What is Christmas? Its deck the halls, sage and onion, robin redbreasts, and carol singing. It’s also time to kick back, settle in from the cold, and catch up on your gaming. Picture the scene:
You’ve unwrapped your presents, eaten your turkey, and now you’re bored. You didn’t get any DVD box sets this year because you’ve decided to go stream only. There’s nothing on the television apart from repeats, that or the BBC is proudly showing last year’s Disney hit. You got tired of Facebook warriors who insist on telling everyone that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. The only alternative is to head for your computer or console, and to try and rekindle some of the festive cheer through some good honest yuletide gaming. The best of the season too you all!
James Pond 2: RoboCod (1991)
Stop stuffing the turkey – Christmas has been cancelled! The evil Acme Oil Company has been destroyed, but James Pond’s arch enemy Dr Maybe has survived, escaping to the North Pole, where he has kidnapped Santa and taken over his workshop. Only James Pond, the world’s most famous secret agent fish, can save the day.
The definitive Christmas themed sidescroller, James Pond 2 is the kind of quirky little game that British developers excelled at – a legacy of the Spectrum days when hobbyists ruled the UK gaming pond. Recruited to defeat Dr. Maybe once more, retrieve the stolen toys and save Christmas, Pond has to battle through 50 levels of runaway trains, mutant pencils, prancing gloves and flying birds with books for wings, stretching himself to bizarre lengths with the aid of his special armour suit. Harmless platforming fun!
Interesting fact: In the original release, Santa’s workers were represented as the Penguins of McVities Penguin biscuit fame. It was one of the first commercial tie ins, and as a consequence, sales of Penguins outsold Kit Kats in the UK for the first time.
Christmas Nights into Dreams (1996)
Retro-gamers love waxing lyrical about Nights into Dreams, developed for the Sega Saturn by Team Sonic, and this Christmas themed sampler is so well regarded for its exclusive content that it is considered a standalone title. In an attempt to recreate the feeling of flight, players are tasked with navigating the two main characters through a dreamland collecting sparkling orbs and fighting off the nightmares created by the Wizeman that threaten to upset the balance between good and bad dreams and break into the real world. Ambitious graphics, partly hindered by the Saturn’s technical limitations, are matched by an equally attractive soundtrack.
One of the unique features of the sampler is that it utilises the Saturn’s internal clock to change the games appearance depending on what time of the day and year you play. Play outside of winter, and there is no reference to Christmas. In November and January, the game becomes Winter Nights, with Christmas objects, snow, and Christmas music appearing. And if this wasn’t enough, on New Years Day, the game changes again to New Year’s Nights, incorporating a different title screen and song. Fantastic stuff!
Duke Nukem: Nuclear Winter (1997)
This expansion pack to the bestselling Duke Nukem 3D sees our all-American protagonist Duke battle the alien invaders all over again in a wintery Los Angeles, before being despatched to the North Pole to defeat Santa Claus, who has been captured and brainwashed by the aliens and a new Feminist Elven Militia. Facing off against snowball throwing snow men and female elves equipped with dual sub-machine guns and old favourites the pig cops, who have swapped their uniforms for Christmas attire. Revisiting two levels from the original game was not a popular move, in spite of the modifications, and the game was not well received. Still, seeing Duke take donning the red hat as a replacement Santa is worth the two or so hours you’ll spend on this – arguably time better spent than watching Bake-Off.