As the Starks would say, winter is coming, and it's that time of the year where we all huddle under piles of blankets and drink hot chocolate while playing our favorite games. The winter months come with it's fair share of snowmen and women, snowball fights, and sledding down the biggest hills you can find.
Luckily, video games aren't (normally) held to the restrictions of seasons--I'm looking at you, Animal Crossing. Whether we are snowed into our houses or not, there will always be a few icy levels to play to satisfy our need for a slippery white desert.
Here are the rules:
- I must have played the game and winter level before. I know there are plenty of great winter levels that I have missed, and I would love to hear about them.
- Only one game or winter level per franchise. If this weren't the case, I can guarantee you half of them would be from Zelda.
- These games and/or winter levels must have stood out to me in any particular way, even if it wasn't necessarily a good way.
- This is not a list of the best winter levels, but instead a list of the most memorable.
- The games on this list are in no particular order.
So unless you're planning on taking a caravan to the Wall to revel in the glory of the Night's Watch and indefinitely premature snowfall--please send post cards if you are--here's a list of winter wonderlands you might want to check out during the cold months ahead.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - The Pale
The Pale isn't the first thing most people would think of when it comes to snowy places in Skyrim. The Throat of the World--the biggest mountain in all of Tamriel--is one place that comes to mind when you think of Winter Wonderlands. However, I can't say that it ever made that much of an impact to me when I played the game. The main story may have had many interesting 'peak' moments in that location, but it never truly stuck with me.
Dawnstar, the northern port, is the capitol city of the Pale. The landscape of this Hold is slightly varied, with looming mountains tops casting shadows over the snowy plains at their base.
My favorite spot in this Hold--shown in the picture above--is the character housing that comes with the Hearthfire DLC. It sits near the northern border of Whiterun Hold, and has a lovely view of the Throat of the World.
To me, this is the perfect house for the Dragonborn to make their home. It's location is central in Skyrim, and it's not in the middle of a busy and bustling city--which just doesn't seem right for the protagonist, but maybe that's just me.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask - Snowhead
I'm not just talking about Snowhead Temple, here, but the entirety of the Snowhead region in Termina. If I were only talking about temples, I probably would have picked Snowpeak Ruins from Twilight Princess or the Ice Palace from A Link Between Worlds, but I'm not.
Snowhead was one of the most memorable locations for me in Majora's Mask as a whole. The Goron people, here, are literally freezing, some of them to death. After finding the Lens of Truth, Link discovers the ghost of a Goron, and he plays the song of healing to help them move on to the afterlife.
The entire town is in ruins and despair. It has been cursed by the evil spirits up in the Temple. Not only this, but the moon looks to be getting closer with each passing day. The feeling of dread that hangs over the air in this winter town is unmistakable.
After beating the boss of Snowhead Temple, the land surrounding the base turns green again, and the frost thaws away. The Goron people defrost and marvel at the sudden change in weather.
"It's a miracle! We've been saved!"
The Snowhead region is unlike any other region in Majora's Mask in that it completely comes back to life after beating the boss of Snowhead Temple. The scenery completely changes.
Some people may argue that Ikana has the same effect, after playing the Song of Storms, but it's no where near as drastic as the changes at Snowhead. I can only imagine how elated those Goron's must be every time the curse is lifted.
This is arguably one of the most memorable snow area's of all time, and I can't wait to see how it turns out in the recently announced Majora's Mask 3D.
Banjo Kazooie - Freezeezy Peak
Freezeezy Peak is one of those snow levels that, although fun, can get very annoying. Ice mechanics in video games have never been my favorite, but ice mechanics in a platformer? Way worse.
This is probably the level in Banjo Kazooie that held the biggest number of deaths for me, and for a good reason. The snowmen here are relentless. RELENTLESS.
Suffice it to say, the level's creative winter themes are a lot of fun to mess around with. You can decorate a Christmas Tree with lights, give gifts to little polar bears, or bust your beak on the giant snowman's buttons.
This is definitely one of the more creative levels that came out of Banjo Kazooie, and it makes me wish there were a pure winter one in the sequel, Banjo Tooie. Alas, it seems they wanted to mix it up with Hailfire Peak, an area containing the dangers of both fire and ice.
Super Mario 64 - Snowman's Land
A lot of people seem to like Super Mario 64's Cool Cool Mountain, but I disagree. Cool Cool Mountain was actually one of the most dreaded levels in the game, for me. Let's face it, the ice mechanics in this game are ridiculously hard to get control of. And I much prefer a mass of land similar to the first level, rather than what appears to be a floating mountain.
Snowman's Land stood out to me from the moment I entered, considering it wasn't part of the traditional painting collection for entering the world. You went through a wall and all of a sudden you were in this winter wonderland. And it's gorgeous.
I'd especially like to point out the Ice Maze, which was easily my favorite part of this level. I just find the walls of ice to be quite beautiful for the N64 era.
If there's one thing that I've learned about snowmen and platformers from playing Mario and Banjo Kazooie, it's that snowmen are secretly demon spawn.
There, I've said it. Snowmen are evil and out to get you, always. Never assume that a snowman is innocent, no matter how cute it looks. It will rip out your soul. You won't be able to sleep at night with Bowser's 'Game Over' laugh echoing continuously through your head.
Mario Kart 8 - Sherbet Land
I know that this is a remake from the Gamecube era, where people rode two-seat karts to victory, but since I've never played it, I would be breaking my rules putting it in this list.
Sherbet Land is easily my favorite non-DLC race track in Mario Kart 8, and was a no-brainer to include on this list.
I've shredded this course plenty of times in online multiplayer, leaving my opponents stuck in the dust.
The fact that this course allows the player to take multiple routes has always been a plus, and the part about them being under the ice makes it even cooler. The spectacles from the graphical capabilities on the Wii U show off how gorgeous ice can look. There is nothing I don't like about this course.
This entire game is covered in snow, so I don't really see the point in showing off a specific area. Lost Planet was something that I only played one time, and was fine with never returning to it. This was one of the very few games I've actually played on the Xbox 360, and it was fun enough to see the story all the way through. The battles were interesting, and unlike many other shooter games before it.
Shooters aren't really my cup of tea, so I normally ignore the genre completely, but every now and then something pretty good pops up.
I remember absolutely nothing of the story line, so I doubt it was very engaging. The terrain, however, was pretty massive. It took me hours sometimes to figure out where to go and what to do next, but I didn't mind, because it meant more exploring.
It may seem a little bit bland, because all there is for miles around is snow, but it was actually really interesting to explore the snow-ridden wastelands and the human facilities found under mounds of it.
I'm not so sure this is what Ned Stark had in mind when he said winter was coming. Jack Frost would be proud.
Pokemon X & Y - Frost Cavern/Snowbelle
The two snow areas in Pokemon X and Y stood out to me more than any other area in the game, mostly because of the utterly fantastic soundtracks that accompany these areas. The Frost Cavern is absolutely majestic and beautiful, and Snowbelle could easily be the best town in the game.
If I were more acquainted with the Johto region, I may have picked the Ice Path due to it taking you to one of the more beautiful towns in the region. As it stands, however, I'm not, and nor am I saying the snow in Sinnoh was great because it definitely wasn't. The snow from Sinnoh makes me never want to go back.
Pokémon X & Y has the best patches of snow in any Pokémon game so far. And the best soundtrack. I will literally find myself sitting just inside the Frost Cavern, listening to the OST while my character turns into a cute frozen popsicle.
Minecraft Alpha - Winter Mode
Minecraft has come a long way since Alpha. If you followed the development of this game, you would know that it didn't always have biomes. Before biomes, there was a chance that whenever you created a new world, it would spawn in Winter Mode.
In Winter Mode, it's always snowing. There is no let up for the snow storm that is constantly brewing outside of your windows. It will snow for days, months, years even, without pause.
Winter Mode in Minecraft Alpha was fun. Although it may only have a small fraction of what Minecraft has today, it's sometimes nice to go back to the simple stages.
The Minecraft Launcher fully supports downloading older versions of the game, so if you haven't played Minecraft before biomes came out, and want to give Winter Mode a try, there's nothing stopping you from doing just that.
Torchlight II - Frosted Hills
The Frosted Hills was always my favorite area in Torchlight II, offering various things to do like vanquishing Nether spawn, or taking out a not-so-petty camp of bandits.
I'll be honest, I'm usually impartial to snow levels because, if done incorrectly, they can turn out monstrously wrong--and have, on many occasions. But there's something about this level in Torchlight 2 that makes it stand out above all the rest. Granted, I haven't played through the fourth and final act, yet, but I heard it was short and probably doesn't contain anything more grand than the Frosted Hills.
These hills are memorable for being the point where your character passes the threshold of slick beginner and enters into the ranks of 'getting somewhere'.
This is likely the point of the game where the difficulty curve rises the most steeply, and really makes you rethink some of your original battle tactics, especially when playing on one of the higher difficulty levels.
Pikmin 3 - Frozen Tundra
This is the third level that you come across in Pikmin 3, where you and your comrades get separated once again, and you discover the electricity conducting Yellow Pikmin.
This level is the cause of all kinds of stress, when it comes to the story, as there are many important dealings that take place here. The white snow does nothing for your orientation on this map, either, for I remember getting turned around many times.
It took me a little too many in-game days to clear this map, so long as you're only counting the story missions. The boss that you find lurking in the depths of a cave, here, is unforgettable. I can't say much about him without spoiling all the fun of figuring it out for yourself, but its clever use of the dark really makes you feel like you're going to be dinner if you ever gave it the chance.
I'm pretty sure your Pikmin don't really want to be eaten alive, either