The obligatory snow level in any platform game is a cumbersome beast, often taking the form that is most perfectly designed to destroy any fun that you might have been having up until its arrival. Generally filled with an abundance of ice patches to unfairly throw your character into the nearest ravine, and endless amounts of water to either clumsily navigate through or freeze to death in, the sight of the next world full of its own clichés is normally a welcome relief. Yet this is not so in the world of Sonic the Hedgehog, where ice worlds have produced not just one, but several shining examples of great gameplay and excellent design. So here’s three of the best; a selection of levels you really shouldn’t be giving the cold shoulder to…
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 – Ice Cap Zone
Ah, the original and perhaps best ice level there is… Well, it’s the original if you disregard Icy Isle in SegaSonic the Hedgehog, but since nobody cares about that game I think we can safely get away with that. You knew that the Ice Cap zone was going to be a good time the second the level began, with your explosive exit from the Carnival Night zone landing you on a snowboard that twisted you down snowy hills at high speeds, before crashing down into the caves below. It may have only been brief, but it was something that was cool in both a literal and a metaphorical sense.
However, it takes less than a minute more of playing this zone to realise its initial awesome moments were not alone, with many other enjoyable features readily and rapidly shining through. These include moments such as riding giant blocks of ice down almost vertical slopes, only ending your journey on them by smashing through some nearby walls, to the rush that comes from hitting one of those pendulum platforms at high speed and soaring high into the air. It’s not all just for show, either, with many of these elements and others actually providing some interesting platforming challenges – such as breaking ice blocks with a spin dash to open up organic staircases to the areas ahead. In short, from the caverns of the first zone to the open air of the second, it’s just really fun to play from start to finish.
There is one key element that finishes the package, however, and is almost integral to making any good Sonic zone into a true classic – the music. A strange chilled out beat (pun intended) that still holds a sense of excitement and mystery to it, it really brings the level together. It remains one of my favourite Sonic tunes to this day, and that’s certainly no mean feat.
Diamond Dust Zone – Sonic 3D Blast
Sonic 3D was always a bit of a strange game, considering it was Sonic’s first real foray into uncharted territories that weren’t completely 2D. It was met with mixed reviews due to its gameplay and design, but in reality it was by no means a truly terrible game. It too had great moments just waiting to be found, one of these taking the form of the Diamond Dust zone. Sure, it had the annoying cliché of slippy slidy ice everywhere, but elsewhere the level was pretty great – giant leaps off cliffs were common, struggling up icy rivers was a slow but rewarding challenge, and even the ice itself would often propel you to high speeds down steep hills and off many a wall, like some sort of demented frozen pinball.
The traps of the stage are also notable for both being clever and a bit bonkers – one of the enemies you have to kill, for instance, is a spinning snowman who is going absolutely overboard with the act of firing snowballs from his hat. Another snowman enemy will cut out the middle man that is the bullet spam, and simply explode into a shower of ice the second you get near it – neither enemy really makes sense, but it’s fun to see, so who cares? A bonus point is also rewarded to the zone for the moment you realise that several of the spike traps throughout the level can actually be shattered with a spin dash, simply because the brittle spines that they consist of are made of ice. If that doesn’t sell it to you, the music is once again a brilliant affair, capturing the spirit of the level perfectly. Some people may bemoan this level and the game it’s in, but it will always hold a special place in my frozen heart.
Ice Cap – Sonic Adventure
No, you’re not reading that wrong, and I’m not talking about the same zone twice in a row – this level may be called Ice Cap, but we’ve left Sonic 3 far behind and entered the adventure era at high speeds. Yet compared to the original, this Ice Cap zone starts off very subdued – with very little music and only the howling of the wind to keep you company, you’re left to navigate your way across ravines and up snowy cliffsides by hopping from icicle to icicle and spring to spring. It’s decent enough, but to be fair it’s not anything that approaches something resembling a classic – Until you walk down one frost filled tunnel and smash an inconspicuous looking wooden board…
All of a sudden, everything changes. Suddenly you’re snowboarding away from an avalanche to the tune of a nifty guitar riff and some funky jazz-like beats, in a moment that could pretty much define the adventure era as a whole. But it doesn’t stop there, oh no! The snowboarding continues, throwing in wide open plains to cruise through, massive jumps to throw yourself off… Oh, and the occasional bombing run from the enemies flying overhead. Sure, it doesn’t control perfectly and doesn’t even last that long, but for those few minutes it’s just stupidly exciting entertainment from start to finish, and it’s that which makes this zone truly into a classic.
The one that leaves you cold inside – White Acropolis – Sonic 06
Oh course, I feel like I can’t really end this list without pointing out the one snow level in Sonic that pretty much spits in the face of the rest, with its abysmal controls and awful design – Sonic 06’s White Acropolis. Yet the less said about that the better, especially when everything that is wrong with it can be pretty much summed up in about two minutes.
Even with the existence of the Acropolis, there’s no denying that ice zones in Sonic are generally pretty cool affairs – in fact, no matter which you play and when you play them, you could say they are capable of leaving you with chills up your spine…