It’s that time of the year again! Can you smell the peppermint in the air? Can you hear the sleigh bells jingling? Can you sense Kris Kringle’s reindeer making fun of Rudolph because they’re awful, awful creatures? Fantastic! If you can’t, then maybe there’s something to get that holiday spirit instilled in you: some great Christmas moments in video games.
Unfortunately, because Hanukkah, Kwanza and various other celebrations around this time of year don’t quite carry the commercial heft that December 25 does, it’s mostly just Christmas that gets attention from time to time in video games. Even then, it’s quite rare for games to bring up the happiest time of the year and can you blame them? Who needs Santa popping up in The Last of Us, or his elves creeping their tiny little heads into Portal 2? But for games that find the time to appreciate this massive holiday, it’s always fun to see great ways developers manage to incorporate the celebration into some genuinely fantastic video games. So, if you’re feeling down this time of the year, or just can’t get enough Christmas spirit, here are some of the great Christmas Moments in video games.
Kingdom Hearts II – Christmas Town
In the first Kingdom Hearts, Jack Skellington and his hobbled-together supporting cast made a wonderfully realized debut, but it focused on Halloween Town – the aptly named area that focuses on ghouls, jack-o-lanterns, ghost dogs and more. In Kingdom Hearts II, however, the somehow more appropriately named Christmas Town comes into play. It’s got everything: Santa, his toy factory, Donald Duck as a snowman and that thing where Oogie Boogie tries to murder the main characters with explosive presents.
It’s a joyful little surprise to see Christmas town in all its holiday glory, especially when it seems like the game was just going to retread old ground in the classic Halloween Town once again. Alas, Sora and friends get to dive into the Christmas spirit in this snowy landscape, even though Santa Claus is less than pleased to see Jack Skellington and his desire to run Christmas again. It’s hard not to feel a bit festive in this winter wonderland, even if Heartless appear around every corner to make the player’s life difficult.
Banjo Kazooie – Freezeezy Peak
Banjo Kazooie is a bizarre, endearing mishmash of disparate parts that somehow coalesce into an extremely fun, jolly platformer. Freezeezy Peak fulfills the platformer obligation to have an ice or snow level, but it goes beyond that and satisfies an extracurricular requirement: make the entire thing about the most wonderful time of the year. Between the sentient Christmas tree lights that Banjo has to escort safely to their tree, to the three buttons Kazooie has to press slam into a giant snowman, to the missing Christmas presents they have to return to some cute polar bear cubs – it’s a holly jolly world from start to finish.
Freezeezy Peak is a bit more of an agnostic winter holiday celebration than it is an outright Christmas bonanza, but its spirit shines even without Santa Claus, or Baby Jesus – if, for whatever reason, that’s what you’re looking for in a video game. It’s a relatively short world with only eight jiggies to collect, but what a warm-hearted little Christmas surprise it is.
Batman Arkham Origins – The Night Before Christmas
Batman Arkham Origins is often forgotten in favor of the other Arkham games. It was, after all, developed by WB Games Montréal instead of Rocksteady Studios. But like other entries into franchises made by outside teams like Fallout: New Vegas or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, Arkham Origins gives its own flavor to the established franchise.
Arkham Origins takes place five years before the events of Arkham Asylum, on a snowy Christmas Eve night. The city is decorated with tinsel and lights, though the slums often get neglected for this holiday cheer. Old Gotham, the area of the city that would become the Arkham City prison, is one of these slums, but it includes a shopping mall which, naturally, holds more than a few Christmas themed surprises for the Caped Crusader. Origin’s take on Christmas is decidedly less joyful than most, but it nevertheless makes the game stand out in the minds of those who played it – though, let’s not get ahead of ourselves: it’s definitely the worst Arkham game.
Dead Rising 4 – Christmas Season
Dead Rising is known for its flippant take on a zombie apocalypse, letting the player mow through hordes of zombies with insane crafted weapons. Dead Rising 4 brings back Frank West, the protagonist of the original game, and returns him to the same setting 16 years later: Willamette Colorado. The original game threw Frank into the Willamette Mall and let him go crazy with weapons in order to survive. Dead Rising 4 does the same, except now it’s the bigger and better Willamette Memorial Megaplex, and it’s the Christmas season.
Dead Rising 4’s sardonic tone melds with a critique on rampant consumerism, particular the holiday brand that pops up across the country this time of year. Though many criticized the game for being too easy and playing host to an array of disruptive bugs, it does find its own niche with this mixture of comfort and joy, and death and destruction. The mall is decorated to the 9’s with Christmas items – lit trees, Santa paraphernalia and fiber optic snowmen litter the sprawling testament to Christmas capital gain. It’s not the best Dead Rising game, but it’s definitely the jolliest.
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble mostly takes place in the half-way tropical, half-way Podunk areas that most games in the series do. The game itself, if played normally, shows no signs of the Christmas spirit. If the player inputs “MERRY” into the game select screen, however, the ghost of Christmas present rears its knowing head.
This code changes nothing during standard levels, but in bonus levels, a wonderful Christmas tune will play, and stars will turn into bells and bananas will transform into Christmas presents. It’s a small change, but one that can put the player into a mood of holiday cheer if played during the right season. It’s nothing transformative, but a welcome addition nonetheless.
Nights Into Dreams – Christmas Nights
Christmas Nights Into Dreams is an odd sort of prototypical bit of DLC. It was bundled with a Christmas Sega Saturn bundle in Japan, was sold alongside certain Saturn games in the US and was even bundled with a couple of issues of video game magazines back in the 90’s. It plays something like a demo or a sampler platter, only offering players a two-level version of Nights Into Dreams. This sampler platter, however, includes jingle bells and holiday cheer to spare.
Christmas Nights already changes its levels into holiday-centric winter wonderlands, but by setting the Saturn’s internal clock to December 25, even more Christmas miracles will occur, including item boxes transforming into Christmas presents, and green landscapes becoming snowcapped. The game similarly changes during New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day and April Fool’s Day. If the game is played outside of the winter months, the game simply becomes Nights: Limited Edition without any Christmas alterations at all. But where’s the fun in that?
Saints Row IV – How the Saints Saved Christmas
Saints Row has always been known as the wacky younger cousin of Grand Theft Auto, and it’s not hard to see why – it’s an absurdist, over-the-top, open-world series that doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s especially true for the minor DLC it received – Saints Row 4: How the Saints Saved Christmas.
As expected, this three-mission pack revolves around Christmas and the player-created protagonist character, who can’t seem to find the motivation to rescue Santa from a Simulation that he can’t escape. The Saints then try to cheer the protagonist up by teaching him or her the true meaning of Christmas. It’s a silly homage to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but with more explosions and swearing. Still, causing that much destruction in a full-on Santa outfit makes the entire thing more than worth the hassle.
Animal Crossing – Toy Day
Animal Crossing is a series designed for holiday surprises. In every proper Animal Crossing game (with the exception of the Nintendo DS’ Wild World, for whatever reason) there’s a special event that occurs on December 23 or 24 called Toy Day. Jingle, a reindeer character dressed like Santa, appears every Toy Day and has some elaborate tasks for the player to undertake in order to receive unique items.
In the original Animal Crossing for the GameCube, the player will receive a car if they’re a boy, or a doll if they’re a girl (because, you know: gender roles). More interestingly, Jingle appears that night and will hide in five different places, giving the player a different item depending on how they answer his questions.
In City Folk for the Wii, villagers will talk about the impending Toy Day for weeks beforehand. On the night of the actual Toy Day, the player can trick Jingle into giving them more presents by dressing up in different clothes each time they approach him and answer his questions differently. In New Leaf for the 3DS, Jingle doesn’t feel like delivering presents, and will give the player a magical bag filled with gifts for the villagers, so long as they’re wearing the Santa outfit. Prior to Toy Day, villagers will tell the player what they want, so if they do receive this magical bag, the player has to remember which present to give them. Who knows what Nintendo will cook up for the inevitable Animal Crossing for Switch, but one thing’s for sure: holiday cheer will be present, and toys will be delivered.
That’s our list of great Christmas moments in video games! Are there any missing entries that you just can’t believe didn’t make the list? Then comment to your heart’s content! And from the whole Hardcore Gamer team: have a Merry Christmas!