Hey! It's almost winter! Well, if you're in the northern hemisphere. Enjoy your summertime, Southies.
Many video games offer us the quiet ambiance of a snowscape without the frozen fingers and runny noses that usually come with enjoying winter weather. With that in mind, which digital winter wonderland is your favorite?
Is it cheating if I pick Shadow Moses?
The area where the original Metal Gear Solid is set is pretty cold regardless of the time of year—it only gets to be about 52 degrees in August—but I tend to associate it with winter regardless. Indeed, one of the original game's final scenes is Snake riding off into the sunset on a snowmobile.
In any case, Shadow Moses Island is one of the greatest settings in videogame history. It's a distinct, cohesive whole beginning with the moment that Snake quietly emerges from the water to begin his mission. Who can forget the first moment you pull out your binoculars and look out over the Hind? Or the moment when that same Hind chases you across the base's rooftops? Or the eerie howls of the wolves shortly before you take on Sniper Wolf?
And this was all on the original PlayStation! It looks primitive today; but when I first played it back in 1999, I had never seen anything like it.
More advanced games have been released since, but Metal Gear Solid was really one of the first, groundbreaking instances of cinematic action on a home console. The action games of today owe it a very large debt. And it all begins with its amazingly realized setting.
Straight up, SSX3's final, massive All Peak run. SSX 3 was built as a single-peak with various track interspersed across the entire mountain. In the final race, players were tasked with racing across the whole peak from top to bottom. The absolute best can hold one trick combo for the entire run, racking up some insane scores. The entire run takes around 20 minutes, but at the time it was simply amazing to have one big, seamless mountain to board down.
There have been other great runs: the final run of SSX Tricky, with Hybrid's Finished Symphony playing in the background, is definitely a high point for the series. But SSX 3 was the peak for the entire franchise, something that even SSX 2012 couldn't live up to. SSX 3 is winter sports at their best and I shed a single tear every year for the loss of EA BIG.
I have two contenders. First is the Snow Barrel Blast level from Donkey Kong Country. I don't think I've played another game that captures the tension of a snowstorm creeping in so perfectly. The uneasy sunlight gradually giving away to grey skies, then climaxing with a flurry of flakes that are almost too thick to peer through … ahh. Makes me nostalgic for winter, which is not something I catch myself saying often.
Second: Death Peak from Chrono Trigger. I love the dim lighting, the thick flakes falling slowly around the party, and the generally desolate feeling surrounding the area. I also love the bare, lone tree resting at the mountain's peak that's crusted with shining fragments of snow. It's a wonderful atmosphere for the events that occur up there.
I'm going with a super obvious answer: Animal Crossing. I don't think any other series captures the wonder and inherent sweetness of the holiday season quite like it. I remember so many nights staying up late playing New Leaf, with a cup of hot chocolate and a heated blanket on my lap. It's the type of simple winter-like experience—snow, other goodies—that doesn't bash you over the head with holiday cheer. It's simple, and simple is good.
Also, the Christmas-decorated Paris level from the first season of Hitman last year was pretty great too. You could murder Santa, then be Santa. Ho ho ho, indeed.
Off the top of my head I'm going to say the Painted World of Ariamis from the first Dark Souls. It's a beautiful, snowy nightmare wonderland full of horrible enemies and even worse traps. But I'll be damned if I say it didn't take my breath away when I first encountered it.
Actually, the thing I liked most about the Painted World of Ariamis is how you access it in the first place. To enter the world, it requires the player to find a secret item at the beginning of the game and hold onto it until at least halfway through the main campaign. Discovering the entrance to the Painted World using the secret item was an incredibly cool moment I think for players.
As for the level itself, I know it's kind of a love it, or hate it kind of thing. If you end up in the Painted World on accident, you actually can't leave until you clear the level. Considering it's one of the harder secret areas in the game, getting trapped in the Painted World can be a game breaking mistake if you're too weak.
On the other hand, it's a fantastic detour with one of the best bosses in the whole game and a really cool, vertical level design that's unlike anything else in Dark Souls.