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Best of winter in video games


If a game wants to be remembered as a classic it must exhibit three qualities: a strong protagonist, a water level and a winter level. Odd rules we know, but who are we to question them.

As the sun visits our skies with briefer stints and a chill creeps into the air, we've found ourselves huddled under blankets reminiscing about the best winters of our youth - winters not spent messing about in turgid slush, but accessed with a controller in hand.

From the fiendishly annoying to the downright majestic, here's to the best winter scenes, snowy adventures and ice levels of video games.


Snow Bros: Nick & Tom

Year: 1990

Platforms: Arcade, NES, Game Boy, Sega Genesis, Amiga

Forever destined to take second place in the Most Famous Platforming Family awards, Snow Bros saw players take control of snowmen Nick and Tom. Snow was hurled at foes to stop them in their tracks, before rolling them into others once they've been encased. We can't help but wonder at Nick and Tom's moral quandary of having to weaponise their own flesh.



Year: 1989

Platforms: MS-DOS, Amiga, Atari ST

Midwinter is a bonkers video game. With a lengthy back story told by a novella in the instruction manual, this first-person action role-playing game threw you into defending a snowy island wilderness from an hostile invading force. You controlled players for two hours at a time, and it was nearly impossible to understand exactly what was going on. They don't make games like this any more...



Year: 1991

Platform: Windows

Few games have managed to balance pointless time wasting with entertainment value quite as well as SkiFree. Was there an end to the mountain? What had we done to piss off the snowboarders? Did the yeti teach Usain Bolt everything he knows about sprinting? We'll never know.


Mega Man X: Chill Penguin stage

Year: 1993

Platforms: SNES, MS-DOS

A platforming snow level that ticks all the boxes: lashings of ice, piles of snow and a boss fight against a villainous penguin. Chill Penguin would defend his abandoned missile base in the South Pole with all manner of strange attacks, from shooting ice balls to sliding at Mega Man on his stomach. He could even create ice penguins with his breath. Terrifying.


Fire & Ice: The Daring Adventures of Cool Coyote

Year: 1992

Platforms: Amiga, Amiga CD32, Atari ST, Sega Master System

We'll forgive you if you'd not encountered this one - we hadn't either until one of colleagues punched the YouTube video onto our screen before we could stop them. Cool Coyote's winter levels were an artistic wonderland of gorgeous backdrops and freezing projectiles. Track down one of the many playable internet versions of this classic to kill your next lunch hour.


Sonic the Hedgehog 3: Ice Cap Zone

Year: 1994

Platform: Sega Genesis

By far the coolest introduction to a winter scene gaming has ever mustered, players began Ice Cap Zone not as Sonic's usual spinning ball of speed, but riding a snowboard. An impossibly brilliant soundtrack, ridable glaciers and yet more killer penguins (the adorably named Penguinators) make this one of our favourite winter levels of all time.


Mario Kart 64: Sherbert Land

Year: 1996

Platform: Nintendo 64

Put us in Yoshi's kart and crank the pace up to 150cc and we'll give you a lesson in chilly drifting. Few of Mario Kart 64's legendary tracks offered as much pleasure as Sherbert Land - nailing a perfect run through the penguin cave always resulted in wild gesticulations of glee. The circuit was so good it went on to reappear in Double Dash and Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games.


Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire: Battle of Hoth

Year: 1996

Platform: Nintendo 64, Windows

Shadows of the Empire was anything but the perfect Star Wars title, but it did manage to nail one of the most iconic moments of George Lucas' original film trilogy. Using your snowspeeder's grappling gun to trip up AT-ATs was infuriatingly brilliant, and partnered with superb sound effects, radio chatter and scenery, it managed to bring us closer to the films than any other Shadows sequence.


Super Mario 64: Cool, Cool Mountain

Year: 1996

Platform: Nintendo 64

A level so cool they named it twice, Cool, Cool Mountain is without question the ultimate winter platforming level - unless someone with a computer game level design qualification asks us, in which case it's just a strong opinion. We lost count of the number of times we attempted Slip Slidin' Away before we discovered that shortcut.


GoldenEye 007: Severnaya

Year: 1997

Platform: Nintendo 64

Now, while Bond's Severnaya level doesn't present any obvious winter perils (you don't slip on anything, nor do you catch a chill for standing about for too long), Rare's icy mission set a benchmark for future FPS winter landscapes: the gloom was atmospheric, the rolling hills bewildering and the snow camo gear of the guards totally useless in making them inconspicuous.


Metal Gear Solid: Snowfields

Year: 1998

Platform: PlayStation

The immensely intense scrap with Sniper Wolf will haunt us for many years to come, such was the isolating misery of MGS' Snowfields battle. Is that a tree lurking in the mist or our sniping opponent waiting to blow our head off? Nope, it was a tree - and we've died. Again.


Banjo-Kazooie: Freezeezy Peak

Year: 1998

Platform: Nintendo 64

Not only were Rare masters of FPS winter (see GoldenEye), they were also capable of creating a pretty nifty platforming snow zone. Soaked in whimsy and snowmen, Freezeezy Peak was a beautiful level, filled with hidden gems we still haven't collected. Check out this mightily impressive speed run to see how it should be done.


Halo: Assault on the Control Room

Year: 2001

Platform: Xbox

A winter level was about the last thing we expected when first playing Bungie's epic FPS. We'll never forget the moment that high-tech door slid back to reveal a light snow drift, vast chasm and "Incremental weather system". Getting stuck on ice sheets in a Warthog was a right pain in the thumbs.


Metroid Prime: Phendrana Drifts

Year: 2002

Platforms: Nintendo GameCube, Wii

Snow. So much snow. That's largely all we remember of Metroid Prime's Phendrana Drifts - but it was the prettiest snow we'd ever seen in a game. Exploring the lonely caves and drifts of this world was a captivating experience, contrasting wonderfully with the game's Magmoor Caverns.



Year: 2003

Platforms: GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox

In an age where Tony Hawks was the master of board-based games, SSX 3 flew down the slopes to deliver one of the most satisfying combo-hunters we'd ever experienced. The levels were bonkers, the snow effects (for their time) gorgeous and the game modes extensive. And no, we didn't know what half of the trash talk the characters used meant either.


The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Snowpeak Ruins

Year: 2006

Platform: Nintendo Game Cube, Wii

The frozen dungeon of Snowpeak Ruins is among the best looking landscapes of the Zelda series - we can feel an icy breeze just looking at it. Oh wait, someone just left the window open again. Yeto and Yeta were also some truly loveable hosts. That's it, we're going to play Twilight Princess as soon as we get home...


Lost Planet

Year: 2006

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows

There were some issues with Capcom's snowbound shooter, from the juddering frame rates to the creaky voice acting, but in the moments when Lost Planet got it right, it was a thing of brilliance. Snowy environments looked beautiful and the boss battles were nothing short of epic. We'd have loved to have thrown the occasional snowball though.


Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2: Cliffhanger

Year: 2009

Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Say what you will about quick time events and context-sensitive gameplay moments, the cliff climbing sequence from Modern Warfare 2 was a superb instance of gut-wrenching button-bashing. The rest of the level managed to be pretty chilling as well, with an unhelpful blizzard obscuring views and forcing you to creep about with all the stealth of Santa's sleigh.


Uncharted 2: Heart of Ice

Year: 2009

Platforms: PlayStation 3

Rather alarmingly, we've spent more time hanging out with Nathan Drake on the sofa with a beer than any of our real life friends. Time well spent. As the following video demonstrates, the journey into the heart of a frozen mountain in Drake's second outing was of cinematic proportions...


Rayman Origins: Ice-Fishing Folly

Year: 2011

Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation Vita, Windows, Nintendo 3DS

The legend of modern platforming managed to pull off a seemingly impossible task in Origins, combining the tricky obstacles of water and snow in one mind-bending level. The at times disturbing foe and funky visuals zipped along at break-neck pace, testing reaction times to breaking point.


The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: The Throat of the World

Year: 2011

Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

You've not lived until you've flown a dragon around the slopes of The Throat of the World - the tallest peak in all of Tamriel. Scaling its vast slopes on foot actually feels like an achievement (it took us the best part of half an hour before we slipped and had to do it all over again), and the view from the top is more than a little bit special.


Did we miss one of your favourite winter levels? Let us know in the comments below.

(Images: Bethesda, YouTube)



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