What is it about the Ice Level? Along with a level set in an active volcano, it seems that almost every game just needs to have a portion set at the north freaking pole. And they're always frustrating. The ground wants you to slip and break a hip, a blizzard pushes against you, or maybe the snow clouds your vision. Something is going to come along and make it a pain in the ass to get through the bitched. Yet, subconsciously I think we all get it. Since they're usually evil, the best Ice Levels are often some of the worst, at least for your sanity. So just in time for "that time of the year" when we'll be joining our video game protagonists in freezing our feet off, enjoy some of the best/worst ice levels in gaming!
I figured some ground rules were in order so . . .
1) It had to be a level in a game that otherwise has diverse settings for stages. If the entire game is set on the Ice, it seemed too much, so no Lost Planet, Ice Climbers, Snow Kids, Shadow Moses Island or The Scott Pilgrim Game. Yeah there are some good games set in snow banks, but the idea of the "Ice Level" is actually kind of lost when it isn't countered by the other variations in temperature we all love to see.
2) Some actual effect of the ice has to be in effect. Plenty of games can just swap in a new texture from level to level without actually changing the feel of the world. At least at one point, the effect of the cold must be apparent.
3) That's pretty much it really.
But if you want to see even more Ice Levels, these guys have apparently been trying to turn stuff like this list into a true holiday tradition!
So what are the greatest snow levels in video game history? That's up to you to decide!
Sherbert Land - Mario Kart 64
It would be a crime (probably a misdemeanor) if Mario wasn't on this list. Like the obligatory nature of the Ice Level in general, Mario's got to make an appearance on every video game list ever.
You'll surely remember dodging flurries in SMB 2, or melting blocks with fireballs in SMB 3. Or, maybe you started with Mario 64, and had a devilish time sliding after penguins. Recent players might have enjoyed the Penguin Suit antics and four player follies of New Super Mario Bros. on the Wii, but most of these stages amount to the variations of the same thing: dodging s**t while you slide around like a maniac!
Mario ice levels are pretty much the definitive examples for the rest of the gaming world. You've gotten used to how everything feels, to the momentum of the character you're controlling, to how they jump, their "weight," all those fine little details that allow you to make those precision leaps that prevent you from constantly pancaking at the bottom of some screen pit. But then it's about halfway through the game (often specifically world 4 for some reason) and in that brief moment between defeating that last boss or clearing that flag, Mother Nature dropped 12 new layers of cold onto the world like you fed her laxatives made of bitterness.
It's as if just getting this far pissed off Walter Sobchek, and now you're entering a world of pain. Everything was nice and easy before, but now the ground has almost no traction and those little sensations that you've spent so long getting a feel for are useless. And does the rest of the level get any easier to complete? Oh, hell no, this is a world of pain. In fact, if anything, the difficulty in the platforming often gets a bit tougher, and that lack of traction leading to the "butter shoes" condition you've now come to hate, seems to be taken to account with every tiny platform you've got to land on. A world. Of pain.
None of the actual ice levels in the Mario platforms really stand out, likely part of the problem that comes along with defining the concept, but everything is just one degree of generic too much to imprint itself on your brain. Look at Mario 64, a great example as there are two perfectly good ice levels in the game, and neither is objectively "better" than the other. One has that sweet Penguin Slide, the other has a kick-ass Snow-Man Mountain! A lot of these stages just sort of end up canceling each other out! Besides, Mario games in general tend to save their meanest levels for lava zones, and so by comparison, the Ice world usually isn't too bad.
The level that stuck out in my mind though, was Sherbert Land in Mario Kart 64.
This track takes everything that's frustrating about an ice stage, then asks you to deal with it while moving at 60 miles an hour. Plus, it's got a nasty lake to fall into and apparently the entire cast of Happy Feet to get in your damn way. Stupid frigging PENGUINS! And, you're still dealing with the fact you'll be dodging shells and bananas like you just gave an unpopular speech to a gaggle of peasants.But best of all might just be the fact that this was the first time that this misery was SHARED. Somehow, hearing someone else sitting next to you lose their s**t as they slid into an arctic oblivion, made the pain bearable.
Ice Cap Zone - Sonic The Hedgehog 3
Sonic the Hedgehog has had a rough lot in life. Like many former child stars, he found plenty of early success at the beginning of his career, but fell in with the wrong crowds and turned to one craptacular game after another to feed his ever-growing habit: snorting chili dogs off of Amy Rose's ass.
Sure, he seems to be trying the whole "bring it back to basics" thing with the release of Sonic 4, but I dunno. It seems like a washed up metal band trying to put on a reunion tour. He might deliver exactly what made him great once again, but it's hard to forget the far too many years of awful he's subjected us to.
But once, he was great, and no more so than in Sonic 3, where every single thing that could be done to make a Sonic game awesome was done. You had better power-ups that actually gave you vastly different game mechanics (although the electric shield was far and away the best), you had some awesome hidden areas and great level design, plenty of blast processing to keep the stages scrolling at a jet-engine speed and even a new equally cool rival to contend with in Knuckles the Echidna. Hell, the game would even get to be backwards compatible with the cross-over title between the two mammals in an unheard of (at the time, and still never repeated exactly) method of linking cartridges together.
When you actually made it to the Ice Cap Zone, you knew things were going to be crazy from the start, since the first thing the marketing team had decided upon was," Hey, we know we have a cool character. What would make him even cooler? Snowboards!"
Yup, you start off snowboarding down the slopes until you finally crash into an ice cavern and have to start busting through it as fast as possible.
It's a great couple of levels and some of the very best in meth-addled Hedgehog gameplay. But watch the video and listen to that music! Absolutely amazing! I wonder who srote such kicking tunes . . .
Oh wait. Really? Michael Jackson?
Yup. In an effort to stay on the bleeding edge of "what kids think is better than owning your own amusement park," the King of Pop himself created almost all of the musical tracks worth a damn in Sonic 3. Of course, this fact was very quickly downplayed, since at the time, the first of the major allegations about the one-gloved one started to surface.
But it does start to make Sonic's career path make way more sense. I mean, along with Macaulay Culkin, Sonic was probably right there in wonderland, getting his fill of Jesus Juice between smashing Robotnik's minions. The two have never been exactly the same again.
Ice Palace - A Link To The Past
Though there are other, apparently colder places that Link would walk into during later games, including some white wolf hunting (unfortunately not of the Table Top variety) in Ocarina of Time, and the time in Twilight Princess when he took a page out of the Sonic book and did some snowboarding before curing a Yeti's flu, none of the levels were quite so expertly designed as the Dark World Ice Palace in Link to the Past.
It has every element to hate in play:
Slippery floors? Check.
Death pits from cracked floors? Check.
Puzzles involving the melting of ice? Check.
Evil, monstrous penguins that body slide into you for no reason? Check!
Seriously, what is it with Nintendo and penguins? They don't have stock in Club Penguin do they? Also, why are the penguins always colors penguins aren't? In Super Mario they end up a bright blue, here they show up as the strange sea-foam green you see on hospital walls.
But yeah, the level's pretty gnarly, and a major test of anyone's patience, especially since the surrounding area is surrounded by the game's version of those Shield-eating bitched Like-Likes: this crazy pumpkin thing that, well I'm not sure what it's called, but it sucks. Though perhaps not the worst level in the game, as with any Ice Level, it shows a significant step up in difficulty than many of the previous dungeons.
But worst of all, if you think about it, Link had to get through this frigid fortress while wearing his trademark skirt. And this was a pre-tights Link too, so far all we know, everything the poor guy's got is just hanging out and getting frostbite. Link may end up saving maidens throughout this game, but after this place I wonder if he could ever be of any use to them again.Poor epic little guy.
Gorilla Glacier - Donkey Kong Country
Donkey Kong Country isn't really that hard of a game. But for its time, it was rather beautiful, and it let everyone know that the Brits at Rare could make a game as equally fun as Battletoads without resorting to the cruel tactics of making a game as hard as Battletoads.
It re-invented the Ape that once stole Mario's girlfriend, changing him into... well Mario, pretty much. Although, at least he wasn't trying to save some obnoxious love interest who was bound to get captured with every installment while the audience rolled their eyes. No, the way to an ape's heart is through his stomach, so if you steal his botanical bonanza of bananas, then you've found a way to access his inner Legion of Doom.
Now, DKC wasn't the hardest of games out there, but everyone knows exactly the point where it starts to test you: Gorilla Glacier, aka, World 4! The very first stage, Snow Barrel Blast, is probably the best example: you get the traditional slippery slopes on ever narrower platforms, blizzards that provide a nasty visual distraction, and some really nasty timing on a series of barrels you have to navigate through (the dude in the attached video skips the toughest parts with a shortcut - smart man).
It's everything you can love to hate about an ice world, plus nasty cannon-shot riding! Though not every stage takes advantage of the cold weather (like one where you navigate a dark cave with a parrot providing some mood lighting), they are all pretty tough. In the end though you get to finally face off against the nastiest and most obviously arctic themed of foes: a giant beaver?
Um. Okay. Sure, that makes sense, because you know, beavers live in the cold water? Right?Well, at least the music in these stages is pretty solid. It's a bit quieter, and sticks to the winter theme a bit more closely, but still quite amazing. Once again, video games turn out to be the exact opposite of reality: once the snow starts falling, the music becomes awesome.