10 ‘Jolly’ Video Games That Will Help Get You Through The Holidays –
Why is it that there are so few explicitly Christmas-themed video games? The film industry is absolutely lousy with Yuletide cinema, and the primetime TV airwaves can hardly go a day without broadcasting Tim Allen’s begrudging rendition of Santa Claus or Will Ferrell’s overly-cheerily elf persona.
Yet, do holiday-centric games hit the shelves every year? Well, aside from a few seasonal Steam indie releases, that just isn’t the case.
Christmas is often a joyous time for gamers; we can count on Santa to leave a sackful of games beneath the tree, and the cold weather means that we have an added incentive to stay indoors. Unfortunately, it’s tough to get in the Christmas spirit when so few games actually cater to these festive needs. Plus, as the days melt away from the advent calendar, playing the same old games feels increasingly wrong.
It’s hard to go from watching The Polar Express on Lifetime to playing Doom or PUBG, and nobody wants Santa to check up on them when they happen to be playing Sakura Spirit. With that in mind, here are ten games guaranteed to help ring in the holiday season.
10. Daze Before Christmas
The cheesy name aside, 1994’s Daze Before Christmas was a relatively decent platformer published by Sunsoft in Australia and Europe. Curiously, a port never made it to the North American market because the company filed for bankruptcy before such a conversion could be completed.
There isn’t much in the way of Christmas-themed gaming experiences on the Super Nintendo, so retro Nintendo enthusiasts have to take what they can get. Fortunately, the game holds up well enough and is comparable to most second-rate mascot platformers of the era. Much like if Saint Nick were in an open-world FPS today, the developers weren’t trying to re-invent the wheel and simply stuck with what was popular at the time.
Following Santa on a 24 day journey to recover some items stolen by an evil snowman, the plot is absolutely nothing to write home about. Yet, the levels are mostly festive and visually unique, and there are certainly worse holiday-themed games out there.
The only real issue with the title is it’s absurd rarity—interested gamers may want to settle for emulating this one. That shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement for piracy, the game is just totally unavailable in most regions.
9. Home Alone (Sega Genesis)
Home Alone stands aside The Santa Clause as one of the greatest Christmas-themed movie franchises of the 1990’s, and, as with anything that could possibly have been turned into a video game, there were a slew of Home Alone-themed titles on the 8 and 16 bit consoles.
Most are fairly infamous for their poor quality—as were the majority of film tie-in games—but some stood out as being… well, playable at the very least. The best of the bunch was probably the Sega Genesis adaptation of the first film, which, believe it or not, is an open world top-down title with some 2D platforming elements.
Rather than simply defend his own house from a pair of bumbling bandits, Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin McCallister is tasked with defending every house on the block. Players need to keep track of the bandit’s van and find and craft items in the five houses to make weapons to foil the intruders. In some bizarre way, Home Alone on the Genesis was one of the first survival crafting games ever released—a true trendsetter.
Though a little dated by today’s standards, there’s no reason not to scoop this one out of a bargain bin should the opportunity arise.
8. Secret Santa
Though he may put up a yuletide front most of the time, Santa has a pretty rough life, and few aside from his closest friends and confidants actually know how heavy his burden really is.
Aside from needing to be in and out of each house in less than half a second to make his present-delivery quota for the night, he also has to contend with rottweilers, bear traps, and flagrant open-carry gun owners in every home. Truly his yearly plight is criminally misunderstood.
Those wishing to experience firsthand just what Santa goes through each year can pick up a digital copy of Secret Santa for $1.99 on Steam. It’s a 2D top-down stealth title which tasks Saint Nick with avoiding all kinds of lethal hazards in a quest to deliver presents to the good kids and coal to the naughty ones.
This is perhaps one of the most accessible Christmas-related video game affairs out there as it can run on everything short of a Nokia N-Gage and is dirt cheap. If watching Miracle on 34th Street for the thirty-fourth time doesn’t jingle any bells, this may be a good last resort.
7. The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie’s Revenge
Published by Capcom—of all people—and released in 2004 for the PS2, Xbox, and PC, The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie’s Revenge may be something of a hidden gem for the sixth generation of consoles.
It isn’t great by any means; it offers up a fairly standard campaign and shamelessly rehashes many of the movie’s characters and settings. That said, Oogie’s Revenge actually serves as a semi-canonical sequel to the Nightmare Before Christmas movie and is a must-play for any hardcore Tim Burton fans.
The strangest thing about this movie tie-in title is that, rather than opting for a predictable adventure/platformer style, it is a total rip off of the Devil May Cry Games. This may not be a total surprise given its association with Capcom, but it comes off as such a bizarre concept that it’s almost hard to believe that it exists in the first place.
Many of the combat mechanics are more or less exactly the same as early Devil May Cry games and it copies the hack-n-slash series so thoroughly that it could nearly be labeled as a re-skin. It’s far from a perfect game, but this release is just too odd and obscure to pass up.
6. Batman: Arkham Origins
On the outset, Batman: Arkham Origins doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas at all. However, much like the original Die Hard film, it can technically be counted as a holiday-themed game because it takes place around the Christmas season. That may sound like a lame technicality, and, to be fair, it mostly it.
However, the snowy ambiance of Gotham does offer a distinctly seasonal flair, and the game’s soundtrack is decidedly festive. In fact, the Joker’s theme is more or less a recreation of the holiday favorite The Carol of the Bells. Sure, Batman isn’t quite tapping his toes to Jingle Bell Rock, but this is about as close to a Christmas-themed Batman game as fans are likely to get.
What’s more, the story takes place primarily on Christmas Eve, though the player wouldn’t know it were they not explicitly told. The Dark Knight’s flat, stone faced persona doesn’t really liven things up much, but this is probably the seasonal game of choice for most DC fans.
Arkham Origins received middling reviews when it released in 2013 thanks to series saturation. Looking back, though, it holds up surprisingly well. Hear that? Sounds like eight tiny reindeer!
5. Elf Bowling 1 & 2
2005’s Elf Bowling 1 & 2 holds the esteemed accolade of being one of the worst-reviewed Gameboy Advance games of all time. For a system which suffered from such atrocities as the Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis port and a host of awful licensed games featuring such forgettable properties as Zoey 101 and That’s So Raven, that’s really saying something.
The low scores shouldn’t deter anyone from picking up this game, of course. In 2018, it’s still a humorous time-killer, and the second game (which is actually shuffleboard, not bowling) is honestly a decent time.
Unfortunately, thanks to the games’ relative infamy, it can be pretty tough to come by in physical form. Collectors may have no problem shelling out upwards of $30 for the cartridge, but the more sane amongst us may want to fire up a GBA emulator if all they want to do is waste five minutes.
Elf Bowling was a pretty prominent web browser game back in the day, and links to it can still be found in many an ancient Facebook post or email. Those who go into this one with low expectations will be rewarded.
4. Duke Nukem: Dead Of Nuclear Winter
While his legacy seems to have impacted just about every corner of the gaming space, Duke Nukem is essentially only famous for one thing: 1996’s Duke Nukem 3D. He starred in a series of platformers in the early 90’s and ruined his career with the fantastically awful Duke Nukem Forever in 2011, but his first pseudo-three-dimensional outing would be his most memorable.
Intent on capitalizing on the game’s popularity, 3D realms allowed several third party teams to develop a series of official expansion packs for the game. While Duke It Out in D.C. and Caribbean Life’s a Beach became cult classics, the third expansion, a winter-themed entry called Nuclear Winter, didn’t receive much attention.
While the former two expansions were total conversion of the original game, Nuclear Winter is more or less a Christmas-themed re-skin of the first few levels of Duke Nukem 3D. That shouldn’t stop series fans for enjoying the experience, though, and the evil snowmen and hoaky holiday plot can still put a smile on the player’s face.
Most Duke Nukem games don’t hold up to much scrutiny these days, and Nuclear Winter is no exception, but it can still be fun when December rolls around.
3. Dead Rising 4
Despite what a certain mega-famous video game review outlet might have consumers believe, Dead Rising 4 is sort of a buzzkill in a series that often came across as refreshingly offbeat. Unpolished and sloppy, the dodgy frame rate and gruff texture work made for a pretty lackluster series capstone.
Yet, two years after release, there is something to be said for the fourth Dead Rising title. It re-introduced original series protagonist Frank Woods, a man whose two game hiatus made him doubly sarcastic, and it removed the omnipresent timer which could be a bit of a downer at times.
Best of all, Dead Rising 4 boasted a holiday theme which worked well with the franchise’s tried-and-true open-world mall aesthetic. The halls of the Willamette Memorial Megaplex have been decked, and cheesy Christmas music floats from unseen speakers. In a way, it’s like a real mid-December trip to the mall, just with one or two more zombies than usual.
This title would have been a very hard sell at full price, but, at around $15, it’s a pretty decent and seasonally-appropriate zombie-slaying romp.
2. Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey, alongside Zelda’s Breath of the Wild, was one of the most compelling reasons to pick up a Nintendo Switch early on in the console’s life cycle. An entry so stunningly innovative that it very nearly rivals what Nintendo did in 1996 with Super Mario 64, fans of the portly plumber aren’t likely to see the series change this much again until the 2027 release of Super Mario Bros. VR Boogaloo.
Those looking for an excuse to jump back in to New Donk City will doubtlessly remember that, much like many other Mario games, Odyssey included a winter-themed zone appropriately titled Snow Kingdom.
Hidden below an icy snowdrift lies Shiveria Town, a warmly-lit, festive place populated by unforgettably-adorable parka-wearing seal-like creatures. The soundtrack is filled with sleigh bells and reeks of the holidays, and the overall presentation is just joyous.
What’s more, players can collect purple snowflakes as they make their way through the area’s various stages, and most of the enemies are wearing little Santa hats, which is almost too cute for words. Some may argue that Mario 64’s Cool Cool Mountain takes the cake, but those people clearly haven’t played Super Mario Odyssey.
1. Hitman: Holiday Hoarders
While 2016’s ultra-serious stealth assassination titled Hitman wasn’t even remotely Christmas related, IO Interactive later released a free holiday-themed DLC event which tasked Agent 47 with stopping a gang of thieves from making off with a bunch of presents. A silly premise to be sure, but most players aren’t going to turn their noses up at free content.
Festive through-and-through, the mansion in which the Holiday Hoarders DLC takes place is totally decked out in Christmas decor, and there’s even a slightly annoying Santa character who makes his presents known via sudden indoor snowdrifts.
Even the employee quarters are decorated accordingly, and 47 now has the ability to throw apricots to dissuade any unwanted attention. The devs must have been feeling particularly giving during the 2016 Christmas season, because there is a surprising amount of depth to this free add-on.
Though it only served as a temporary seasonal event, the mission will be returning in 2018’s Hitman 2 so even the world’s most cunning assassins can get in on the holiday spirit… assuming they own the game, of course.