23rd December 2011; By KnucklesSonic8 & Billy
Whether for the cool colours, or the relaxed feeling they often evoke, there is much reason to enjoy ice levels in gaming. While often seen as a staple choice for platformers, they are not partial to one genre, for we have seen these kinds of situations pop up in racing games, RPG's, and even tower defense games. But from your perspective as a gamer, what are some of the most memorable ones that have stuck with you over the years? With the current season in mind, Billy and I have come up with a list of various memories, not only of ice levels, but winter-themed moments in general. Take a look at our modest selection as you consider the question I just posed.
Paper Mario (KnucklesSonic8)
Playing the role of a detective and trying to solve the mystery behind Mayor Penguin's death, Chapter 7 was one of my favourite portions in Paper Mario. Between the humorous text that took place while Mario was being falsely accused and the fantastic music, there was a lot to like about Shiver City. Visiting the Crystal Palace later on in the story was also a key moment in the game, featuring rooms with mirror puzzles, party member doppelgangers, and more, as you made your way to confronting the Crystal King. A very memorable part of the game to be sure!
Mario Party (KnucklesSonic8)
As you may already know, I love Mario Party. So while we were working on this feature, it was very easy for me to call to mind various winter-themed memories that occurred over the entire series run. Let's see if you remembered the same ones I did! The first goes all the way back to the original Mario Party on the Nintendo 64. Next to Bumper Balls, Bobsled Run was one of those mini-games that was quickly associated with the first installment of the franchise. I always enjoyed racing on those penguin-shaped bobsleds, both in trying to beat friends and my overall record. This was something I enjoyed quite a bit in Mario Party 2 as well.
The second mini-game I wanted to draw attention to was in Mario Party 6 -- a certain 1-vs-3 mini-game known as Snow Brawl. Topping the more fleshed out 'Dream Snowball Fight' event in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games, this was the best execution of a fun snowball fight with Mario and his pals. It was simple, fast, and very tense. This was especially the case in the Nighttime version of this game, where the solo player had a group of Shy Guys who replaced the less useful Ukiki monkeys. Up until this day, I still view it as one of the best 1-vs-3 mini-games to be featured in Mario Party!
Super Mario Galaxy (Billy)
One of my favourite elements of the snowy areas in Super Mario Galaxy was how the environments would often contain a strong contrast in elements. For example, lava and snow would be juxtaposed amongst a jumping section, or you might get chance to take control of the fire flower in an icy area, smashing through it like glass in an attempt to find hidden goodies. The name "Freezeflame Galaxy" says it all, really. But it didn't stop there. Other such elements like Ice Mario were thrown into the mix, effectively allowing you to skate across ponds of water and freeze your enemies. The endless creativity in Mario Galaxy was easily one of the best parts to the game, and these levels only reinforced this.
Not only is Banjo-Kazooie only one of my favourite games on the N64, it's one of my favourite games of all-time. Level design was really strong and memorable throughout, but in speaking about wintery themes, I couldn't help but call Freezeezy Peak to mind. I absolutely adored this stage!
From the very beginning, the developers implanted a somewhat emotional drive where Banjo and his feathered friend witnessed some teary-eyed polar bear cubs who were worried about what happened to their father. As you went out to search for presents to cheer them up, enemy snowmen hurled snowballs at you on a regular basis, presumably because they wanted the presents all to themselves. Aside from that main attraction, there was also a giant snowman in the center of the level that you could scale by using his scarf as a winding path. Given its holiday-centric nature, it certainly is appropriate for this nostalgic stage to get a mention.
One of the highlights of Animal Crossing is the way there's something new to be found all year round, and winter is no exception. Snowballs, snowmen and snowy furniture are just the beginning, with a particular highlight being the countdown on New Year’s Eve, followed by a magical firework display that the townsfolk watch with you. This is most noteworthy in the DS version, where you join the mayor and watch the countdown clock on the bottom screen, only to tilt your head up slightly to see the flashing lights command the top screen.
Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (KnucklesSonic8)
The Shiver Star planet in Kirby 64 was a key point in the game for me as it featured some memorable level design. Levels 2 and 3 in particular stood out to me. The first takes place in a high altitude environment. Clouds serves as platforms for you to run on as you make your way through this inspired area, and as it so happens, this stage also features one of my favourite tunes in the entire game (Above the Clouds). The stage right after this one uses a rather cutesy mall setting with otherwise inanimate objects like plants coming to life. Just like Stage 2, this is a very fun level to get through. Really, both of these stages were memorable parts of the overall adventure!
Kirby Air Ride (KnucklesSonic8)
Out of all the stages featured in Kirby Air Ride, there was something majestic about Frozen Hillside. Besides the fact that the music carried this feel in the way it was presented, there were elements seen in this stage that also played a part in this. For one, as you were travelling along the rail section that led you to the upper part of the track, there was a colourful light display in the sky, with pretty mounds of ice seen in the background. Also present was a dark cave that could be lit up with a press of a switch. As you can see for yourself in the video below, this level definitely nailed down the wintery theme all the way, and it was done in such a way that felt almost heavenly.
Super Mario 64 (Billy)
Few will forget playing Super Mario 64, the game which defined 3D platformers. I'd say "redefined", but really, this was one of the very first games in that area to be genuinely awesome. And like its successors, it didn't take this opportunity to push out some adequate, standard platforming. No, in the snowy lands you'd find yourself hunting down a baby penguin for it's mother, clambering around the cliffs of a frosty mountain, and -- perhaps most memorably -- racing a penguin down a giant, slippery slope of ice. When fused with the magic and replayability of Super Mario 64 certainly helped set the standard for such level types in future games.
I'm aware of the fact that Diddy Kong Racing had multiple winter-themed stages, but for me personally, Frosty Village was always my favourite of the bunch. Frosty Village made you feel like you were racing through a problem-free town at night with a small park to follow the cave near the start. Walrus Cove was my second favourite, again for the music and for the big loop at the start. These two levels always stuck with me as I grew up, and whenever I would recall the time I spent with Diddy Kong Racing in my later years, these slippery tracks were some of the first I would think of. It definitely says a lot about the music and the way it so vividly carried a jovial theme that was hard to forget. Further to that, I also really enjoyed the battle stage, Icicle Pyramid. I didn't get to experience this on the N64 back when I played the game tons as a kid. It wasn't until the DS release that I even realized that a battle component existed in the game. I don't know why, but I always found this stage hilarious to do battle on, especially with the accompanying music. So that's yet another winter-themed memory I have of this game.
Donkey Kong 64 (KnucklesSonic8)
Mario Kart (Billy)
If you're a fan of Mario Kart, you're more than well aware of the general array of levels. There's a variety of castles, kooky Mario-world environments, maps across the sea... and, of course, the snowy-themed levels. Featured in Mario Kart Wii, DK Summit is a great example of how great Nintendo is when it comes to throwing endless ideas and creative elements into one project and somehow creating a brilliant finished product. The halfpipes, bumps, boosts, mountainous environment, skiing "obstacles" and deep snow are just some of the notable additions here. Also not to be forgotten is the most iconic ice track in the entire franchise: Sherbet Land. This track was originally featured on the N64, alongside its similarly-icy counterpart, Frappe Snowland. Both have been considered fan favourites, and have made it into the retro track selection in Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart DS respectively. There was also the Double Dash version of Sherbet Land, seen below in video form, which featured pirouetting Shy Guys and large Freezie enemies as obstacles in an ice rink style setup. No other ice-themed level has come close to capturing the amount of fun these stages had in their respective games.
Sonic Adventure DX (KnucklesSonic8)
Just by me mentioning this game, I'm sure you can already guess what stage I'm going to highlight. The Icecap level featured one of Sonic's, let's say, "defining moments" where his carefree, fearless, I-can-do-anything spirit was properly exemplified. Boarding down a snowbank with an avalanche closely in tow, it was a pretty awesome moment to experience for the first time. Of course, I could've easily pointed to Tails' version of this stage where he duels Sonic in a race, or even Big's fishing mission (on second thought, let's skip that). But that initial moment when I witnessed Sonic on a snowboard in that set of circumstances made me smile inside.
If you are a bit puzzled by this inclusion, I don't blame you. While other moments we've brought up were more clear with the wintery themes they tried to implement, there was a stage in Sonic and the Secret Rings that had quite a bit of mystery to it. That stage is Skeleton Dome. As Shahra confirms right away, the flakes falling from the sky are not, in fact, snow. Neither is all the white stuff on the ground. However, the outdoor setting leading up to the interior environment carries a winter-esque theme. Honestly, this was one of my favourite levels in the whole game, in part because of how well it represents the entire theme of the game. Despite the fact that it's also quite dark, it made enough of a mark on me for me to bring it up in this feature.
And there you have it! Those are some of the winter-themed moments we chose to highlight. Perhaps you have encountered the same ones we have before, in which case we'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Or maybe you have some memories you'd like to share with us? Let us know! Otherwise, we hope you enjoyed this feature!