Winter locations in videogames will generally leave you feeling one of two ways: festive, with your sleigh bells jingling as you marvel at the visible breath effects and relish the sound of footsteps crunching in the snow, or frustrated, angry, and cursing the sheet of water-based betrayal that is ice. They often make up our best and worst memories of gaming, sometimes even from the same game. That’s why we’ve put together our favourite uses of winter in videogames, for better or worse.
9) Skyrim — Winterhold
Winterhold is one of the most northern cities on Skyrim’s map, so it’s pretty damn cold. The Great Collapse left the entire place looking like a bit of a lost cause, to be honest, and it’s not the prettiest location in Skyrim by any means. That said, the College is magnificent and wandering its grounds when the snow is swirling around the blue light coming from the magicka fountains is genuinely visually wonderful. The developers couldn’t have picked a better place for the mages’ guild; there’s something about the cold and the snow that makes the place seem magical and leaves you wanting to stuff sweetrolls in your mouth. Like Hogwarts at Christmas.
8) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — Winter
Speaking of Hogwarts at Christmas. Prisoner of Azkaban was one of my favourite videogame adaptions of the Harry Potter universe (although it’s almost tied with Chamber of Secrets) and one of the best parts of it was when winter came. Wandering Hogwarts castle (more often than not as Hermione), seeing the robes billow in the wind, crunching through the snow covered grounds, and flying Buckbeak through the blizzard-like weather. All of these moments are some of my fondest gaming memories. Plus, this game had the great spell Glacius, which was really just fun to look at.
7) Mario 64 — Cool, Cool Mountain
A level that once played will stay in the memory probably forever, Mario 64’s Cool, Cool Mountain is brilliant. Aside from the ice slides that are fun and infuriating in equal measure, there was snow, an uncomfortably big penguin to race, and an adorably small penguin to save. They struck the balance with this one.
6) Banjo-Kazooie — Freezeezy Peak
One of the most festive levels you will ever play, Freezeezy Peak is a delight. Giant snow men, sled races, festive lights, a jaunty soundtrack. It’s not overly complicated, it rarely frustrates, it’s one of Banjo-Kazooie’s most charming levels and really it just leaves you feeling ready for Christmas.
5) Pokemon — Ice and Snow locations
Pokemon ice and snow levels really are the best and worst of winter in gaming. I love ice type Pokemon (I bear an uncanny resemblance to Cubchoo in winter, and to Beartic when I’m hungry) but I hate ice puzzles. God damn ice puzzles. Whether it’s Frost Cavern, Ice Path before Blackthorn City, or Snowpoint gym, I have never been happy to see an ice puzzle in a Pokemon game and they usually lead to the slipping sliding decent of my sanity. It’s lucky I enjoyed frolicking through Snowpoint City and its trees that looked like Frosted Gems so much or I’d have wanted to set a Charizard on the place.
4) Uncharted 2 — Heart of Ice
One of my favourite sections to play in the entirety of the Uncharted series, Heart of Ice is one of the most thrilling parts of Nathan Drake’s trek through the Himalayas. Not only does it looks amazing, the level is challenging and fun as you jump from platform to platform and scale frozen walls. Plus yeti men. I hate fighting them, but I appreciate that costume.
3) Animal Crossing — Winter Season
It doesn’t get much more harmless than Animal Crossing, and if there’s any game whose snow covered terrain will leave you feeling ready for Christmas it’s this one. You can build snowmen, there are New Years celebrations, there’s a reindeer who brings presents for god’s sake. It’s basically all the fun things about winter without having to experience the cold and pockets filled with snot-covered tissues. You want to go out in the freezing snow and build a lop-sided snow creature that will leave us feeling cold and dissatisfied with our inability to sculpt the elements? No thanks, I’ll roll together a perfect one in Animal Crossing quick time, then go and buy some cute knitwear.
2) Journey — The Snow
The snow in Journey is undeniably beautiful but it leaves you feeling less ready for a Christmas frolic and more ready to lie down in a dark room to recover from emotional exhaustion. Struggling through strong winds and deep snow leaves you moving slower and slower as your energy drains and you finally sink into the snow. Not the brightest of winter moments in gaming, but it’s definitely well done.
1) Mario Kart 64 — Sherbet Land
Mario Kart can leave you with a broken controller at the best of times, but add slippery ice and frustrating sliding penguin obstacles and you’ll find the forecast calls for a blizzard of rage. Thank god the music is great and the track is still massive amounts of fun; you just can’t beat winter in the Mario aesthetic.
Main Image via Flickr © JP Freethinker