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A Look Back at Christmas-Themed Video Games Through the Ages

Arthur is a lover of Nostalgia with an especially soft spot for the 80s and 90s.

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Since their invention, video games have been a hot ticket Christmas gift, with the newest consoles and hottest games always coming out before the holiday season. In the 80s and 90s, video games were not as abundant as they are today, and a lack of awareness by the consumers allowed video game makers to make some truly awful games. Not that all Christmas-themed games were awful, as you will come to find out, but the idea of having a video game based on a holiday does not seem like a great marketing strategy. We're going to explore some Christmas-themed video games through the ages and talk about what made them great or not-so-great. We'll also look at why they still hit us right in the nostalgia.

1. Frosty's Busy Night, Commodore 64 (1990)

The Commodore 64 is a criminally underrated console when you talk about the godfathers of gaming. Everyone always thinks of Atari, but there were some amazing games on the Commodore system, and it's too bad they couldn't evolve. Unfortunately, Frosty's Busy Night was not one of those amazing games, and C64 knew it, which is why Commodore gave it away free on the front page of an issue of their magazine.

The graphics were surprisingly discernible for the time, and...wait...is that a bottle of bourbon? Anyway, it wasn't the graphics that were the issue; the repetitive gameplay did this title in. You play as Frosty as you race against a split-screen opponent—which can be the computer or a second player—dodging obstacles as you go. All the while, "Frosty the Snowman" plays in the background.

2. Home Alone, Sega Genesis (1991)

If you had to choose two things to define the '90s, Home Alone and Sega Genesis wouldn't be a bad call. But do you know what else wasn't a bad call? This game. Of course, it could have been better, but it was surprisingly fun considering the limitations of the time. You play as Kevin protecting not only your house but the whole block from Harry and Marv, setting traps to catch the would-be robbers. It isn't exactly the same as in the movie, but they do a great job paying homage to the iconic film. The biggest knock would be that there wasn't much structure to the game other than to not get caught while a timer ticks down to the police showing up.

3. James Pond 2: Codename Robocod, Sega Genesis/SNES (1991)

This game has a large cult following for a fish-based spy parody. The second installation in this Electronic Arts game isn't just Christmas-themed; it starts at the North Pole. You side scroll through levels jumping on bad guys and collecting holiday-themed items for points. Beat the game and Santa drops a sack of toys on your arch-nemesis Dr. Maybe. This game was so popular that it was ported onto later consoles like the Nintendo DS and Playstation in the early 2000s.

4. Christmas Lemmings, Mac/PC (1994)

I'm trying to keep it to console, but this one is too important to pass up. In hindsight, Lemmings is a pretty boring puzzle game, but it gave players a change of pace in the time of arcade adventure games. Eager to cash in on its popularity, developers put out a Christmas-themed demo that was Lemmings, but wait for it, with Santa hats! Absolutely genius. The levels were also snow-covered, and there was Christmas music playing in the background. Looking back, it was pretty lame, but at the time, it was so cool to have a game that was specifically for Christmas time.

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5. Nights Into Dreams: Christmas Nights, Sega Saturn (1996)

The Sega Saturn was before its time, which unfortunately made it the beginning of the end for Sega consoles. Nights Into Dreams was one of those games that never really caught on in the mainstream, but it has a decent cult following. If the original game has a cult following, you can imagine that the interest in a Christmas-themed version has even less interest. Nevertheless, they made it, complete with snow, presents, twinkling lights, and an annoying version of Jingle Bells playing on repeat. The game had enough clout that it was re-released on the Xbox 360 and PS3.

6. The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogies Revenge, PS2 (2004)

There is an ongoing battle online over whether the original property is a Christmas or Halloween movie, to which I reply that it has Christmas in the name. There is no doubt that this is a Christmas game since you play as Jack trying to prevent Oogie from killing Santa. You can play as both Santa Jack and The Pumpkin King; each has specific abilities that help you through the 24 chapters. It's a pretty basic hack and slash game, but it's a lot of fun for fans of the movie.

7. Saints Row IV: How the Saints Saved Christmas, PS3/Xbox 360 (2013)

Saints Row is a product of the "video games are the new movies" era. Not only is it more scripted than the other games on this list, but it is also for an adults-only audience. This DLC takes all the insanity of Saints Row and wraps it up in a nice little bow (pun intended). If you are a fan of Christmas movies, you will love all of the references. The game is both hilarious and vulgar and everything that you would want out of a Christmas-themed video game for adults.

8. Cthulhu Saves Christmas, PS5 (2021)

I am absolutely obsessed with Cthulhu Saves Christmas. It offers all the fun of an old-school 16-bit RPG, with the tongue-in-cheek fourth wall breaking of Deadpool. You play as a powerless Cthulhu who is trying to get his powers back by rescuing Santa from The League of Christmas Evil. The game is visually pleasant, nostalgic, and relatively short, so you'll be able to load it up and tackle it every Christmas season. I love that it's just as funny as it is fun, and I think this new game will earn its place on the list of classic Christmas games we remember.

The Past and Future of Christmas Games

You would think that something as niche as a Christmas-themed game seems like an idea for a bygone time, but Cthulu Saves Christmas proves that there is still a little magic left in the tank. With the rise of indie games, hopefully we will see more games that bring Christmas cheer to gaming. Even if they never make another Christmas game again, a good emulator and the games on this list are plenty to keep you filled with Christmas gaming cheer.

© 2021 Arthur Thares

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