An earlier version of this article appeared on this website in December 2009.
In the meadow we can fight a snowman
Sleigh bells. Gift wrap. Homicidal gingerbread men and heavily armed snowfolk. Mistletoe. These are the things that the holiday season's made of, at least if you go by the many Christmas expansions video games have to offer. In a bid to wring every precious cent out of the season, developers have long made a point of playing Santa with festive mission packs and candy cane-shaped firearms sold to their holly jolly fanbases.
The memories of these merry offerings may fade with the turning of the seasons, but as that time of year comes 'round again and we troll the ancient Yuletide servers, we wish to honor those jolly Christmas expansions of yore. Don you now your DLC apparel, prepare yourself for some ho-ho-horrible Christmas punnery, and lets dig into those precious holiday memories.
Moley Christmas (1987)
What do you get? A new, Christmas-themed game in the Monty Mole series. Perhaps you kids, with your Ratchet & Daxter and your Grand Torino videogame entertainments, dont appreciate that a new Monty Mole game was a pretty big deal once. Your job is to wrangle the source code for a new Monty Mole game, oversee mastering of said game, and get it to distributors in time for Christmas, even as you play that very game. Remember the season of Seinfeld devoted to the making of a fictional Jerry Seinfeld sitcom? That's nothing compared to the postmodern genius of Moley Christmas.
Are you filled with holiday cheer? By replacing the drudgery of actual games programming and distribution with scenes of hectic Santa-suited platforming and dodging holiday traffic, Moley Christmas pretty much puts a gun to your head and orders you to make with the festive, bitch.
Christmas Lemmings (1991)
What do you get? Some short demo levels of then-huge Lemmings, in which the suicidal little creatures romp in the snow and wearing Santa costumes. This concept proved to be so popular that two full games were launched around it. Still, it's a bit of an odd bird. Why do the basher lemmings have just as much trouble digging through fresh powder snow as they would solid rock? Whats the point of keeping the moronic critters alive through all manner of peril, only to bake them into a Christmas pudding? But meh, they're wearing Santa suits, so well give it a pass.
Are you filled with holiday cheer? Christmas Lemmings threatens to succumb to a very merry malaise: its so bursting with holiday cheer it could almost make you sick. The game averts this outcome though by providing you with hundreds of Santa-looking merry-makers, all of whom can be exploded at your merest whim.
Christmas NiGHTS (1996)
What do you get? Two levels of cult Saturn-era Sega action-adventure NiGHTS into Dreams, set during Christmas and featuring date-sensitive holiday content. The limited edition of NiGHTS wouldnt turn into Winter Nights until November, but wait another month after that, and the game would bust out the seasonal festivities. Of course, you could just tell your Saturn every day was Christmas, and NiGHTS would be none the wiser.
Are you filled with holiday cheer? With all those presents, Christmas trees, sleighbells and techno-rearranged Christmas carols on offer, Christmas NiGHTS is a bit like eggnog. Its great during the appropriate season, but yearly access would probably make you ill.
Jazz Jackrabbit: Holiday Hare (1998)
What do you get? Jazz Jackrabbit is a hare who collects carrots and fights turtles (convoluted Aesop shout-outs FTW). In his three(!) holiday games, he does those things in the snow, set to a sleigh-bell-accented backing track. Audiences were disgusted by the games slapdash approach to seasonal biology (neither jackrabbits nor turtles are greatly active in the winter months), which is the only reason Jazz Jackrabbit is never today mentioned in the same breath as Mario or Sonic.
Are you filled with holiday cheer? Holiday Hares leading modern-day purveyor calls the game one of the most entertaining side scrolling platform games of all time. Another source speculates the Jackrabbit holiday games may become part of the next generations holiday traditions. Evidently, adding a snow on the rooftops effect to the games menu fonts went a long way.
Sonic Adventure: Christmas in Station Square (2000)
What do you get? A couple of Christmas trees that sit in Station Square and display messages wishing best of the holidays, joining you in waiting with bated breath for then-impending Y2K. You're hardly whisked away to a winter wonderland, though. By and large, the whole affair stays the same, but the sunny downtown Square has a couple ropey-looking trees in it. Being as this isn't even DLC so much as a limited-time key for pre-existing content, youd think there could be some dodgy late-90s snow effects or something.
Are you filled with holiday cheer? You are if you go close to the trees and listen closely: it would play you an acapella version of the music from Christmas NiGHTS.
Star Wars Galaxies: Wookiee Life Day (2003)
What do you get? In Star Wars Galaxies, Rebels and their sympathizers join in celebrating the Star Wars universes greatest holiday festival. That would of course be Wookiee Life Day, invented for the single most reviled piece of Star Wars media ever produced: the Star Wars Holiday Special. As Wookiee Life Day isnt actually a celebration of Christmas per se, the game can do whatever it likes with seasonal tradition. What it likes is to expand the mythology of the Holiday Special so that Wookiee Life Day is at once mortifyingly sweet and kind of heartwarming. You know, like Christmas itself.
Are you filled with holiday cheer? How could you fail to be? Just as the Holiday Special enriched the lives of everyone except George Lucas (who probably sleeps OK at night regardless), Star Wars Galaxies Life Day brings cheer into the homes of all who participate. Except those playing as the Empire: their official mandate is to grief the whole celebration.
Sam and Max Season 2: Ice Station Santa (2007)
What do you get? An installment of Sam and Max in which every Christmas trope is rehashed, subverted and twisted into a plot that also involves demonic possession, corporate meddling and the imminent Apocalypse. It's pretty seamlessly done, so it makes us wonder how game designers until 2007 to capitalize on the fact that Santa is an anagram of Satan. Puns and video games who knew those tastes could go together?
Are you filled with holiday cheer? Sam and Max could take Tax Day and turn it into an occasion for festive merriment. By the time youve digested the accompanying machinima, you'll be forgiven for just not having any idea what to do with yourself.
Soulcalibur IV (2008)
What do you get? Santa costumes. You could dress your characters up and use them to traumatize viewers too young to have their notions of Kris Kringle marred by the film Silent Night, Deadly Night. For a series that's endured the bolting-on of everything from bug-catching nets to diminutive Jedi warriors, the ability to make your characters dress like a pissed-off mall Santa is par for the course. As long plenty of ludicrous ass-kicking remains, the spirit will endure.
Are you filled with holiday cheer? Like fun you are. A couple measly red suits cost two bucks! Charging for this kind of frippery is basically forcing hardscrabble penny-pinchers to choose between seeing new outfits or eating Christmas dinner.
Fruit Ninja Kinect (2011)
What did you get? The same juicy, slashy goodness you've come to expect from Fruit Ninja, but now there's a snow globe! To be precise, the snow globe is you, and as you flail your arms in a desperate attempt to reach that escaping coconut, your silhouette is replaced with a lovely, snowy landscape. Plus, your ninja-bladed hands have become candy cane blades, the most fearsome of all Christmas weapons. Everything else is pretty much the same, except that the master of fruit is wearing a Santa hat and instead of getting the multi-slice pomegranate, you get a fruitcake. I've always wanted to destroy one of those.
Were you filled with holiday cheer? Sometimes it's the little things that make the season special. Yeah, you're still slice and dicing tropical fruits, but the wintery hints are just so whimsical you'd have to be a Scrooge not to crack a smile.
Saints Row 4: How the Saints Saved Christmas (2013)
What do you get? A lot of weirdness, which is good, because it wouldn't be Saints Row otherwise. While the Saints are decorating their base of operations with all sorts of holiday livery, a cybernetic Shaundi from the future appears and claims that the boss must defeat a corrupted Santa Claus with nothing but some pop-guns and the joy of the season. The boss isn't huge on that idea at first, but after blowing away Santa's gingerbread army, s/he inevitably gets into the spirit. You might say that his/her heart grew three sizes that day.
Are you filled with holiday cheer? This much holiday merriment in one place would be as cloying as a mug of melted candy canes, if it was at all serious. As it is, the Saints make their cybernetic, trigger-happy holiday hijinks just funny enough that ending on a cutesy Grinch reference is entirely tolerable.
Borderlands 2: How Marcus Saved Mercenary Day (2013)
What do you get? Two missions in an inexplicable Christmas town full of murderous, gun-totting snowmen. In How Marcus Saved Mercenary Day, arms dealer Marcus calls on the vault hunters to travel through a wardrobe to the annoyingly whimsical land of Gingerton and check on a lost gun shipment. That explanation creates way more questions than it answers, but there's no time to think about that as you're thrown into an adorable winterland where everything is out for your blood. There you meet the unnervingly shirtless Smaller-than-average Timothy and defeat a vicious snow-overlord named Tinder Snowflake.
Are you filled with holiday cheer? If you spend the entire game trying to figure out what a holiday about contract killers could possibly have to do with awkward Dickensian knock-offs, probably not. But if you think a Psycho singing Carol of the Bells is hilarious, you'll probably love this whole thing and get some sick loot out of the deal. And in the end, isn't that what Mercenary Day is REALLY about? No seriously, that's a real question.
Minecraft Festive Mash-Up Pack (2014)
What do you get? A content pack as fat as jolly ol' Saint Nick. The Minecraft Festive Mash-Up Pack contains 36 new avatar skins, as well as a feature that transforms your Minecraft world into the sort of joyful snowscape that Jingle Bells was written about. There's also a new, jollified version of the Minecraft soundtrack, giving the pack that extra holiday tinsel it needs to round it all out. This festive mash-up is currently exclusive to Xbox consoles, though Microsoft has claimed it will appear on other systems in the near future. Still, looks like the corporate overlord might be playing favorites this Christmas. Just a guess.
Are you filled with holiday cheer? With this many semi-square Christmas trees, white blocks replacing brown blocks, and Santas giving off an Exorcist vibe, how can you not get into the holiday spirit?
Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate (2014)
What do you get? It's the most wonderful time of the year, and what better way to show it than with completely impractical festive costumes? Whether it's a sexy snowman, a sexy angel, or a sexy badly-wrapped present (seriously, someone get these girls some gift paper before they die of hypothermia), this Christmas costume set has you covered. Heck, even Hayate and Ein join the party as sexy reindeer, so there's something here for everyone. Except maybe people who don't want to sit in their living rooms shivering in empathy. Can't help you there.
Are you filled with holiday cheer? Just like with Soulcalibur, the idea of laying down hard-earned holiday money for a bunch of costumes is painful, especially when the pack costs a whopping $18. Holy mother of mistletoe! And yes, it only contains the costumes (a seasonally appropriate twelve of them), so you must really want to see the Dead or Alive cast in barely-there holiday attire to make this one worth it.
Walkin' in a downloadable wonderland
'Tis the days before Christmas, and all through the 'net, devs are offering expansions you may want to get. But take heart: memorable as they may be, there's only a few you'll want under your tree. Which of these expansions do you think is the best? Is there something much better you'd like to suggest? Say so in the comments, and have no fear - if you hate all of these, there's always next year!
Is it beginning to feel a lot like Christmas? Keep that feeling going with the 12 best games to play at Christmas and the GTA Online Christmas update that brings festive surprises.