Its that time of year once more – time for websites and blogs to do their obligatory top ten Christmas movies list. The same old movies getting mentioned over and over – year after year. And the debate over whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not continues…
I thought I’d try to avoid all of that this year and go a different route. I’m going to take a look at some Christmas games instead. Now, pretty much all of these games are linked to Christmas. But one of them just feels right to play around the festive season even if it has nothing to do with Christmas directly. Anyway, lets crack on with it.
Or Holiday Lemmings is from DMA Design (who would later become Rockstar Games) comes this charming action/puzzle game that I remember losing hundreds of hours on. Lemmings was a great franchise with multiple titles in the series.
The goal was simple, guide you lemmings to the exit… that’s it. While to goal may have been simple, the journey was fraught with obstacles you would have to avoid or get through using the many talents of your lemmings. With skills such as building, bashing, mining, blocking and even exploding. As you progress, the levels get harder and harder while your lemming controlling skills are pushed to the limit.
This Christmas spin-off maintains the classic, simple and addictive gameplay of the franchise and just gives it a Christmas paint job. The lemmings now wear little Santa suits complete with hats, the levels are also Christmasy with open fires, multi-coloured lights and snow… lots and lots of snow. A great little game that will have you hooked after playing a handful of levels and soon have you pulling your hair out in frustration – only for you to have ‘one more go’.
Christmas Nights into Dreams
I think this one is required by law to be included on any Christmas gaming list. This is one of Sega’s most beloved gamed released for its Saturn console. Paying as Claris or Elliot who can transform into the titular Nights with his/her flying ability which can be used around levels to collect orbs. Grab enough orbs in the given time limit and move onto the next level. The flying is really well done and gives a great sense of freedom despite being played on a 2D plane and while the game sounds rather dull – its incredibly addictive and fun once you get used to the flight controls.
The Christmas version was originally released as a two level add-on included in some Saturn bundles released in December of 1996, given away for free with copies of Daytona USA Championship Circuit Edition and even on editions of Sega Saturn Magazine and Next Generation Magazine. The game is given a slightly altered story for Christmas and of course, a graphical makeover. The Christmas theme could be enjoyed at any time of the year – but if you played the game on specific dates, you’d unlock added bonuses as the console’s internal clock would be used to know when you were playing. Try playing on New Year’s Day, April Fool’s Day or even Christmas Day for example…
The game takes some getting used to but once you do – you’re in for a wonderful time with this ‘unusual’ action/platforming title. Well worth checking out.
Duke: Nuclear Winter
An expansion pack to one of the greatest FPS games ever made. I love me some Duke Nukem… mostly. Lets not mention ‘THAT‘ game on this blog. But the third game in the Duke franchise was fucking brilliant. Coming off the back of the success of Doom and the meteoric rise of the FPS genre. Duke Nukem 3D was loud, brash, misogynistic and damn funny to boot. Shooting literal police pigs in the face with a shotgun has never been so much fun. Duke’s quips and persona are stuff of gaming legend – even if he did ‘borrow’ some of his lines from other places.
There were several expansions released for the original Duke Nukem 3D and Duke: Nuclear Winter is just one of them. So in this one – Santa Claus has been captured and brainwashed aliens and its up to Duke to ‘kill those alien bastards’ and save Santa.
Not one of the better Duke Nukem 3D expansions I admit – in fact, lets be honest… it pretty bad. A lot of the levels are just re-dressed ones from the base game only with a Christmas theme. Though there are a few all new levels – just not enough of them.
Die Hard Trilogy
Yes, Die Hard IS a Christmas movie (stop arguing about it) and so is this game… well two thirds of it is anyway. As the title suggests, this one is based on (what used to be) the Die Hard trilogy of moives. This one is actually three separate games in a single bundle and all three are different genres and gameplay styles. All three games are action packed and great fun.
Like the moives the game(s) are based on, only the first two are set around Christmas. Die Hard (obviously) based on the movie is a third person shooter where you make your way to the top of Nakatomi Plaza killing hundreds of terrorists and rescuing hostages – okay so the Christmas theme is non existent on this one… but its Die Hard ergo Christmas. Die Hard 2: Die Harder is an on-rails FPS that is set at Christmas. The opening level starts outside the airport and its snowing. It then moves inside and there are Christmas decorations up and even Christmas trees… its Christmas!
This is a great collection of games, all three of them. A must for any Die Hard fan and I’d suggest giving Die Hard 2: Die Harder a play around Christmas time as there is no better way to show ‘good will to all men’ than shooting a fuck-load of them at an airport at Christmas.
One of the best scrolling beat em’ ups of the 16-bit era on the SNES. Sadly this is a dying genre – where it was once one of the biggest gaming trends of the 90s. These game were always simple fare, keep moving (usually) right while punching and kicking bad guys until they fall over. But this one offered a few nice surprises along the way to keep the formula fresh.
No prizes for guessing what this game is based on. Batman Returns was the distinctly dark and brooding sequel to the Tim Burton classic Batman. This game follows the movie pretty damn well sometimes exceptionally so, including the Christmas setting. Its the little touches and details that make this one so much fun from grabbing bad guys and throwing them into the background causing damage to that awesome detail at the end of the first level with the clown and the “you missed” scene taken directly from the flick.
The graphics are bold and capture Tim Burton’s style perfectly. The cut scenes throughout that use digitised images mixed with hand drawn graphics are very convincing. Plus the gameplay itself is top-notch stuff. Watch the film and enjoy the game afterwards. Always gets me in the Christmas mood.
So this is the game that not directly linked to Christmas… but it sure feels like it while you play it. A massive open world RPG that offers a ridiculous level of gameplay set in a fantasy Tolkien-esque world full of rich and varied detail.
As mentioned, Skyrim is not set at Christmas – nor does it have anything to do with Christmas at all. But it is the game’s setting that gives it a snowy/Christmas feeling. Just go walking around the city of Winterhold or Windhelm. Go and explore the many caves, towns, villages found around the northern part of the Skyrim map and get that Christmas feeling inside as you traverse through snowy mountains all while sitting in the comfort and warmth of your home.
There is just so damn much to do in Skyrim that you can spend hours and hours doing nothing but explore the vast map. And while it has no connection to Christmas itself – there is just something about it that gives off a festive feeling that makes me want to play the game around this time of year.
Saints Row IV: How The Saints Save Christmas
A slice of DLC from a game that was as brilliant as it was disappointing. I loved and loathed Saints Row IV in equal measure as its not a bad game at all – but it is a bad Saints Row game. Yet it also featured some truly fun and enjoyable gameplay.
The main game has nothing to do with Christmas – but this piece of DLC is a short but fun mission pack where Santa has to be rescued from the in-game simulation. Full of nods and references to Christmas movies and literature plus it has that distinctive Saints Row humour that is as childish as it is brilliant.
It’ll only take a around and hour to get through this DLC, a little longer if you really want to explore and get the most out of it though. All the Christmas tropes are present here and played up to with great effect. Worth a go if you want a little fun and a few laughs with your Christmas.
James Pond II: Codename RoboCod
A.K.A Super James Pond. This charming platformer is a sequel to a game a lot of people didn’t know existed. What do you get when you cross a gill-bearing aquatic craniate with Robocop?
So you get to play as James Pond, super secret agent… that’s a fish. Picking up where the first game left off as Pond’s arch nemesis – Dr Maybe retreats to the North Pole and takes over Santa’s workshop. Dr Maybe holds Santa’s workers and the big guy himself hostage. Pond is equipped with a robotic suit that gives him strength, agility and the ability to stretch his midsection enabling him to reach higher areas which he’ll need to use as he makes his way through 50 platforming levels to save Santa and his workers.
Platforming games were everywhere in the early 90s and this was one of the better ones. This was basic stuff, make your way from the start of the level to the end, jump on enemies heads, collect items for points. Being set in the North Pole and saving Santa as your main mission makes this game heavy on the Christmas theme… oh and the remix/up-beat Robocop theme tune is pretty damn sweet too.
So this one was never a full game, but in fact a demo/promo for an up-coming game from developer Sensible Software – Cannon Fodder. Mixing their enormously popular Sensible Soccer with Cannon Fodder to create a one-off mash up.
For those not in the know Sensible Soccer was a (wait for it…) soccer game and Cannon Fodder was an OTT shooter so a prefect blend right? You control a small squad of soldiers and have to guide your men through the levels killing bad guys along the way. Using guns, grenades and missiles to take on enemy soldiers, buildings and helicopters. Cannon Fodder is a non-stop, darkly humorous action game. This demo for the main event had you controlling a small squad and starting in a snowy battle zone with a ‘Merry Christmas’ message, but when you move south through the map, you soon find yourself on a football pitch. Now you have to defend yourself against gun-toting football payers. Progress further into the map and you’ll find yourself in yet another Sensible Software game – Mega Lo Mania.
The Christmas theme in this one is pretty low. Aside from the snowy setting and initial ‘Merry Christmas’ message, it has nothing to do with Christmas at all. But its still, a fun little demo to play around the festive season. Almost forgot, Cannon Fodder is notoriously difficult. This may only be a two level demo, but you’ll be spending hours on it trying to finish them.
Batman: Arkham Origins
Second time Batman is on this list and probably the least liked of the Batman: Arkham franchise… until Batman: Arkham Knight was released anyway. The only series of games that truly captured the feeling of being the Batman correctly.
An origin story exploring the relationship between Batman and Captain James Gordon… oh and some other character called the Joker. Its Christmas Eve and there’s a jailbreak at Blackgate Penitentiary led by Black Mask. Batman is left to fight Killer Croc and he learns that Black Mask has hired eight of the world’s deadliest assassins to kill Batman for a $50 million bounty. Along the way, Batman crosses paths with the Penguin, Deathstroke, Electrocutioner and the Riddler among others.
This one didn’t receive much love when it was originally released – but I personally found it massively enjoyable. The Christmas setting looks gorgeous and offers a great contrast with the gothic graphical style of Gotham City… really put me in mind of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns movie. The game also featured some of the best predator sections in the Batman: Arkham series as well as introducing the ‘detective vision’ crime scenes where you had to piece together clues to discover what happened. Really worth playing over the Christmas season.
Special Delivery: Santa’s Christmas Chaos
Okay so I’m going very obscure with my final pick. A mostly unknown game I played plenty of as a kid on my Commodore 64. I believe it also holds the distinction of being the very first game where you get to play as Santa.
Pretty simple stuff, the game is split into three different sections. First you control Santa and his sleigh as he tries to collect falling Christmas presents dropped by his helpers – you also have to avoid gifts dropped by the Devil… cos the Devil is Christmasy right? The second section has you climbing down the chimney having to doge fireballs and falling snow. The the third and final section is set in the house itself. Here you have to negotiate the rooms of the house and leave the presents under the Christmas tree, find the key and leave through the front door. You will fail if you wake any of the sleepwalking children. Rinse and repeat to get a high-score.
This is very basic and simple stuff compared to today’s games – but it really holds some fond memories for me. I loved this game when I was a kid and always played it around Christmas time. It was a fun little title and still good fun to play today too if you fancy a trip down nostalgia lane.
Well there you have it folks. A few games to get you in the Christmas mood worth having some fun with. And I think this will be the last article from me in 2017 (unless something big happens in the world of games or movies in the next few weeks) as I’ve written a lot this year and need to switch off my laptop and unplug until 2018.
I’d just like to finish up by saying thank you to any and all that have been reading my rants over through the year and wish you all a Merry Christmas. Have a good un’ folks and I’ll be writing more in 2018… see you then.