Cold Music for Hot Days

Picture it: you’re reading a book, or watching a film, and the protagonist gets unceremoniously dumped in the middle of a desert. The likelihood is that they’re wearing entirely inappropriate clothing and have basically no supplies, yet still miraculously survive to fight another day. Now, imagine that – but instead of a desert, you’re in the middle of rural England, a place well-known for generally being cold and damp. After today, I know what they mean when they describe the sun as “beating down” on someone.

To stave off this stifling summer’s day, one might buy three or four ice creams and swallow them whole. Here, we take a different approach: video games. Specifically, the archetypal cold level that many games often have. And swallowing three or four ice creams whole. To help transport you to those cooler climes, here are a handful of music tracks from some of my favourite snowy, icy worlds that exist just beyond the glass of my CRT.

Clouds of Ice

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos is an interesting piece – not often you find a game where the soundtrack is far and away the best bit about it. But that’s a story for another day. Here’s a thing, though – ever noticed how snow levels tend to lean towards the harder end of the scale in 3D platformers? Usually they’re fraught with frozen-over lakes, slippery slopes, and huge piles of snow, each presenting its own unique challenge. Croc’s cold climes seem to avert that somehow – there are still plenty of ice-based hazards, but the snow levels are by no means the hardest levels in the game. Not by a long shot.

Borderland

RuneScape has its fair share of cold regions, including White Wolf Mountain (many players’ first taste of the world beyond the free-to-play area), Trollweiss, Miscellania, and the truly awe-inspiring area of the map marked “here be penguins”. Plus, of course, all the Christmas events which are, for the most part, filled with snow-and-ice-related tomfoolery.

Borderland perhaps isn’t representative of the coldest parts of Gielinor, but it’s still a great little tune. It plays in the Fremmenik-controlled region of Rellekka, which is inspired by medieval Scandinavian cultures – vikings, basically. Catchy, with a solid beat and an almost minimalist melody, Borderland fits in well with the countless hours you’ll undoubtedly spend whacking rock crabs over the head with…a scimitar. If you haven’t been through the toil already, you’ve got a lot to look forward to. At least you have this track to listen to while you’re at it.

The Magic Lantern

From one end of the spectrum to the other, Metal Slug 3 is arguably the highest-regarded entry in its series. I’d personally argue for Metal Slug 6, but that’s a little more difficult to find these days. One of the first secrets – indeed, the most obvious – is in the second level of the game, hidden within a cave labelled ICEMAN. And, rather than the Sierra adventure game, you’re thrown into an icy cave full of frozen POWs, soldiers, and…fridges. Of course. The cave is also full of angry yetis that bleed purple, and at the very end is an elephant buried in the ice which you can ride.

That sentence alone just about sums up Metal Slug, actually.

Frozen Altars

The Spyro series has an excellent selection of ice levels – in fact, they’re probably the coolest ice levels in all of 3D platforming. I’ve picked this one because there’s just something special about this level. The depressed penguins, the awesome architecture, the clever little ice-related puzzles (which generally involve freezing the depressed penguins in a block of ice), or the fact that Spyro’s breath turns cold and blue…could be anything, really.

Plus, you get to fire lasers at giant abominable snowmen. Can’t argue with that one.

Hell Freezes Over

Most of Jazz Jackrabbit’s cold levels are squirreled away in each game’s respective Christmas episode, but a couple made it out into the main game. One of them is A Cold Day in Heck – notice they took out the naughty H-word – which is a bit puzzling, frankly. One minute, Jazz and Spaz (and possibly Lori) are running around in a frozen wasteland full of angry dogs and tiptoeing skeletons; the next, the place is hotter than a disco around the release of Saturday Night Fever. Weird.

Not too many cold weather-based gimmicks in this level, outside using a flamethrower to melt some ice blocks. That’s all ya’ get. On the plus side, Jazz 2 does have a gun that freezes enemies in blocks of ice, which is pretty fun.

Frostjörd Battlefield

Ah, Magicka. Most people remember this game as being a silly multiplayer kill-your-friends simulator. One with an excellent magic system, too! Not many talk about its fun campaign, though. Unfortunately, after playing a while it was obvious that certain combinations of elements far outclassed others – try FQFQASA, for example – but that didn’t detract from the atmosphere and lore at play here. In fact, I think they got the balance between reference-based humour and decent storytelling about right…until that update where they introduced the fairy. Guh.

Again, Frostjörd Battlefield doesn’t have much in the way of weather to slow you down, but it does have a great little SkiFree reference right at the start. Always down for that.

Siberia

I’m gonna be honest – my experience with TimeSplitters is mostly limited to multiplayer battles. Three of you crowded around the TV, passing the controllers around…that’s proper multiplayer. However, I have played through the first mission with a friend and – once again – it had a wonderful atmosphere and some excellent music. Nice and long, too – not often you get that with soundtracks of this vintage. Do we have Halo to thank for that?

Oceanlab Complex

Yep. Somebody’s now reinstalling Deus Ex.

This track plays towards the end of the game. Spoilers ahead…and yes, I’m still marking spoilers for this eighteen-year-old game, because it’s just that good.

The Oceanlab is a military facility run by the shadow Majestic-12, and it’s in a bad way. The place is almost deserted save for a handful of soldiers…and another handful of genetically modified creatures out for human blood. It makes for some tense moments, reminiscent in some ways of Jurassic Park. Tell you what – those karkians don’t half pack a punch. I know this isn’t a particularly cold area to be in – not as cold as it would be in Hell if it froze over, like in Jazz 2, for example. But the music really does remind me of Arctic temperatures, and to be fair, a knackered-up deep sea facility wouldn’t be the warmest of locations.

Winter Tundra

To finish off, we’ve got ourselves another Spyro track. I just can’t get enough of purple dragons, it seems. Winter Tundra is the final hub world before facing off against Ripto; and like with all the other hub worlds in Gateway to Glimmer, it has a simply beautiful music track to go with it. Only problem is – it’s too darn short! Even as an ambient piece, it’s a little too easy to tell where the loop point is. Nevertheless, what a cracking bit of music.

Well, I hope you’re feeling a bit less stuffy after all that. Why not leave a comment with your favourite track from a snow and/or ice-themed level?

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