It’s cold out there, Winter is upon us. I really don’t enjoy the winter at all, but it’s a harsh reality I must endure each year. So I celebrate by staying inside and playing a lot of great video games. Video games have always been somewhat obsessed with the change of seasons, but especially winter. I’d like to say it came from World 3 of the first Super Mario Bros. with its snow covered trees and twilight background. Since then almost every major game release has included some kind of ice stage or region. I think it adds a bit to the depth of gameplay, as I love a good Ice Stage. Here are some of my favorites.
Abandoned Missile Base (Chill Penguin’s Stage) – Mega Man X
I love Mega Man X so very much. The original game in this series is just so cool and was a great way to mature the fun-yet-sophomoric Mega Man series. If you play X correct, the first stage you should always select is Chill Penguin’s. It gives you access to the first piece of X armor and it really establishes what this game is all about. Normally snow and ice stages are saved for the middle or end of a game, but Mega Man X throws it at us right out the gate. Chill Penguin’s stage isn’t exactly difficult to play through, it’s just very memorable as it is the first experience with Mega Man X. As with most Mega Man games this stage has excellent music, a memorable end boss, and some cool little secrets to find. Oh and you get MECH ARMOR! It’s a robot in a robot killing other robots!
Cool, Cool Mountain – Super Mario 64
When I typically think about the stages in Super Mario 64 there are three that come to mind immediately: Bob-Omb Battlefield, Tiny-Huge Island, and Cool, Cool Mountain. As I stated in my last post Mario games have always had some excellent snow and ice stages. I think Cool, Cool takes the cake. Mario 64’s premise of giving you open level formats to achieve goals really added to the allure and mystery of all the stages, but its snowy mountain was one of the most fantastic to explore. The wonderful theme song sounds like a sleigh ride as Mario runs around in the snow helping snowmen, kicking icebergs, and racing penguins, it’s a Mario Milestone! I have such fond memories of racing the big penguin down the ice slide and continuously falling off to my doom. It’s such a unique and memorable experience.
Off to the races! My palms still get sweaty from this video.
All of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
I dubbed 2014 the Year of the WiiU, and this game is a major reason why. Released roughly 2 months into the year, DKC:TF was a great changeup for the character. While we’re often used to jungle landscapes and summer weather in Donkey Kong, Tropical Freeze brought a big chill to Donkey Kong Island. Many of the normal tropical tropes are substituted for snow, ice, and autumn weather. Retro’s take on Donkey Kong has been so good and this game showcases what it’s like playing DK in beautiful, bright HD. The enemies are all viking and arctic themed. You fight polar bears, seals, owls and the final boss is a big angry walrus-viking, it’s great. It’s hard though, so get ready to be frustrated and stock up on those extra lives. I think I spent over 20 lives on the last boss.
Ice Cap Zone: Sonic the Hedgehog 3
It was 1994, Dookie and Smash conquered the airwaves, and a little system known as the Sega Genesis was the king. It’s starchild was Sonic the Hedgehog and his finest game was Sonic the Hedgehog 3. With the birth of the extreme era of entertainment, it makes perfect sense that a character like Sonic would thrive. He’s fast, has a ‘tude (it was the 1990s, sorry), and totally loved extreme sports. To prove his love for the X-Games Sonic has even been known to rock a snowboard. Introducing Ice Cap Zone, where you get to ride a snowboard down a mountain. It was pretty awesome for 1994. Previously, Sonic had never spent too much time in the snow. I gather that Sega wanted to differentiate his levels from what Nintendo was doing over in Kyoto with Mario. We always got an obligatory ice world, not in sonic, well not until Sonic 3. Ice Cap Zone also had this cool 1990s dance song that sounded like it was a club beat you would have heard in the middle of the decade, like something from The Real McCoy. Actually, I’m pretty sure that song is just “Another Night” reworked.
Now for The Real McCoy
Yeah, those songs are pretty similar. Sonic Team knew what they were doing with Sonic back when he was the Sonic we loved. In a series that generally could get a little convoluted with level design, Ice Cap was a cool change to the sonic formula, and not just for the twenty seconds of snowboarding at the beginning.
The Battle of Hoth: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
Only a few years after Sonic 3 hit the Genesis, gamers were treated to a suite of new consoles. The N64 only launched with two games, Pilotwings and Super Mario 64, but within a few months of its release gamers were treated to Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. This story took place between the events of Empire and Jedi where we were given the story of Dash Rendar, a smuggler who is just Han Solo with a beard (not really, but really). SotE was a very cool 3rd person action game and one of the main reasons why I loved my N64. Let’s not forget about the snow! One of the most iconic battles in Star Wars is the Battle of Hoth. It sets the stage for Empire Strikes Back so why not put it in a video game. The Battle of Hoth in Shadows of the Empire is one of the most memorable stages in video game history. Not only do you get to play the battle, but you have to use your mind and skills to figure out how to take down those giant AT-AT walkers! It’s an absolute blast. I remember replaying this game time and time again just to play that first chapter. Once the space battle is complete, you get to run around Echo Base, killing Stormtroopers and fighting wampas. It’s a ton of fun and you should play it right now.
Phendrana Drifts: Metroid Prime
I think that Metroid Prime is a masterpiece. I’ve talked about it quite a bit here at PopChomp, but I can’t rest until all know how great this game is. What sets Metroid Prime apart from all other games is its beautifully ambient locales. Phendrana Drifts is in the South West of Tallon IV, the planet Samus explores in Prime. Phendrana is so beautiful it’s scary. The enemies here are incredibly deadly, and the combination of ice and snow just add to the moody loneliness of Tallon. Metroid has always been a game that embraces its environment and with the Gamecube version, Retro Studios was able to craft some unbelievable atmospheric effects. Samus’ visor was one of the coolest things back in 2002. It would ice up in the cold weather and made you feel like you were experiencing it through her actual eyes. Phendrana is one of the most awe inspiring places in Metroid history. It also has one of the best theme songs around. I could listen to this on loop for days.
It’s a perfect winter-zone. It was easy to get lost in Metroid Prime, and this is one of the reasons why. The barren ice-wastes of Phendrana Drifts encapsulates everything Metroid is about, and is a great snowy behemoth.
I hope that everyone has been safe during the blizzard in New York. Here’s to hoping that groundhog doesn’t see his shadow.