A Short List Of Christmas-Themed Games That Are Actually Good
Every year, it's the same: games journalists, content creators, YouTubes and streamers, all scrambling to pull any kind of festive content together. On the internet, right now, as a result of this, there are approximately 24,592 lists of 'the best Christmas video games'. Welcome to the 24,593rd.
Only, there's a difference. Other lists will tell you a bit about The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie's Revenge, or Clayfighters 63 1/3rd with its Bad Mr Frosty and Sumo Santa, or Dead Rising 4's snowy zombie chaos. These are bad video games. What's listed below are not. And sure, maybe their connections to Christmas are tenuous, in some cases. It's my list, and I'll list what I want to.
Hideo Kojima's best video game, Snatcher is a cyberpunk graphic adventure heavily influenced by Blade Runner and The Body Snatchers, in which residents of Neo Kobe City are being replaced by robotic versions of themselves covered in skin (and suncream), which look kind of like Terminators.
Produced by Konami, this first came out in Japan in 1988, and its (to-date) only English-language version was released for the SEGA Mega-CD in 1994. If you ever get the chance to play it, do - even if that means learning Japanese for its inclusion on next year's PC Engine Mini. It's not exactly a Christmas game, but it is set during the festive season - and keep an eye out for Santa himself in Alton Square. Although, doesn't he look a little suspicious?
While the go-to for Caped Crusadering at Christmastime has become Arkham Origins, you're doing yourself a Dark Knight disservice by choosing that snow-blurred open world over the crisp and even action of this Super Nintendo classic. The second Konami production on this list, Batman Returns is, as you're entirely right to assume, a tie-in with the Christmas-set 1992 movie of the same name - aka the best Batman movie, and that's a fact.
With gameplay that comes close to the beat 'em up brilliance of Streets of Rage 2, Turtles In Time and Final Fight - and graphics that perfectly capture the gothic frostiness of the film - Batman Returns is a 16-bit banger that's still exciting to blast through today.
CHRISTMAS NIGHTS INTO DREAMS
This list's sole This Is Properly A Christmas Game entry, Christmas NiGHTS Into Dreams... is only two levels long and was given away free with SEGA Saturn-focused magazines in 1996 and '97, and in select seasonal-offer game bundles for the Sonic makers' ill-fated 32-bit console.
And yet it is, almost certainly, the greatest Christmas video game ever, combining the beautiful, flowing gameplay of the original NiGHTS - a game created by Sonic Team and designed by Takashi Iizuka, who's now the head of all things Sonic (and who we interviewed, here) - with sparkling, seasonal visuals that pop and dazzle like few other titles in the pre-HD era. A beautifully realised, bite-size treat of a game, Christmas NiGHTS is an essential yuletide experience - and you don't even need a Saturn to play it, as it's available on Steam.
PlatinumGames' witchy hack 'n' slash 'n' shoot 'n' Use Your Own Hair As A Weapon 'em up is an action-genre classic, likewise its predecessor (and I'm pretty sure the third game will be, too). Its one qualification for making this list: the game opens with Bayonetta and her sometime-lackey Enzo shopping for Christmas presents.
They've having a grand ol' time, before angels attack the city and all hell breaks loose (in this game series, literally). That's it. That's why it's here. Suck it up, naysayers. Bayonetta 2 is brilliant. Go play it, now, even if you have to but a Switch or a Wii U to do so.
2019 gave us, finally, a third Shenmue game - and it's pretty special, too, assuming you're someone who found the previous two, of 1999 and 2001, magical. These Dreamcast games, designed by celebrated SEGA stalwart Yu Suzuki (who we interviewed, here), offered players an amazing feeling of freedom, presenting us with semi-open environments to explore at our leisure. Yes, there was a 'main mission' to follow - but protagonist Ryo Hazuki could waste time at the arcade, play darts in bars, race around in forklift trucks and more.
Shenmue was like a second-life simulator - and it included seasonal changes in its setting of Yokosuka. And yes, that means that Ryo - and you, the player - could celebrate Christmas in the game, literally running into Santa in the process. Though much like Snatcher's Saint Nick, it's better to pump the old man for information than it is to peek at his naughty or nice list. For an old game, Shenmue is still wonderfully atmospheric, especially when the snow's falling, as this Other Places video (above) shows.
ELITE BEAT AGENTS
One of the greatest Nintendo DS games ever - which is why it strolled, unfalteringly in time, into our Perfect 10 for the handheld console - Elite Beat Agents is a tap-and-spin-and-drag-along music title that can't fail to make its player smile. It throws you into a series of sometimes dramatic, sometimes surreal situations where songs like 'Y.M.C.A.' and 'Sk8er Boi' become the best damn songs of all time as you help the Agents bring happiness to, like, whoever they're tasked with bringing happiness to.
And then there's 'You're The Inspiration', originally by Chicago, which accompanies the level 'A Christmas Gift'. And, oh, my heart. Lucy, seven years old, only wants one thing for Christmas: for her dad to come home. But as her mother says: "Let's not talk about daddy, honey... Daddy got in an accident, and he's not coming back." Can the Agents save the day? As one comment on YouTube says: "The true challenge is playing the stage through the tears." Yep.
There you go: six excellent games for, like, playing whenever your mum's got the eggnog on the go. Lol, eggnog - who the heck drinks eggnog? The taste of Christmas, my arse. Look out for a fun *video* list of Christmas games on GAMINGbible soon - a list that won't feature the games here, because taste is a matter of perspective when it comes to social media engagement and apparently you only like shiny things. And Die Hard. Tsk.
Featured Image Credit: Bayonetta 2: SEGA/Nintendo