Not as good as Christmas Lemmings
Christmas is great. As a result, a lot of people like it. But, as is the case with everything a lot of people like, there are folk out there more than ready to capitalise on its popularity with Distinctly Less Than Great products. Despite modern games not lending themselves too well to seasonal theming (as I mentioned in The 8 most Christmassy games that aren't actually set at Christmas), history is littered with fairly stinking releases designed to cash in on the finest reindeer and snowman-based holiday of all. The '80s and '90s, with their quick development turnarounds and cheap publishing costs, were a particularly dark period.
So I decided, on this most joyous of Christmas Eves, to name the guilty. Read on, and I shall identify and bluntly critique the worst offenders. You'll get to have a fair old laugh at my pain along the way, and at the very least you'll gain a newfound appreciation of the games and consoles you'll be getting tomorrow, however many hours of updates and patches you might have to go through before the fun.
Santa's Xmas Capers
How crap is it? So crap that it defies my natural instinct to throw reasoned, critical gamz jarnalism at it. Its just unremittingly rancid. A side-scrolling shooter so basic that it barely even exists, Santa's Xmas Capers is less an exercise in frustration, more an exercise in WTF.
You control a reindeer-led sleigh (which bizarrely does not at all contain Santa; presumably any activity mirthsome enough to warrant the label of 'caper' involves not being in this game). Endless scrappy sprites 'representing' Christmas Things are hurled at you. The collision detection murders you instantly, and you're booted back to a title screen screeching an out-of-tune We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Forever. There is rumour that the game is currently being rebooted as Satan's Xmas Capers, as playing it is exactly like being in Hell.
How crap is it? Pretty crap. Its hard to truly hate any game so devoid of substance that you wont play it for more than two minutes (in your entire life), but regardless, Sober Santa is crap. Santa is on a roof. You move him around to collect booze, which inexplicably spawns on that roof, rather than near the fireplace, at the bottom of the chimney hes supposed to be going down. With every drink, he gets more boozey, and thus more difficult to control. Eventually he falls off the roof, whereupon you close the browser tab and ever think of Sober Santa again.
Its taken me four days to write this entry, so forgettable is the game that every time I wrote half a sentence, the very experience of even having played it would drift from my mind as if some barely-remembered fever dream. Hardly perceptible, but still rather unpleasant with it, Sober Santa is the silent fart of Christmas games. But at least it doesnt linger.
How crap is it? Legendarily. As in 12 on Metacritic, crap. Originally parped out as a freebie PC game, Elf Bowling, along with its sequel, was later put out at retail on the DS and Game Boy Advance. That was a big mistake. Not only because charging 20 for this perfect snowstorm of bad controls, bad visuals and bad sound is a recipe for an unwinnable battle against karma, but because putting Elf Bowling out as a real game allowed real critics to have a go at it. And we eviscerated the thing, with 100% justified ferocity.
Oh, Im sorry, did I say along with its sequel? That implies that Elf Bowling was a relatively localised disturbance. In actual fact there were six more after that, part seven even having the affront to call itself Elf Bowling 7 1/7: The Last Insult. Not only does that a) strongly imply that the devs know how shit these things are, and b) show a total lack any respect for either originality or the Naked Gun series (both big no-nos in my book of values), but it wasnt even the last game. Elf Bowling: Hawaiian Vacation arrived afterwards. This stuff is the wildly spreading Black Death of Christmas games.
James Pond 2: Robocod
How crap is it? Crappier than you might like to believe. Briefly a Huge Deal in Europe due to the popularity of the Commodore Amiga home computer in the early '90s (and more specifically said format's continued, desperate, agonisingly hopeless attempts to breed its own answer to Mario and Sonic), Robocod reviewed bizarrely well back in the day, largely down to its being a bit of a looker and packing a rather cool gimmick in the form of its aquatic hero's stretchy robotic midriff, which allowed him to reach otherwise unattainable heights by way of a hyper-extended spine.
Some loved it, but for those of us who actually had access to the plumber and the hedgehog, it elicited only the most awkwardly polite of weak plaudits in the face of our friends' enthusiasm. Ultimately, for all the jaunty presentation of the jolly Santa's Workshop setting, the platforming just wasn't that good. Vague, overly floaty, empty, and a bit abstract, it was typical of a lot of the substandard western platformer design of the day, and thus paled in comparison to the NES, SNES and Mega Drive's more tightly designed big-hitters. By way of its original tie-in to Penguin chocolate biscuits, it was also one of the earliest pioneers of in-game advertising, so we have that to thank it for too. THANKS, JAMES POND.
Frosty's Busy Night
How crap is it? Diabolically. Yes, its older than space, but Im not going to give it any excuses based on age. This thing would be a stinker in 2727 or 9000 BC. Youre a snowman. You jog from left to right. Every so often you die for no discernable reason. Every time you do, you return to the far left and start all over again, creeping, existential terror growing with each and every repetition. That is all that happens. Forever. There is no reason. There is no explanation. There is only futility and death. Frosty the NOOOOOOOOOOOOOman, more like.
The poor fucker must be begging to be released from that accursed silk hat. How sweet it would be to melt back to the cold oblivion from whence he came.
Daze Before Christmas
How crap is it? On the surface, not too crap. Yes, its a generic platformer, in that fairly dull, western-designed style I was talking about earlier, but it looks nice, and Santa is animated marvelously. And his intermittent transformations into the powered-up, Krampus-style Anti-Claus are a fun little twist, albeit a potentially worrying forerunner to The Werehog. So whys it on this list? Simple. Bad writing cannot be tolerated.
Watch this video. Try to read the entirety of the games intro. Its only three screens long, but it feels like it goes on longer than a traffic jam through the very bowels of Hades. The most bland, uneventful story. The most tortured, awkwardly hammered-together poetry. A seemingly randomised syllable structure for every stanza. Sentences that barely mean anything. A total disregard for grammar. And then the first level intro-card appears. SANTAS HALLWAY. Are here multiple Santas? No there are not. So use a freaking apostrophe. Kids are reading this, for Gods sake. What do I want for Christmas, Santa? Just basic, primary school-level linguistic understanding for all.
Special Delivery: Santa's Christmas Chaos
How crap is it? Okay, maybe its a bit unfair to put this one on the list. Back in 1984, it probably wasnt bad. As Santa, you fly through the skies, collecting presents dropped by floating angels, slinging them, Paperboy-style, down chimneys, and occasionally entering houses for a bit of rudimentary stealth-gifting amid nocturnal corridors patrolled by unpredictably marauding children.
But there are two factors to consider. Firstly, if you can find me a game on a 1984 home computer that still plays well today, then Id find you a dirty liar, or at the very least someone with depressingly low standards. Secondly, this thing is quietly horrifying. For starters, the limited sprite-work means that Santas sleigh doesnt so much have reindeer leading it, but rather a severed deer-head spiked totemically onto the front of it. Additionally, those kids make Santa explode. Yeah. Santa-guts all over the house come Christmas morn. Jolly. And as for those angels? No faces. Not even any heads. Just halos. Can we trust the gifts of such macabre, faceless beings? No, no we cannot. That is some Doctor Who-level shit going on there.
Dashing through the NO
Okay, so I've sort of already done that gag, but it's Christmas Eve, and I want to put this one to bed quickly so that I can go off and start drinking White Russians. And after trawling through that lot, I think we all deserve one or three. Any suggestions of other crappy Christmas games I might have missed? If you've been so unfortunate enough to have played one, drop it in the comments so that we can share your pain.
And if you're looking for better Christmas games to play over the holidays, I have a couple of suggestions to help you out. For a list of generally well-suited festive fun, have a look at The 12 best games to play at Christmas. And if you want all of the Yuletide cheer without any of the contrived cash-in, my aforementioned list of The 8 most Christmassy games that aren't actually set at Christmas has you covered. Have a splendid one, all.