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 the culture that they are—are no strangers to celebrating the winter holidays in whatever way seems appropriate (or inappropriate, as you’ll see in this article). We’ve jumbled together with a short list of games that embrace the fugly sweaters, Santa Claus hats, and probably more eggnog than is healthy.
We’ve omitted MMOs, because, given their ongoing nature, Winter Holiday events are a dime a dozen and we’d probably need to spend the rest of our lives writing about them. Instead, we decided to give them a separate article, covering just a few that are going to take place this year.
Without further ado, let's fah-la-la into the list of...
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Like all the best Christmas stories, this one isn’t about Christmas, it’s about people dealing with their vices and demons during Christmas time. Or something like that. In practice, Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a sequel to Insomniac’s hit Peter Parker simulator, just focused on a different Spidey. Don’t worry, Miles is still facing many familiar and some new threats that trouble New York City.
NYC is also rather festive, because the game DOES take place around Christmas, and not even the Roxxon Corporation and supervillains rearing their heads can change that. They absolutely try, but Miles is someone who appreciates family values. Either way you spin the web, it’s a phenomenal action game, an amazing superhero games, and it has undeniable holiday spirit to it.
Dead Rising 4
|Developer:||Capcom Game Studio Vancouver, Inc.|
Although it technically happens right after Christmas, presumably to let zombies chill out, the mall is still decorated for the occasion. If you know the series, you know what it means. If you don’t…you’re in for a treat. Slapping zombies with candy canes is just the beginning, and the game’s ridiculously weird crafting list includes a ball of festive junk and punching gloves with holiday bells as brass knuckles.
As you can imagine, Dead Rising 4 isn’t a particularly serious game, and it’s more interested in letting you cause mayhem with its silly combo weapons than it cares about exploring the themes of zombie fiction. And it’s quite good at being good, silly fun, starring intrepid photojournalist Frank West, who has so much holiday chill that he feels it’s a good idea to shoot selfies with zombies.
Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa's Rampage
Santa’s been working tirelessly for year, and he’s finally had it. Ol’ Kris Kringle snapped and went postal on the North Pole. Nobody was safe from his fury, not even the elves. But you weren’t there to see it. You’re just there in the aftermath, with a mop in your hands and a bucket that you can already see isn’t going to be big enough. Not even in video games can we escape doing the Christmas chores.
Viscera Cleanup Detail is a game about (ideally cooperative) cleaning a place after it’s effectively been an equivalent of a DOOM level. In addition to the core campaign, there’s also a horror-themed DLC, as well as a clean-up of a villain’s volcano lair. And, indeed, this little aftermath of Santa waking up and choosing violence.
Super Mario Odyssey - Snow Kingdom
This item on the list isn’t anything super-overblown. Sometimes all you need is a nod, a suggestion, and a few grumpy Goombas wearing cure Santa hats to feel like really it’s the season. Understated and down-to-earth, that’s what the Super Mario franchise is all about, right? That’s why Bowser’s Fury features kaiju-sized Bowser and Dragon Ball Z power ups.
Jokes aside, the Christmas themes in Odyssey’s Snow Kingdom really are understated. It doesn’t really go beyond Santa Goombas and Santa Ty-foos, which are nasty, but still nicer than the name might imply. Nevertheless, it’s a nice accent, feels festive, but doesn’t dominate the region, distracting from the plight of poor Shiverians and their ill-fated racing track.
Jazz Jackrabbit trilogy — Holiday Hare
|Release date:||1994-11-28 (1) / 1998-05-07 (2)|
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.
And there were Xmas-themed small expansions called Holiday Hare. They changed 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. It was fun, it made little sense, it was a nineties platformer game in a nutshell. Oh, the nineties, why did you have to end.
Kingdom Hearts II — Halloween Town
|Genre:||Action & RPG|
Kingdom Hearts is a series that makes no sense to anyone who hasn’t played it, let’s boil it down to “there’s a king with a keyblade and the worlds of Finally Fantasy and Disney” for simplicity. 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.
By all accounts, the film fit the game like a glove, and allowed the gallery of vile characters ranging from Maleficent to Sephiroth 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.
|Release date:||Multiple games between 1989 and 2002 (Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza - 2002-04-22)|
|Genre:||Nakatomi Plaza - first-person shooter|
|Developer||Nakatomi Plaza - Piranha Games|
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. You know the story: a cop visits his wife during a Christmas party at a corporation and has to deal with a bunch of violent thieves and their charismatic leader trying to rob the place.
It wasn’t all that good, lacking Bruce Willis’ charisma or even face, but it had decent shooting for the time, and you could show people your badge to calm (or provoke) them. There are almost thirty levels, too, a much lengthier experience than the movie itself. It never managed to capture the atmosphere of the source material, but since it is technically set at Christmas, here we are.
Batman: Arkham Origins
At their most basic level, beyond the specific trappings and traditions, Christmas, or any other Winter-based holiday, is about spending it with the people you care about most. Which makes sense for Bruceman to spend this time 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 color around than is healthy, that’s two. Oh, and Black Mask has a fantastic present for anyone who does Batwayne 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 of a wealthy maniac was hunting people. It all checks out!
Plague Inc. Evolved - Santa's Little Helper
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, you could 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
|Genre:||Action & Shooter|
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 oddly cute for a huge snarling snowdude. Maybe it 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 pick a different noggin during character customization) for each character. Simple, amusing, crunchy.
Hitman Blood Money
|Genre:||Action & Shooter|
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! We can’t confirm whether or not we get to use any coal, but that would have been awesome and thematic.
Saints Row IV: How the Saints Saved Christmas
|Developer:||Deep Silver Volition|
Saints Row games are proof that something unique and precious can come from rip-offs. Where SR3 keeps things grounded in some form of reality (albeit with zombies, immortal show hosts, and more), SR4 is a rodeo of absurdity taking place in a Matrix-like computer simulation. In How the Saints Saved Christmas, the Boss is the grouchy face who doesn’t understand the spirit of Christmas.
They outright refuse 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. None are explicitly “Christmas video games”, true, they might be a bit confused about that, but they’ve got the spirit!
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.