I have always been fond of Christmas, but I find my dear wife loves the holiday more than should be allowed. She’s not a religious woman by any means, but, given the current state of my electric bill, I can safely state that she worships our Christmas Tree with the same reverence that my grandmother paid to the reason for the season. And the Christmas specials! We have somehow watched a number of those suckers this year, because who doesn’t need to see some couple learn the true meaning of Christmas while falling in love and referencing other, more popular Christmas movies. Yes! This is trite and has been done over and over since Miracle on 34th Street! We get it! Stop lampshading it, Aubrey Plaza!
But, having been exposed to far too much Christmas, I am reminded that my favorite hobby is vaguely devoid of Christmas cheer. Mario doesn’t have a Christmas Special in his featured medium (sorry, Super Show, you’re not canon), and Link might be an elf all dressed in green, but the dude sticks to horses, and never reindeer. There are a variety of reasons for this potential blind spot in the world of gaming: not wanting to tie perennial games to a particular season, many of the most popular games coming from a culture that doesn’t put as much of an emphasis on Christmas, or even just a general aversion to figuring out who copyrighted Santa Claus this year. But, one way or another, the end result is that, while you might be able to fish a Christmas episode out of practically any sitcom you could ever name (Step by Step had at least two!), you won’t be seeing Mega Man fighting Candy Cane Man at any point in his last thirty years.
But the holidays have snuck into a few games here and there. So, in the interest of finding some Christmas cheer, let’s figure out how to spend The Twelve Days of Gaming Christmas.
The First Day of Gaming Christmas: Donkey Kong Country 3
Donkey Kong Country 3 pretty much inspired this article, so it may as well get top billing. And what does top billing mean in this case? That DKC3 sucks! Rare consistently came out with a Donkey Kong game for three Christmas seasons in a row, so it made a certain amount of sense that the franchise would pay tribute to the merriest of holidays. The only issue? It’s a “blink and you miss it” code that simply exchanges bananas/collectibles for ornaments and presents. And not even all bananas! Just the ones in bonus stages! Other than that, Kiddy Kong doesn’t even get a santa hat, and King K. Rool doesn’t wear so much as a red lab coat. Try harder, Rare!
The Second Day of Gaming Christmas: Diddy Kong Racing
… This is vaguely trying harder. Diddy Kong Racing is famously a game that was pushed out because Nintendo needed some kind of Christmas (season) cheer to goose the system that made the immeasurably incorrect decision to not be a FMV machine. In the absence of a certain bear’s premiere, something akin to Mario Kart was produced, and, likely due to the season that necessitated its existence, there is an entire level that seems vaguely Christmas themed. There is snow! And decorated trees! And… no actual mention of Christmas. Huh. Like in Donkey Kong Country 3, there is no concrete evidence that Christmas actually exists in the world of the Kongs, but it seems like there is certainly… uh… something going on here.
The Third Day of Gaming Christmas: Cave Story
Cave Story+, the Cave Story remake developed by Nicalis (let’s not get into that), features a few hidden bells and whistles. For one thing, Cave Story now has an agnostic approach to holidays, and will, according to the system’s internal clock, dress its heroes and villains appropriately for Halloween and Christmas. From December 24 (Christmas Eve) to January 6 (Epiphany), Quote is a reindeer, presents litter the labyrinths, and the Mimiga have to grab a snow shovel to dig out their driveways. Of course, like over in Donkey Kong Country, there’s no actual acknowledgement that all this Christmas cheer is happening, so it’s hard to determine if this race of sentient rabbits living on a floating island is actually expecting a visit from St. Nick.
The Fourth Day of Gaming Christmas: Clayfighter 63 1/3
Now here’s a visit from St. Nick… and he’s gonna kill ya! Clayfighter has always had a super fighting snowman on the roster, but the third (or so) entry in the franchise went ahead and added Sumo Santa. Now, the exact lore of the Clayfighter universe has always been a little murky, so it’s hard to say if this is supposed to be the real Santa, or something more akin to a Toy Story-esque, animated-by-mutating-clay simulacrum of Santa that simply thinks he is Santa (and has built his own fake North Pole on a tropical island as a result). Regardless of origins, this is definitely Santa Claus, so it’s more of an affirmation of the holidays than the Kongs ever got.
The Fifth Day of Gaming Christmas: NBA Jam: On Fire Edition
What could be better than playing as Santa Claus? Playing as Santa Claus for free! In the age of miserly DLC (re: 2006-the rest of time), Santa Claus and an elf helper were released as a team as a free update to NBA Jam: On Fire Edition. And that’s pretty great! By Donner, it’s wholly in the spirit of not only the holiday, but also NBA Jam, a franchise that previously allowed Raiden, Will Smith, and Bill Clinton on the roster. The only thing holding this Santa appearance back from a higher spot is the unfortunate implication that this is, like every other mascot in the NBA, just a regular dude (with mad ups) in a Santa costume, and not the real McCoy. Yes, children, Hugo the gigantic blue/green hornet is not a real human-bee hybrid. There is no such thing. Sorry to ruin that for you.
The Sixth Day of Gaming Christmas: Secret of Mana
Yes, please Santa, give me the weird stuff. Santa Claus is an actual character in the Secret of Mana world. He lives in a cabin in the woods with his reindeer, Rudolph. Santa once tried to steal a Mana Seed to grow a giant Christmas tree, but he became possessed by its power, and was transformed into a (literal, color-swapped) monster as a result. However, the Heroes of Mana helped Santa return to normal, and we all learned a valuable lesson about playing with someone else’s chestnuts. Except… uh… can we think about this for a minute? What holiday does Santa celebrate? Is it Christmas? Is there a Christ in the Mana world? Because there is definitely a Mana Goddess over there, as she has appeared and directly intervened in this world on multiple occasions. And she’s, like, tangible. Sometimes she’s your girlfriend! Is she in competition with a/the Christian God? Is Santa one of the last few believers in Christmas and, thus, Christ? In the name of Randi, what is going on here!?
The Seventh Day of Gaming Christmas: Batman: Arkham Origins
Let’s focus on something more plausible: it’s not easy being Batman: Arkham Origins. This is the forgotten middle child of the Arkham franchise; it is not the stellar premiere, the exhilarating Gargoyles fanfic, nor the one with the goddamned bat-tank. It wasn’t even developed by Rocksteady, so there are a number of people that don’t even consider B:AO a “real” Arkham title. But, try as they might, surly fans can’t take the most important thing away from Batman: Christmas. Batman may or may not be a strict Christian (all of that punching doesn’t seem very Jesus-y), but Christmas certainly exists in his world (actually, Batman has literally teamed up with an angel on occasion, so it’s factually true that capital-G God exists in the DC Universe), and this adventure takes place on Christmas Eve. And, granted, the setting might just be there to be a backdrop to explain why a blizzard has blocked off any not-coded sections of Gotham, but still! It is your favorite superhero opposite your favorite holiday (No, not Groot on Arbor Day). Like Twisted Metal or Parasite Eve before it, Batman: Arkham Origins effectively uses the Christmas setting for some holiday hijinks, so it’s more jolly than your average “here’s a Santa now” game.
The Eighth Day of Gaming Christmas: Home Alone
Like a certain flying mammal-themed hero, Kevin McCallister must repel criminals opposite a Christmas backdrop. And, while Batman only has a game or two that involves Christmas (I think the Sega CD version sneaks some Holidaze in there), every Home Alone game is Christmas themed. Did you know the Sega Genesis version involved filling up the Wet Bandit’s “pain meters”? Or that the SNES version was all about hording as much wealth as possible? Or that the NES version was absolutely awful? But regardless of platform, it’s always Christmas for Kevin, so Home Alone is indisputably a Christmas game. Granted, it is just because it is based on a Christmas movie, but we’ll ignore that technicality for the sake of the children.
The Ninth Day of Gaming Christmas: Elite Beat Agents
Elite Beat Agents is not a Christmas game. However, it does include one level, A Christmas Gift, that features You’re the Inspiration, a song originally performed by Chicago. The premise of the stage is that young child Lucy Stevens (whom it is noted wants to marry someone like her dad) loses her father to an accident, and the Elite Beat Agents sing to inspire a little girl and her mother to reconcile in the face of a Christmas where daddy is never going to be home ever again. Or maybe he comes back as a ghost? And that’s the true spirit of Christmas? Whatever. What’s important is that if you fail this level, you simultaneously ruin Christmas, a seven-year-old’s day, and the entire afterlife of some bear-purchasing phantasm. So be extra careful with that stylus.
The Tenth Day of Gaming Christmas: Persona 4
I will admit that I have on occasion claimed to be an expert in Japanese culture. This is predominantly because I play a lot of videogames and watch a lot of anime, so I understand that Japanese people routinely ride their giant robots to please their fathers, transform into magical costumes to repel the Negaverse, and occasionally consume mushrooms to grow large. I have also learned much from the Persona franchise, which simulates the life of your typical Japanese high school boy and his ever expanding harm of classmates, teachers, and any random woman that happens to cross his path. And, most of all, I have learned that Christmas is apparently not a religious holiday in Japan, but a romantic one. You’re supposed to spend it with your sweetie! And deny any and all sexual autonomy of your mate, if at all possible! And maybe that’s why you go to jail on Christmas in Persona 5! … Maybe! In conclusion, Japan has a very rich and varied culture.
The Eleventh Day of Gaming Christmas: Holiday Lemmings
It’s Lemmings, but everything is Christmas themed. Everything. This ain’t some Donkey Kong Country nonsense, this is Lemmings, but every lemming gets a Santa outfit, every song is Jingle Bells, and every level is celebrating an extremely White Christmas. Given there were multiple Holiday Lemmings releases over the years, this was probably as close as we could ever get to some annual holiday cheer from a popular gaming franchise back in the 90’s. Unfortunately, the Lemmings seem to have fallen off a cliff since the end of the 20th Century, so these Christmas capers have been lost to the ages. Should old Lemmings be forgot, and never brought to DOS, though, we still have the most prominent “Christmas Special” in gaming…
The Twelfth Day of Gaming Christmas: Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams
It is impossible to relay the significance of Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams to modern audiences. You know Mario 64? The game the defined the Nintendo 64, and changed gaming forever? Well, imagine if, after the success of that, someone decided to release Mario 64 again, but it was only Bob-Omb Battlefield, and Mario had a new hat, but only when the internal clock hit a certain date. And, somehow, fans fixated hard on this barely new content, and regarded the whole thing as an entirely new game, because Mario made a passing mention of already collecting 120 stars or something. Well, NiGHTS was the Sega Saturn’s attempt to be Mario 64, and Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams is its bizarre, complimentary spinoff. It has a story! It has karaoke! It has Sonic the Hedgehog in 3-D for the first time ever! And it’s all completely dependent on the time of year, so if you want to see Santa, you better play on Christmas. It is also a scarce commodity, releasing only for the generally ignored Sega Saturn, and a Playstation 2 Sega Age re-release that changed a few things. Other than that, if you want to see NiGHTS as jolly as possible, you’re stuck, and you better hope Sega All-Stars Racing came up with some holiday DLC.
So Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams simply must be the most Christmas game there ever could be. It only truly works one day a year, is extremely limited, and is inexplicably the hottest item of the holiday season, despite being, ya know, friggin’ NiGHTS. Videogames as a whole may not have as many Christmas specials as other mediums, but there are at least a dozen or so games that mostly acknowledge Christmas exists.
Merry bananamas, Donkey Kong. Merry bananamas, everybody.
FGC #556 Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!
- System: Super Nintendo, Gameboy Advance, Wii, Wii U, and now Switch. You can find this Christmas cheer on an overwhelming number of Nintendo systems.
- Number of players: That weird kind of Donkey Kong 2-player that nobody likes.
- Port-o-Call: The Gameboy Advance version made a number of changes, including redesigning the Brother Bears, adding a whole world and boss, and giving Cranky an actual place to shine (or something like that) in his own dojo. It’s kind of a shame the “basic” SNES version is the one that is rereleased over and over again.
- Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: I like Donkey Kong Country 3 more than Donkey Kong Country 2. There. I said it. DKC3 is all over the place with a pile of half-baked gimmicks and techniques that last for maybe one stage, tops. And it’s disorienting! One random stage in the middle of the second world is a race? Comes out of nowhere, and is never seen again. But, that said, it seems like most of the bonus areas and their attendant challenges are at least related to the stage du jour, whereas DKC2 has that same kind of short attention span, but completely randomizes where what is a “challenge” is placed throughout the game. Or, put another way, I’m still salty about fake thorn vines in DKC2. All that said, all the DKC games are a fun time, but I might have had the least frustration with DKC3.
- Favorite Kong: This game is so totally designed for Kiddy Kong that Dixie feels almost entirely perfunctory. I think I counted on one paw the number of times her float jump was useful, whereas Kiddy’s general roll and momentum was nearly always the answer (when you haven’t been transformed into another animal).
- The Places You’ll Go: I always appreciated the interactive map/overworld of Donkey Kong Country 3. It might be a pain in the ass to have to steer your Kongs into a non-descript beach just to find a Banana Bird, but this does feel like the evolution of a “map world” first introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3. I always wanted to go exploring in those games, particularly with an ape-built helicopter.
- Favorite Boss: Belcha is a giant barrel that attempts to crowd the Kongs off the stage. He’s just like Crocomire, though less slimy (and less likely to become a skeleton). Possibly because he is so familiar, Belcha has always been my favorite, even if he is fought in the infinitely boring “mill” background.
- Did you know? The official story for this game is that Donkey and Diddy were kidnapped during their fishing trip. I’m not certain “Donkey Kong fishing” has ever been seen before or since in the Donkey Kong franchise, but I am interested in seeing Link and DK team up to fish against Animal Crossing Villager and Byleth. Noctis can judge!
- Would I play again: I like this Double Trouble, so I’ll probably play it again in… oh… Let’s say another five years.
What’s next? We’re going to toss some Kingdom Hearts nonsense in here, and then, a week from today, you’ll be able to read my annual year in review. Oh boy! My opinions on things! Please look forward to it!