Alright everyone, let’s start this December off on the right foot! To get you all in the festive mood, I’ve compiled a list of what I believe are the 10 best ice level themes. This includes any music that plays specifically in an area with lots of ice and snow. These themes pretty much come in two different varieties: ambient and glassy “chill” music (literally) or upbeat swingin’ jams that beat the cold, and we’ll see a lot of both on this list. So bundle up and grab your dog sled for one cool ride.
10. “Narshe Mines”, Final Fantasy VI (SNES) – Nobuo Uematsu
For anyone who has played FFVI before, you’ll recognize this iconic, ambient piece of music. Setting the mood for the very first area in the game, Narshe Mines, this track embodies the snowy terrain as well as the animosity between the small mining town and the three Magitek-riding intruders. Oh yeah, let’s not forget about the exploring the mines themselves, along with finding the esper Tritoch.
9. “Sherbet Land”, Mario Kart 64 (N64) – Kenta Nagata
Here’s a nice track that is a little bit cool and a little bit fun, kind of like sherbet ice cream. It features a cute whistle lead with harmonizing strings to create a pretty wide soundscape in my opinion. In the game, that empty aural space would be consumed by explosions and your driver’s cries of agony as you constantly run into the abundant Mr. Blizzards. Stupid snowmen.
8. “Snow Theme”, Super Mario 3D World (Wii U) – Koji Kondo & Co.
A dark horse entry! Despite being released only a week ago, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that this game has some astounding music. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the great Leroy Anderson himself didn’t compose this catchy tune himself. Winter music mainstays like the jingle bells, playful woodwinds, and warm brass bring this upbeat tune to life, even for someone like me hasn’t even played this game before.
7. “Hailfire Peaks (Ice Side)”, Banjo-Tooie (N64) – Grant Kirkhope
Grant Kirkhope is genius for composing a single melody that’s able to invoke imagery of two completely opposite environments, just by changing instrumentation. I don’t know why, but I find this melody to really strange and that’s part of its charm. On the chilly side of Hailfire Peaks, we’re treated to an exotic dance of mallet percussion amongst a gentle howling wind. Of course, it wouldn’t be quite Grant Kirkhope if there weren’t any Danny Elfman-esque xylophones.
6. “Icicle Mountain”, Super Smash Bros. Melee (GCN) – Hirokazu Ando
While the original Ice Climber game wasn’t as jazzy as this musical arrangement may suggest, I think we can appreciate the change. There’s a lot of electric organ work as the music switches between upbeat swing and jingling bells, implying lots of movement. Well, that’s appropriate considering the stage it plays in. I’d like to think that the stage isn’t as bad as everyone thinks it is, but it probably is just that bad. Good thing the music is great.
5. “Shiver Star”, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (N64) – Jun Ishikawa
As if the Kirby series isn’t already known for its cute, bubbly music, we get a winter rendition of it in Kirby 64! Actually, by Kirby standards this tune is actually fairly mellow with moving strings, leaping bells, and a lone pan flute. Perfect music for when you’re barreling down a snow mountain with your good friend Waddle Dee and neither of you have arms long enough to stop the sled.
4. “Over Shiver Mountain”, Paper Mario (N64) – Yuka Tsujiyoko
Remember when the Crystal King made the RPG Boss Theme List for his funkiness? Well, the area leading up to his castle makes use of this grooviness in its music, featuring an odd combination of sleigh bells and a synth line that probably feels more at home at a rave than at Shiver Mountain. The mysterious section foreshadows the awesome mirror illusions that lie in store in Crystal Castle, as you make the ascent to one of highest points in the game to fight the Crystal King.
3. “Ice Cap Zone, Act 1”, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (GEN) – Michael Jackson
I didn’t know before, but apparently Michael Jackson’s involvement with this soundtrack has been hotly debated for a long time. He supposedly composed all the music ideas, but credit was removed due to the rising scandals at the time. Taking a listen to the music, I can see where the connections can be drawn. Listen to that bass line and tell that it doesn’t sound like something out of a Michael Jackson music video! This track breathes multiple levels of cool.
2. “Snowman”, Mother (NES) – Keiichi Suzuki, Hirokazu Tanaka
The Mother series is one that certainly changed a ton over years, but a few things have managed to persist. One that comes to mind is this theme, playing in the various snowy areas in the series. The theme mixes a gentle warm melody with a brief, frantic part (kind of like the series itself?). Whether you’re sneaking out of school with your friend Tony, giving bubble gum to a monkey, or fighting snow bunnies, this theme is sure to be a great partner.
1. “Phendrana Drifts (Depths)”, Metroid Prime (GCN) – Kenji Yamamoto, Kouichi Kyuma
Our number 1 theme is oddly the most simple and ambient. While I only have the theme variation here, I feel like I should give the original version a mention because they’re both that good. Technology and nature intersect as we have a grungy synthesizer interplaying with a harp and other natural sounds. This theme alone makes Phendrana Drifts my favorite area in the entire game. I also derive sick pleasure from vaporizing Sheegoths with the Plasma Beam.