The Top 7... Winter wonderlands

Ah, December! Despite being home to torturous holiday shopping, rampant sickness and some of the most inhospitable living conditions, it’s routinely held up as “the most wonderful time of the year.” Maybe, if you ignore the pounds of snow, record-breaking cold snaps and general anxiety that stems from attempting to exist in a world slathered in ice.

Above: Beautiful to look at. Torture to navigate 

Videogames, on the other hand, let us appreciate winter’s natural beauty without suffering the frigid temperatures or continuous roadside perils. So, while most of us prepare for another bitch-cold batch of frozen misery, let’s take a look at gaming’s most authentic and memorable snow levels and try to forget the hell we’re about to endure.

7 – Shadows of the Empire: Hoth

Ever since Luke screamed across the frozen surface of Hoth in a snowspeeder, developers have dreamed of accurately capturing the rush, scale and overall awe of that fateful battle. Early attempts were… admirable, given the level of tech at the time, but were far from a thrilling experience.

Above: Super NES Hoth, with Mode 7 tech, was still lame 

Move to 1996 and the Nintendo 64 launch, however, and you’ll find the first “oh my god this is amazing” account of Empire’s chilling introduction. The landscape stretched for miles, the laser bolts were hot & heavy, and most importantly, the AT-AT walkers were ominous, towering behemoths that looked just like the real thing.

Above: Seconds away from getting laser’d 

As far as snow and winter in general are concerned, there’s not a lot of groundbreaking stuff here. It made the list solely because Hoth was something of a Holy Grail for years, and it’s now been done so many times we can barely remember caring. In 1996, we cared a lot.

Above: You could use tow cables to trip the AT-ATs in movie-like fashion 

Above: The rest of the game aged like crap, though 

~Wind chill bonus!~

Karnov (NES) was so-so back in the day, and downright awful by today’s standards, but it does contain one of the few snow/ice levels in which you do not slip and slide all over the place. Counts for something, right?

6 – Sonic 3: Ice Cap Zone

Most Sonic levels race by so fast they’re hardly worth remembering. Ice Cap, on the other hand, grabbed your fickle attention by the balls and glued you to the screen thanks to its snowboarding opening, crystallized ice structures and the very un-winter-like techno beats. Said beats have gone on to become one of the most popular and frequently remixed videogame songs of all time.

Above: Arguably the best thing about Sonic 3

In an age where hardware was only capable of so much, Ice Cap Zone utilized just enough little touches that conveyed frigid temperatures and skin-searing snow without polygons or 1080p.

Above: Sonic on a snowboard, nowhere near the Olympic Games

Above: You’d occasionally kick up loose powder, often into Tails’ face

Above: Icebergs, snowflakes, clear skies… damn that looks cold

If you’re totally honest with yourself, most Sonic levels play identically. You hold right, jump a few times, fly through some loops and call it a game. Ice Cap was the first Sonic level that did all the usual tricks while simultaneously creating a tangible atmosphere, a feat the first two (and better) games somehow missed.

~Wind chill bonus!~

Ristar, one of Sega’s many attempts to produce another Sonic-level superstar, was required by videogame law to contain one snow level. It’s nothing too spectacular, but his idle animation, in which he builds a li’l snowman, is too cute to deny.


Top 7


  • Spybreak8 - February 11, 2011 6:15 a.m.

    Just wanted to say I listening to old Tdars, 81 in this case, and I came here for the screenshots of beautiful winter wonderlands. ^^
  • thefreakysurgeon - December 26, 2010 1:35 p.m.

    ugh, i HATED Snowpeak Ruins!
  • BlackElement17 - December 26, 2010 10:48 a.m.

    I really do dislike snow.
  • GamesRadarBrettElston - December 26, 2010 1:58 a.m.

    Yeah it's from last year, we put it up top again for the holiday break. Some people are seeing it for the first time! True though, not sure why I left out Mario 64 and Banjo. I had some dumbass reason that's since left me. Uncharted 2 is in there as a bonus entry though.
  • BurntToShreds - December 25, 2010 6:50 p.m.

    Dang, I really need to get back to Twilight Princess. I haven't touched ever since I got to that damned Water Temple, AUUUGH I HATE IT SO MUCH. I also liked some of the icy levels in Bioshock, especially the frozen art gallery. In fact I would have loved to see a Splicer Santa.
  • Not Snake - December 25, 2010 7:51 a.m.

    Wow. Someone referenced Bomberman 64. And it wasn't me declaring the self-immolation poison as the greatest powerup in the game. It is, but that's not the point.
  • DriveShaft - December 25, 2010 6:10 a.m.

    Im surprised uncharted 2 wasnt number one, and that mario 64 wasnt even mentioned.
  • mEgAzD - December 25, 2010 5:35 a.m.

    Yeah it did come out before. If you read the comments on front, they're dated a year ago.
  • papergoon - December 25, 2010 3:52 a.m.

    Okay I know this sounds crazy but I'm pretty sure that this top 7 has came out before. I can remember it clearly and how it has been written. Deja vu or am I just delusional?
  • Scammeleon - December 25, 2010 1:54 a.m.

    Great article, Brett. Just one ommision I'm sorry to not see make the list, Banjo Kazooie's Freezeezy peak?
  • FelNaRj - December 24, 2010 10:21 p.m.

    my hollydays are un full summer! :P but nice article! GR :D
  • TheAsterite - December 4, 2010 10:39 p.m.

    I'm a little surprised the snow levels from Crysis didn't get a mention here. They were really cool. (pun not intended)
  • monsterhunter3rox - December 2, 2010 7:18 p.m.

    you forgot to add monster hunter tri´s tundra level. and the mk snow track,of course (lol,get it?)
  • skyline19 - December 2, 2010 10:33 a.m.

    Tall Trees in Red Dead? Uncharted 2 had to be in there somehow.
  • Viandemoisie - August 24, 2010 3:50 p.m.

    What about the super mario 64 ice levels?
  • Lycanthrokeith - April 24, 2010 8:31 p.m.

    Ice Man's Stage, from the original Mega Man. How could that one be left out?
  • ExeterLux - February 22, 2010 6:23 a.m.

    What are PC games not up for consideration? CRYOSTASIS!
  • soren7550 - December 26, 2009 10:04 p.m.

    What about Noveria in Mass Effect? Or Zang Li's mansion in Perfect Dark Zero?
  • GamesRadarBrettElston - December 15, 2009 3:11 a.m.

    @mastersword That first picture is my parent's front yard. I'm from the middle of nowhere. It freezes solid on an annual basis.
  • mastersword369 - December 11, 2009 9:25 p.m.

    O come on, do these californians even know what snow is? They should central NY around winter, it's a frozen HELL.

Showing 1-20 of 93 comments

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