5 Wonderful Winter Wonderlands

It's that wonderful time of year again! Christmas is coming, and with it comes the usual deluge of holiday chaos and insanity. Still interspersed with those frantic gift hunts are the quiet and wonderful moments were you pull up close to a mug of hot chocolate and watch the snow come down. There's just something magical about snow. Unfortunately, some of use don't get to experience this because we live in warmer climates. Fortunately for those that do, games love the relaxed sense of wonder that snow brings as well, and almost as long as games have been around Snow-themed levels have existed, and they're a lot of fun to play, usually because they are very relaxing and very artistic. So, just in time for the holiday season, here are five wonderful worlds of ice and snow.

Sonic 3D Blast: Diamond Dust
It wasn't the greatest Sonic title ever, but it had some great music and the visuals just worked for the icy slopes of Diamond Dust in a way that brought them to life. Sure, it had exploding snowmen (that merely sent snowballs flying everywhere) and dangerously sharp icicles, but it had a sedate song, falling snow, snowdrifts...Diamond Dust was one of those levels I wanted to get lost in.

Rayman 3: The Summit Beyond the Clouds
Rayman 3's release was heralded with little fanfare, sadly enough. It was partially its own fault, compared to Rayman 2 the game was much shorter, but it still held it's trademark charm. The Summit Beyond the clouds was a level that came out of nowhere, and happened to be one of the more memorable snow based stages I've ever played. Part of its due to the stages laid back tune, which you can hear right here, but a lot of it was visual as well. The stage just looked pretty. Not only was it very soft looking, but the sunset on the horizon gave the whole thing a very pretty look. This is a stage I'd love to revisit in the future on a more powerful system just to see what artists could do with it. Until then, it's all in my mind.

Sonic Advance: Ice Mountain
Another Sonic stage that just set the mood perfectly, Ice Mountain was one of those levels were it was very hard to get annoyed when I died because the level itself was so sedate. Falling snow, shimmering ice, great backdrop, wonderful music...kind of makes me want to go skiing in Alaska.

Metroid Prime: Phendrana Drifts
Anyone who has played this game will remember the moment they first stepped into the Phendrana drifts. You just stood there for a moment, before finally uttering a single solitary "Wow". For a game that played so heavily on pulling you into it's world, the Phendrana Drifts was a masterstroke of beauty. Few icy areas in any games have the impact the Phendrana Drifts have had, I've been known to listen to the music to them when I walk outside and it's snowing.

Castle Crashers: Snow Land
Despite the higher speed intensity of the song, Snow Land seems so relaxing. Maybe it's that everyone is wearing those fuzzy parkas that look so warm, or maybe that its that they're enjoying a giant snowball fight. Take your pick. The music captures the visuals perfectly, and the level lives as a stellar example of its namesake. Snow Land indeed.

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