The Top 7... Winter wonderlands

5 – Donkey Kong Country: Gorilla Glacier

Yep, another side-scrolling entry from the early ‘90s. But unlike Sonic, the original DKC did a great job of making each location look, feel and play moderately different from the rest. By the time you ascend to the top of Kong’s sycophantic island, you’re well-versed in the game’s platforming demands and wholly capable of traversing its treacherous snowcapped peaks.

Above: Rock Donkey Kong vomiting a forest, we guess?

What begins as a typical level covered in slippery snow gradually transforms into an all-out blizzard. For the time, it was a dramatic showcase of environmental hazards and weather effects, easily standing out from contemporary offerings that were usually regular levels with a white tint.

Above: Blanketed trees, grey skies, comfortably dreary

Above: Whoa! Halfway through it explodes into a snowstorm

The effect is both beautiful and distracting, making the subsequent bout of perilous platforming all the more difficult. Combine this with music that begins tranquil and, as the storm swells, becomes more and more intense and foreboding, and you have one of the best 2D snow levels of all time.

~Wind chill bonus!~

Super Mario Bros 2 wasn’t the first Nintendo-made snow world (that’d be Ice Climbers), nor was it even the first Mario ice level (World 6-3 from the first SMB), but it’s a damn load more fun than either of its predecessors.

4 – Twilight Princess: Snowpeak Ruins

Hyrule doesn’t appear to deal with winter all too much, so the search for the best Zelda snow level isn’t a hard task to take. Even with a shallow list to choose from, Snowpeak Ruins climbs our ranks remarkably fast by being one of the most clever and unique Zelda “dungeons” in the series, as well as a great example of what it’s like to finally find shelter from the harsh outdoor elements.

Above: PS – it’s owned by a yeti

When you first arrive, there’s no indication that this ornate home is going to be a classic Zelda challenge. Instead, it’s set up as a stop in a lengthy sidequest – after all, how could you make a whole dungeon out of someone’s home?

Above: So cozy, so inviting, so different from anything before

Turns out that rotund lady’s health is fading, so you’re supposed to investigate her mansion’s many hallways, courtyards and basements in search of the cure. Ah, now this is starting to sound like a true Zelda dungeon, albeit an uncharacteristically comforting one.

Above: Look at that warm glow. Jeeze, we wanna take a nap

Above: And we got this yeti makin’ soup in the next room!

Once you’re into the guts of the place though, it retains the same aspects of a typical Zelda adventure. Snow-based enemies assault Link from all sides while walls of ice block your path, forcing the usual bouts of puzzle solving and critical thinking.

Above: Knee-high snow makes dodging these wispy wolves a pain

It’s not just a remarkable dungeon. You’re also getting new weapons, new monsters, new friends and, most relevant to this article, a great juxtaposition of freezing your ass off and coming inside to the safety and warmth of home. Y’know that feeling when you walk inside and brush off a layer of snow, pull your boots off and relax by the fire? It’s like that.

Above: Plus you get to race the yeti

~Wind chill bonus!~

Like Zelda, Metroid rarely visits areas of deep snow. That changed with Metroid Prime’s Phendrana Drifts, a serene whitescape filled with gorgeous, reflective surfaces and music that’s equal parts enigmatic and melodic.


Top 7

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  • 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.