Last Sunday I covered the Top Ten Worst Snow Levels, which you can read about here. In keeping with the holiday spirit, I’ll be a bit more charitable this time around and talk about the best snow levels Nintendo has to offer.
10. Summit – Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Now, I expressed my distaste for both the game Ice Climber and the Icicle Mountain Smash stage in my article on the worst snow levels, but I have to say, Summit really impressed me. It really felt like they did the absolute most they could with the Ice Climber property in making this stage. You start out on the summit of Icicle Mountain. Nothing too crazy; vegetables from Ice Climber show up so players can regain health, the aurora borealis backdrop looks nice…
Then the Polar Bear shows up. It knocks off the top of the mountain with its weight and sends the whole stage sliding rapidly down the mountain, where it lands in the ocean. At this point the giant fish from Balloon Fighter will menace players, jumping up to swallow them and dive down off-screen, resulting in an instant KO. It’s far from one of the better Smash stages, but it’s still a hectic stage with a lot of personality to it, which I never would have expected from something bearing the Ice Climber brand.
9. Cool, Cool Mountain – Super Mario 64
When you think of Nintendo snow levels, this is probably one of the first that comes to mind, and if we’re talking Mario snow levels, it’s almost certainly the very first. Between the iconic slide portion, dealing with a decapitated snowman, and delivering that baby penguin back to its parents, this level had some of the more memorable power stars from 64. But like 64 as a whole, it hasn’t aged perfectly, and looking at the stage nowadays it’s a lot less impressive, so I can’t justify placing it higher up. Even so, it’s a classic and earns its spot on the list.
8. Sherbert Land – Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
Double Dash already has an amazing track selection as is, but Sherbert Land still manages to be one of the best among them. It looks gorgeous, the music is an earworm, and the stage hazards allow for exactly the kind of rage-inducing antics a good Mario Kart track should have. I’ve got fond memories of playing Double Dash with my brothers and angrily shouting obscenities whenever a Shy Guy would jump and land in front of me, or when I’d hit a Freezie just as I was about to win the race.
7. Mercury Lighthouse – Golden Sun
Yes, this one actually qualifies as a snow level. I was discussing snow-themed levels with a friend who suggested including this one. Despite Venus Lighthouse getting all the love, Mercury Lighthouse was quite good too; the puzzles were decent as was the music and general atmosphere, but what really makes this stick out is the boss battle against Saturos. It marks a huge spike in the game’s difficulty(the next boss actually has less HP) and the fact that you’re fighting him atop an ice-themed lighthouse surrounded by snowy mountaintops is just… yes.
6. Freezeflame Galaxy – Super Mario Galaxy
I’d say this is one of the better Galaxies that the game had to offer. The juxtaposition of hot and cold theming was something that hadn’t really been done in a 3D Mario prior to this, and man, did this level blow my mind when I was a kid.
The first mission has you scaling a snow-covered mountain to fight Baron Brrr. To get to the top you had to make use of the Ice Flower power-up to walk across the water(there was actually some clever platforming that came out of this). There wasn’t anything especially impressive about the level, but it was an enjoyable one.
Then you return to the Galaxy, except this time you’re on a separate, lava-themed planet wherein you must make use of a Fire Flower power-up to make your way to the star. Again, nothing spectacular, but the dual theming was a neat touch that made the Galaxy stick out.
Then the third mission comes about, and you travel to a third planet that’s split in half, with one side covered in ice and snow and the other with lava. This time you use the Fire Flower in the ice segment, and vice-versa. Getting through the planet leads to a platforming challenge that involves using the Ice Flower to skate across lava platforms in order to reach the star. Like the others, this mission isn’t great by itself, but it’s good, and the way the missions build up to this culmination and really takes advantage of the dual theming makes Freezeflame Galaxy stick out as one of Nintendo’s better snow-themed levels.
5. Winters – Earthbound
Everybody loves Winters. It’s one of the highlights of Earthbound for good reason. You play as Jeff, who receives Paula’s cry for help and decides to brave a journey to go and save them. You escape the school with the help of Tony, Jeff’s roommate/lover(okay, so the relationship is one-sided). The atmosphere is fantastic, especially when paired with the chilling music.
After escaping the school you’re just bombarded with memorable moment after memorable moment. You befriend the Bubble Monkey. You discover a camp of photographers desperate to catch a glimpse of Tessie. You ride said Loch Ness Monster wannabe across the lake. You encounter Stonehenge. You find Dr. Andonuts and use his invention to travel to Threed in order to save Ness and Paula. It’s just a constant procession of bizarre and memorable pieces that really makes Winters stick with you.
4. Mount Wario – Mario Kart 8
This is the best Mario Kart track. Ever. It’s just perfection.
It has the absolute best track layout. First you race off of a massive cargo plane and land on the summit of a mountain. From there you start racing down across the ice and snow before going into a cave and racing through an underground lake. From there you emerge onto a dam; that’s right, you race ACROSS A DAM. This is followed by a stretch of the track that goes through the woods before becoming a ski slalom, which culminates in one final downhill sprint/glide to the finish line, where you see the race being televised on a massive screen as a huge crowd cheers you on. And all the while, the music that plays dynamically changes to fit the portion of the track you’re racing on. It’s one giant, varied, spectacular lap through the greatest Mario Kart track of all time. It hits all of the right notes.
There really isn’t any reason for Wario’s name to be slapped on it, though, other than continuing the tradition of giving Wario some of the best tracks.
3. Shiver City/Starborn Valley/Crystal Palace – Paper Mario
Okay, so this comprises the entirety of Paper Mario’s Chapter Seven. If you played this game, you remember this portion; it’s more or less Paper Mario perfection. You’re framed for murder and forced to clear your name. You go through the hilarity of fighting Monstar. And you cap it all off with a trek through the Crystal Palace, filled with some of the best puzzles the Paper Mario franchise has to offer.
Didn’t care for the boss battle, though. Probably the game’s most forgettable.
2. Phendrana Drifts: Metroid: Prime
Yep. Phendrana Drifts. When people talk about great snow levels in video games, this one always comes up. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said already. The music fits perfectly, it’s incredibly atmospheric, it combines the harsh tundra landscape with the space pirate research labs… it’s the highlight of Metroid: Prime and a fine example not only of how a snow level should be handled, but also of the kind of potential that Metroid as a franchise possesses.
1. Snowpeak Ruins – The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Yup. It’s the second-best dungeon in Twilight Princess(Arbiter’s Grounds wins because Stallord) and one of the most unique dungeons the Zelda franchise has seen.
The atmosphere is actually incredible. You’re not in a traditional dungeon; you’re in a manor inhabited by friendly Yetis atop a snow-covered mountain. When you first enter the area it’s totally inviting; Yeto is in the kitchen brewing up some delicious soup(which can be used as an unlimited supply of heart refills) while Yeta rests by the fireplace. Yeta sends you on a wild goose chase in your quest for the mirror as you explore the rest of the mansion(which it turns out is rather dilapidated and overrun by enemies), finding ingredients for the stew along the way.
All of this culminates in the memeworthy “Not Take Mirror” moment that leads into a boss fight against Blizetta that ends with Yeto cradling a battered Yeta. The two make a heart container with their love, and the dungeon comes to a touching close. The whole experience is a joy and it’s often cited as the absolute high-point of Twilight Princess.