Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Merry Hardcore Gaming Christmas!

Once again its getting time to become a little more silent and holy - in a crazy, busy, consumerism kinda way, of course. Most media have recognized the power of this holiday of consumption sprees, but not all of them still remember the no doubt outdated, more contemplative aspects of the time.

You'll hardly ever see a year go by without at least one specificly christmassy movie showing up in theaters, while game sites and magazines will rather suggest you put Call of Duty or Madden under the christmas tree. And it's not the least bit their fault, as they simply don't have much choice. With the exception of the odd movie license, Christmas games are an especially rare breed. One is tempted to conclude the competitive nature of video games just doesn't go well along with the holiday of love. But it hasn't always been this way. Let's take a look at what offered the nerds of yesteryear the opportunity to feel Christlike while avoiding to have to spend time with their loved ones.

Out of competition are licensed games (Home Alone, Nightmare before Christmas, etc.) and MMO specials (those are legion).

These are the games you should really get for christmas:

Maria's Christmas Box (1988)
The oldest Christmas game we could think of is ... actually pretty weird for a christmas game. (Now vintage) British glamour girl Maria Whittaker dons the Santa Outfit, mostly to take it off again in a game of strippoker. Way to start our family holiday special!

Snatcher (1988)
Nothing says holiday season like a hardboiled detective and robot side-kick tracking body-snatching biomechanical monsters through a futuristic cyberpunk city. If Gillian and Metal Gear visit the city square, not only does a jazzy rendition of jingle bells play in the background, but the two discuss their Christmas plans and Metal promises not to let Gillian spend it alone. Aww, now that's the holiday spirit.

Father Christmas (1989)
Oh no, Santa has overslept. Now he really has to hurry to build his sled and get those presents delivered. If only those pesky elves would stop stealing the parts of the sled from him. (I thought they were supposed to be his helpers?) Then of course follows the actual ride. Santa delivers all continents, America, Europe, Africa (not depicted racially insensitive at all, see the first screenshot of this post), the Eskimos in Antarctica (sic!) and Finland. Finland??? Poor little Asian and Australian kids...

James Pond 2: Codename Robocod (1991)
So you think the idea of a fish in the British Secret Service is stupid and ridiculous? So how about a sequel with a fish in a robo suit to walk on dry land whose mission it is to liberate Santa's workshop from the evil Dr Maybe? Yeah, I figured you'd love it.

X-Mas Lemmings / Holiday Lemmings (1991-1994)
The Lemmings became christmassy a whole four times. Each year from 1991 to 1994 DMA Design released a special level pack for the joyous season. They alway used the same set of graphics, though. The concept of the game where you have to assign various jobs to the suicidal little critters to make them reach the level door stays untouched.

Secret of Mana (1993)
Not a christmas game per se, but in the all time favourite by Squaresoft you get to visit Santa (complete with Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer) in his hut inmidst a frozen forest. After you beat him to a pulp in his huge creepy ogre form, that is. Far East of Eden Zero features Santa, too.

Daze Before Christmas (1994)
While christmas specials were abundant at the time, original christmas games had become rare in the 90's. Daze Before Christmas is a nice if stock platformer that occasionally makes clever attempts to integrate christmas tradition into the gameplay, for example the 24 levels are presented as the doors of an Advent calendar. For whatever reason Santa turns into the devil when he drinks a cup of coffee.

Jack in the Dark (1994)
Before finishing the sequel to their legendary hit Alone in the Dark, Infogrames first used this neat little game to showcase their current engine version. The game actually takes place at halloween, which gives the little witch enough time to break into the toy shop and free Santa from the grasp of the evil jack-in-a-box.

Rise of the Triad (1994)
If you really have to shoot pixel people in the head in first person on christmas, try Rise of the Triad. The classic FPS actually contains several "easter eggs" for several holidays, christmas of course was no ecxeption. (Day 1 buyers soon got the opportunity to experience this, as the game was released on december 21st.) Not only wears one of the characters a Santa hat, the music is also replaced by a tune that masters the seemingly impossible task of instilling feelings of neighbourly love just as much as the desire to blow shit up with huge guns.

Jazz the Jackrabbit Holiday Hare (1995) & Jazz Jackrabbit 2: Holiday Hare 98 (1998)
Sonic's Rival on the PC got the christmas treatment twice, each time with a few winter-themed extra levels. The second game actually contains almost as much easter levels.

ESP Ra. De. (1996)
Yepp, Cave's bullet hell shooter is set at christmas 2018. You would hardly notice most of the time except for the ending, though. They don't go to church for evening mess, that's for sure. When looking closer, there are a number of visual clues scattered throughout the stages, though.

Christmas NiGHTS (1996)
The last of the promotional christmas specials in this list. Christmas Nights, like Rise of the Triad, also supports special events for several other dates, according to the Saturn's internal clock.

Shenmue (1999)
The plot of Shenmue isn't actually about christmas, but with it taking place in winter, chances are you'll eventually get to experience the holidays in Yokosuka, with the believable artificial world recognizing the occasion. Despite the sometimes grief themes, many events in the game are full of christmas spirit, like Ryu helping a small girl to bring up an orphaned kittie.

Deathsmiles IIX (2009)
The original Deathsmiles had a strong Halloween theme, but its sequel shifts things up a few months to take place during Christmas. There's the sound of jingle bells in the air, the white dusting of snow on the ground...and a fiendish bastardization of St. Nick named Satan Claus at the penultimate foe.

There's obviously more games to note (Parasite Eve, Napple Tale, etc.), but this should you keep busy for this year's holidays. If the above are not the right games to go on your wish list, check out the thread on our forums for more suggestions. Thank you so match for playing and do have a Merry Christmas (when it hits in about 2 weeks)!


  1. Oh man, the ROTT egg takes me back, it's actually Christmas tradition to play through the first level on Christmas morning here. :3

    NiGHTS Christmas is cool too, wasn't there a separate disc that was nothing but Christmas NiGHTS or was that just the Sonic disc?

  2. I didn't even know Jack in the Dark existed. What an amusing concept

  3. i own 2 copies of christmas nights. don't have a saturn. i guess i should sell em.

  4. Resonance of Fate features a chapter taking place during Christmas. The main mission of the chapter is pretty comical and quite festive.

  5. I don't have a Saturn either, but I would love to have a copy of Christmas Nights (though I guess an emulated copy and a Saturn emulator would be even better so I could actually play it). I tried to find one on ebay a few years ago and couldn't. That game brings back fond memories.

    You serious about getting rid of your copies, Anonymous?

  6. There is a XMAS mode in Tyrian2K as well.

  7. Parasite Eve takes place during Christmas week, although I don't remember too much in the way of Christmasy references in the game.

  8. I recently played through Snatcher (PC Engine version), and boy oh boy, does the Jingle Bells song at Alta Mila (I think the city square has a slighty different name in the English version) become annoying after a while.

    A rather short while, I should add.