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The Twelve Games of Christmas

Break out the spiked eggnog, pull up a chair, and lend us your ear as we break down our recommendations for games based on (and inspired by) the winter holidays. Let the list making festivities begin!

12. Daze Before Christmas

Only days before Christmas, Santa’s outline for delivering gifts on Christmas is stolen from him in his sleep by a thieving snowman. You’re tasked with navigating the tubby hero around each of the strangely designed worlds. The level designs, unfortunately, are fairly generic compared to their 16-bit counterparts. There’s a positive, festive spirit that comes through in Daze Before Christmas. This is a fine option if you’re looking for a passable 16-bit platformer, a game with upbeat music, or a title that you can breeze right through.

11. Sonic the Hedgehog 3

The only thing that precludes Sonic the Hedgehog 3 from being on this list is that it’s not intended as a Christmas game. However, it does contain one of the best examples of how to develop winter themed levels. The game’s Ice Cap Zone is a well-designed series of three solid Acts, with snowboarding gameplay, well-designed platforming and some of the franchise’s most memorable music, to boot. Although it doesn’t necessarily allude to Christmas in the Act, it definitely captures the essence of the season.

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10. Holiday/Xmas Lemmings

This follow-up to the breakaway success of the original Lemmings brought the creatures to a snow-ravaged landscape spanning 32 levels. Also, the Lemmings wore Santa hats. What better way to bring in the holidays than sending a horde of absent-minded Santa miniatures to their deathbeds by ordered them to jump off a cliff?

9. Angry Birds Seasons

Earlier this month, Angry Birds Halloween underwent a massive update. On December 1st, it was renamed Angry Birds Seasons and was divided into two chapters: “Trick or Treat” and a brand new chapter, “Season’s Greedings”. It was expanded via a free update to include an advent calendar-like level distribution system that dolls out one level per day, leading up to Christmas. This is a good, unique way of distributing games for Angry Birds developer Rovio; this option provides plenty of fan service, while still bringing in a fresh crowd.

8. Bully: Scholarship Edition

Bully featured a memorable Christmas Episode. Bullworth Academy was decorated with familiar house ornaments and was covered in snow. At the end of the mission, Jimmy Hopkins (the main character) receives a Christmas gift from his mother in the mail. He opens it in front of his peers, whom ridicule Jimmy as he pulls out an ugly Christmas sweater which prominently displays Rodolph. There are also two Scholarship Edition-exclusive missions available during the in-game Christmas season.

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7. Merry Gear Solid 2: Ghosts of Christmas Past

Merry Gear Solid 2: Ghosts of Christmas Past is a parody of Hideo Kojima’s revered Metal Gear Solid series. This homage to classic NES game borrows the game’s top-down perspective along with many of the game mechanics fans of the franchise will recognize (using boxes as a means of stealth, for example). The game is available as freeware and is the second of a three-part series.

6. Costume Quest: Grubbins on Ice

Grubbins on Ice is the first piece of DLC for the Halloween themed Costume Quest. The concept of trick-or-treating while slaying any candy-thieving Grubbins who dare cross your path oddly remains in-tact, despite no longer holding the selling point of a nostalgic take on trick-or-treating. The witty dialogue is faithful to that of the original game and four new costumes have been thrown in, including a pirate costume. The connection between pirates, trick-or-treating, and Christmas may not make a lick of sense, but somehow, it still works.

5. Jazz Jackrabbit 2: Holiday Hare 98

Designed by Cliff Bleszinski, the Jazz Jackrabbit franchise is one of the most overlooked platforming series’ of the mid-to-late 90’s. Although Epic Games’ first mascot may have been swept under the rug in favor of console platformers, Jazz Jackrabbit 2’s legacy as an Earthworm Jim/Sonic the Hedgehog hybrid has endured the test of time. The standalone release of Holiday Hare 98 adds five new levels to the mix, while also peppering the original five with winter-related themes and introducing a couple new enemies.

4. Sam & Max Episode 201: Ice Station Santa

The first episode of Season 2 finds Telltale’s comical sleuths investigating the North Pole upon receiving a report that Santa’s been possessed. Hilarity ensues as the flagship characters engage in witty banter with elves and the player points-and-clicks their way around the winterized setting. By and large, Sam and Max is a known quantity by this point. If you like your Adventure games sharp and cleverly written, you’ll find a lot to like in Ice Station Santa.

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3. Animal Crossing: City Folk

The Animal Crossing series, as a whole, has a leg up on other games on this list with it’s real-time seasonal rotation and holiday-inspired events. Whether you’re decorating your house in winter colors, fashioning a Santa outfit, or destructively deforesting every carefully decorated tree in your town, the Animal Crossing franchise provides plenty of opportunities for celebrating the holidays. On Christmas, a Santa-inspired character named Jingle will even drop off gifts for the town residents.

2. Parasite Eve

Parasite Eve is a cinematic Action-RPG set in Manhattan during the holiday season of 1997. The narrative begins on the night before Christmas at an opera house, where NYPD officer Aya Brea first confronts an actress by the name of Eve, when everyone else in the opera house is killed in a fire, the two women being the sole survivors. Brea is then able to tap into some unrealized powers, setting the stage for one of the most memorable Role-Playing Games of its generation. While not entirely festive, the fantastic New York setting, covered in snow and on the brink of destruction, provides one of the strongest narrative ties to the holiday we’ve ever seen.

1. Christmas Nights into Dreams

Christmas Nights into Dreams is one of the strongest examples of a holiday themed game done right. The Saturn’s internal clock enables seasonal content based on the time of year you’re playing. For example, playing during the month of December results in many of the item pickups being replaced by Christmas boxes and some of the music changing to holiday appropriate tunes. Apart from these innovative features, Christmas Nights into Dreams also holds to the same brilliant design of vanilla Nights into Dreams. While it may have been released as an extended demo, this is still the ultimate game for the winter holidays.

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Thank you for reading and Happy Holidays.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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