It’s that time of year again! The time when everyone is bundling up trying to stay warm. Some of us are blessed with snow, while others are just facing cold conditions. Snow levels are no stranger to video games; some games are based almost entirely on the idea of harsh and cold conditions. So while we are trying to stay warm let’s talk about some of my favorite games and levels that will make you shiver.
Distrust leans into the idea of the cold to the point that the cold is one of your biggest dangers in this game. Distrust is set on an Arctic base; you take control over a few survivors of a base. Everyone else there has died. While you work through the various levels trying to move forward the cold is always present and part of the game. One of the most powerful forces you will face is the cold. Spend too long in it, and your character can meet frostbite or even death. The characters will continuously be commenting on the cold, and are shaking and shivering when you leave them too long. You will struggle to get through areas quickly if you have no way to balance it. Beyond the cold just being a factor in the game it’s also one of the most influential aspects as far as the atmosphere of the game. Because it’s the Arctic the entire environment is blanketed in snow, and as far as sound design is concerned the game will have the wind blowing in your ear. The game is effective at creating a foreboding feeling with the coldness. Have you ever watched a movie, played a game, or read a book and you just start to feel cold because of the way the coldness is presented? Distrust will do that.
Freezeezy Peak Banjo Kazooie
A lot more light-hearted than the last game, Banjo Kazooie brings us it’s winter level, Freezeezy Peak. It is complete with a giant snowman in the middle, a Christmas tree, polar bears, sledding, and the ability to turn into a walrus. When I was younger Freezeezy Peak used to annoy me because of the snowman enemies, in my older years that enemy still bothers me, but my overall feeling on the level has gotten positive. The music is fun, it brings enough references to Christmas to make me smile, and it’s a lot of fun. A challenging area for some, but totally worth the enjoyment. Plus, and I can’t say this enough, you get to turn into a walrus.
Costume Quest Grubbins on Ice
Costume Quest was an extremely underrated game (in my opinion) that was centered around Halloween. After it was released, there was a DLC for it that focused on a more winter feeling. The kids are once again challenged with fighting only now on a snowy, wintery, Christmasy backdrop. The world is covered in snow and ice, the music takes on a bit of a different theme, and your side quests go to help build the winter atmosphere. I greatly enjoyed Grubbins on Ice and think it’s a great way to enjoy Costume Quest during different times of the year.
I am on board with anything Animal Crossing related. It’s a cute, fun, relaxing experience. Since Animal Crossing moves at the pace of the real world, that means that once it hits winter the town goes through a slight change. The ground becomes covered in snow, the lighting is always a touch darker, and the music takes on a different tone. The game attempts to mimic the way the world seems to get colder but still has that touch of cheeriness during the winter. There are also special winter events and decorations to enjoy. It’s always great fun to log in and enjoy my in-game winter wonderland.
Unravel has two levels that speak to the idea of using winter effectively, and it does so in two entirely different ways. You first have Winter Sun. Winter Sun is mostly bright and cheerful. You are still challenged, but the oppressive feeling that winter can bring is absent. You make snowballs to help solve puzzles, and it has an overall impression of the “fun in the snow.” On the other side, you have Last Leaf. Last Leaf is close to the end of the game and really dealing with the more sad parts of the story. That oppressive feeling that I said was lacking in Winter Sun is not only in Last Leaf, but it is a huge part. You are constantly having to fight the wind, and the level just feels cold. It’s sad, difficult, and represents the bad parts of what winter can bring. This is what I loved about Unravel; it manages to do so much and effectively use everything at its disposal. It shows us what we love about winter and what we hate about it in two different levels without ever feeling like something is being repeated.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Rise of the Tomb Raider departs from the cheeriness of winter and instead just leans into the cold. Rise of the Tomb Raider is set mostly in Siberia which is a frigid place. As Lara fights through the locations most of them are covered in snow, but even those without let you know that it’s still not a warm setting. Leave Lara standing too long, and she will start to shiver and make noises. If you pay attention in almost every area, you can actually see her breath. Snow, wind, and just an oppressive feeling of freezing surrounds you for most of the game. It is well done and compelling. Now unlike other games the cold in Rise of the Tomb Raider won’t do much to you; however it still plays well and manages to make me shiver every time I play.
Flower Shop: Winter in Fairbrook
I thought we would end with an Otome game that I think really highlights winter. Flower Shop: Winter in Fairbrook is the follow up to Spring in Fairbrook. You play a girl that moves to a small town to work in a shop for a few months. You meet various characters (and because it’s an Otome game can pursue a romance with many of them if you so desire) and develop your relationship with them and the town. As it’s “Winter in Fairbrook” the cold also plays a part in the game; various scenes take place in front of fires, ice skating, out in the snow, etc. Winter and cold doesn’t play as large of a “character” as it maybe does in other games, but it’s always present and part of the experience.
So those are just a few of my favorite wintery levels and games. I know there are many others so what are some of your favorites? Or upcoming games that seem like they will also revolve around the cold/snow/winter?