It’s December o’clock already, and you know what that means: ’tis the season to be jolly, so smile, darn ya, smile!
Of course games—the products of culture that they are—are no strangers to celebrating the myriad winter holidays in whatever way seems appropriate (or inappropriate, as you’ll see in this article). We’ve jumbled together a short list of games which embrace the fugly sweaters, Santa Claus hats, and probably more eggnog than is healthy.
We’ve omitted MMOs for the most part, because, given their ongoing nature, Winter Holiday events are a dime a dozen and we’d probably need to spent the rest of our lives writing about them. Instead, we settled on one example that, hopefully, will be enough.
Without further ado, let’s fah-la-la into the
List of Christmas-themed video games!
Animal Crossing — Toy Day
Jingle all the way
The Animal Crossing games are somewhat niche, but in general they are life simulators in a village governed by the Satan calling himself Tom Nook, a nefarious Raccoon/Tanuki (depending on language version). You get to work to pay off a debt, buy stuff to sink further into debt, and interacts with people whom the game shoves into easy to understand categories like Snooty or Lazy. So, basically life, but with anthropomorphic animals.
The series also has a bunch of seasonal events triggered by a specific date. One of them is Toy Day. A special character called Jingle appears, and if the player finds the sneaky reindeer several times, they get a gift. New Leaf mixes things up, because it allows the player character to dress up as Santa Claus, get a magical bag of wonder from Jingle and go deliver gifts to other citizens of Animal Crossing.
If you give everyone the present they desired, on December 25th your character’s going to get Jingle’s picture in the mail. Yay? I guess bringing joy to others is reward enough, but a picture of in-universe Santa PROBABLY counts as a Christmas ornament.
Jazz Jackrabbit trilogy — Holiday Hare
His brother knows Jack Frost
You probably don’t remember this, because most folks who do are pushing thirty or forty, but back in the day (think: mid-nineties) Jazz Jackrabbit was a thing. Undeniably the Magnum Opus of Cliff Bleszinski (who recently gave up on making games), it told the tale of an unhealthily green anthropomorphic rabbit platforming his way through life and wacky levels. It was fun, it made little sense, it was a nineties platformer game in a nutshell.
And there were Xmas-themed small expansions called Holiday Hare, changing the general appearance of the game to snowy, pine tree-y, and candy-caney, as well as swapped the soundtrack to weird renditions of Christmas carols. Oh, nineties, why did you have to end.
Kingdom Hearts II — Halloween Town
Sweater before Christmas
Kingdom Hearts is a series that makes no sense to anyone who hasn’t played it, let’s boil it down to “world of Disney and Final Fantasy are colliding, and there’s a kid with a keyblade” for simplicity. Hopefully, this is enough.
Originally Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas was released under the Touchstone Pictures, but its re-release by Disney opened a way for it to appear in the ultimate crossover jRPG. And by all accounts, it was pretty dang snug in the game, fitting it like a glove, and allowed the gallery of antagonists ranging from Maleficent to Sephiroth (what a world to be powerless in it would be!) to be expanded by Oogie Boogie AKA a haunted Sorting Hat of Hogwarts. And shut up, Nightmare Before Christmas is both a Halloween and a Xmas movie. It’s time for unity, so let’s just agree to accept my version.
No socks, no presents, John
Another oldie here, that barely anybody ever played, but oddly enough, video game adaptations of Die Hard exist, and because of that at least one place on this list has to be devoted to this franchise. I recall playing the first one way back when near the turn of the centuries, and you know what?
It wasn’t all that good, lacking Bruce Willis’ charisma or even face, but it had a very charming feature: you could show people your badge to calm (or provoke) them. It never managed to capture the atmosphere of the movie, but since it technically takes place during Christmas, and it’s me making this list, here we are. Moving on.
Best gamers gift for Christmas?
It’s so full of promise!
Batman: Arkham Origins
Alfred is getting lonely this Christmas
Christmas, or any other Winter-based holiday for that matter, is about spending it with the people you love most. it’s something about sharing heat during cold months and making sure the meat is nice and tender in case you get trapped under too much snow.
Which makes all the more sense for Bruceman… I mean Batwayne to spend it with the most deadly, vicious, and dangerous people in Gotham, or at least the Electrocutioner. Bats cares more about criminals than he does about himself or his found family, that’s one. There’s more red colour around than is healthy, that’s two. Oh, and Black Mask has a fantastic present for anyone who does Bats in. You may say it’s not in the Holiday Spirit, but the whole reason Mary and Joseph had to squat in a barn is because a wealthy maniac was hunting people. It all checks out!
Plague Inc. Evolved
Spread good cheer or burn in hell
Taken at face value, Plague Inc. is a high-quality tribute to Pandemic, a game which made people aware and fearful of Madagascar border control. It is all about simulating (with some accuracy) the spread of a disease, be it parasitic, bacterial, or viral. But it also has a more fanciful side present in its campaigns. You could play a newly awakened vampire, or lead a zombie outbreak. Or, incidentally, spread joy in the Santa’s Little Helper scenario.
It gives you control over a Neurax Worm, who is determined to help Santa free the people from the oppressive governments which banned fun. In this scenario your aim isn’t to make everyone choke on their blood, it’s to make everybody happy. Awww. It’s silly, sure, but, well, what’s a better time for silliness?
Borderlands 2 — How Marcus Saved Mercenary Day
Gunning for joy
Your dude Marcus has ordered a load of guns, but it’s gone. Poof, missing. Be a good kid, Vault Hunter, and help him get it back, won’t you? As you investigate the missing shipment, you discover a nefarious band of Snowmen in your way, and have to wipe the smug smiles off their faces and bite their noses off. Yum, carrots. Eventually you find their boss called Tinder Snowflake, which sounds very self-destructive, and oddly cutesy, for a huge snarling snowdude. I guess the name was supposed to lull you into a false sense of security, like a kitten lying on its back.
What you get out of this whole ordeal are new skins and new heads (as in: an option to different noggin during character customisation) for each character and that’s basically it. Simple, amusing, crunchy.
World of Warcraft — The Feast of Winter Veil
Grinding through the snow in a one-mount open sleigh
World of Warcraft has been something of a patron saint of MMORPGs this millennium, so it’s no wonder it’s been picked as the obligatory MMO representative here.
Its brand of holiday festivities is the Feast of Winter Veil, hosted by a conveniently and appropriately nondenominational Greatfather Winter. I’m not so sure he’s such a great father, being gone for most of the year and all, but let’s not delve into that.
The Feast of Winter Veil is an event recurring since 2004, and has gained more items and features over the years, which is only reasonable. It’s largely inconsequential in the long run, but it’s definitely a fun way to let players have some holiday spirit in their favourite game as well.
In 2018, the event will be active between December 16th and January 2nd, according to WoWHead.
Hitman: Blood Money — You Better Watch Out
…not that it will help you
Agent 47’s got a new assignment: kill a pornography tycoon during his annual Christmas party. The guy has some tapes incriminating a senator’s son, which might jeopardize good senator’s chances during the ongoing election. The son is also supposed to get the axe, and this time no divine force is going to intervene.
It’s not particularly in Holiday spirit, all things considered, but you get to dress 47 as a Santa Claus and make him choke his target to death. Santa has had enough of your bullshit, Agent 47 is coming to town! I can’t confirm whether or not we get to use any coals, but that would have been awesome AND thematic.
Saints Row IV: How the Saints Saved Christmas
Saints only by name
Saints Row games, especially the last two of them, are proof that something unique and precious can come from rip-offs. Where SR3 keeps things…erm, grounded in some form of reality (albeit with zombies, immortal reality show hosts, and more), SR4 is an unapologetic rodeo of insanity taking place in a Matrix-like computer simulation.
In How the Saints Saved Christmas, the Boss (the player character) is the grouchy face who doesn’t understand the spirit of Christmas so much he refuses to save Santa freaking Claus from the simulation where he’s threatened by Klawz, an Evil Santa. And yes, there are fugly sweaters, because of course there are.
SR4 is fantastic, it’s crazy, and How the Saints Saved Christmas is exactly the irreverent, yet oddly heartfelt Christmas story you clearly needed in your life if you are still reading this.
And a partridge in a pear tree
This concludes our admittedly not very wholesome list of some games which have various spirits of Winter holidays flowing through their veins. Do you have your own picks? Do you have a particularly fond Xmas memory connected to gaming? Do share in the comments below.
And remember: winter holidays are for love, appreciation of your family and friends… and exploiting their false sense of security to yoink the bits of food bits off the table before they can react.