Everyone hates ice levels, right? You lose traction, accuracy, and control of your player, all for sake of including a gorgeous, wintry world to shake things up in a game. The slippery surfaces that accompany these icy terrains make running, jumping, and even seeing, more difficult. But we relish the challenge, and learn to love these snowy sections regardless of the emotional pain they cause.
The holiday season may be over, but winter is just beginning. So while we stay inside, sheltered from the blizzards and biting cold of the outside world, we take a look at our favorite winter worlds in gaming.
Ristar – Splash Snow and Itamor Lunch
If there’s one thing that can beat those winter blues, it’s a steaming bowl of delicious soup. That is the weapon which our plucky hero Ristar uses to defeat the boss of ice planet Planet Freon, Itamor. In an unusual boss fight, you cannot actually harm this boss until you feed him four spicy bowls of soupy kryptonite, at which point Itamor will freak out and vomit black orbs. The fight would probably be over in seconds if he ate a vindaloo.
Call of Duty: Black Ops – Summit
Narrow ledges, sheer cliffs, a central battle area, and a gondola. These are the things that make up this classic multiplayer map from Call of Duty: Black Ops. While not drastically different from previous and future arctic showdowns, Summit gives players an action packed area with lots of close-quarters shootouts, giant glass panels to shatter, and the endless pursuit of trying to jump to the gondola, only to die as soon as they finally make it.
Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow – Seafoam Islands
The Seafoam Islands in the original Pokemon games are accessible once you have the ability to surf, and are host to a smattering of awesome ice-type Pokemon, including the legendary bird Articuno. But Articuno doesn’t come easy.
The islands are a tangled maze of ice and fast moving currents of water, and would-be Articuno owners must use their Strength to push boulders down holes, Surf skills to sail the the raging waters, and intellect to navigate the caves until the precious blue bird is found.
In the second and fourth generations of the Pokemon games, the Cinnabar Island gym is also located in the Seafoam Islands. Why gym leader Blaine doesn’t just change the name to the Seafoam Island Gym is beyond me, however.
Hitman: Blood Money – You Better Watch Out…
We all know how it is at Christmas: ski season begins, and you crave for the heat of a mountainous retreat, full of drunken Santas, wine, cheese and prostitutes. Agent 47 is no different from the average fan of winter; its delights fill him with an air of wonderment, and he can often be seen murdering the well-to-do folks of the Rocky Mountains, slipping aphrodisiacs into their tonic wine, and killing small dogs with poisoned sausages.
A quick jaunt from the boat jetty leads to all kinds of fun. Nipping right past the security cameras takes 47 into the back rooms, where he can dress either as his target’s wooden bodyguards, or the even-more-wooden Christmas staff; these gentlemen wear red blazers and have Santa hats above their scowling heads. The party upstairs is thrumming with the gentle keys of a grand piano, as a Christmas tree, with some rather jpeg-looking decorations, sparkles in the corner. While the men dress in tuxedos, the women flaunt giant bodily forms in red bikinis, that make dental floss look wide and inefficient.
Nothing matches the pornography studio on the top floor, however, as a motley crew of amateurs prance raunchily around plastic graveyards and beaches. The girls are loving it. The photographer, more so. Agent 47, hard to tell.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue – The North Atlantic
While a majority of Rogue focused on areas that were visually similar to the green forests and colonial towns and cities of Assassin’s Creed III, a region encompassing parts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland consisted of brand-new frozen landmasses, and oceanic wastes of snow. Frigid waters engulf the region, making ship faring exceedingly difficult, with heavy fog and thick sheets of ice ensuring that only the most skilled of navigators can breech through the haze,and reach shore unscathed. Ice bergs can been sunk to reveal valuable, yet practical, treasures frozen within, and narwhals are frequently seen piercing the waves with long and pointed horns.
While the seas may cause death in seconds upon entry, land provides relative safety from the biting winds of the North Atlantic. Fluffy snow coats cabins and quiet homesteads; gaggles of penguins flock around on the slippery rocks, and the Aurora Borealis shines down on proceedings with a green hue of true beauty.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – A Rock and a Hard Place
Nathan Drake wakes up dazed, confused, and dangling precariously over an icy precipice in a ruined train car. Nursing a wound on his stomach, Drake laments the loss of precious hemoglobin with the words “That’s my blood. That’s a lot of blood”. Before he has the chance to get comfortable, the verticality of his predicament is shown to us as he falls through the train car, out of the back, and saves himself from certain death by grabbing a pole at the last moment.
Within the first minute, Uncharted 2 sells itself to the player. It promises thrilling set pieces, foreshadows the moments that you’ll spend half the game leading up to, and sets Drake up as a vulnerable, charming, yet proven survivor. As he escapes the train car and trudges through the snow, tired, isolated, and on his last legs, the game does a great job in amplifying his predicament by showing the real danger the frozen wastes. The cold is an actual threat, and for a short while, it looks like Drake will shortly succumb to an icy death. Rather than merely being a level theme, as snow often is in other games, it present a clear and constant danger here. If this is what the first few minutes is like, how will the rest of Uncharted 2 top this?
Mario Kart 8 – Mount Wario
Although it hasn’t been around quite as long as fellow frozen tracks Sherbet Land and Frappe Snowland, Mount Wario quickly became a fan favorite after its unique, linear layout set it apart from the majority of Mario Kart tracks. Not only does the peak progress differently than most other courses, but it also starts in an unforgettable fashion as racers are dropped onto the mountaintop by way of helicopter!
A cold cavern, frost bitten forest and snow-filled slalom all dot the hills of this exciting racetrack and bring memories of both joy and utter rage to our minds. Despite this track’s frosty exterior and a complete lack of penguins (for shame, Nintendo!), Mount Wario found a warm place in our hearts after only the first time we stomped the gas pedal at the summit.
Final Fantasy VII – The Great Glacier
An old-fashioned RPG just isn’t an RPG without a maze that threatens to make players break their controllers out of frustration. The Great Glacier is that maze in Final Fantasy VI, and it’s goddamn frustrating. Not only are there a total of fourteen separate areas connected by identical snowy pathways, you can only walk for about two minutes before you pass out and, presumably, nearly die of hypothermia. Once that happens, you have to start the maze all over again.
But for those persistent few, the Great Glacier holds many great rewards, including the Alexander and Added Cut Materia, which are great aids in the fight against Sephiroth. So go ahead, get cold, and get pissed right off, because the rewards outweigh the frustration in a big way. Oh, and it’s preceded by one of the most frustrating mini-games of all time as well. Make sure to pack your snowboard.
Sonic 3 – Ice Cap Zone
The coolest hedgehog in the world just got a whole lot cooler. After bursting onto the scene, Sonic immediately begins snowboarding down a slippery slope, with some cool transitions as he slides into the foreground. Just as you start to think that the level can’t get anymore radical or bodacious (I’ve checked, and these are suitable terms to describe cool things in the 90’s), Sonic catches some sick air, shortly before crashing into a wall and causing a small avalanche.
While the rest of the level doesn’t quite live up to these initial moments, Ice Cap Zone is still as well designed as any other zone in the game. As you explore ice caverns you’ll have to traverse jump on falling icicles, avoid being frozen solid, and the obligatory sliding sections that occur in all snow levels. However, what really makes Ice Cap Zone a standout level is the music. In a game filled with incredible tunes (Sonic Team did some great work with that Yamaha sound chip), Ice Cap Zone fits the theme perfectly while keeping a sense of urgency through it’s tempo.
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back – Bear Down
And now on to a much better console mascot: the best orange boy in the biz, Crash Bandicoot, and his lovely friend, Polar. In the second game of the series, the pair take on the villainous Cortex the only way they know how: by riding through a valley of ice and snow, jumping on the heads of seals and vaulting past totem poles and killer whales. Despite its horribly polygonal appearance, this winter world is surprisingly accurate. Crates are always in abundance, scientists enjoy lifting heavy metal beams incredibly slowly, and every tune is a tune for the ages.
Super Mario Bros. 3 – Ice Land (World 6)
World 6 of Super Mario Bros. 3 is the ultimate ice world. Hosting ten regular levels, three fortresses, three Hammer Bros., and an airship, is it the largest world in SMB3. It also has some of the greatest level designs in all of Mario history. Using fire power to thaw frozen coins in level 6-10 was one of the great joys of my childhood, and learning to fly while holding a Koopa shell in 6-5 caused me eternal torment. Oh, and let’s not forget that World 6 is also home to one of the coolest power up suits in SMB3, the Hammer Suit, which allows you to toss hammers at enemies like the Hammer Bros. that you fear so much.
Of all the icy levels and wintry worlds in video games, none stand out more in my mind than the winter wonderland of Super Mario Bros. 3.