Snowy video game music from the last 30 years

We pulled together some of the most evocative snow- and winter-themed video game music from across the last 30 years of consoles, computers, and handhelds.

By Thomas Quillfeldt

Thanks to Steve Vancouver, Anthony John Agnello, Jayson Napolitano, and the Cane and Rinse crew for help with picking pieces

Something you hear a lot from video game and VGM fans is that they love certain ambiences; or that particular types of levels in games are especially evocative, for them.

It’s also a running gag that level-based video games tend to cycle through the same old selection of natural environments, e.g. green fields, dense forests or jungles, arid deserts, lava-filled volcanic craters — and wintry, snow-covered lands. Snowy levels have thus been a gaming staple for decades and so video game composers have had to keep finding different ways to sonically reflect frozen wastelands, winter wonderlands, towns and cities blanketed by snow, and so on.

Let us take you on a whistlestop tour across various generations of computers and consoles as we brave the computer-generated cold…

❄️❄️ Let’s get a few obvious picks out the way first… ❄️❄️

“Phendrana Drifts” from Metroid Prime

6th-gen console (GameCube, 2002)

Composer: Kenji Yamamoto | Mood: Anxious chill

Bit o’ background

In an interview with, Kenji Yamamoto talked about modernising the sound of Metroid as it was being turned into a first-person shooter with the Prime series, saying “...we needed to have more realistic sound effects and environmental sounds… I thought I could make it sound more realistic and well-suited for FPS game [sic].”

“Phendrana Drifts” is a regular pick on snow-related VGM lists for good reason: its trance vibes and tinkling piano and harp lines are chilled-out yet unsettling. The phasing synth pads sound like freezing winds blowing across the tundra; whilst the synth choir chords suggest that there is a translucent ensemble of ice angels serenading Samus as she braves the tunnels and mountains of Tallon IV.

“A Wish...” from Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2)

4th-gen console (SNES, 1993) / Remake: Current 8th-gen (multi-platform, 2018)

Composer: Hiroki Kikuta | Mood: Peacefully still

Bit o’ background

Secret of Mana was Hiroki Kikuta’s first game score and, arguably, his best and best-known. Although he wrestled with the limitations of the SNES, he successfully managed to create a soundtrack that was distinct from other games of the time. Part of this was down to him creating his own sample library in order to give him more control over the final sonic output.

The 2018 remake soundtrack features re-recorded arrangements by a variety of people, including heavyweight composer Yuzo Koshiro (Streets of Rage), who attended to wintry classic, “A Wish…” Some may prefer the original, but Koshiro’s sparkly update is a worthy rendition.

“Freezeezy Peak” from Banjo-Kazooie

5th-gen console (N64, 1998)

Composer: Grant Kirkhope | Mood: Christmas chirpiness

Bit o’ background

Everywhere you look amidst the online VGM community spaces, you see love for Grant Kirkhope’s Banjo-Kazooie score. The guy can’t escape the avalanche of fan covers on Twitter (he loves it really), and it is arguably the quintessential case of people’s gaming nostalgia fuelling their admiration for a particular soundtrack — in a good way.

A common element in Christmassy-sounding game tracks is the four-to-the-floor jingling bells sample. Kirkhope avoids this being an irritant by overlaying wonderfully daft, dancing musical lines and underpinning everything with exuberant orchestral oom-pah rhythms.

🐻🐦 Staying with Mr. Kirkhope for a bit… 🦎🦇

“Glitter Glaze Glacier” from Yooka-Laylee

Current 8th-gen (multi-platform, 2017)

Composer: Grant Kirkhope | Mood: Crystalline shimmering

Bit o’ background

In a previous interview, Kirkhope revealed to Laced With Wax that his favourite track from the Yooka-Laylee soundtrack was “World 2 Theme”, aka “Glitter Glaze Glacier.”

Kirkhope: “I was trying to write something that I thought would be more floaty and delicate and that really captured how beautiful the level looked [in concept art], this majestic, icy expanse. As usual, I was thinking about what John Williams might do — he has always been my number one inspiration!

“I wanted a mix of spiky instruments and majestic ones, which is why there is a ‘noble’ trombone entry in the middle of the piece [1:03] as well as the French horns at the end [1:52]. Of course, I had to include some glockenspiel and vibraphone too — I love the way they sound together, as well as pizzicato strings and celeste. Having all of these different instruments and textures helps to convey what I was seeing in the level.”

Further Kirkhope-ian winter listening:

“Snowy Blankets” from Viva Piñata is incredibly gorgeous, like a peaceful, snowy village scene in the dawn light.

“Treading Winter” from The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall

5th-gen computer (PC, 1996)

Composer: Eric Heberling | Mood: Magical mystery tour

Bit o’ background:

Before Jeremy Soule arrived on the scene to soundtrack those scrolls of the elder variety (like John Williams over the wars in the stars) there was Eric Heberling: a composer and sound designer who left video games in the early Noughties, moved to Las Vegas, and plied his trade doing sound and music design for casino slot machines.

On the evidence of “Treading Winter”, by 1996, Heberling had already mastered the fantasy sound that players have come to associate with mystical fictional realms such as The Elder Scrolls’ Tamriel. The track features more ornate flourishes and runs than one associates with Soule’s later work; it’s also reminiscent of both Danny Elfman’s snowy Batman Returns score, and Hitoshi Sakimoto’s Final Fantasy OSTs (Tactics and XII).

“Snowflakes” from Persona 4: Golden

7th-gen handheld (PlayStation Vita, 2012)

Composer: Shoji Meguro, Benjamin Franklin

Performer: Shihoko Hirata | Mood: Winter romance

Bit o’ background:

“Snowflakes” is not a song about over-sensitive Millennials, although the school kids in Persona 4 are pretty emotional, as it goes…

Slushy, saccharine romantic feelings are often associated with snowy scenes and wintertime. Arguably, P4G is one of the few video games to establish a true sense of a group of friends bonding over time, and “Snowflakes” has come to mean a lot to fans who loved spending time with Chie, Yukiko, Kanji, and the gang. The song plays during the in-game months of January and February as the story nears its ‘true’/’good’ ending.

“Ice Fortress” from World of Warcraft: Fall of the Lich King

7th-gen computer (PC, 2008)

Composer: Russell Brower and Derek Duke

Mood: Gale-wracked, frost-covered gothic castle at night

Bit o’ background:

It may be a little hard to imagine 10 years on, especially for non-WoW players, but Wrath of the Lich King — the second expansion for the mammoth MMO World of Warcraft — was the fastest-selling computer game of all time when it released.

This icily atmospheric track may take players back to the Icecrown Citadel raid, the Ashen Verdict faction, and the face-off with the Lich King himself. It features short, shifting passages of orchestral and choral themes, as well as reverb-heavy pianos and synth pads in the closing section.

Composer Russell Brower said in an interview that the process of creating the expansion soundtrack was highly collaborative: “Each of us three composers has his own area of creative comfort and expertise... Early on, we put concept art from all the then-known areas of the expansion up on my office wall, and we discussed potential musical approaches for each. Over time, all three of us found components of the game that “spoke” to us and sparked our respective imaginations. Each person took the lead on several such areas…. Each zone, race and instance had a “champion” who saw to it that all bases were covered.”

Interestingly, regarding how ‘ambient’ the score felt, he said: “...with players spending long periods of time in a given area, a continuous “foreground” or even “mid-ground” musical presence would quickly wear thin, causing people to reach for the mute button. The exploration dynamic of the game-play is far better served by having the music materialize nearly unnoticed out of the ambience, enhance the moment, then recede in a subtle fashion.

“BGM02” from Christmas Lemmings

4th-gen computer (multi-platform, 1991)

Composer: Tim Wright and Brian Johnston

Mood: Ding dong, someone’s merrily going to sue for copyright infringement

Bit o’ background:

Stressful and funny real-time puzzler Lemmings was a charming success that launched a multi-million selling series. Christmas/Xmas/Holiday Lemmings started off as two seasonal demos to promote the main title, before being fleshed out as a proper game. It’s hard not to love the daft, often black humour of Lemmings, and this Christmas re-skin is fondly remembered even if it added nothing substantial to the formula.

“BGM02” is a Bach-esque contrapuntal four-part chorale that seems to borrow snatches of melody from carol “Ding Dong Merrily on High”.

“Snowball Park” from Super Mario 3D World

7th-gen console (Wii U, 2013)

Composer: Asuka Ota | Mood: Delightfully adorable

Bit o’ background:

If it’s possible for a Super Mario game to be underrated, many who played Super Mario 3D World probably felt it deserved more attention vis-a-vis Mario 64, Galaxy, and now Odyssey. The game reviewed impressively, but its popular appeal was perhaps limited by its seeming co-op focus and the relatively small Wii U audience.

Long-term Nintendo composer Asuka Ota has worked on a wide range of core series since 2004, including Zelda, New SMB, Animal Crossing, Mario Kart, Smash, and many more. With this track, she goes full-on Christmas cheese, laying it on thick with jingle bells, wistful strings, and fluttering woodwind. It’s similar to other Japanese OSTs that sonically seem to be influenced C19th/C20th European light classical — other examples include Joe Hisaishi’s scores for Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service.

“Snow World Theme” from LocoRoco

6th-gen handheld (PSP, 2006)

Composer: Noboyuki Shimizu

Mood: Mellow oompa loompas on helium

Bit o’ background:

Like Katamari Damacy before it, and Rayman Origins after, LocoRoco cultivated and air of cutesy nonsense in order to endear players. For the soundtrack lyrics, game designer Tsutomu Kouno created a fictional language made up of bastardised katakana words to give the game an international, rather than purely Japanese, appeal.

“Snow World Theme” is the background song for World 1, Level 4, and it perfectly evokes the melted marshmallow squidgy-ness and pastel colours of the stage.

“White Land” from F-Zero

4th-gen console (SNES, 1990)

Composer: Yumiko Kanki | Mood: Billie Jean on ice, on speed

Bit o’ background:

Before there was Mode 7 racing with Super Mario Kart, there was SNES launch title F-Zero — a futuristic racer set in 2560, where drivers compete for the entertainment of bored multi-billionaire intergalactic traders.

A game released today with a level called ‘White Land’ might not fare so well with woke folk, but it would appear that the name — a Japanese-to-English translation from 1990 — is an innocent enough descriptor of a place of constant snowfall (as well as bright pink skies, and pink and purple grassland.)

This super-fast funk track clearly pays homage/borrows/steals outright the core rhythmic syncopation, bass line and synth stabs of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”; but it adds a fun lead line and drum flourishes to give it its own character.

“Snowdrops” from RuneScape

Multi-platform MMO | Composer: James Hannigan

Mood: Winter is coming for the Lord of the Strings

Bit o’ background:

If you’ll permit us the plug…

Laced Records recently released two RuneScape albums on vinyl, CD, and digital — the MIDI-based Original Soundtrack Collection, and The Orchestral Collection (as well as two more albums on digital — all the links here.)

The Orchestral Collection is made up of original compositions and arrangements of others’ work by veteran game composer James Hannigan (Red Alert 3, Dead Space 3). Tracks are drawn from two separate sessions, including a recent Abbey Road recording of the Philharmonia and Pinewood Singers.

“Snowdrops” is a soaring cue from this latest batch recorded for RuneScape (aka RuneScape 3, rather than Old School RuneScape), and highlights how Hannigan is a master of beautiful, wintry melodies. This track in particular is reminiscent of John Williams’ work on The Force Awakens.

We do like a mood- or ambience-based listicle at Laced With Wax:

Happy Holidays everyone!