The Sega Addicts Top 10 Games with Winter Levels or Themes

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Developers have been using the season of Winter for inspiration in their game and level design for decades. With the hundreds of snow and ice levels that have shown up in games to sections and entire releases based around Christmas and the Holidays, it’s apparent that Winter has played a major part in shaping the design of many of our favorite gaming moments.

With that in mind we have created a list of 10 of our favorite Winter inspired moments in gaming. So, sit back, grab a warm cup of hot chocolate and click the jump to read on.

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Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams

Tom Kyzivat: How genius is Christmas Nights?  I would say it borders on super genius.  Take a fabulous game like Nights, which is already fantastical and amazing, and release a special Christmas version of the first level, filled with enough Christmas cheer to make Santa seem like a godless Scrooge.  All the loops you fly through are wreaths, snow is gently falling, the pine trees in the background are fully trimmed, Nights is in his holiday finery, and even Gillwing, the game’s only boss, is in the spirit, looking a bit like a giant candy cane fish bat frog snake… thing.  It also had an advent calendar memory game to unlock presents, and (and this may be a breach of Christmasness) it even had Easter eggs!  You could play as Sonic (unlocked in the memory game), and if you played the game on April 1st you could play as Reala!  Christmas Nights is twelve day of Christmas worth of fun.  Screw the partridge in a pear tree.  Nobody would want that as a gift anyway.

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James Pond 2: Codename RoboCod

Mike Kyzivat: Back before Sonic and before Nights, but after Alex Kidd and Wonder Boy, was a mascot game called James Pond by Electronic Arts.  It was an underwater platformer with a fish mascot that parodied James Bond.  I guess that’s pretty obvious by the name of the game, but what is less obvious is that this game actually got a sequel named James Pond 2: Codename RoboCod and that this sequel takes place at the north pole.  First, I’ll explain the RoboCod pun.  You see, RoboCop was popular at the time so Electronic Arts (not happy enough with one pun in the title) decided to cash in.  Because James Pond’s next mission was so dangerous he would need a robotic suit to help him in stopping the nefarious and crappy named villain Dr. Maybe. And thus RoboCod was punned.  And what mission could be so dangerous as to need a robotic suit of armor?  Why collecting all the toys at Santa’s work shop of course!  Apparently Dr. Maybe has it in for Santa and his elves as he has all the toys and elves (sometimes inexplicably shown as penguins) held hostage.  So James Pond sets off in his shiny new suit to put an end to Dr. Maybe for good.  The game itself is a pretty straight forward platformer in the vein of Super Mario Bros. There are blocks and presents hovering in the air like Mario and when you hit them with your head toys come out which you can collect for points, and enemies are killed by jumping on top of them.  The key difference is that the RoboCod suit allows James the ability to stretch himself vertically to reach new platforms and ledges (most of which contain more toys).  The idea to set the game in Santa’s work shop is an odd one as there are very few games that have ever had a Christmas theme to them. I guess that’s because it kinda limits their playability to around the holiday time.  You’ll see candy canes, funny looking workshops and giant toys everywhere.  I don’t think there is a more Christmas-y game out there beside Christmas NiGHTS, and it’s not a bad little platformer if you can get past the horrible puns.

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Ristar

Tom Kyzivat: There’s something kind of festive about the entire Ristar game–bright colors, beautiful backgrounds, upbeat music, and so on.  But Planet Freon, naturally, exhibits high levels of Christmas happiness!  There’s something almost Dr. Seusean about the imagery, especially the trees and background elements.  It makes you feel as if the Grinch himself could be seen at any time, far off in the distance, stealing Christmas from the Whos and acting like a bad banana with a [drum beat] greasy black peeeeeeeel!  Uh, anyway, while the music feels more like jazz, the jolliness of the level and beauty of its icy decor (there’s even a snowman you can knock over!) make it impossible for me to play without thinking of a holly jolly Christmas!

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Shenmue

Josh Newey: Amid all this cheer and jolly celebration, we have to consider that there are two sides to everything, and the symbolism of snow and winter is no different. While one side of the coin paints a picture of peace, purity, and cheer, snow can also represent unforgiving cold, stifling silence, death, and mourning. Few games have used this latter representation as effectively as the powerful opening scene in Shenmue. Here, the snow is ominous, enigmatic, and eerie, as a young man sees the world around him forcibly and completely shifted by the hands of an inhumane monster. During what appears to be to be the first snow of the season, Ryo witnesses the murder of his own beloved father at the hands of Lan Di. Once the deed is done, the anomalous, gentle snow outside transforms into a violent thunderstorm, a transition that rips away the veil of peace that snow seems to promise, revealing a darker, more unforgiving future underneath. This bizarre storm resonates through the next several hours of the game, as the people Ryo talks to all refer to it as “the night it snowed” or “the night of the storm,” further pushing its symbolic impact not just on Ryo, but on the entire world around him. It really is one of the greatest “winter” moments Sega has ever conjured.

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Sonic 3

Michael Westgarth: Oh yeah, Ice Cap Zone. Funnily enough it was the only ice level in any of the original Mega Drive/ Genesis Sonic games but is also one of the most memorable. I’ll never, ever forget the first time I managed to make my way through the gruelling Carnival Night zone, eager to see what the next level would bring. Then before you know what’s happening Sonic’s speeding down the side of a mountain on a snowboard before slamming into a wall and causing an avalanche, all in the space of about 20 seconds. It was an unbelievably cool intro for the world’s coolest gaming mascot during the time when extreme sports were gaining global popularity.

This intro lead into what I consider to be one of the prettiest Sonic zones with gleaming icicles, glowing purple crystals and white fluffy snow all over the place and while it isn’t strictly a ‘Christmasy’ theme, it fits perfectly with this time of year.

Of course I couldn’t finish this write up without a mention of the music, a super-cool and catchy tune ‘probably’ written by Michael Jackson which is likely stuck in your head right now. You can thank me later.

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Sonic 3D Blast

Scott Morrison: Richard Jaques has done some amazing (Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed), and also interesting (Sonic R) things with the soundtracks to Sonic games. His most memorable work for me was the Sega Saturn version of Sonic 3D Blast. The most notable levels for me in the game were the acts from the wintry Diamond Dust Zone. This was mainly due to the fact that I received Sonic 3D Blast as a Christmas gift, so the snow-covered loops and snowball-throwing enemies felt very appropriate. But really what made the levels so Christmas-centric was the soundtrack behind them. Sleigh bells, and church bells rang out in the background over top of those catchy Euro-pop keyboards. The peaceful, yet chilly, nature of the zone was fun to run through from the warmth and comfort of my living room. Diamond Dust Zone was the most serene portion of Sonic 3D Blast, and will always remind me of Christmas no matter what time of year I play the game.

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Sonic Adventure

Flake: Sonic Adventure followed the typical pattern of having a theme for every level. There was the water level, the fire level, the casino level, and the omni-present snow level.

Sonic Adventure’s Ice Cap zone is a really confusing level, even to this day. There’s not much in the way of pacing to the course. One second you’re happily running along, the next you’re SLOWLY making Sonic wriggle pole-dancer style around large ice-sickles. Then the whole thing wraps up in this weird Final Fantasy VII style snow-boarding redux, complete with jumps and bad controls.

Actually, is Ice Cap zone an actual level or just a bunch of random snow-themed mini games? Typical Sonic Team.

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ToeJam and Earl in Panic on Funkotron

Scott Morrison: ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron is probably not the first game that comes to mind when you think of a video game winter wonderland, and rightfully so. However, there are a few levels that take place in snow-covered venues. For a refresher, I’ll let you know that they are all aptly named as Snowy Street, Chill’n Fields, Frozen Fungus, and Awesome Ice Alley. Some parts of these levels can be frustrating with the slippery ground, but they can also be the most entertaining levels in the game once you get past the annoyances. How you ask? Well, what is the best part of winter and snow? That’s right, sled riding, and you basically do that in Panic on Funkotron almost immediately when arriving in the snow-covered levels. In order to progress in portions of Snowy Street and Awesome Ice Alley, you have to slide down some slippery slopes and gain enough momentum to cross giant chasms. Really though, who would only attempt this feat once? The fact that you fly so high that you disappear off the screen is great. It’s fun just messing around and seeing just how far you can fly, and of course competing with your partner to see who can go the furthest distance. It’s another excuse for me to avoid the outdoors and claim that I’m getting the same experience inside. Now close those window blinds before my fair skin fries! I have achievements to unlock.

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Toy Commander: Christmas Surprise

Josh Newey: There’s a very good reason to hold onto the demo disc for 2000’s holiday issue of the Official Dreamcast Magazine. That reason is Christmas Surprise, a characteristically hilarious twist on one of the best games the Dreamcast had to offer. Instead of offering a straight-forward snippet from the pre-existing game, No Cliche instead elected to take what was already a nostalgic, wide-eyed world of toys and imagination, and infused it with a hefty helping of holiday cheer to create a brand new mission. In it, you play as a jetpack-sporting Santa, flying throughout the decked-out house (and even down into the sewers) to collect presents for deployment under the tree. While so many other games consider an extra couple flakes of snow to be good enough to be considered holiday-themed, Toy Commander offered us something wholly original that could only be experienced through that one demo disc. And hell, who doesn’t want to play as Santa with a jetpack?

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World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck

Michael Westgarth: I didn’t realize until today that the name of this game was so long, but don’t let the prospect of reading put you off this gem of a Mega Drive/ Genesis game, especially considering it has an entire Christmas level. This level , can only be accessed if you’re playing co-op with Donald and Mickey but it’s well worth it. Following a level where you’re shrunk to the size of a thimble, you jump into a Christmas present to find yourself in a world of Christmas trees and decorations. The level is actually fairly difficult with you constant having to dodge falling dice and crazy jack-in-a-boxes disguised as presents and party poppers that try to explode you.

Look past the mentally scaring immanency of death this level brings and you’ll find a charming slice of 16-bit Xmas heaven. Christmas lights twinkle in the background while you hop from bauble to bauble and walk over shiny giant presents. It’s a short level, but well worth playing the game to get to, especially considering the date… It’s nearly Christmas everybody!

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