Winter is the season of snow, joyous holidays, and laughter all around. While in the real world this can be a happy time of the year, snowy environments are anything but joyous in the gaming world. It's not so much because of the snow...it's the ice...and the uncontrollable physics that challenge how well you can control your character. Everyone has the same dread, the moment they enter a level that has snow on the ground they automatically know there will be ice, and they'll have to test how well they can control their character.
Not all snow covered ice levels are real bad though. It's just a matter of getting acquainted with what type of physics you’re dealing with when you step on the icy terrain. Usually from a standing position it takes longer to build up running speed, but you move (glide) faster towards the direction you want to go. When you want to stop, it will take much longer. In just about every game though you can easily counter this type of movement by jumping. This in turn will halt all movement modifications made by the ice and convert them back into regular movement conditions that you are much more accustomed to. In other words, jumping will allow you to change directions much quicker, or even stop you from sliding on ice. Its all systematic to the game mechanics, and not every game will behave the same way, but almost every game can have this sort of loophole when it comes to controlling your character during the more icy levels. Here we’ll take a look at some of gaming’s more memorable snow-filled ice levels…or is it ice-filled snow levels?
Let’s just start by saying this is probably the longest level in the game, and even more so if you’re out to 100% it by smashing all 155 boxes and collecting gems. This level is probably the busiest when it comes to not only snow and ice, but also falling icicles, logs smashing down to the ground, killer porcupines, penguins, and seals. Probably the most frustrating section is taking the skull platform up and not only having to clear the entire ice area, but you also need to turn around and RETURN to that same skull platform you came from.
Again, this is really only if you’re out to 100% the level. But even if you’re not, the area itself is still very slippery, so you’ll have to take extra precaution when traversing through the icy cave. Oh, and one more thing, there is a checkpoint, but it’s outside the skull platform taking you up So if you happen to die throughout your slippery journey you will have to do the section all over again from the start. All that aside, the level itself really tests your platforming abilities both in the 3D and 2D realm. This is especially true with the variety of Nitro boxes placed ever so fiendishly throughout your path. Aku Aku will definitely be your friend in need for this level!
If you’re like me and played DuckTales when you were a child of the early 90’s you probably remember this as being the most annoying level in the game. Not for the ice, but because there was snow everywhere, and the snow in this game actually prevented you from using your pogo jump to get to higher places (or even just pogo for fun, because who didn’t do that while playing the game?). You had to accurately aim your pogo jumps to hit all the enemies without touching the snowy ground, or else you sunk inside the snow and would be wide open to enemy encounters. And it wasn’t just the outside layer that was covered in snow, but also inside the caverns were covered in snow as well! If that’s not enough to surprise you, the boss is indeed located in a room filled with snow, so your accuracy to hit the boss is also tested here.
The ice physics in this level were not as bad. You basically had the same amount of control but when you stop moving you only slid for a little ways before coming to a complete stop. To counter this you can either do a standard jump or a pogo jump since there will be no physics effecting your movement at all while being in the air. Best of all the only type of ice that breaks from your cane is the ice blocks used to defeat enemies or uncover items. The icy platforms are a lot more solid and are not effected by your pogo jumps unlike the snow. All in all this level, whether you play the original or the remaster, is certainly a test of self-control when it comes to pogo jumping in the snow as it is a unique level compared to the others in the game.
I’m adding both courses to this since they both carry the same challenges as well as unique ones. Cool, Cool Mountain is the first course to introduce snow and ice physics to players. The snow can suck you in if you fall from a high ledge, and the ice will send you flying off the map if you’re not careful with your movement. If that’s not enough to annoy you, there are slopes a plenty, especially in Cool, Cool Mountain when going for the stars inside the hut found at the start of the course. For an extra challenge you can race a bigger, faster penguin down the slopes after beating the game and collecting all 120 stars. You won’t get anything worthwhile if you beat it though, except for a star that you already got.
Snowman’s Land on the other hand not only brings back the challenges of snow and ice, but also a pool of icy cold water. You might as well call it blue lava because that’s how it is treated in the game. To make matters worse there are 3 red coins hovering over that pool of water so you will need to find and use a koopa shell to skate across the water and collect those coins. Along with that, a giant snowman blowing a huge gust of wind willing to blow you away the moment you go near it. One of a few ways where Mario can lose his hat in the game. While it is possible to finish the game without his hat, you will take double damage for as long as Mario is without his hat. Overall snow can suck, ice can suck, just be very careful when navigating these courses.
World 5 of Yoshi’s Island is filled with a variety of snow covered landscapes and some icy areas too. This world has probably one of the more pleasing snow themes to look at, and is actually not at all that terrible of a world to play through whether you’re playing for 100% or just casually. There’s auto-scrolling skiing sections, some ski lifts, friendly penguins, and even some Goonies (the game’s bird-type creatures) to bring the skies some life and love. So why would I put a world of snow filled levels that are pleasing to the eye? Well, lucky for you if you’re a casual player of the game you’ll never see the horror that lies in the extra stage that can only be playable if you’ve cleared all 8 stages of world 5 with 100% grades.
Like all the other Extra stages in Yoshi’s Island, Kamek’s Revenge is no walk in the park, especially when going for the full 100%. The sad part is none of the difficulty has to do with any sort of snowy or icy terrain...in fact, part of the difficulty is there is no terrain at all! I’d say about half the level is a big pit, and you need to maneuver your way through the enemies without losing your footing or falling into the endless void. Did I forget to mention Kamek is also flying by trying to knock you out throughout the whole stage? The stage has a lot of baseball throwing shy guys, so you’ll have to focus a lot on avoiding every single egg being thrown at you from all directions. Getting through this stage with a 100% is certainly a feat that few players have managed to achieve, but is definitely a challenge worth tackling if you are a completionist type of player.
Whenever there’s talk about the best snow/ice themed levels, there is never a more memorable stage than the Ice Cap Zone from Sonic 3. Everything from the start of the stage flying down the snow hill on a snowboard, to the catchy 16-bit tune inspired by the unreleased 1982 song “Hard Times” by The Jetzons. The cavern labyrinth of the first zone, the icy loops of the second zone, it’s a crazy ride from start to finish and you will enjoy every moment of it. There’s nothing that really stands out from being really difficult. There’s no slippery ice physics to worry about, and any icicles that drop will fall long before you go near them. The main boss battle might give you some trouble if you’re not good with timing when and where the ice blasts will occur.
So you’ve played through the first 3 worlds of DKC and have a pretty good feel for the controls. Now comes the infamous snow and ice world, and you feel it shouldn’t be too bad, all things considered. Fairly slippery ice physics, but nothing too out of the ordinary. Nothing you can’t handle with ease. Then come the barrels...Not too difficult for you to blast from one barrel to the next. The spinning may be a bit on the fast side, but you manage to get through. Some Necky’s flying by, but you take them out with little effort. After about 3/4 of the way through you are now blasting between barrels while avoiding Zingers, and these barrels are spinning and moving all over the place! Lots of concentration and focus is needed if you plan on getting through this without frustration. Not only are the barrels moving, but Zingers are moving faster and faster the further you go! Finally the last barrel, one that’s spinning almost as fast as the Zinger that’s flying around it! You sit patiently waiting to make your shot, watching as the Zinger spins ‘round and ‘round You inside the barrel, ready to puke your stomach out from all the spinning. You think you see an opening and finally take the shot that will lead you to the final ledge and the end of the level….except the Zinger was too fast, and you get caught in it’s buzzsaw’d butt, and you died…
I’m pretty sure thousands of dollars in SNES controllers were destroyed all because of this one cursed level. Knowing the shortcut to save you frustration and headaches of going through the last barrel section was almost a must if you didn’t feel confident going through it the right way. The stage opens up pretty memorably with the igloo on the left, and the slow Necky flying towards you on the right. If you also remember the Bonus barrel that was off-screen above the igloo that required you to bounce off the Necky in order to reach. But what’s probably also memorable, for the not-so-nice reasons, is the level of frustration getting through the level and having to avoid all the enemies coming at you while you’re barrel blasting your way through. Yet another testament that it may not always be the snowy environment that’ll get you worried, but the contents of the level that truly put you on edge.
Of course there are hundreds of other snow and ice levels that have really given players a challenge, so I’d like to hear what some of your picks are!