My Most Memorable Winter Wonderlands

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.

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This whole game ruined me emotionally, but oh god the winter part still gives me night terrors…

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.

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How the hell does anyone build a snowman this tall?

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.

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This pompous blue walrus taunted me so much as a kid. It was nice to finally put him in his place.

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.

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I’m not sure why this snowy track is surrounded by a frightening dark abyss, but it was fun to slide down.

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.

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Sadly, my biggest enemy here was constant game freezing…

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.

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Taking an arrow to the shoulder like a champion and still kicking ass after. Ezio is my brave hero!

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.

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First-Person Samus will always be my favourite. Look at that breathtaking view!

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.

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This cave is filled with many things that freeze Link to death. I was disappointed the Fire Tunic did nothing for the poor guy.

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.

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I wasn’t social enough to face this fallen hero in a raid, but his bone-chilling presence in the single player quests were memorable.

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.

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I know crystal isn’t ice, but this looks close enough to me.

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.

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Poor Snow learned early on what happens when you piss off Lightning.

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.

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She’s even got RBF, or Resting Bitch Face, a common misunderstood look of pure anger on a reflective INFJ

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.

 

51 thoughts on “My Most Memorable Winter Wonderlands

  1. I’m going to break my normally apathetic stick figure character here to fanboy/girl with you. Admittedly, I did not care for FFXIII at all (sorry). I know I fall into a fringe group for that decision but I just couldn’t get into it. However, the feeling you say you have for the main character I get 100%.

    I can say that of all the games I have played, no other stories of characters have stuck with me like Link from the legend of Zelda, Master Chief, and here is an outsider for you, Vivi from FFIX. All three of those characters have helped me in my personnel life in some really unexpected ways. These characters carried me through some dark times and dark thoughts. I know they are just stories, but in the end… so are we.

    Great Post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you mysterious stick stranger!

      No need to be sorry about not liking FFXIII. From what I read online, I’m the one in the fringe group for liking it.

      Link has been a big part of my gaming life too and I’m glad you found comfort in those inspiring characters. You’re so right. We are all just a collection of experiences when you think about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a soft (or maybe it’s a cold) spot in my heart for winter. I’ve romanticized it so much in my head to the point of experiencing a strange nostalgia and beyond. This could be part and parcel due to my obsession with the northern lights (like I’m thinking of moving to Iceland at some point obsession so I can look at them every night, and I HATE being cold) or it could be due to something else. Of course I have to mention Icicle Inn in Final Fantasy VII and beyond. I never felt much for the original music there, but the remix by Voices of the Lifestream is perfect to put you in a mystical, wintry mood. Plus the fact that the crux of FFVII’s story is in the far north, well that just enhances my love of winter.

    I love that scene you used in FFXIII with the crystal! Ack, it adds more confirmation to an all encompassing Final Fantasy theory I’m working on about crystals and crescents! I’m glad to see XIII is continuing it so I don’t sound like a total crackpot 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I see what you did there… 🙂 The northern lights are so awe inspiring! I can’t definitely understand why you are obsessed with them. Being able to look up at them every night would be worth enduring the cold for sure. I honestly had enough winter for one day, but I decided to check out that song. I’m listening to it right now and it’s awesome!

      There’s a lot of crystal stuff in the FFXIII trilogy. I would recommend that someone should play FFXIII, at some point 🙂 That doesn’t sound crackpot-ish at all. I’d like to read more about your theory.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. After your harrowing ordeal I can’t blame you! A week or so of cleaning the white stuff off my car and I’m ready for spring and flowers. I love snow around Christmas, but around the middle to end of January, I’m ready for it to be over. The seasons seem to be pushed back tbh. Summer lasts through mid-October, fall is near nonexistent, and winter doesn’t really hit until around January. I want a White Christmas dammit!

        That song was listened to quite often when I was writing the wintry scenes in Northern Lights! I made a specific “cold” playlist for those that included that and songs from Frozen, too :p

        The crystal thing is so ubiquitous. That and the moon. I’m thinking of calling the essay “Crystals and Crescents” because I love alliteration.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ah, flowers and green grass… I miss those thing already. However, I do agree that it is nice to have a light dusting of snow for Chirstmas. After that it just needs to melt off!

        I’m intrigued now and really want to read this crystal essay of yours!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’ll give you the gist! It’s still in early planning phases, but pretty much the crystal is a staple of the early Final Fantasies, then it seemingly disappears after FFIV (or V I’m not sure since I haven’t played that one yet). FFIX was marketed as “the Crystal returns,” but as I thought about it, I realized that the Final Fantasies between IV/V and IX do have the crystal…it’s just hidden. I kind of sat on this theory because I only thought of examples from VI and VII, but then when I did my Tower tarot post, I realized that VIII has it, too!

        So in VI, it’s part of the magic system in terms of what the source of that magic turns into. In VII it’s poignant and sad, because it’s what Lucrecia is encased in ;_; and in VIII it’s associated with the moon (don’t want to give too much away since I don’t remember if VIII’s one you played). When I replay X and XII I’ll have to see if it’s referenced there, because I can’t recall at this moment, but I figure the replays will be research 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Interesting! I hope to get through some more Final Fantasy games before your essay is finished. I remember Rinoa in space from FFVIII but that’s it, lol.

        Playing games is very fun research! 🙂 I think you’ll enjoy the role crystals play in FFXIII whenever you play it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! I have a love-hate relationship with the various winter worlds in video games. While the challenges are always unique, I sometimes have the feeling that the game is laughing, saying, “You spent so many hours honing your skills, now apply them to a place where friction has no meaning!” …as your character slides off an edge because you didn’t compensate for your jump’s landing.

    Having said that, I did like the Ice Cavern in Ocarina of Time. But I really loved the outside of Shadow Moses in MGS2, and Snowpeak Mountain/Ruins in Twilight Princess. In MGS, the environment wasn’t icy (which can be annoying) but your interactions with the snow can impact whether the guards see you or not, and in TP… Link snowboards. Seriously. Also, they added snow-drifts, which are up to Link’s waist and really do slow down his walking, which was pretty neat even though it was inconvenient during some of the battle sequences. It’s just a really cool environment to explore.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I remember those sliding mechanics being a real pain in 2D side-scrollers.

      MGS is one of those great game series that I haven’t had a chance to play yet. So many games, so little time. I remember that part in Twilight Princess! I have the HD remake of the game in my backlog. I’m looking forward to revisiting that area.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ooo let me know how the HD remake is (aka if it’s worth the money to buy the game again).
        I recommend MGS; it has a bit of a complicated story, especially since MGS2 was supposed to be the end of the series, and then wasn’t, resulting in a whole lot more needing to be explained in subsequent games, but it’s one of my favorite series!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It *is* a a huge time investment… One I’ve enjoyed quite a bit, but a huge time investment. It seems like most of the games we all talk about are part of huge time sinks though. I wish I knew a good LPer of the series I could point your towar, but I’ve actually only ever played the games myself…
        Anyway, enjoy Twilight Princess!!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I found this to be an interesting idea, considering which computer game levels resembled Winter, especially as snow levels seem to feature heavily in computer games. I have not played all the games mentioned, but the descriptions sound interesting. In Super Mario 64, I actually preferred Snowman’s Land as a level, but there is something I like about the level taking place on a mountain and the penguin race annoyed me when I first played. Phendrana Drifts was a good choice, it combined the Chozo ruins and Space Pirates technological base well and was effective at creating a desolate landscape. I really liked Ice Caverns as a level, but I would suggest Snowpeak from Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. I found this level, and the events before entering, really effective at creating a cold feeling (particularly the use of cold colours, the quiet background music and the cry of the baby Goron in the stone building).
    Other levels I would suggest are the Tibet levels in Tomb Raider 2 (the constant snow and ice is good at forming a sense of cold), Sherbet Land from Mario Kart 64 (I will always remember my racer being taken out of the water frozen) Ice Cap Zone from Sonic 3 and Knuckles (particularly the background of floating ice sheets or the dark cliffs with twinkling lights) and the parts of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes set outdoors (I remember the frozen buildings and breath was very effective).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I loved the Snowpeak area in Majora’s Mask too. You’re right. They did a really good job of making that area “feel” cold. Oh that baby Goron cry was so annoying! I was happy when I learned the drum song to put him to sleep 🙂

      Great suggestions! I’ve yet to play Tomb Raider, Sonic 3, or MGS but I do want to someday,

      Like

  5. The snow level on Donkey Kong Country, with a snowstorm gradually building up in the background before going mental in the foreground… all with David Wise’s music. Yeah, that was ’94 and it made my stupid kid brain go mental. Probably the most profound moment of my young life, at the time. Since then it’s become cooking a Pot Noodle. I was well chuffed with that achievement.

    Awesome to see Diddy Kong Racing get a mention! Man, I love that game.

    Ori and the Blind Forest has one of the best difficult snow levels I’ve ever played. Rayman Origins also has one of the craziest with warped Mexican music, shrieking, and then a descent into a crazed kitchen/hellhole. Man, that game is as nuts as Earthworm Jim 2.

    I like snow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I remember that! David Wise is a musical genius 🙂 Diddy Kong Racing will always be one of my favourite games.

      I’ll have to check out Ori and the Blind Forest. That Rayman Origins level sounds bonkers… And Earthworm Jim was so groovy! 🙂

      I like video game snow. I tolerate real life snow.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, Diddy Kong Racing… it was better than Mario Kart 64, people are delusional with that game. As much as a I like it, it was flawed. Diddy Kong, though… so difficult but awesome. The world is so bright it makes my brain all happy. Plus, Timber the Tiger is clearly on drugs. Look at his eyes!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Great choices here. Growing up playing platformers, snowy worlds often came with slippy, slide-y ice which wasn’t always the best (I see I’m not the first to mention this… haha). In more recent years, snow in games has been better to me. Winter from TLOU is probably my favorite. I really like Snowpeak Ruins in Twilight Princess too (even with the sliding around, so I must really like it).

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Winter is coming. I remember alot of Wintery nights and days, I have a warm spot for the winter and for the cold weather.

    Skyrim went to my mind first. Winterrun, mainly and the College questline there. Maybe, that’s too cliche since Skyrim has snow.

    Oh yes, Anchorage. That DLC was alright, I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You know, this winter marks my 15th year playing videogames and in my gaming career. Somehow, I just remember cold evenings playing the original Call of Duty way back in 2003, and it’s expansion packs the following year. Funny, how time flies.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. When it’s cold outside, it’s nice to be warm inside while playing awesome games! 🙂 I must of missed a conversation at the end of the Anchorage DLC. Everyone started killing each other, while I ran off with the stuff from the safe, lol. I still need to play Skyrim.

        Happy 13th year of gaming! It’s scary how fast time flies…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I know! I’m doing that now! I missed the conversation as well, I stole the power armor and fought my way out. Skyrim is a good winter game.

        Thanks! It’s been a long time and I still remember the first time I played any sort of videogame. It’s scary, to be honest.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Assassins Creed has my vote. Love all of the series. I haven’t played any other of the winter games you like. Seems I’m a faller behinder! As a matter of fact, for all the games I’ve played, I can’t think of winters.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. That winter section in The Last of Us also stuck with me for a long time :(. Playing as Ellie and seeing her so distraught that she ends up losing all composure at the end of that chapter…and then the way she changes afterward. Poor baby girl 😢

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Since I’ve never seen snow in real life (!) and winter is practically non-existent where I live, I enjoy winter vicariously through video games lol!! I love winters in all of the Animal Crossing games, they are so beautiful! I’ll also have to agree with Mr. Wapojif and give a shout out to Donkey Kong Country- those snow levels were pretty amazing! Although I remember there was one level called Slip Slide Ride that really used to piss me off because you would slip all over the place!

    Liked by 1 person

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