VG Tribune

Gaming’s Winter Wonderlands

November 29, 2012 / 3:40 AM

By: David Jones

Winter has arrived, and with it comes all of the holiday spirit, tasty food, shopping for gifts, and excuses to stay indoors and do some gaming! What follows isn’t a countdown, as I cannot rank one over the other, so instead I’m listing a few of my favorite snow levels and explaining why each is memorable or special to me. This is by no means a complete list.

Final Fantasy VII – Icicle Inn and Gaea’s Cliff

I have a confession to make: Final Fantasy VII is my favorite in the series. Yeah, yeah, I know that sounds typical, but I’m not one of those poser wannabes crying out for an HD remake. I played Final Fantasy VII on the original PlayStation when it first hit shelves in 1997. My friends and I have talked more about its secrets and events than just about any other game out there. But there are two parts I would like to highlight today. The first is Icicle Inn. I love this quaint little winter village, especially its music, but one of the best surprises at Icicle Inn is the snowboarding mini-game. It was so cool to see someone as apathetic as Cloud cut loose, hop on a snowboard and tear up some powder.

The other part I would like to mention is ascending up Gaea’s Cliff, where you have to keep your body temperature up. Trying to keep Cloud from freezing to death was intense for fourteen-year-old me.

Halo: Combat Evolved – Assault on the Control Room

I first played through “Assault on the Control Room” with my little brother way back when the original Halo was still new and mysterious to the gaming world. We had been playing through the campaign together and enjoyed it immensely, but then we reached “Assault on the Control Room.” It was this massive, sprawling level that included tanks, tunnels and plenty of battles against the Covenant. So there we were, my brother and I, waging war in this snowy environment that might well be one of the most serene settings if not for the constant gunfire and explosions. There was no such thing as Achievements or HD, just pure Halo fun at its finest. When I think of winter, I’m reminded of that first trip through “Assault on the Control Room.”

And to add in a little mood music, Bungie included an Easter egg hidden high above the war zone.

Mega Man X4 – Frost Walrus

If Frost Walrus’s stage doesn’t get you in the mood for winter, then your heart is as cold as ice. The whooshing sound that plays underneath the music, as well as the snow covered landscapes are enough to make just about anyone wish it was snowing outside their windows.

Dust – Blackmoor Mountains

Snowflakes drifting to the ground, breakaway platforms, dueling against wolves and massive avalanches await you in the snowy Blackmoor Mountains of Dean Dodrill’s Dust: An Elysian Tail, one of this year’s most memorable Xbox Live Arcade titles. HyperDuck SoundWorks composed a wonderful track to accompany this area, which features a balance of somber thoughtfulness and grand adventure. Playing through this part of the game during summer really made me yearn for some snow.

Super Mario 64 – Cool, Cool Mountain

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. I was never cruel enough to drop that baby penguin off the map! Shame on you for doing it though.

Oh come on, you knew this was coming. No winter gaming list could deny Super Mario 64’s “Cool, Cool Mountain” a slot. It has plenty of slopes to slide down and bridges and numerous areas to explore. This level has an undeniable charm, and if you ask just about any gamer what their favorite snow levels are, “Cool, Cool Mountain” will probably be on their list too.

Metroid Prime – Phendrana Drifts

Metroid Prime is a special game. Back when it first released it was this big gamble for Nintendo and Retro Studios. Everyone was asking the same question: could a 3D Metroid game work? Turns out, the answer was a resounding yes.

On top of its fun and challenging game play with surprisingly well-mapped controls for a GameCube title, Metroid Prime gave us one of the best snow levels ever: Phendrana Drifts. Metroid Prime is full of memorable settings, but upon crossing into Phendrana Drifts I just couldn’t help but stop and stare at the beautiful frozen paradise I had discovered. And then, as I lifted Samus’s gaze skyward, I heard it. Oh man, that song. The theme for Phendrana Drifts is revered by thousands of gamers, including myself.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – Goron Village, Snowhead Mountain and Snowhead Temple

My personal favorite Zelda game, Majora’s Mask took everything the world thought a Zelda game could be and turned it into this dark, haunting story filled with bizarre, meaningful side-quests and characters.

But it is up in the Goron Village that the player finds the ghost of Darmani and through him, the Goron Mask. Snowhead Mountain would be impossible to traverse without it, and the game gives you plenty of interesting ways to use it in the Snowhead Temple. It is one of the trickiest temples in the entire game, and the boss battle is one of the most satisfying. Trudging through this icy labyrinth grants you the Fire Arrows, and if you collect all of the stray fairies doubles your magic meter. But defeating Goht, the temple’s boss, triggers the snow to melt, which gives you access to the Mountain Smithy, the Razor Sword, and most importantly, the Gilded Sword, the game’s second most powerful weapon. Seeing the immense relief on all the happy Goron’s faces made me feel like a hero, though the victory was always short-lived because I would eventually have to reset back to the First Day.

I played Majora’s Mask when my brother received it as a Christmas present the year it released, with no expectations and little knowledge of its existence at the time. I was completely blown away by the game and have since played through it at least five times. Majora’s Mask will always remind me of that Christmas morning, and no matter what time of year it happens to be when I play it, it’s always Christmas in my heart when I do.

I know I’ve only touched on a handful of the terrific snow levels that exist. Please feel free to post a reply with your own favorite winter or snow levels. Happy holidays, Tribuners!

About the author /


David is a California native and has been a gamer all of his life. He is a graphic designer and the author of The Rainblade and Onyx The Half Hero Dragon.

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1 Comment

  1. Roger

    Excellent piece David! Great to see Snowhead get a mention!

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