Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Top Five Winter Wonderlands of Gaming in 2019

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through SPC,
Phil was posting up a storm, as hard as he could be.
With a new gaming list that he checked twice,
One for the top five snow and winter levels of 2019, how nice!
So sit back, relax, and grab a nice, hot cup of cocoa,
As we start this themed countdown, and away we go!

5) Ice Mountain - Team Sonic Racing (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

A vastly overlooked racing game from this past May, Team Sonic Racing may have been lapped by its competition--a game that we'll look at a little later on this list--but it did feature a stellar snowy and icy race track full of wintry wonder to watch out for. Ice Mountain is based off Sonic Unleashed's Cool Edge level, and it sports a wild ride through icy twists and turns, banked curves, and multiple trick opportunities in the form of high-flying ramps and jumps.

Weave through gigantic icicles to avoid a nasty wipe-out, and then speed through a series of shipping containers as you approach the final turn, home to some incredibly deep snow racers will want to avoid unless they wish to slow down heavily. Ice Mountain comes complete with an awesome remix/mashup of Cool Edge's Day theme and Sonic Colors's "Reach for the Stars" theme, solidifying its placement on this list--though the greatness of the track itself was more than enough to do so.

4) Slip-Slide Isle - Yoshi's Crafted World (NSW)

We move on from an arcade racing game to one of our two platforming genre representatives of this list with Yoshi's Crafted World's ice level. Just be careful, Yoshi, as there's no tread in those boots of yours! Yes, as the name of the level suggests, Yoshi will slip and slide around across icebergs floating on the frozen seas. Avoid some pushy penguins named Bumptys that, true to their names, will do their best to bump Yoshi into the frosty drink. This themed level has everything--icebergs that tilt and sway with characters' weight, a humongous whale that can shoot Yoshi up through its blowhole, a seaside voyage via a ride-able beach ball, and icicles that fall down from the ceilings of caverns once Yoshi passes underneath them, also serving as makeshift platforms. Good Feel shows off such incredible creativity throughout its levels in Yoshi's Crafted World, and Slip-Slide Isle is no different in this regard, making it one of my favorite winter wonderlands in gaming this year.

3) Cliffside Quest - Cold - Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

Like Team Sonic Racing, Playtonic Games' Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair definitely didn't see the commercial success that fans of the game like myself would have liked. That said, that doesn't stop the game from being fantastic, nor having one of the better wintry levels in gaming in 2019.

Cliffside Quest's Cold version takes the familiar Cliffside Quest village setting and puts it under a deep freeze. Snow and ice covers everything as far as the eye can see, though the goal to complete the level is the same. Instead of simply going from point A to point B to reach the level's goal, the goal is right in front of Yooka and Laylee at the start of the level. The objective of this level is to collect five different colored gems to rescue the Bee trapped inside its crystal prison. This means exploring all corners of the level in various rooms, each with their own platforming perils and challenges. Cliffside Quest - Cold ends up becoming one of the more cleverly designed and original levels within a game filled to the brim with fantastically designed levels brimming with personality and creativity.

2) Gingerbread Joyride - Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled (PS4, XB1, NSW)

While Team Sonic Racing didn't take the checkered flag at the end of the day, this next game certainly did: Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled. With the latest Grand Prix update, this new circuit is featured. Gingerbread Joyride screams "Christmas" with its houses and spectators crafted in the cookie delight, gumdrops littered across the sidelines, including two troublesome ones before the race's final turn, snow banks, a warm glow that emanates from the starting gingerbread town, and plenty of Christmas charm to put anyone in the holiday spirit. This circuit requires mastery of power sliding and drifts in order to complete it without trailing behind at the back of the pack, and learning how to take both of the shortcuts that Gingerbread Joyride possesses is the difference between crossing the finish line in first and ending up on Santa's naughty driver list. Gingerbread Joyride is one fantastic track that continues the game's penchant for excellence when it comes to its continued quality content.

1) Arendelle - Kingdom Hearts III (PS4, XB1)

With Frozen 2 in theaters, it's a perfect time to bring up my favorite gaming winter wonderland of 2019 with Kingdom Hearts III's interpretation of Arendelle, the Frozen world of the game. Word has it that Disney was rather strict with what Square Enix could and couldn't implement into this chapter of the game, but I think it turned out well regardless. Between facing winter-themed Heartless in a snow-covered forest, scaling a humongous, sprawling vertical section of cliffs on the side of a tall mountain, exploring an icy labyrinth dungeon, or going wild while sledding down the slopes on Goofy's shield as a party, Kingdom Hearts III's Arendelle featured a multitude of memorable moments making it my favorite of the winter-themed locales I had the pleasure to experience in 2019. Plus, who doesn't like getting treated to a 1:1 rendition of "Let It Go" with Sora, Donald, and Goofy interspersed in between? Not this writer, that's for sure.

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