Christmas themed video games have always been a category of computer and console video gaming that has bewildered me. Often they have been very poor adaptations of a holiday season meant to bring about fond memories and goodwill to your fellow human beings. The bewilderment I have comes from Christmas based games just not being good games to play and not invoking any fond Christmas or holiday memories.
This top 10 list is predominantly a list of infamy, filled mainly of video game turkeys and a few absolutely outstanding Christmas related video games that really do know how to make a Christmas based game fun, enjoyable and evoke those wonderful Christmas memories of years gone by.
The Official Father Christmas (Amstrad, Speccy, C64)
As a teenager i was the astute 8-Bit game player. I had played every game going, so i had thought. Little did I know creeping into video games magazines were an influx of Christmas related game reviews. Each year these reviews would increase and each year the reviews of Christmas related games would receive very poor ratings. I would read them wondering why oh why would software houses even bother, i mean after all I didn’t bother playing them. Alternative Software must have thought Christmas related games was a winning game category and tried to make things more official in that regard by releasing The Official Father Xmas in 1989.
Using the official word probably fooled quite a few gamers to buy it, making a game “official” did nothing to improve this gaming experience as it’s a shocker of a Christmas themed game on all 8-Bit systems. The gameplay is ridiculous and frustrating as hell. As Santa Claus, you walk around in circles, travelling up and down ladders looking for broken parts to your sleigh only to have Santa’s pesky elves steal them from you if you get touched by one of them which means you need to go back searching Santa’s workshop to find the missing parts again. Thats level one. The other levels are just as boring where you try to catch falling presents and then fly through the air dropping presents on roof tops. Overall it’s a sad Christmas game to be playing.
It makes the top 10 purely to mention how crap this game was then and many more Christmas games that came before it were for 8-Bit gaming enthusiasts back in the day.
Xmas ‘Roids – Thalamus, 1987 (C64)
Whoever thought of making an Asteroids clone with a Christmas theme is totally bonkers. In 1987, Thalamus published such a game, so they must be the ones who are bonkers for doing so. Instead of a spacecraft shooting at asteroids, you play a green Christmas shaped tree blasting away at, wait for it, you guessed it – xmas related items. These items are Christmas tree decorations, well only one decoration and thats a Christmas tree bauble. You shoot it once it changes colour from brown (or is that red?) to purple, shoot it again it changes to blue. Hit it one more time it gets blown away.
The other Christmas related object in the game is a brown Christmas pudding. It just buzzes around the screen being annoying until you shoot it out of the sky. The gameplay is exactly the same as Asteroids but nowhere near as good or as enjoyable. You are only able to fire two shots at a time and unlike Asteroids there is no cool explosions or sound effects just some very ordinary sounds to say the least. Its quite funny seeing the Christmas tree zoom across the screen in Asteroid like guise against a very cool snow falling background screen. However the references to Christmas are poorly executed, just how does a xmas tree shoot bullets or is it snowballs, i can’t tell ? It makes no logic at all. How do puddings fly through the air without some form of wings to fly? Ah, but that’s the magic of Christmas.
It makes my top 10 list as a demonstration of just how unfortunately inaccurate and bizarre 8-Bit gaming was back in the day.
Special Delivery Santa’s Christmas Chaos – Atari 8-bit, C64
I wanted to get an obscure Christmas themed game into the list (you’ve done pretty damn fine so far – Ed.) and i think this Atari, 8-Bit game, Special Delivery: Santa’s Christmas Chaos, fits the bill quite nicely. On opening credits Jingle bells plays but after that the Christmas related tunes stop and the sound effects during the game are very poor. As you fly through the air scrolling left to right in Santa’s sleigh, weird plot alert – there’s no reindeer attached. I knew Santa had magical powers, but reindeer are needed to fly through the air, without the reindeer it lacks the Christmas spirit. Also weird is that presents fall from the sky dropped by some form of symbol that’s meant to be an angel which Santa has to scramble his reindeer-less sleigh around the screen to catch before they hit the ground.
Santa encounters an enemy in the form of the same shaped symbol as the angel but this time it’s a different colour to identify it as a demon, who drops brown coloured presents which are to be avoided as collecting one will take away the real presents in Santa’s sleigh. Once you have collected presents you land on rooftops where you climb down chimneys avoiding all the flames shooting up towards you. Here you must enter the house and make your way to the Christmas tree and drop the presents without waking anyone up. If you are successful then back to fly Santa’s sleigh only this time the houses are too small to stop at so you must drop the presents into the chimney instead.
It offers some variety in gameplay as well as a half decent account of Christmas related themes but why is there grey mountains and not Christmas trees as the background screen ? Worth checking out for nostalgic reasons.
Duke Nukem: Nuclear Winter. Developer: Simply Silly Software. Publisher: WizardWorks. (1997)
“What are you waiting for, Christmas ? (I am waiting for a half decent Christmas game! – Ed.)
Why would Duke Nukem want to save christmas ? Ok, so, in the North Pole, Santa Claus i mean Claws (as it is in the game) has been captured and brainwashed by the same aliens that Duke defeated last time; but Christmas and Santa is all about goodwill to each other and Duke as Macho as they come, couldn’t care less about saving Christmas and the game shows exactly that.
Developers, Simply Silly Software showcase just how simply silly they are in this game. Other than some ordinary Christmas tunes playing, there is very little in the way of Christmas related themed objects and graphics. If there was a demonstration of Duke not caring for Christmas, shooting the heads off innocent bystanders singing Christmas carols on the street, is it.
The game may be tongue in cheek and i’m all for that but it’s just not executed appropriately here. The whole game and setting feels way out of place. While levels in the game are snowy themed including new Christmas levels such as the headquarters of Santa Claws and a toy factory as well as introducing new Christmas enemies such as snow men that throw snowballs at the player, and female elves that use dual sub-machine guns, the game has virtually no Christmas spirit.
Anything Christmas themed in this game adds absolutely nothing to make the game feel or play anything different from what is essentially a 3D blast away at anything game.
Daze Before Christmas. Funcom and Sunsoft Studios. (Sega Megadrive and SNES, 1994)
Developed by Norwegian video game development company, Funcom and originally released by Sunsoft onto the Sega Mega Drive in 1994 exclusively in Australia. A version was also released for the Super NES both in Europe and Australia and a North American release was planned, however it was unfortunately canceled. It is one of the last games to be released by Sunsoft’s U.S. division and as such is quite a rare game to find in its original release box. An evil snowman has imprisoned Santa’s elves and reindeer. Playing as Santa, within 24 days you must save Christmas in a 2D exploratory platformer. There is an option of 1 or 2 players so a little different from most other Christmas themed games.
Your main goal is to avoid enemies such as giant rats and evil toys while unwrapping and collecting presents with either good or bad results. There are boss battles which are pretty straight forward, once you have killed them off and collected the presents they release you fly in Santa’s sleigh dropping Christmas presents in chimneys around the world with backgrounds changing to represent different parts of the world. One of the most remarkable features of the game is Santa’s ability to turn into his evil twin, “Anti-Claus”, which is quite easily performed by drinking a cup of coffee. While fun, Santa’s transformation into a blue-suited, devilish looking, invincible version of himself only lasts for 10 seconds.
Graphically its impressive on the Christmas related theme but overall it’s not anything unique or really exciting. It’s gameplay is quite plain and much like many platformers of its type that you have played a million times before. If you are in the need of some Christmas spirit video gaming, this 90’s run and jump platformer will help you out as the colours and background screens are much more Christmassy than many other games Christmas themed games. Well worth having a crack when in need of some Christmas holiday gaming.
Elf Bowling (Nvision Design, PC 1999)
Elf bowling makes this list because 1) it’s probably the only sporting Christmas game i have seen while researching this Christmas article and 2) due to its infamy of being a game that was seen as a chain email hoax which claimed that Elf Bowling was a virus and would wreak havoc to computers all around the world on Christmas day in 1999. Remember this was at a time when the whole world was freaked out by the consequences of the Y2K bug.
With this infamy came probably the best free word of mouth marketing and advertising any video game has ever had, such was the success of this viral marketing it would catapult Elf Bowling to the status of world wide phenomenon, boasting 7.6 million PC players by December of 2000 (U.S. Based figures i would imagine). Due to its popularity mainstream United States news media reported at the time, if you were playing PC based games, you were playing Doom, Quake and Elf Bowling. Being listed with two legends of video gaming history illustrates just how popular the game was back in the day.
What about the game, what did you have to do and why was it being played on so many PC’s ? Firstly the game was free, it was dead simple to play and the gameplay was filled with mayhem – more on that a little latter. I mention above dead simple to play and it is. You play Santa throwing a bowling ball at your disgruntled elves lined up as 10 pins at the end of a bowling lane. The graphics were very much in the Christmas theme, all you had to do was press the spacebar when the direction on screen matched where you wanted the ball to travel. While you play the game mayhem occurs in the form of elves mocking you by showing you their naked backsides. Other things occur such as a reindeer and frog appear on the bowling lane which re directs the ball movement and the pin setter rips of an elf’s head.
All this craziness and the appeal of a little bit of naughtiness seemed to insert enough unpredictability that enthralled people at the time who were playing it. This unpredictability in a flash game meant people were glued to their seats to see what could possibly happen next if you kept on playing, as well as sharing it with their friends everywhere. The game went on to spawn countless new versions and sequels of unpredictable mayhem with Christmas elves after its initial release.
Jetpack Christmas Special! – DOS PC (Adam Pederson / Adept Software, 1993)
Jetpack a video game cult classic platformer where you make your away around a single screen, climbing and falling down ladders, avoiding baddies, collecting coins and other objects such as emeralds. When you have collected enough items you can leave via an exit door and onto the next and progressively harder levels. The Christmas version in 1993 was a free shareware affair, sporting Santa wearing an L1069-E jet pack specifically made for human flight.
While the game is essentially Jet Pack with a Christmas skin, there is no relation to the Jetpac and Jetman games by Ultimate Play The Game. The Christmas version seems to be one game in the jet Pack series of add ons that is not as popular as many other packs available for the Jetpack franchise. Jet Pack Christmas Special is a standalone, new game, boasting 10 levels of which you have to collect coins, avoid enemies and gather all the Christmas goodies and make your way to the exit door once the level is completed. If you don’t have any fuel you can’t fly, only jump and walk around until you load up your jet pack with fuel. Within the game features include a phase shifter weapon to move blocks, there are teleporters to transport you around the screen as well as barriers deactivated when you press a lever. As with the original Jet Pack the Christmas version has a level editor to create your own designed screens but you can only load them in the full version of Jet Pack.
As Christmas games go this beautifully captures the old school gaming charm of Lode Runner and Jet Pack from the 1980s in a Christmas themed platformer that is fun to play and one of the better Christmas themed games released.
Nights Into Dreams: Christmas Nights (Sega Saturn, 1996)
While only a one level demo, this game was made by the Sonic Team developers at their prime and when released it was given away for free with games magazines. Christmas Nights on the Sega Saturn, is as magical as a Christmas themed video game you will ever play. If this had been a full game, then it quite possibly would be vying for the number one ranking of a Christmas themed video game of all time – that’s just how good this game is. The reference to Christmas is just oozing that feel good memory of when i was a child and would wake up early on Christmas day, sitting in front of my fake Christmas tree, looking at all the presents, watching all the Christmas related cartoons on tv waiting for my family to wake up and open their Christmas presents up.
The game really does evoke those kind of warm emotions that only you have experienced. Set in a Sonic The Hedgehog engine, you are completely blown away by the Christmas themed music, the Christmas themed graphics and its gorgeous multi directional gameplay to gain as many points as you can by collecting all the Christmas related decorations and presents. Rack up enough points you get to play a bonus stage but its the same screen just collecting more points. Fill up the points bar to full green which can take some time and you challenge a end of level boss dragon decked out in Christmas reds and greens. The fluidity and speed of the gameplay set behind the backdrop of a snowy covered landscape, with gorgeous to the ear Christmas tunes playing throughout is what makes this game so enthralling and mesmerizing to play. A definite must play.
Christmas Lemmings (Amiga, 1993)
First released in 1991 and again in 1992 as a free, four level demo, it was a special thank you present to fans for making Lemmings and Oh No! More Lemmings, a massive financial and commercial video game success story. In 1993 a full 32 level commercial game was released developed by DMA Design and published by Psygnosis. It was called Christmas Lemmings in the U.K. and Holiday Lemmings in the U.S. Essentially it is the same game as the original Lemmings, where you make decisions for the Lemmings to be able to find the exit to the level by appointing them with the required skill set to solve each level’s puzzle. The main difference from the original game is the landscapes are heavily snowy filled backgrounds. It’s one of the most gorgeous looking Christmas themed games of all time, even the
Lemmings are cuteness personified dressed in their red Santa suits. Lemmings is a classic retro game that has stood the test of time, somehow Christmas Lemmings makes the game even better, it’s Christmas senses overload for all the right reasons. The Christmas graphical design for each level is pure Christmas magic, add the Christmas tunes and it’s just about the best Christmas themed game you could play.
Check out my (very comprehensive – Ed.) article on Lemmings elsewhere on this website.
Jazz Jackrabbit: Holiday Hare (PC/DOS) Xmas Edition 1994 / 1995, Epic MegaGames
Jazz Jackrabbit is credited historically as one of the very first games to bring the very fluid multi directional side scrolling platformer genre loved on gaming consoles onto PC based machines. It was that leap that started to make PC gaming cool in the 1990’s. Quite clearly it is a Sonic The Hedgehog inspired game. Jazz’s impact on the PC was immediate, winning PC Magazine’s Arcade Game Of The Year title in 1995.
Developer Epic games made both the 1994 and 1995 Christmas Jazz Jackrabbit Holiday Hare games as standalone, free, shareware releases, using the original Jazz Jackrabbit engine. The holiday version is filled with new original levels in a magical wintry Christmas setting. The 1994 version has more of a Christmas backdrop in comparison to the 1995 version. What can you say about a game that is totally awesome to play.
The action is smooth and very fast, its total addiction right from the get go in a platform game. Magnificent graphics, awesome powerful weapons, vaporizing enemies in all directions, new replacement enemies from the original game keep it relevant to a holiday / Christmas theme, my eyes still pop out at how amazing this game is visually.
While both games maybe short on levels, there is just so much fun and enjoyment of taking the persona of Jazz Jackrabbit roaming around the different worlds and one secret bonus stage, so much so that you just can’t put it down.
What’s really impressive about the Christmas theme in this game is the outstanding Christmas medley soundtrack in both versions – including a rap version of Little Drummer Boy and a haunting rendition of Carol The Bells. If the Christmas based music doesn’t get you in the Christmas spirit I don’t think anything else could, it’s a Christmas cracker!
Jazz Jackrabbit is quite possibly the most Epic Christmas themed video game ever.