The year is coming to an end and for most of us at Pixelitis, that means snow. Lots of it.
Despite the amount of time we spend glued to our computer and/or TV screens, we’re not kids anymore, and that means our feelings regarding winter have changed. Snow is no longer for playing but rather for shoveling. It rarely means a day off and instead represents a hectic commute. Thankfully, we can still feel the same childhood joy at the sight of snow in our favorite games. The falling flakes and slippery surfaces make for some great locales and are perfect for destroying friends and enemies alike.
There’s also an interesting clash between the serenity of a snowy landscape and the inevitable carnage that occurs on it. Who would’ve thought we could fix all those terrible water levels by simply lowering the temperature?
So to get everyone in the mood for the chilly weather, here’s a list of our favorite chilly levels.
Best snow level: Sherbet Land – Mario Kart 64
The slippery, sliding ice. The wonderful snow tunnels. And the cute waddling penguins. Nothing says winter quite like snow tunnels that you can drift and slide into random item boxes that allow you to blast enemy racers.
Sherbet Land from Mario Kart 64 and its subsequent retro circuit appearance in Mario Kart Wii is probably the only level that makes me smile to while swerving and cursing at penguins that stand in the way from achieving pole position. There’s something to be said about the simplicity of changing the surroundings in a fun way with more engaging obstacles–even if you hit a bunch of fat penguins–and the thrill of driving down a snowy tunnel.
The music is also conveniently shared with another snow level in Mario Kart 64, which evokes all the nostalgia involving yelling at your friends for poorly placed fake item boxes.
I will whistle that Snow theme four ways to Christmas.
- Karen Rivera
Best snow level: All of Skyrim – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
One of the biggest complaints about Oblivion was its copy-and-pasted generic forest that stretched for miles and miles. Skyrim somehow managed to stick to one aesthetic climate and explore every possibility. Mixed in with the tons of snow are dank swamps near Riften, Germanic hills near Markarth and the American-styled frontier near Whiterun. And then if you really like snow, there is Winterhold, where the mysterious mages do their unacceptable, non-viking activities in isolation.
Skyrim showcases every kind of snow setting. There are the cozy winter towns. There are the harsh, uninviting mountains shielded by razor-sharp winds. The game shows that winter itself can be both an enemy and an ally. It also uses weather to show the beauty of the landscape and the adversity the population has to overcome.
It also happens to be pretty. I love snow.
- Stephen Hilger
Best snow level: Great Glacier – Final Fantasy VII
I thoroughly enjoy snow levels, so this was a tough decision. RPGs are full of great, frozen landscapes. Final Fantasy is known for tundras that are beautiful just as they are challenging and Final Fantasy VII, far from being the alpha and omega of RPGs, is an extraordinary game with one particularly engaging snow level.
And baby, the Great Glacier ain’t called “Great” for no reason. Part of the reason it made the list is because it’s so big, and for an environment dedicated to a single weather formation, it’s really diverse. To borrow a page from Stefon, this snow level has everything: mountain climbing, ice caves, a temperature based survival system, labyrinthine ice fields, an evil snow lady and a snowboarding minigame.
- Maxwell Coviello
Best snow level: Chill Penguin’s Abandoned Missile Base – Mega Man X
While the SNES platforming masterpiece lets you tackle the eight mavericks in any way you see fit, Chill Penguin’s Abandoned Missile Base in the South Pole is best played first. The key reason for this lies in the fact that the game gives you X’s first armor upgrade capsule halfway through. After having your mind blown by a pre-recorded hologram of Dr. Light (and wondering how nobody discovered this when it was chilling in the middle of some icy cavern), X gets equipped with dash boots, which serve as one of the most integral moves in the MMX series.
Chill Penguin’s level design introduces a bunch of enemies that the player will come across throughout the entire game. And the areas you run through are fantastically diverse. You start out in an open, snowy field, blast your way through an icy cavern, get into a mech suit battle inside a dilapidated base and finally dodge giant snow boulders all on your way to the boss.
Even the mechanics of the Chill Penguin fight are fun, with the rotund maverick spewing ice breath and activating a snowstorm within his confines in an effort to deter you. I especially love the arrogant chuckle Chill Penguin makes during certain animations.
And of course like most snow levels, this one has catchy music that tickles the ears with melodic wonders. Just don’t confuse that intro part with an iPhone’s “Xylophone” ringtone.
- Patrick Kulikowski
Best snow level: Click Clock Wood (Winter) – Banjo-Kazooie
Banjo-Kazooie is right up there with the Mario series in terms of the best 3D platformers of all time. One of the reasons for that is the excellently-designed worlds that the eponymous bear and bird explore. Arguably the best was Click Clock Wood, which was really four levels in one.
The focus of the level was always on the large tree in the center. Players were able to change what season the level was in by entering one of four doors. Each version is spectacular and does a great job of capturing the season it represents, but Winter always stood out to me.
Interestingly, the main reason for this is the music. Each season has its own theme and Winter’s is by far the most subdued. The catchy beat from Spring is replaced with sleigh bells and a calmness that is reflected in the level itself. It’s really amazing to see these alterations in the both the music and atmosphere. It’s genius game design and Click Clock Wood stands out to me as one of my favorite levels in videogame history.
- Ken Smith
Best snow level: White Glacier – Bomberman 64
Bomberman doesn’t care – he’s too busy spreading the love of Winter with explosions.
White Glacier’s levels are no walk in a frozen winter park. Take the Blizzard Peaks level for instance; one badly-thrown bomb and you’ll find yourself buried underneath an avalanche. And if you’re not rummaging through the snow, then you’re sliding around like crazy on the ice.
These are some of the most memorable levels I played during my younger gaming days. As I mentioned earlier, Blizzard Peaks is full of avalanches, along with strong winds and many treacherous falls. The second level, “Shiny, Slippy, Icy Floor,” is based on the best part of winter: ice. There’s ice everywhere. And if the danger of sliding to your death isn’t enough, you also have to fight with a uniquely crazy under-the-ice camera, which makes navigating those very narrow paths that much harder.