Ahh, Snowpeak Ruins… Time to review this unusual dungeon. Last week I wrote that I felt Arbiter’s Grounds’ level design was very unoriginal, mostly pooling from previous dungeons’ ideas and using its elements in uncreative ways (for better or for worse). Snowpeak Ruins is the exact opposite. It is completely nontraditional, both thematically and design-wise, and that makes it one of the most interesting dungeons in Twilight Princess. Unfortunately it also marks the last dungeon in the game that I have a personal fondness for, though that’s not to say that I find all of the rest to be bad dungeons.

Tucked away mysteriously into the cliffs at the end of Snowpeak, it’s the fifth dungeon in the game, and takes after a specific structure — a mansion — in terms of shape and theme. This makes it exactly the same as the Sandship in the later Skyward Sword (as I wrote in its review), in that it has tight rooms that are realistically themed and proportioned after the rooms you’d actually see in such a building. This is immediately apparent upon acquiring the dungeon map; it looks like a mansion, even when just looking at its layout.

Snowpeak Ruins is very unusual thematically, but surprisingly so. It combines two very straightforward themes — a mansion, and ice — and combines them into one of the most visually and atmospherically distinct dungeons in the series. There are a few — though not many — dungeons in the series that take after a mansion in terms of design (the Forest Temple in Ocarina of Time is one such dungeon), but there are no other dungeons that actually are mansions. And with how realistic-looking the dungeon is — appearing exactly as a mansion should — that automatically makes it visually unique within the Zelda series. However, Nintendo also added the ice theme to it. Ice dungeons are just as basic, but adding the ice theme together with the mansion theme created something new: A beautiful, artfully crafted mansion situated on a frozen mountain that belonged to someone important but indeterminable that has since become abandoned, run-down, and claimed by the elements. There’s such a great interplay between a posh estate and rundown icy rooms in Snowpeak Ruins, as you pass from one to the next or sometimes experience both at once, that there’s really nothing quite like it either inside or outside of Zelda.

The dungeon’s theme does a reasonable job at communicating the concept; it sounds icy, but it also sounds a little more refined in certain areas. I feel like more could have been done to make it feel fresh, though, because while it works with the themes, it’s not unlike songs we’ve heard in other ice areas, and I think that’s a little unfortunate since the dungeon itself is so distinct and unique while the song just isn’t. This is probably due to the fact that there is a portion of the song that only plays in the safe areas of the mansion where its inhabitants — Yeto and Yeta — live, and that part is fittingly warm and silly. I think the song could have used even more variation, perhaps with some more versions that would play in different rooms as they progress from intact and fancy, to totally icy, as well as somewhere in-between. At the very least, the existing two versions should have played a bit more evenly throughout the dungeon.

Speaking of Yeto and Yeta, that’s another area where the dungeon becomes extremely unique; the entire dungeon is also patterned after these two characters, and it can be seen in many ways. First, two of the early rooms are safe areas where Yeto and Yeta live, and both characters will perform services for you throughout the dungeon. Yeta gives you the Dungeon Map and marks objectives as she attempts to direct you toward the Bedroom Key (which replaces the Big Key), while Yeto makes soup. Taking the ingredients you collect from the chests that Yeta accidentally steers you to, he makes better soups. This soup serves as your only method of healing within the dungeon; while there are hearts in the pots outside the entrance, there are no recovery hearts within the dungeon itself, so Yeto’s soup is your only way of healing. This concept culminates in the romantic moment at the end of the dungeon — which is friggin’ hilarious — in which Yeto and Yeta rekindle their romance and produce not only the first and only recovery hearts you’ve seen in the dungeon, but also the Heart Container that serves as your reward for beating it. So between these two characters making their home in this dungeon, Yeta guiding you gradually through, and Yeto taking away the ingredients you find to give you better methods of healing, the dungeon has quite a few distinctions from other dungeons thanks to these two characters. On top of that, they’re both charming, funny, and just add tons of personality to the dungeon.

The elements that Yeto and Yeta bring to the table impact the gameplay as well as the atmosphere of the dungeon, but they’re not the only way that Snowpeak Ruins distinguishes itself from other dungeons just in terms of level design alone. Snowpeak Ruins has a lot of very traditional ice-themed puzzles, particularly in the form of sliding block puzzles. They’re well-designed. But the dungeon also has just as many puzzles and navigational challenges that differ completely from what we’ve seen before. One that comes to mind is the room in the Northwest corner of the dungeon, in which you have to carefully navigate over icy rafters hanging over a pit. It’s a tight area to maneuver through, and you have to plan your route out, lest you walk over ice and slip off. Not to mention, immediately afterward you acquire the Compass, which is actually necessary in order to locate a chest containing a key that’s buried in the snow, which you would normally never be able to find without the Compass telling you it’s there. This is the only example I can think of in the series in which the Compass is necessary to solve a puzzle, and that’s really unique.

The dungeon in general does a really good job of blending familiar and brand-new puzzles within both its ice and mansion themes, and has a host of fresh central mechanics, like smashing things with the Ball & Chain, to transporting and firing cannonballs. Most of the puzzles and challenges are very well-designed, and I can’t think of any that are bad except for maybe the way to get to a few of the optional chests, like going across extra chandeliers or bombing the floor. It’s a solid dungeon in terms of puzzles, and very refreshing.

In terms of enemies and other threats, Snowpeak Ruins also sets itself apart from at least the others in Twilight Princess; I think that this is the hardest dungeon of the game. Part of this has to do with absent hearts, but even beyond that, most of the enemies are very tricky.

Mini-Freezards slip around and bounce off the walls, so even though they’re very easy to hit, sometimes hitting them makes them into a bigger threat to you. They’re deceptively difficult enemies that can drain a lot of health, and I’ve even had major close-calls where they’ve almost killed me. Freezards are just as rough, with their icy breath, surprisingly speedy rotating, and impressive reach. The icy, humanoid Chilfos are one of the most challenging humanoid enemies in the game. Once again, they are deceptively challenging, as they break rather easily. But if you don’t finish them off, they’ll regenerate their weapons, and their attacks are quick and they usually come in numbers. The enemies in this dungeon can and will drain your hearts, and especially if you’re wearing the Zora Armor (which doubles ice damage), the dungeon can be one hell of a challenge. This is a good thing, though, because it’s a late-game dungeon, and Twilight Princess in general is overly easy.

There are certainly moments where these enemies will make you want to pull your hair out, though, and a couple should probably have been avoided. Attempting to navigate the annoying metal chandeliers while trying to fend off or kill a Chilfos that’s chucking spears at you — all without falling — really tries my patience. So the dungeon is a little overly frustrating in a few select parts, I’d say.

I’ll also confess that to this day, I don’t really get the miniboss. The miniboss is the relatively cool Darkhammer, which sneaks up on you by pretending to be a decorative suit of armor. It swings a massive ball & chain and advances toward you, occasionally taking a swing and exposing his tail. Otherwise getting near him is very dangerous. The fight is cool — not to mention a nice throwback to the Ball & Chain Trooper from A Link to the Past — and I have no real complaints about it, but it’s always confused me because I’ve never, ever been able to understand how the AI decides when to attack; 90% of the time he just walks toward me and I just don’t get what’s going on. Unlike the rest of the dungeon’s foes, however, Darkhammer is overly easy and falls in line with most of the battles in Twilight Princess in this way, though he’s probably one of the most challenging. Either way, it’s a fun battle, and a good concept (especially since the dungeon item is actually his Ball & Chain and you pick it right up off the ground after killing him). Its music is the same miniboss theme that plays for the majority of the game’s minibosses, which first played while fighting Dangoro in Goron Mines. It fits well.

Finally, that brings us to the dungeon boss. While she’s still too easy, I think Blizzeta is the best boss battle in Twilight Princess. It helps the boss thematically that it’s actually a character turned evil in a shocking twist at the end of the dungeon, but Blizzeta stands on her own too. The fight is deceptively simple, like a lot of the enemies in the dungeon, and in fact it functions exactly like the Mini-Freezards; Blizzeta’s first form really just bounces around the room while sliding on the ice. It’s initially massive and hard to dodge, but begins to move progressively faster as you break off more chunks with the Ball & Chain, until it literally shoots Mini-Freezards at you. The boss theme for this phase is intimidating and scary, yet pretty, suiting the fight very well. And the boss is just as visually striking, made out of white, shining ice as it bounces around a reflective room. It’s just awesome; simple but well-done and cool.

The second form is even better in many ways. You have to use the floor as a mirror to see where the boss is, as she flies around the room dropping ice on you. This phase is just as simple as the first, but that’s not a bad thing with this boss, and dodging her ice chunks on the slippery floor while still giving yourself enough time to destroy them so her weak point is exposed can be pretty tricky. The music for this phase is even more impressive than the last, making the battle epic, pretty, and intimidating all at the same time. This isn’t just one of my favorite battle themes in Twilight Princess, but one of my favorite battle themes in the entire Zelda series. There’s nothing quite like it.

Unfortunately, there’s little to no challenge dodging Blizzeta and hitting her back, so while, like Darkhammer, she’s definitely harder than the game’s average boss, she’s still too easy. And considering how great she is visually, musically, and conceptually, it’s a crime that her being easy makes the fight so short. Had Blizzeta had more attacks and been harder to damage (not to mention had more health), she would have been a perfect boss.

Snowpeak Ruins is one of Twilight Princess’ best dungeons, and I love playing it every time. It’s one of the only sections of the game that actually manages to challenge me, and I love it not only for that, but also for how refreshing and new it feels. It might be the best-designed dungeon in the game, at least in my eyes, with the Lakebed Temple and possibly the Forest Temple as its only competition. Arbiter’s Grounds is cooler to me, but only because I like creepy things; Snowpeak Ruins beats it in so many ways. I love it.

But how about you? Do you love Snowpeak Ruins, or hate it? What do you think about its unique aspects? Or do you just think it’s pretty average? How about the battles? Tell me in the comments, and look forward to next week, when I review the Temple of Time!