That joke isn’t exactly a cracker (maybe fit for a Christmas cracker) but Christmas and gaming have never exactly delivered quality. In fact, there have been very few Christmas themed games over the years.
Unlike film or music, games don’t often stand the test of time – perennial entertainment like Die Hard and Last Christmas aren’t likely to be joined by Christmas Lemmings any time soon. We don’t envisage a family viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life being followed by Duke Nukem: Nuclear Winter, either.
Still, if you do feel like celebrating the season with some festive gaming, here are some games worth taking down from the elf — sorry, shelf.
The Lemmings games have fallen off a cliff recently which, considering the content, we should have seen coming. Back in the day, however (the day being the ’90s) a year didn’t go by without multiple Lemmings titles. In 1993 and 1994, a full-blown Christmas-themed version of the game was released, in which each of the titular creatures wore Santa costumes and all the levels were covered in snow and ice.
While not strictly Christmas themed, both of these games are set during the Christmas period (with Origins taking place on Christmas Eve) which lends a seasonal atmosphere to events. In that regard, they might be closest gaming has to Die Hard’s festive setting.
Have you ever wanted to control Santa as he battles an evil snowman called Mr Weather? Of course you have! In this Mega Drive and SNES platform game, Santa must rescue the kidnapped reindeer and elves, turning enemies into presents along the way. When he drinks coffee, however, Santa turns into ‘Anti-Claus’ and can only attack with his sack. Video games, everybody.
Everything was fine until Santa got brainwashed by aliens. Now Duke has to battle his way through evil snowmen, reindeer and, erm, strippers, to save Santa from himself. The Duke Nukem series was always built on silliness, but Nuclear Winter took that to another level. All the enemies wear Santa hats, and there are decorations everywhere. It wasn’t, however, decorated with awards.
NiGHTS was a dream-like, but brilliant game from SEGA in which you became a magical jester and flew through rings collecting glowing orbs. What do you mean that sounds terrible? Well, trust us, it was pretty entertaining. SEGA released two Christmas-themed levels for the game called Christmas NiGHTS. Maybe it was the red costume of the jester, or the night-time setting, but Christmas NiGHTS felt very Christmassy indeed.
Perhaps the first game to make Santa a playable character, this is also the oldest game on the list. Released for the Commodore 64, back when Santa couldn’t yet grow a beard, Special Delivery tasks you with delivering presents to the children of the world.
Animal Crossing isn’t a full-blown Christmas game, but it does Christmas better than any other title. This is a game in which you ‘live’ in a village, with the seasons changing as the years go by, matching the seasons in real life. When Christmas comes, everyone in the village will start to celebrate, with snow falling so you can build snowmen, shops selling presents, and Christmas lights up on the trees. On Christmas Eve, you celebrate ‘Toy Day’ in which a reindeer arrives and tasks you with handing out presents to the other villagers. What makes Christmas in Animal Crossing work so well is the passage of time and the sense that each season is unique. Even better, the game uses the console’s internal clock to make sure the Christmas in Animal Crossing only happens when the real Christmas takes place, giving it a really special transience. Brilliant.
Those are some of the Christmas games you can play this year. But let’s be honest — you’ll all be playing Fifa. At least it has stockings.