A cacophony of shotguns and hell-spawned demon roars may not be a traditional Christmas soundtrack, but for me Doom conjures up memories of Christmas morning. Most players have a special title that stirs the spirit of yuletide, based on our memories of excitedly ripping the paper from our first consoles and then later being dragged away from the TV for turkey and pigs in blankets.
The games that occupied our Christmas mornings were unlikely to be Christmas-themed. Video games dedicated to the festive season are few and far between. But that doesn’t mean that games are completely bereft of Christmas spirit. Here are 10 examples of games that will get you in the mood for the festive season.
James Pond 2: RoboCod (1991)
The evil Dr Maybe is back, and this time he’s taken over Santa’s toy factory and kidnapped a bunch of penguins – specifically the penguins from the wrappers of Penguin chocolate biscuits. The only thing standing in his way is cyber-fish James Pond – code name RoboCod.
From a gaming era of endless mascot platformers and baffling product placement, RoboCod is a tight Christmas-set platformer with some interesting gameplay quirks, a catchy theme and bright colourful graphics. The Playstation version rather darkly opens with Dr Maybe attaching an explosive device to a hapless elf.
Batman Returns – Mega CD (1992)
Based on the 1992 Tim Burton film, the Mega CD version of Batman Returns is part ropey platformer and part fantastic sprite-scaling racer. In the driving sections the player takes control of the Batmobile as it speeds through the city’s snowy streets – Christmas trees and twinkly decorations whizzing past in a beautifully pixelated blur.
The game also bizarrely (and completely out of context) recreates the moment in the film when the Ice Princess plunges to her death and accidentally switches on the Christmas lights, all animated in a manner similar to the pit fatality from Mortal Kombat 2. Probably the darkest use of sprite-scaling in the 16-bit era.
Christmas Nights into Dreams (1996)
A seasonal spin-off to Sega’s underrated Sonic successor, Christmas Nights is a short but extremely fun ride through a beautiful winter dreamscape. The game begins with a gorgeously illustrated opening explaining that the star from the Christmas tree in Twin Seeds city has vanished, and it’s up to our heroes to retrieve it with the help of a weird flying dream jester called Nights.
Although this opening is narrated by a terribly flat-voiced actor who sounds like they’re on the verge of slipping into a dream world themselves, the music is excellent, with a jaunty version of ‘Jingle Bells’ merging seamlessly into the familiar Nights theme. The game also features numerous unlockable items in its ‘Christmas Presents’ puzzle mini-game, including a fully playable Sonic character model. Considering the Sega Saturn never saw a full 3D Sonic the Hedgehog game, this is a nice addition to a title that’s already bursting with personality and Christmas cheer.
Clayfighter 63⅓ (1997)
The Clayfighter series never exactly had the gameplay chops to match Capcom’s 2D fighting finest, but what it lacked in playability it certainly made up for in grotesque stop-motion characters. In addition to the festively evil snowman Bad Mr Frosty (no relation to the much coveted 1980s slushy maker), this N64 title introduces plasticine brawler Sumo Santa.
Clad in nothing but a loin cloth and his trademark hat, Sumo Santa fights with special moves such as the ‘Kringle Krush’, ‘Stocking Stuffer’ and ‘Flabbalanche’. His fatality hears him declare “Santa’s gonna sit on your lap”, while crushing the enemy, sucking them up into his backside and then expelling their remains in a flatulent shower.
Diddy Kong Racing (1997)
Although completely overshadowed by the unstoppable Mario Kart juggernaut, Diddy Kong Racing is a highly progressive and polished kart racer in its own right that deserves a second look. Snowflake Mountain houses a series of courses that allow Diddy and chums to drive their kart, plane or hovercraft round a selection of winter-themed tracks decorated with cheery snowman, candy canes, Christmas trees and deadly giant snowballs.
Walrus Cove, in particular, has an infectious sleigh-bell-fuelled musical theme that deftly weaves in elements of ‘Winter Wonderland’. A perfect accompaniment to any Christmas-morning family racing tournament.
Flawed, frustrating, wonderful and timeless, Shenmue was Sega’s big gamble on the Dreamcast platform. Featuring a then revolutionary time cycle that replicated a year-round adventure, a large chunk of the game takes place around Christmas as main character Ryo puts his quest for violent revenge on hold and instead indulges in some Christmas shopping.
The streets of small town Japan are transformed into a Christmas wonderland, with ‘Jingle Bells’ piped from speakers and Santa decorations adorning lamp posts. If you’re lucky, you might also run into ‘Santa Maeno’ – a slightly creepy man dressed as Father Christmas who irresponsibly advertises bars in the local area to you, despite the fact that Ryo is clearly under age.
Kingdom Hearts 2 (2005)
Square Enix’s Disney-themed action RPG features a huge number of characters and locations from the animation behemoth’s back catalogue, and Kingdom Hearts 2 introduces the world of The Nightmare Before Christmas into the mix. Donald Duck, Goofy and Jack Skellington accompany milquetoast series lead Sora into Christmas Town on a quest to help Santa, culminating in a fight with Oogie Boogie in Santa’s toy factory.
In addition to a fantastic stage theme that incorporates elements from the film soundtrack, this has everything you would expect from a Christmas game – candy canes, snowmen and sleigh bells. Even an unexpected close-up of Donald Duck crushing an insect with his webbed foot isn’t enough to ruin the Christmas cheer.
Batman: Arkham Origins (2013)
Two Batman games on the same list? Absolutely. Gotham’s unhinged millionaire vigilante just can’t seem to get enough of the festive season. While not the most beloved of the Batman Arkham game trilogy, this is surely the most Christmassy. It takes place on Christmas Eve, when Batman discovers that eight deadly assassins have been contracted with killing him for a $50 million bounty.
Gotham City is a beautifully realised open environment in the game, blanketed in snow and covered in hundreds of Christmas lights and decorations. Batman drops a hapless thug in a Santa hat on to a Christmas tree at one point, and The Joker sets off explosives in the city while singing a twisted version of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’. Thick with festive feeling, this is a game where the Christmas setting truly enhances an already atmospheric world.
Bayonetta 2 (2014)
A game where you spend a large amount of time murdering angels may not seem like a particularly great match for Christmas, but Bayonetta 2 opens and closes firmly in the holiday mood. Beginning with Bayonetta and friends out innocently Christmas shopping, it isn’t long before the witch finds herself soaring above the city fighting a horde of angels on the top of a fighter jet.
Demon fan favourite Rodin even makes an appearance dressed as Santa Claus, brandishing a sack filled with gift-wrapped guns. This may also be the only game to ever end with the main character looking for a bargain in the January sales.
Dead Rising 4 – Stocking Stuffer DLC (2016)
A striped sledgehammer covered in grenades called The Candy Pain. A motorcycle with a reindeer head that fires lasers called Santa’s Little Melter. A baseball bat covered in Christmas tree lights and barbed wire. These are just some of the ludicrous tools available to help Frank West take on the Christmas zombie hordes in special downloadable content for Capcom’s undead slaughter simulator, Dead Rising 4. Nothing says Christmas like mowing down a wave of zombie elves with a homemade flame thrower while dressed as Santa Claus.