So it looks like this bitter winter thing is happening again this year. The first snowfall of the season has descended on my cold Canadian city and a bigger wallop is prophesied for Monday evening. While dragging out my stash of winter walking gear, and complaining via social media to my local government about icy sidewalks that need salting, I started reminiscing about the winter themed levels I’ve conquered in the video game world. This December marks the 24th year of my gaming career. Not only that, dear Santa Claus always left me with epic games or a new console to open on Christmas morning. For these reasons, video games and winter have a special connection to me.
At the beginning of the chilly season, snow almost feels like a magical blessing. I see the dazzling Christmas light displays beaming off its shiny surface. I have fond childhood memories of racing down icy hills on my sled, and throwing countless snowballs for my overly energetic German Shepherd, and now long departed best friend, to happily chase into snow banks. Near the end, winter seems like a frozen hell to the cranky adult I have become. The barren whiteness surrounding me starts gnawing away at my fragile sanity, and I desperately want to see living green things again. My back is also sore from frequent shoveling and many unplanned trips onto the ice encased sidewalks. Video game winter areas have similar happy and sad moments for me.
Without any further pre-rambling, here is a list of my 10 favourite ice and/or snow covered lands:
10) The Last of Us – Winter Chapter
I’m not going to spoil anything, but the thing that scared me the most in this cruel post-apocalyptic world wasn’t the creepy Clicker monsters, it was witnessing just how low humanity can sink when survival mode consumes us. The winter part of Joel and Ellie’s depressing adventure hit me with this harder than any other part of the game. From winter to the end credit roll, I was physically unable to put down my controller, while the tears swelled in my eyes.
9) Banjo-Kazooie – Freezeezy Peak
Banjo and his sarcastic squawking partner were a major highlight from my childhood gaming experiences. The whimsical Freezeezy Peak immediately brought a smile to that innocent little kid I once was. I remember recovering lost presents for poor little Groggy, Soggy, and Moggy. I had a blast racing their father Boggy after Mumbo Jumbo transformed Banjo into a cute walrus, complete with tiny tusks and adorable yellow shorts. I was amazed at the view when I flew to the top of the giant snowman’s hat. I was also mystified by the odd Ice Key that the developers placed just out of reach.
8) Diddy Kong Racing – Snowflake Mountain
Diddy Kong Racing is the very first 3D game I played. I remember dear Santa surprising me with this game and a shiny Nintendo 64 under the tree that year. For that magical Christmas reason, this game will always be extra special to me, and it’s why I prefer this title over Mario Kart 64. Young me found all of the winter themed race tracks in Snowflake Mountain difficult, especially with that damn Silver Coin Challenge thrown in, but it was very rewarding to finally defeat that smug walrus boss.
7) Super Mario 64 – Cool, Cool Mountain
Okay, so it seems that I like racing things in snowy environments… The Big Penguin race in Super Mario 64’s winter themed painting was the most thrilling part of this cool level to me. I had tons of fun sliding down that winding slope, but Mario plunged into the oblivion surrounding the track more times than I care to admit.
6) Fallout 3 – Anchorage
I have a stubborn ‘no paying extra for DLC’ policy when it comes to video games. This cranky old woman still feels that ALL content should be included in an initial game purchase, and I’m showing my hatred for the popular practice with my wallet. Quite frankly, if I refused to buy any DLC for the Final Fantasy XIII games, no other game out there will ever convince me to do so. Ranting aside, I bought a cheap copy of the Fallout 3 GOTY Edition that came with all of the DLC packs, including Operation Anchorage. This mission sent me through a historic computer simulation of the Battle of Anchorage to unlock a weapons cache deep in the DC ruins. Even though my game constantly crashed here, it was interesting to see firsthand what the war was like before the nukes dropped, while trudging through the snow and commanding my glitchy troops.
5) Assassin’s Creed Revelations – The Intro Cinematic
Ezio Auditore is my second favourite video game character. I loved seeing the playboy from Assassin’s Creed II evolve into the wise Master Assassin of Assassin’s Creed Revelations. The wintry opening scene is narrated by Ezio, complete with smooth Italian accent, as he writes a letter to his sister Claudia. He is seeking the wisdom of the great Assassin Altair so he can understand what he is fighting for, and seek truth from the library hidden below Masyaf Castle.
4) Metroid Prime – Phendrana Drifts
I’m struggling with side-scrolling Samus at the moment, but nothing can match Metroid Prime’s behind the visor view to me. After enduring the searing heat of Magmoor Caverns, Samus gets to cool off in this frigid section of the Phazon corrupted Tallon IV. My favourite boss fight and the most chilling background music of the game take up residence here. I’ll never forget my up close meeting with a 3D Metroid for the first time here either.
3) The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time – Ice Cavern
My all time favourite game’s first mini dungeon is quite a frozen hell, but not nearly as terrifying as the Bottom of the Well’s undead fright fest to get the Lens of Truth later. In order to sink down into the Water Temple you need to brave the unforgiving creatures in this frosty cave to get the Iron Boots (I remember what a pain it was equipping those every couple of minutes). There’s tricky sliding block puzzles, pesky Ice Keese, and lots of Freezzard blowhards chipping away at Link’s precious Hearts. Oh and watch out for falling ice. That hurts him a lot too.
2) World of Warcraft – Northrend
I am free of this cursed MMO addiction now, but my greatest memories were in Northrend during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. I remember flying through the snowy skies on my big purple dragon mount, and fearing the Lich King’s massive hordes of undead minions.
1) Final Fantasy XIII – Lake Bresha
I do admit this one is a stretch, but dammit this is my blog and I want to ramble about a game that is VERY important to me! So yeah, Lake Bresha isn’t frozen by ice in the traditional winter way, but rather by crystal in the malevolent Fal’Cie way. Whatever. Just a trivial detail since the area still looks very cold, and also eerily beautiful. Anyway, this crystallized lake marks the starting point of an epic linear journey that a group of hapless L’Cie were forced into. It was here that I realized one of those L’Cie was exactly as cranky, stubborn, and fiercely independent as I am in real life.
I watched in amusement as she gut punched an annoying wannabe hero. I was inspired when she started raging against her bleak fate, instead of succumbing to the harsh reality of the dark world around her, or trying in vain to change something she couldn’t. An instant unbreakable connection was made with my now badass idol, Lightning Farron. I played this game, and its two successor titles, during one of the lowest points in my life, and it meant the world to me when I discovered a character I could fully relate to.
As I helped Lightning aggressively carve her way through anything stupid enough to get in her way, I wanted to become strong like she was. I wanted to shake off the weak depressed emotions that were constantly plaguing my chaotic INFJ mind. And so changes started slowly happening. Instead collapsing on the couch after work to retreat from my sadness into sleep, I started working out and lifting weights 3 days a week. Instead of mindlessly chomping on greasy fast food, then downing huge bags of chips every night to escape my lonely self-loathing, I started eating healthy unprocessed foods. I challenged myself to start walking to work, and now the weekly 22 km I traverse, in any weather condition, seems like nothing. I got brave enough to enroll in a self defense class, and now I’m a badass Orange belt in Combat Hapkido, and met an amazing group of friends in the process. I’m no longer consumed by anxious thoughts about the dark future that awaits me. I know I can’t stop the evil in the world, and that I will die one day no matter what I do. But I can protect and encourage the people in my life I’m blessed to know, with the limited time I’m grateful to have. I’m now in the best shape of my life, 30lbs lighter, and a much happier person. I owe this all to a video game character that I will always look up to.
There you have it internet. Apologies for the tangent I sort of went off on at the end there, and thanks to anyone who actually read all of this! 🙂 I’m curious to know what your favourite snowy video game areas are so feel free to comment with them.
“I control my fate!” – Lightning, during her Army of One ability in Final Fantasy XIII.