It's not secret that most of the gaming community loathes winter themed levels. It seems to be the one type of stage design where the terrain itself is an even greater threat than any enemy you can run into. Brawl in the Family summed up ice levels quite well. But not all winter levels are gloom and doom. There may not be many but there do exist a few snow levels that I actually get some pleasure out of romping through. Since it's currently colder outside than I care to think about and some of the white powder is on the way, this seems like a perfectly good time to talk about the winter stages that I don't mind visiting.
World 3-1: Snowball Park - Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)
May as well start with a recent game. Super Mario 3D World boasts some of the most creative levels since the Super Mario Galaxy games. That should come as no surprise since 3D World was made by the very same team responsible for Mario's galaxy hoping adventures. When you reach World 3, a land covered in ice, you're lead to believe the whole world is going to be filled with slippery slopes. In truth, 3-1: Snowball Park is the only winter level in the entire world.
Not only is Snowball Park a well designed winter level, but there's plenty of things to distract you from just racing through and collecting the green stars and stamp. Usually I find the mere presents of Pokey's to be annoying but Snow Pokey's aren't that bad. For one, these guys are sporting pails on their heads, but the way they wear them makes them look like a fez. Once Snow Pokeys have been disposed off, you can use the discarded pieces of their bodies to attack other enemies a la a snowball fight.
About midway through the level, you'll come across an ice skating rink where Goombas are using Ice Skates that's sure to send memories of Goomba's Shoe from Super Mario Bros. 3 flooding back to you. Like Goomba's Shoe, you can go grand theft auto on the Ice Skates simply by getting riding the Goomba that's using it to skate around on the ice. But even without an Ice Skate, it's still fun to see your Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad jump through the air like figure skaters. We could definitely use more winter levels like Snowball Park.
Ice Cap Zone - Sonic 3 & Knuckles (GEN)
When exiting Carnival Night Zone, Sonic uses a canon to shoot to his next destination, the Ice Cap Zone. Sonic lands on a conveniently placed snowboard and begins a descent into the frosty climates of Angel Island. Your snowboarding stint is brief as Sonic is quickly introduced to a towering wall that sends him to the cold depths of the Ice Cap Zone, capped off with an avalanche.
Ice Cap Zone is probably most famous for the piece of music that accompanies the first act, which is often viewed as one of the greatest winter video game music tracks of all-time (deservedly so in my opinion), but just taking the whole zone into account, Ice Cap is a riot to blast through. This may be a ice stage, but the fast paced gameplay that Sonic is known for does not let up here. You'll hitch a ride on ice bergs down steep slopes, dodge ice crushers, use large icicles to platform over spike pits, and catapult through ice caverns to make your way back to the snowy surface. Hard to believe it took Sonic Team four console games to introduce the ice level to Sonic's world but man, did they ever nail it on their first try.
Snow Land - Kirby's Epic Yarn (Wii)
Snowy Fields, Frosty Wheel, Mt. Slide, Frigid Fjords, Evergreen Lift, Cozy Cabin. The sixth world of Kirby's Epic yarn is bursting at the seams with creative ice levels and sine there really isn't one that I don't enjoy, I've decided to list Snow Land as a whole.
Anyone that's played Kirby's Epic Yarn knows that the game is overflowing with enough disgustingly cute to cure any and all forms of negative emotions. Somehow, Snow Land manages to crank up the cuteness factor to 11. You know how Kirby and Prince Fluff turn into cars that make those adorable little honks? In certain levels they transform into sleds! Sleds that can skid over water! You can travel on or in the snowballs that the Waddle Dees throw at you and in Cozy Cabin you can get out of the snow and go through a a delightful cabin that's overflowing with the feels that you'll almost forget that the ceiling is trying to crush you.
What really makes Snow Land shine is that it goes nuts with the Christmas theme. The Christmas trees are loaded with beads for you to collect, which makes taking the decorations off the trees fun. Even the way you enter Cozy Cabin, via chimney is very Santa-like. Much of the music has a Christmas feel to it. All of this makes Snow Land an absolute joy to run through and perfect for playing around the holiday season.
Cool, Cool Mountain - Super Mario 64 (N64)
There are two snow worlds in Super Mario 64 and even with a few frustrating missions, Cool, Cool Mountain is easily the lesser of two evils. There's much to to do in Cool, Cool Mountain. You can slide down the snowy hills, ride the lifts, make a snowman, race a giant penguin and even reunite a mother with her lost child. Cool, Cool Mountain is one of the earliest courses in the game and it does present a fair set of challenges, it's still a pretty cool ice level and not even that whining penguin kid can ruin that.