Jaime here. Given that it’s winter and we’re beginning to wind up for the holidays, I thought I’d give my blog a theme this week. So I’m going to talk about Obligatory Ice Levels!
Chances are if you’ve played a game you’ve run into one of these. Sometimes they’re purely a visual thing, you’re in a cold place so snow and ice abound! Other times they can have an effect on the gameplay. Platformers in particular get landed with slippery ground when these levels pop up, and Nintendo have a thing for planting ice worlds in their catalogue too. And boy oh boy, there’ll be a few Nintendo games in here. So I’m gonna be a little cheeky and list a few of my favourites.
Oh yeah, there’ll also be music if I can find it too. Because audio.
1. Mario Series
The various strains of Mario games usually have them in some format, with my earliest memory of Obligatory Ice Levels coming from Super Mario All-Stars, with World 4 in Super Mario Bros. 2 (complete with whales!) and the horrifying World 6 in Super Mario Bros. 3 that just didn’t seem to end. Infact, I could probably make a list from levels just from that franchise alone! And that’s not even considering the likes of Mario Kart either. Mario Galaxy has the Freezeflame Galaxy and the Ice Mario, Mario 64 had Cool Cool Mountain and penguins, but I’m going for something a bit more personal, so…
Behold! World 5 from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island! Yoshi’s Island is probably my favourite Mario game (definitely my favourite 2D one), made memorable by its awesome boss fights and rather fetching art style. Do you want to see a skiing Yoshi? You’ve come to the right place? Want to fly some seagulls? Yup! Want to fight a raven on the moon to one of the best boss themes ever?
Oh I love the music in this game.
Yeah. I thought so.
2. Zelda Series
I’ll try not to bundle all the Nintendo ones together, promise. The Zelda games frequently have Link power through and ice level, usually a cavern, complete with ice variants of enemies, slippery surfaces and themed puzzles to boot. But there’s one ice level from the series that sticks out in my mind.
Snowpeak from Twilight Princess. Twilight Princess had some pretty interesting elements but I find it hard to replay due to the overly long tutorial section (and that damned fishing part). Which is a shame, because it has Stallord, arguably the best boss in the series, and Snowpeak, which is a bit of a deviation from Zelda’s norm.
For starters, you get to snowboard there. Secondly is the dungeon, Snowpeak Ruins, which takes place in an abandoned mansion. It’s part ghost house, part ice level, and manages to suitably capture the atmosphere of both. Also the ball and chain is found here, making it usable for the first (and only) time.
Oh yeah, the music is suitably creepy throught the game, with this track having a shoutout to Earthbound as well.
3. Skies of Arcadia
Skies of Arcadia is one of those games that’s spoke about in hushed tones, usually with “HD remake” somewhere in the sentence. And rightfully so. Even today, the game hold up really well in almost every regard. Its overworld is quite easily one of the best in a “traditional” JRPG sense, mainly as you’re flying around in an airship, but also because it actively plays upon the sense of discovery and wonder that the characters experience. It’s separated into 6 main areas, each under a different colour of moon that usually matches the stereotyped trope (ie. Red is desert, green is forest, etc.). And of course, it has an ice area. The Purple Moon and the frozen continent ties up one of the earliest storylines introduced into the game, a play on Moby Dick with the character Drachma. Anything further would be spoilers, so go play it if you can!
4. Dark Souls
Dark Souls is becoming a trope/meme as of late (see “Oh it’s like Dark Souls meets…” quotes regarding difficulty) but the game is still a beacon of solid, engaging gameplay wrapped up in a fantastic setting. The games ice level is more in appearance, but the boss battle for that area makes excellent use of it. (Minor spoilers ahead…)
That is Crossbreed Priscilla, from the Painted World or Ariamis. Ariamis itself is gloomy, bleak and very much on par for what you’d expect from a snowy level in the game. So why Pricilla? She has an ability that turns her invisible, and she has a fairly wide sweeping attack that means that she can clip you quite easily. To find her you have to make use of the environment, watching for her footsteps in the snow. It’s a simple thing, but I like Dark Souls and the fight.
5. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
Okay, so this one’s cheating a bit. The remake of the first Silent Hill has the town covered in snow normally, and freeze over in the Otherworld. The game itself is excellent, focussing on the “survival” part of Survival Horror and not just being a basic port of the original. Also the real time transitions between worlds are pretty awesome.
Tie that into some other nice little touches like the psych profile and the use of the Wiimote for a number of different things and you get a pretty excellent package. Also I’ll take any excuse to post some Akira Yamaoka stuff.
6. Metroid Series
The Metroid games don’t have that many ice levels. Infact, there are only two (we don’t talk about that Other game that doesn’t exist). Firstly there’s Sector 5 in Metroid: Fusion, which is an inversion of the heat levels of the other games due to Samus’ inability to handle the cold. It also holds one of the best bosses in the series on concept alone.
That is Nightmare, and to people unfamiliar with him he can be exactly that.
But I’d be remiss to not talk about Phendrana Drifts from Metroid Prime. The game as a whole is still beautiful to look at, but Phendrana also has this to fall back on as well.
7. Final Fantasy Series
There are a few obvious examples here: Narshe from FFVI, the mountain from FFVII, the snow caverns… But as far as ice themed levels go there’s one winner.
Oh yeah, it has this thing…
Paramina Rift from FFXII, complete with blizzards and hunts that only appear during them. Story wise it’s part of an almost spiritual climb to a holy temple, and plays upon the hardships that are often tied with pilgrimages. Hardships that may include the above enemy and a giant dragon that pops up later in the game. The music is quite nice too.
Actraiser is a bit of a curio. Part 2D action/adventure, part god sim complete with city building. It may sound like a clash of styles, but both are really well done and make sense within context of the game. So much so that the sequel’s omission of the god sim elements make it a far weaker game.
Anyway, Northwall is the snow covered area of the world in the game, with the city building sections forcing you to deal with the snow covered ground and the likes on top of the more traditional ice themed action sections. This is less for the music and more for the audio changes during the boss fight. It’s nice to see even little implementations of audio effects over two decades ago!
Sounds like a cave!
9. Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger technically has two of these. The first is 10,000 B.C. beneath Zeal, which I’m using as an excuse to use the music from it.
Or a remix of it at least
The second is a bit spoilerific, but it involves a mountain in the future and ties into why Chrono Trigger’s story is so massively well regarded. It’s also completely skipable, despite being a fairly major thing. Chrono Trigger’s multiple endings allow you to finish the game at practically any point in the game, including right at the start.
If you can, grab the DS remake which has a load of bonus content and a better translation.
Sometimes a picture paints a thousand words. And music even more so.
There are 10 to keep it rounded!
And here’s what the rest think! Well, most of them. Adam and Grant aren’t here just now :(. (I predict that it’d have been Metal Gear related for Adam and Metroid Prime for Grant though)
Peter: Winter section from The Last of Us – “Ellie’s character development and the creepiest character in the game appears there too. And the snowstorm.”
Tait: Doesn’t have one :(.
Simon: A Symphony of Frost and Flame from Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne – “Because it has the two big characters finally facing off. And it’s f**king cool.”
Gary: Ice Cap Zone from Sonic 3 – “First one I can remember playing.”
Bean: Assault on the Control Room from Halo – “REASONS. And it feels open even though it’s not.”
Judy: Icy Peak from Spyro the Dragon 3 – “Because the swimming instead of flying was magical and being able to headbutt ice is cool and…” Judy really liked this level.
Steph: Snow Town Yule from Ni no Kuni – “It’s very pretty!”
And there we have it! Got a favourite ice level that’s not on the list? Drop us a comment :).
Next time might be next year, so happy holidays :).