Glacier makes sure to deliver on the light-hearted comedy and fun that made the original Spyro games into classics. It’s too bad we haven’t really seen anything like it since.
These levels were in no particular order since I don’t even know how to even begin comparing Donkey Kong Country with the likes of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. They’re are all also rediscovered favorites, but it’s kinda funny how Donkey Kong wound up dominating the list isn’t it? It really wasn’t on purpose or anything, I swear! I guess Rareware just knew how to do a good snow level and the Donkey Kong games just so happened to be their flagship series. Ah well, at least they’re out of the way now. The next time we talk about snow there will be much more variety. You can count on it!
What are some of your favorite icy-snowy levels in gaming? Are they all from retro games or has something more recent caught your eye?
Lede image captured by Hatmonster