Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ittle Dew 2+ (NSW) Review

Yesterday evening saw a look at a Legend of Zelda-like adventure with Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King. Moving from sprites to polygons, Ittle Dew 2+ is also a Nintendo Switch game, this time a retail release, that sports a similar overhead perspective while offering 3D models for characters and environments. Here's SuperPhillip Central's review.

"Dew" not miss out on this action-adventure delight.

I adored Ittle Dew 2 when it originally released on the PlayStation 4 in digital form. The game's developer had plans to see if it could work on the Wii U, where no doubt a Legend of Zelda-loving audience would eat such a game up, but alas, the hardware just couldn't muster it. However, a year and some change later, the developer has the game ported to the Nintendo Switch, and with their publishing partner Nicalis, an enhanced version of Ittle Dew 2 sees a retail release in addition to a digital Nintendo eShop one. It's time to depart on a new adventure, dear readers!

Adventurers Ittle and her winged dog Tippsie travel along the high seas on a raft, when all of a sudden it crashes upon an uncharted island. Meeting the island caretaker, the two are told to head back to wherever they came from, but before this is done, Ittle notices a map that falls out of the caretaker's pocket. It reveals the location of eight dungeons around the island where the raft pieces are located. Not heeding the caretaker's words, the pair of adventurers heads off to explore their temporary island residence, searching the countryside for secrets, treasure, caves, and dungeons to enjoy themselves in. Ittle Dew 2+'s story is quite meta in its dialog and story, oftentimes poking fun at concepts seen in games like The Legend of Zelda and the many other titles that have been inspired by Nintendo's historic gaming franchise. It makes for some hilarious, tongue-in-cheek dialog and a story that I truly appreciated. It's nice to not have a super serious story for once for a game like this.

Explore the island well, Ittle; there are secrets all over the place.
The first dungeon is marked on the map for players at a nearby location. However, there's no rule that says you have to go there right away or that you have to enter that dungeon first. Of the eight dungeons in Ittle Dew 2+, only the eighth requires you to reach it with all of the previous seven raft pieces. Every other dungeon is free to enter at your leisure. Creating your own order of dungeons has a positive and a negative. For a positive, when you acquire a later dungeon's item and go to an earlier dungeon, you have opportunities for shortcuts to make your trip through it much easier. However, entering dungeons out of order also means that you have a longer distance to travel with more difficult enemies inside and outside a dungeon meant for you to tackle later. The puzzles inside are more complicated as well.

Nonetheless, it's not just dungeons that are open for exploration. Littered and sprinkled around the island are caves, and many of these require a trick to open. Thankfully, they can all be opened with just Ittle's starting weapon, a stick. Some are right out in the open, while others may require a hint from one of the many NPCs occupying the island. With the Nintendo Switch's screenshot functionality, there's no more need to write down these hints or remember them for later. Just hit the screenshot button, and you've got a hint saved in your screenshot folder via the Switch home menu.

The caves all have some kind of treasure inside to make finding cave worthwhile. Some house crayons that add a quarter of health to Ittle's row of hearts, some have lockpicks to open locked dungeon doors without the need for a key, some have secret shards that unlock optional, demanding dungeons, while some special caves have magical doors that transport Ittle to a completely uncharted area of the island, usually requiring a lot of skill to complete them and acquire the special treasure inside at the end.

The stick was cute, but now we're getting somewhere with Ittle's sword!
Ittle comes across a great amount of items within her and Tippsie's adventure. Rather than just ape the items from Ittle Dew 2+'s inspiration, The Legend of Zelda, the game instead comes up with four original items that each have a number of uses. The most basic is Ittle's stick, used as a sword. While it's not much to look at at the beginning of the game, she can level it up (e.g. making the stick turn into a sword at level 2 and then a fireball-shooting mace at level 3) by acquiring the upgrades in treasure chests. Other items mapped to each face button of the Switch controller include a Magic Rod that can hit things from across the screen, Dynamite to blow certain objects up, and an Ice Ring that creates frozen blocks that slide along the ground when pushed. All of these items can work together to solve more particularly taxing puzzles within Ittle Dew 2+.

For instance, in a room where Ittle must activate a northeastern crystal to open a door, if the crystal is guarded by spikes with no means to hit it up close, perhaps spawning an ice block, cutting it in half so the lower right diagonal half of it is gone, and then pushing it diagonally northwest into a corner might start something good. Then, at the bottom left corner of the screen, Ittle can use her rod to shoot a blast of energy out that deflects off the diagonal ice block at an angle and hits the crystal, opening the door. The fun about Ittle Dew 2+ and its puzzles is that there are usually two or more methods of solving them through smart item utilization. Having the player limited to just four items like Ittle Dew 2+ has doesn't mean that there's a limited amount of actions you can do with them. This makes the design on display with Ittle Dew 2+ so brilliant in this regard.

Push blocks like this from afar with the help of the Magic Rod.
And it doesn't end there with the clever design of Ittle Dew 2+ either. Beyond the meta terminology and dialog of the game, beyond the abundance of compelling exploration to be found throughout the world map, beyond going to dungeons in any order you want, and beyond the smart puzzle design with multiple means to solve them, there is an item system in place that makes it so depending on what items you already have in your possession, the special treasures in dungeons and in the special secret caves change to make it so you're not acquiring them horribly out of order. That's to say that you'll never get a level 3 batch of Dynamite before you get a level 2 batch of Dynamite. Even things like chains that allow Ittle's stick and later mace to have an extended reach or bandannas that allow Ittle more split seconds of invincibility when rolling are acquired in a clear order. With a game with as much freedom as Ittle Dew 2+ from such a smaller developer than Nintendo, it's amazing what Ludosity accomplished here with this game.

Retreat won't look good on an adventurer's resume, but neither would dying to the first enemy in Pepperpain Prairie that Ittle encounters!
If there's anything I have to object to with Ittle Dew 2+ is that while playing it on the Nintendo Switch Joycon controller, I had to switch between using the analog stick and the D-Pad. I needed the analog stick for general movement, but the D-Pad offered better aiming with items and more precise walking, especially on tile-wide pathways over bottomless pits. The Switch Joycon analog stick just isn't precise enough for delicate movements. I fell off enough twisty, turn-filled, narrow platforms to last me a winged dog's lifetime.

New to Ittle Dew 2+ is a collection of five dungeons found in the Dream World, a place Ittle and Tippsie are taken to once they nap in a sleeping bag within the town. The Dream World can be entered at any time, no matter if you have all of the items in the game or not, as these Dream World dungeons supply you with all you need to complete a specific dungeon. These are primarily puzzle-driven dungeons that are the hardest within the game to wrap one's brain around and solve. The rewards for solving these dungeons aren't anything important to the main quest. Instead, they're merely collectible cards with information on the various foes Ittle encounters within the world of Ittle Dew 2+.

The world of Ittle Dew 2+ is quite beautiful to look at. The 3D character models and environments are colorful and hold a lovely cel-shaded style, making everything pop out like a fairy tale world. The character designs are creative, but I really want to get into the environmental design for a second. It's bursting with creativity, especially the dungeons. From pillow forts, to submerged basements filled with underwater foes, to mines that grow and produce potassium, these places are mighty creative and far more innovative than "Oh, the fire dungeon. Oh, the water dungeon." Each dungeon has a take on a modern-day concept like a basement or house that makes for some clever dungeon concoctions.

Don't worry -- like these fire-spewing enemies, Ittle has brought the heat to this dungeon, too.
Last but not least, the music of Ittle Dew 2+ is fantastic. It offers live instruments in a wide variety of genres, moods, themes, and more. There aren't too many indie games that I absolutely love listening to outside of my actual play-through, but Ittle Dew 2+ was definitely one of them. High praise coming from a picky person like myself.

Ittle Dew 2+ takes a familiar formula with The Legend of Zelda and goes wild with it, offering an abundance of humor, meta commentary, and just phenomenal gameplay and design to back it all up. This isn't a Yooka-Laylee situation where the developers made fun of games they were inspired by, yet committed some of the same sins they poked fun at. (That said, I adored Yooka-Laylee, but that was an obvious issue with the game.) While some movement issues and repeated boss battles bring the overall experience down, the 12 original, well-designed dungeons included within the game, over 50 individual caves to find and plunder, and five all-new, particularly challenging dungeons set in the Dream World for this special bonus edition of Ittle Dew 2, makes for a game that is highly recommended for any action-adventure fan. You should definitely do the Dew.

[SPC Says: B+]

Friday, December 29, 2017

Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King (NSW, PC) Review

We're approaching the end of the year, and there are but three reviews of 2017 left. Let's crank the first one out immediately, as there's no time to waste! Here's SuperPhillip Central's review of The Legend of Zelda-inspired Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King.

The Legend of Blossom: A Tale to the Past

It's an often-used phrase that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." No doubt that The Legend of Zelda series is a historic and revolutionary one that many developers AAA, indie, and in between have been inspired by the games, oftentimes coming up with their own -- for a lack of a better term -- "interpretations" of the formula. That's what seems to be the case with the recently released Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King from publisher FDG Entertainment. Nevertheless, is there more to this take on 2D Zelda than meets the eye?

Well, yes, in many regards. Right away, the implementation of the story is done cleverly, seeing two young, restless kids pestering their grandpa for a bedtime story. He happily obliges and tells the tale of a girl named Lily who wakes up from her bed within the kingdom and hightails it to a castle ceremony where she becomes a knight. Soon, the king's nefarious, wizard brother uses a spell to put him to sleep while preparing an assault on the castle, yearning to take the kingdom of Blossom over for himself and his own greedy, selfish ambitions. Only through acquiring three unique ingredients can the king wake up from his comatose state. 

His Majesty is quite the prognosticator! Especially with his brother Crocus by his side!
While the plot is nothing magical or even noteworthy as it's rather standard fare, what makes the story of Blossom Tales so interesting and entertaining is the interactions between the grandpa and his two grandchildren. The grandpa generally sets up each new location Lily reaches, while the grandchildren usually interrupt with their own thoughts on how things are progressing. Sure, this can sometimes effect the pacing of the game negatively, but it seldom becomes too big of a deal. The most creative way the grandpa and grandkids' dialog is inserted into the game occurs at a specific points within Lily's adventure. There are times where the grandchildren will get bored of a given result or challenge, and they plead to their grandpa to spruce things up. These points in the story allow the player to choose from a duo of offerings, such as whether Lily goes up against a group of bandits or an army of archers. Other instances within the story are affected as well, some not even part of the standard plot, in out-of-the-way locations like caverns.

Whether holding one sword or two, these bandits will be sorry to have messed with Lily.
Lily herself controls as well as any fan of Zelda games would expect. She comes equipped with a sword, and holding the A button (where the sword is always equipped) for a short length of time will result in a roundhouse blade attack, similar to Link's spinning slash in the Zelda series. Upon her adventure, Lily comes across a wide array of inventory items, such as a bow and arrow, bombs, a boomerang, and more. These can be equipped to two other face buttons, though it's disappointing that the developer didn't bother to use more of the buttons that were available to them on the Switch controller or PC keyboard. 

Having only two item slots means you're constantly changing them within the item menu Link's Awakening-style. The only difference here is that by virtue of being on a button-limited system like Link's Awakening was, that game had to make do with only two buttons for inventory spaces while Blossom Tales does not. Instead, the developers chose to only include two inventory spaces at one time, resulting in a lot of micro-management of items. This is obnoxious in later dungeons where a wide variety of items are needed to progress, meaning lots of item-switching via the inventory menu.

Like many games inspired by the most popular 2D Legend of Zelda titles, Blossom Tales apes a lot from its inspiration. Maybe too much so. From aforementioned mainstay items from Zelda like bows, bombs, and boomerangs, enemy and obstacle-laden dungeons filled with familiar puzzles from 2D Zeldas such as an Oracle of Ages-styled "move across all tiles without touching previously walked upon tiles" (these appear way too much, by the way), the requirement to find four pieces of heart to add a new heart to your life (or more magic to your magic meter in the case of mana boosts), and so forth, I think you can get the idea that Blossom Tales strays closely in its interpretation of The Legend of Zelda series.

Some puzzles are simple, while others can perplex.
That said, while Blossom Tales is a love letter to old school Zelda games, it does take some ideas from more modern games. For instance, a meter is used that empties some each time a consumable item such as a bomb or arrow is used instead of having a limited number of an item, resulting in having to scrounge through slicing up bushes and grass for extra bombs and arrows. This meter replenishes a bit after a short time, much like the recent 3DS Zelda game, A Link Between Worlds. Again, if you're going to gather and grow inspiration from some game, why not one of the best?

Each time Lily uses her bow, bombs, or boomerang, her magic meter empties some.
Don't worry, though -- it replenishes over time!
Blossom Tales uses a blocky graphical style featuring aspects of its presentation not possible at the time its inspirations were made, such as having an enemy horde of dozens pop up in a room without a sign of slow-down in the frame-rate. Yes, these ambush rooms are obnoxious, but it's still cool to see. The environments are richly detailed and feature some really cool weather effects, and the sound package is serviceable, if not that memorable from my own experience playing the game.

Any good dungeon is filled with danger, and Blossom Tales doesn't disappoint in this department.
Those looking for a new 2D Zelda game while they wait for an official new 2D Zelda game can easily check out and be satisfied by FDG Entertainment's Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King. It may not do too much to push the creative envelope all that much, but it does supply the player with a thoughtfully designed adventure with plenty of enemies to encounter, areas to explore, and treasure to plunder, all while on you and Lily's way of saving the king and the kingdom itself.

[SPC Says: B-]

Review copy provided by FDG Entertainment.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

RIVE: Ultimate Edition (NSW) Review

Time to bring the heat at the start of winter with a RIVE: Ultimate Edition review for the Nintendo Switch. Blast off and blast those robotic pests to smithereens!

Arrive, survive -- Do it all with RIVE.

It's always fascinating when a developer shakes up a popular or classic genre of video game and adds its own spin to it. That's what Two Tribes gives players with RIVE: Ultimate Edition. However, the way the developer innovates is by shaking up two individual game genres, both classics: the platformer and the shoot-em-up. The end result is a 12 mission game that is just as hard to beat as it is to resist.

RIVE has you playing as a rough and gruff pilot of a ship (with the same name as the title of the game -- just without "Ultimate Edition" included, for you cheeky jokers out there) investigating a derelict space station at the edge of the galaxy. All of the dialog within RIVE is voiced, and the pilot and the robotic A.I. that routinely follows him throughout the facility both deliver fine performances with some witty and humorous lines.

As I said in the introduction, RIVE is part platformer and part shoot-em-up. Platforming segments occur in gravity-centric areas of the game, deep inside the station with several examples (such as no-gravity zones). Platforming is performed with the left shoulder button, allowing for a double jump as well. Meanwhile, you're required to do some swift dodging and evading as enemies oftentimes swarm on top of you. Thankfully, you have firepower yourself in the form of a cannon that shoots out lasers and sub-weapons that require ammo to use.

A different kind of space odyssey.
The fluidity of changing play styles is incredible in RIVE: Ultimate Edition. At one moment you'll be using one stick to move and the other to aim at targets, all the while leaping from platform to platform and avoiding enemy fire, while the next you'll seamlessly switch to flying in a zero-gravity sector, such as space, in auto-scrolling segments reminiscent of the 8-bit, and 16-bit arcade classics. Occasionally you'll even be forced to face in one direction in true classic shoot-em-up style while others have a more modern approach with 360 degree aiming and movement.

Rather than use a typical shoot-em-up sub-weapon system of collecting items to equip a power-up and then losing it when you die, you instead purchase sub-weapons (along with added armor and the ability to attract goodies like loot and ammo from afar) from a post-mission shop that uses space junk collected from fallen foes as its currency.

The sub-weapons come in four varieties, can be switched between with a press of the correct direction on the face buttons, and each has its own intended place to be utilized. For instance, the Shotgun is perfect for lining up an antagonizing group of enemies in a narrow, enclosed hallway and blowing them all to smithereens with one powerful blast. Whereas if you're in a less claustrophobic locale, such as a wide open area with plenty of room to it, Homing Missiles may be just what the doctor of destruction ordered. Again, sub-weapons require ammo, so you can't just mash on the sub-weapon button to continually use it over and over again. Each sub-weapon has a charge time before it can be used again, so it's imperative to use them in high stakes conflicts with enemies.

So much for "335 days since our last workplace accident", huh?
Outside of traditional weapons and sub-weapons, later in the game, your ship acquires the ability to hack into other drones. This grants you a teammate, so to speak, albeit a bit of a fragile one, to battle alongside you. It can take to your defense while dishing out damage to other enemies. A lot of the time it's merely great as a distraction for other enemies while you take the opportunity to go to town on them. Never take your eyes off the opponent, grasshoppers!

One of the biggest downsides with RIVE: Ultimate Edition comes from something to do with my own (and most likely many other players') skill level and not really the fault of the game itself. For me, RIVE was brutally difficult. One's health and armor gets taken out rather fast in even the easiest of difficulties (Normal, whereas Hard mode is far more challenging but boosts your score for the game's online leaderboards). I wish there was a slightly easier difficulty that would deliver less damage to my ship whenever I got hit. In exchange for that, this easier difficulty would disqualify you from being on the leaderboards. It'd be a nice trade-off this way so lesser skilled players would be able to practice particularly unforgiving missions.

Blades, lasers, and foes are all ready to kill you. Can you survive?
What further annoys with RIVE is that upon taking damage, the screen gets a red gradient around the edges of the screen. As more and more damage is taken and one's health is lowered to critical levels, it makes things hard to see. Simply put, when you're close to death, countless enemies are swarming to your location, and you can't make them out or know where to aim, it gets a bit frustrating to die because the developers didn't come up with a better way of displaying critical health without partially obstructing your view. It merely makes a hard game even harder.

These grievances said, the checkpoint system is mostly well thought out, so repeating significantly sizable segments of missions seldom ever occurs. This smart placement of the majority of checkpoints ensures that players won't get overly irritated over constant deaths (and you will die constantly at first). Furthermore, the brisk loading times between your vehicle exploding and placing you back to your last checkpoint, make retries of mission segments nowhere near as agonizing as they could have been.

That may look like a disco ball, but it's actually a zero-gravity zone.
...It also sparkles when disco music plays.
While RIVE: Ultimate Edition isn't recommended for players who don't like games with high difficulties, for veteran fans of either platformers or shoot-em-ups, the Nintendo Switch iteration of RIVE offers some truly tricky, action-packed missions that most will want to play through on Normal difficulty (which is already a massive challenge) and on Hard, which is perfect for high-score types. Competing on a global online leaderboard, comparing scores with folks on your Switch friends list, and even partaking in the one-credit-only run-through of all 12 missions (the latter being the most daring) add even more replay value to this capable dual genre package. All this and the ability to come up with combinations of cuss words you've never heard of can be yours with RIVE: Ultimate Edition.

[SPC Says: B-] 

Review copy provided by Two Tribes.

Monday, December 25, 2017

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - "Merry Christmas 2017" Edition

Merry Christmas from the SuperPhillip Central family to each and every one of you! I hope it was a wonderful holiday spent with friends, family, or even just a relaxing day work-free day by yourself. For everyone else who doesn't celebrate, I hope it was simply a happy Monday.

This week on the final 2017 edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs, we begin with a recent release in the form of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Then, we get nice and Christmas-y with some winter-themed tunes from I am Setsuna and Yooka-Laylee. Get ready to dress up to your best ability with our next game, Style Savvy: Trendsetters, and then if the cold weather is already getting to you, let's fly away to Isle Delfino in Super Mario Sunshine!

Click on the VGM Database to get a look (and listen) at every song ever featured on the weekly recurring article series. Now, let's get on to the music!

v1531. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (NSW) - Gormott Province (Day)

We begin this Christmas edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs with the most recent release included today. It's Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for the Nintendo Switch, and it's a glorious return to the classical music style of the original instead of the electronica heavy sound of X. (Though that soundtrack had a lot of winners too.) Gormott Province is essentially the Gaur Plains of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the piece for the first major exploratory area in the game. It takes a bit to get to my favorite part of this theme, but once it gets there, the wait is most certainly worth it.

v1532. I am Setsuna (PS4, NSW, Vita) - A Fantastic Encounter

Square Enix's Tokyo RPG Factory, the developer behind I am Setsuna, is preparing to release its next title in the new year with Lost Sphear. While I am Setsuna nailed the ambiance, environments, and especially the music, what it failed to do was to create a game that truly enamors players with its gameplay mechanics. It's a shame since these themes, such as this battle one, are composed so wonderfully. It's like newly fallen snowfall in the woods, idyllic and beautiful.

v1533. Yooka-Laylee (Multi) - Glitterglaze Glacier

When I read that several ex-Rare employees (and ex-staff on one of my favorite 3D platformers ever, Banjo-Kazooie) were getting together to form their own company to create a spiritual successor to same game, I was excited beyond measure. The end result, Yooka-Laylee, strays a bit too closely to Banjo-Kazooie in some really obvious and almost downright blatant ways, but overall, I did enjoy the game. One reason for that was Grant Kirkhope's (Banjo-Kazooie's original composer) spectacular score, such as this piece for the second major world in Yooka-Laylee, Glitterglaze Glacier. Yes, this and the battle theme of I am Setsuna really evoke some warm holiday feelings!

v1534. Style Savvy: Trendsetters (3DS) - Opening

Today sees the North American digital-only release of Style Savvy: Styling Star on the Nintendo 3DS. Seems like a perfect opportunity than any other to wrap ourselves in our favorite stylistic sweaters and listen to some pop sound from the second game in the series, Style Savvy: Trendsetters. This entry introduced the series to the Nintendo 3DS in a big way, such as adding men clients to take on styling challenges for. As for this opening theme, it's positively perky and keeps me bouncing and bumping around this Christmas evening.

v1535. Super Mario Sunshine (GCN) - Sky & Sea

And what Christmas celebration would be complete without Mario? Rather than doing a cliche snow level pick, I chose the complete opposite: Super Mario Sunshine, a game located completely on a tropical isle! With how cold it is outside here at SuperPhillip Central HQ, I'd prefer to lounging on the warm beach sands of Isle Delfino right about now -- even if Bowser and his son decide to make a return trip! Sky & Sea plays during special bonus stages like the dreaded pachinko machine and poison river! But don't think ill of this song; it just goes to show how a catchy number can soften the blows of frustration one can get tackling these sometimes seemingly impossible challenges.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Top Ten Christmas-Themed Video Game Levels

It's Christmas Eve and in but an hour's time it will be Christmas here at SuperPhillip Central HQ. This brings up a nice opportunity to go into one of my favorite topics of discussion: video game levels. But not just any video game levels, Christmas-themed video game levels! I won't go in as in-depth on the design principles on display like I do with my Best Levels in Video Game History series of articles, as I prefer to keep it light for Christmas Eve. A whole slew of games from past and present are featured in this top ten list, including Super Mario Odyssey, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered, and some goodness from Diddy Kong Racing as well. SuperPhillip Central will see you tomorrow for even more holiday cheer, but for now, read this list and add in some of your personal faves in the comments.

10) Winter Crash - Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered (PS4, XB1, PC)

Originally only available to PC and Mac players when the map released with the original Call of Duty 4, Winter Crash is the bash that is back, Jack, and it's the perfect map to play during this festive season. Sure, some might prefer to lounge around with family singing Sleigh Ride (the one with the sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling too), while others just want to slay in general. Preferably with an automatic weapon on the battlefield. Winter Crash is structurally the same as the Crash map, also included in the original Call of Duty 4, but Winter Crash alters the mood a bit with a nighttime sky, snow to slosh around on instead of sand to seep into your soldier's combat boots, and a whole array of Christmas lights and the piece de resistance, a glowing Christmas tree in the center ground of the map with nicely wrapped presents underneath.

9) American Consumption - Splinter Cell: Blacklist (PS3, 360, Wii U, PC)

As a kid and in my teens, I found Christmas to be a magical time of year. Toys, games, teddy bears, presents under the tree, stockings hung by the fireplace, and so forth. Now that I'm much more cynical, I see it as consumers doing their best to make themselves happy with materialistic items, going into debt in the process. Me included, as I especially still love presents under the tree, so that makes me a hypocrite.

Regardless, it's the perfect segue to Splinter Cell: Blacklist's American Consumption is a brilliant level with some of the best controlling third-person stealth gameplay this side of Metal Gear Solid, just without the ridiculous story. It sees Sam Fisher (probably a clone because I know the REAL Sam Fisher has the voice of Michael Ironside) sneaking his way through a proliferation of Christmas decorations and theme park attractions, as he slices through the necks of enemies like a knife through a Christmas fruitcake. It's one of my favorite levels in Blacklist, as I originally played it around Christmas time a year or so ago.

8) A Little Light Snowfall - Yoshi's Woolly World (Wii U, 3DS)

We begin our look at a staple of snow levels, being in a platformer of some type, with a 2D platforming journey through a winter wonderland obstacle course in Yoshi's Woolly World. The light snowfall in the level's title comes from the frozen over precipitation that has left traces on the ground, and made the level's platforms especially slippery. There are some more hefty piles to be found from mounds of snow that fall upon either Yoshi stepping foot on them or hits them with an ball of yarn. There are opportunities for flight as well with the help of Lakitu's cloud, a chance to become large and smash through enormous ice cubes and enemies alike effortlessly, and traverse through this chilly but colorful winter landscape. What I like about this level in Yoshi's Woolly World is how elements of the environment can be interacted with to provide a robust lineup of challenges for Yoshi to endure.

7) Snow Kingdom - Shiveria - Super Mario Odyssey (NSW)

Mario games generally give off a sense of warmth, and it's no truer than in his latest 3D platforming adventure which spans the globe, Super Mario Odyssey. His entry into the frozen lands of Shiveria is met by a massive blizzard, frigid temperatures, cold water (dangerously so), and not a friendly face to be found. Upon entering into a hole, Mario uncovers a town full of adorable seal creatures wearing Eskimo outfits. Times aren't happy at the beginning, but by the end, Bowser's forces have retreated and normal life can resume. What was once a snowstorm so massive that you couldn't see well, you can now see across the distance of several football fields. The blue sky greets Mario hello and the Shiverians can go on with their lives in their cozy, rosy, and warm town with holiday decorations. Maybe some special racing can be done, too!

6) Halloween Town - Kingdom Hearts II (PS2)

In the land of The Nightmare Before Christmas' Halloween Town, you can bet your bag of bones that Jack Skellington is preparing a bold plan to bring the cheer of the holiday season to the otherwise Halloween 24/7 town. While Sora, Donald, and Goofy don Halloween costumes for the level, fitting right in with the city folk, Mr. Skellington wears a full-on Santa suit. Perhaps Jack's wearing a Halloween costume, too, while I'm thinking of it... Many locales from the film are included in this Kingdom Hearts II re-imaging, including a colorful display inside of Santa's Workshop. It's a perfect mixture of two of the most popular holidays around.

5) Frosty Village - Diddy Kong Racing (N64, DS)

We reach the second half of this Christmas-themed video game level list with one of two racing games occupying spots on the countdown: Diddy Kong Racing. Frosty Village is as close to Christmas as you're going to get playing a kart racer on the Nintendo 64. The trees shine brightly with multi-color Christmas lights, and the cabins at the bottom of the hill after the overpass (which I would imagine is a super sweet sledding spot) make you want to enter inside, put on your slippers, rest by the fireplace, and drink some hot cocoa. But alas -- you can't! You have a race to win in this Christmas racing paradise! Whether in kart or in hovercraft, Frosty Village is an entertaining track that hits me right in the nostalgic feels.

4) Gotham - Batman: Arkham Origins (PS3, 360, Wii U, PC)

Batman: Arkham Origins has a location that is another star of the game alongside Batman and The Joker. I'm talking about Gotham City. In Arkham Origins, all of the happenings of the game occur on Christmas Eve, and it makes for an engrossing city to explore. Snow falls from the night sky, holiday decorations are sprinkled across the blocks, corners, and streets, and the level of discomfort around the city during what should be a festive time is rather daunting. But now for Batman, of course. Batman: Arkham Origins' Gotham has so many meticulous details and areas to explore. It makes me a bit disappointed that more people didn't find WB Games Montreal's take on the Arkham series to be as utterly enjoyable as I did. Then again, I always get disappointed when someone gifts me chocolate for Christmas, as I can't stand the taste, so I know; I'm weird.

3) Christmas Is Here - Bully (360, Wii, PS2)

The town of Bullworth is the locale where Rockstar's Bully takes place with Bullworth Academy positioned right in the middle with an amusement park on one side of town and the downtown districts being on the other. Throughout the course of Bully's calendar year, the town takes on and celebrates various holidays. For instance, when Halloween rolls around, all of the kids around town and students at the academy are sporting costumes. When Christmas comes a knocking, the town is painted with snow, with holiday lights shining brightly, and protagonist Jimmy having some hijinks afoot, such as making an arsenal of snowballs and chucking them for one snowball fight to end them all. Rather than devote a huge budget to a large playground, instead Rockstar used that budget to create a robust, detailed, content-rich, dense, and welcoming town that felt like home for fans of the game.

2) Animal Crossing (Winter) - Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (NSW)

If I was writing a list about Christmas-themed events in video games rather than levels, Animal Crossing and its sequels would find a place on this list. However, since that isn't the case, I can do the next best thing. Mario Kart 8 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe's Animal Crossing track models itself after the game series it's inspired by, complete with the changing of seasons. However, instead of waiting three months for the next season to come by, one is chosen randomly (or at will if you know the right button to press before the race loads). Each season offers the same track but changes some aesthetic elements. For instance, in Animal Crossing's winter form, the track is raced on under a starry nighttime sky complete with an aurora in the sky. Trees are bare from losing their leaves, snow has accumulated on their limbs, and many sport Christmas lights. The ground is covered in snow, and what makes this version of the track especially Christmas-y is how well the town celebrates it, enveloping itself in holiday cheer from all of the colorful holiday lights. It's a delightful race with a sense of home to it. How did you do that, Nintendo, in a racing game of all things!?

1) Freezeey Peak - Banjo-Kazooie (N64, XBLA)

In their top form, the developers at Rare were geniuses when it came to making fun games. The ideas and creativity blasting out of each and every seam is just marvelous to look back on and think about. Most developers would love to have just one memorable level in a game, but with Rare it continued to release games with some of the most bizarre yet fantastic worlds around. Many platformers have a snow or ice level within them. In fact, I think it's a law that can send you to prison if you don't follow it when making a platformer of any kind. While games like Super Mario 64 had winter wonderlands of its own, Rare released a game a year and some change later featuring a highly creative take on the winter world with Freezeey Peak.

Making the first left turn at the very beginning of the level sees you facing a humongous snowman monument -- fully able to be scaled, mind you. In the main part of the level, snowmen enemies chuckle as they toss painful snowballs at the bear and bird duo. A Christmas tree rests in a corner, waiting to be lit. A bear-hating walrus doesn't want Banjo inside his cave (but won't mind with shaman Mumbo Jumbo's help). Plus, you can't ignore the pleas of the trio of polar bear children who want their Daddy to come home with their lost presents. It's Christmas, for goodness sake!