We here at JoyPad Ninjas love a bit of snow. Every winter we can’t wait to immerse our faces into the layers of crispy cold ice, tingling our cheeks no end. It’s a magical feeling, walking through that fresh blanket before anyone has laid their grubby feet on it. It changes the most mundane landscapes into wonderlands.
It’s not only a joy to wonder through but equally has the same effect in videogames. Vistas are always an attractive proposition but how about snowy vistas? Or characters frolicking about in the white flurry? That’s poetry personified. So, as we currently sit on the cusp of new console releases, lets explore snow’s journey in cool videogames and see how far the representation of the sparkling bliss has come. LETS GO!!
And the fresh digital snow fall begins. Initially released on the MSX in 1981 and later on the NES, Antarctic Adventure casts Penta the penguin to run into the screen to catch flags and fish that leap out of water. The snow however leaves much to the imagination. It’s literally just a white screen. There is some detail in the Antarctic snow fields with some indents of snowfall to the side but that is not somewhere the JPN team would like to lay down snow angels. No one wants all that grey in their hair.
It took six years for snow to resemble anything other than a piece of paper that someone mildly coughed on, thanks to Contra, released on the NES in 1987. Startlingly, there are varying shades of snow now; remember, it isn’t just a white-trick pony. Snow has plenty of depth. You might say it introduced a Contra-st. Contra even managed to render fir trees with snow deftly hanging on their branches. That’s the spirit! Unfortunately, it’s not exactly apparent throughout this whole level why snow is just floating in mid-air. And men are standing on it. Snow doesn’t do that. 6/10. See me.
Super Mario Kart
Another five years went by and most games dared not attempt showing-the-snowing in all its glory. By 1992 though, Super Mario Kart went there on the SNES. Things are really moving along at this point, which is ironic for a racing game. Snow is no longer holding the weight of man in mid-air but protruding over ice on a race track for Italian plumbers. If anything, the breadth of colours Super Mario Kart has only amplifies the intensity of the snow like it’s never been seen before. It looks slightly plain but pulling donuts in the snow could now be achieved in this interactive medium. Truly that is a landmark to be cherished.
Donkey Kong Country
Only two years had passed by the time Donkey Kong Country was released for the SNES but the depiction of snow had moved on leaps and bounds with the game pushing the console to its very limits. Everything is there; great bunches of snow has settled that bulges over the sides of hills forming hanging icicles, tiny sprite snowflakes are falling in plentiful amount but look at those trees! Those lush 3D pre-rendered trees with pools of snow safely settled on its branches. In 1994 snow was virtually interacting with the environment in a way that would bring a proud smile to artists like Pieter Bruegel. If he saw this he would undoubtedly claim, “This snow is getting dominated up in here.”
Super Mario 64
Another Nintendo title pioneering with snow in a videogame, snow was now being traversed in full 3D in Super Mario 64 and…oh. Actually it looks rather flat. The white-bound trees had taken a notable back-step in detail and the snow looks like a giant carpet of marble. But don’t worry because ‘falling snow’ was more fantastical than ever. Various sizes of snow was constantly on the down low and at least Mario kicked up light dusting of snow around his feet which shows that snow’s interpretation was really starting to get technical. Those clouds were just tantalisingly thickening with the stuff at this point.
Metal Gear Solid
With Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima transcended the integration of snow. Before, it was a simple aesthetic but in this frosty stealth game, the protagonist’s footprints could be noticed by nearby guards, who could then follow the trail which would lead straight back to you! That genius Kojima. Of course, on the Playstation in 1998, polygons could only manage so much. As such it looks befittingly muddy and its effect on 3D trees was better than ever before but again, it is quite flat. However it made for some beautifully haunting atmosphere at times. Games had made great strides in the snow but there’s still more to be done with this blizzard yet. Onwards and up!
Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
Snow with a Pixar quality of loving detail and enthusiasm in this PS2 exclusive, aptly released in December 2001. When you get to the Snowy Mountains level late into Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, you know you’ve reached the frozen jackpot. Jak sinks straight into the deep carpet of snow with a satisfying crunch sound; you can’t help but wish you were throwing down some hot snow angels or getting your snowman on. The Playstation 2 allowed Naughty Dog to give the game a bold, chunky quality to it but falling snow now fell thicker, faster and more windswept. This charming, gleeful snow will warm even the coldest of hearts. And that’s a JoyPad Ninjas promise. These Naughty Dog chaps are ones to watch.
Obviously a snowboarding title would have to get snow right eventually and SSX 3 in 2003 nailed it and it looks gorgeous even now. How many last-gen titles can you say that about? It’s not like before where a character would step in the snow and sometimes it would create footprints and leave a trace of your presence and sometimes it wouldn’t. Every carve and groove you make in SSX 3’s snow plants a snail trail from your boarder; every land from an insane trick was accompanied by the sound of the board’s slap with obligatory puff of snow. Maybe it could have kicked up more snow when you landed but really, this is the best snow there has ever been s(n)o(w) far.
You explored one giant mountain with three peaks and peak 2 in particular was the roughest. Honestly, the snow came down with such a fearsome force that it cut out the draw distance, turning the game into a snowboarding Silent Hill. It also never looked better. SSX 3 is like snowboarding on the moon but with fireworks firing all over the place. The snow is constantly lit up, given a make-over by the candy coloured lighting over the track and all the jumps and turns are painted bright oranges and blues. Again, the track isn’t a flat surface; when you slide up and off a ramp, the paint in the snow gets thrown to the side of the board and smudges it underneath because of the glorious tidal wave snowboarder you are. This game nailed snow.
After SSX 3 defiantly won the much prestigious JPN Best Snow Award from the previous generation, it was Lost Planet who was first out of the blocks to show what the new formats could do with the icy treat. Released in January 2007, it cast a dude called Wayne to fight against enemies as well as the elements. So snow is unrelenting and a constant presence. Evoking snowy times in Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, Wayne’s legs are more often than not buried deep in the snow but there’s something lacking about it. When wading leg-deep through the stuff, there seems to be a stock animation of clumps of snow rustling behind the character. It certainly looks glossy but it doesn’t hit the highs of SSX 3’s reactive snow. It’s also very grey and somewhat blue da ba dee da ba die which gives snow a bad reputation; there’s more depth to it than that. Bring a varied colour palette or don’t come to the snow party.
In late 2007, Crysis released for the PC and despite being synonymous with jungles, it had a decent amount of snow in their too. We’re in the big leagues now my friends. Snowfall seems to be a constant but it’s laced on the environment (obviously not in real time) far more subtly than what’s come before. How about fallen tree branches with a thin build-up of snow on top? Rocks that are partially covered by snow with some light dusting fallen on the side? Despite its realistic cover of the environment, it’s not as reactive as other games’ snow that came before. One thing’s for sure: snow just got real for reals.
Look. At. That. Snow. JUST LOOK AT THAT SNOW! What have you got real life? Nothing! Sony’s killer app in late 2009 redefined snowy expectations. Of all Uncharted 2’s white flurry achievements, what’s most impressive is how the snow sticks to lead character Nathan Drake’s clothing and shakes off when he goes indoors. It still accomplishes what Crysis did where it seems as though it’s fallen and taken refuge in the environment with unequal amounts of snowfall across the land. At the beginning of the game, as Drake escapes a train crash, fire from the wreckage illuminates the snow, turning it shades glossier than Ikeas latest range of coffee tables. Perhaps as Drake drags his feet through the whiteness, the puffs of snow kicked up are a little too enthusiastic but Naughty Dog raised the bar (snow storm?) with their critically-praised hit and made gamers’ mouths salivate with the prospect of sticking out their tongues to catch a flake for their mouths. Snow angels rejoice.
What will the future hold in store for our beloved weather type? Considering the erratic development of snow in games, it could be anything? There is one thing though; the JPN team are ready to see individually-rendered snowflakes land on a single fir tree’s needle. Just remember to stay warm kids!