As we gather around the tree this holiday season, we must reflect on just what a joyous time the Christmas season really is. Snuggle up by the warm, crackling fire and have some cocoa as the snow gently falls outside. This is a time for family and friends. It’s also a time for some lousy presents, so save those receipts!
While we never need a holiday to play Sega games, it’s good to have some holiday gaming to fall back on as Aunt Emma beams over that nasty set of pajamas she gave you or you’re forced to suffer through the requisite phone call from grandma. Hey, no one should bother you if it’s Santa running around on screen, right?
The third installment of our Holiday Gaming series looks at the games of Christmas… as well as those that have some connection to the season. They may be few in number but after a bit of spiked eggnog, you won’t care.
Batman Returns (Sega CD)
Everyone remembers this game. The Caped Crusader battles the Penguin and Catwoman at the height of the holiday season. Though the original Batman was something of a letdown, being as short as it was, the next title in the series was longer and actually turned out to be a competent sequel. Funny enough, it seems to have lost its color palate somewhere. I know Gotham is supposed to be dark and gritty and all but I don’t remember the film being so… purple. As it were, Batman Returns is a pretty decent platformer with some excellent driving and flying sequences. The soundtrack is also amazing but that’s to be expected, considering the game is basically the Genesis cartridge with a few extras, all wrapped around red book audio. By “basically the same” I mean exactly the same. No new levels, improved backgrounds, or anything of the sort. Even so, an already decent game has been much improved in its transition to CD. The vehicle stages have some excellent scaling and are great to look at, though they can be a bit repetitive.
As one of the early titles released for the Sega CD, batman Returns doesn’t go for much more than its cartridge sibling. I got mine sealed on eBay for $10 and those of you blessed enough to live near flea markets and pawn shops should find a copy easily enough.
Everyone loves Resident Evil, and for good reason. That series excels at invoking fear and solitude. Perhaps for that reason, most people don’t give a second thought to the Dreamcast launch title, Blue Stinger, especially after Code: Veronica arrived. Activision’s survival horror title differed greatly from Capcom’s and never really went for the whole “terror” vibe. Instead, the game embraced campiness, from its visual style to its level design. There never really were any truly scary moments in Blue Stinger. How could there be when the game had a whole holiday theme throughout its stages? The action takes place around the holidays, and there’s cheerful music playing in several areas infested with monsters, while “Happy Christmas” signs gleam in the background. Blue Stinger doesn’t overtly use its seasonal theme, but it’s there enough for players to notice. I like to refer to the game as “seasonal survival horror” and usually break it out in December for some play.
One of the greatest gifts in video game history was when Sega included its Christmas NiGHTS sampler with consoles and issues of Ultra Game Players and Next Generation magazines. With only a single level, it was essentially just a demo of NiGHTS when played any time during the year. However, when used during the Christmas season, Saturn owners were treated to a magnificent re-imagining of the game decked out in full holiday cheer. Lights, Christmas trees, and holiday clothing modified the standard visuals, and songs like “Jingle Bells” replaced the regular soundtrack. Instead of beating a story, players unlocked 25 different presents, each with something unique to add, like karaoke mode and a sound test, and even Sonic the Hedgehog as a playable character.
As freebies go, Christmas NiGHTS was an amazing giveaway thanks to its wonderful theme and tons of unlockable goodies. For many Saturn owners, playing it during the holidays is a tradition, and it remains a great example of how the Sega of old knew just how to make its fans smile. It doesn’t get better than this for holiday gaming.
Daze Before Christmas
Daze Before Christmas was released only in Australia, and it shows. There’s so much here that would have any fan of the holiday scratching their head in utter disbelief, that you’ll want to keep playing, if only to see just how wacky things get. Apparently, you play was Santa himself, out to free his elves and rescue Christmas for Australians everywhere. Platforming has long been a standard way to save the world, and St. Nick goes through the motions with some great graphics and animation. As you bound along to some classic Christmas tunes, you’ll notice how great everything looks. “Hm, seems like standard platform fare to me,” you’ll say. Then you’ll grab the coffee cup power up. A simple cup ‘o java reveals our hero’s true colors. He turns into his horned, evil self (the Anti-Claus… yep), nailing his foes with his bag of presents. If that weren’t weird enough, he can also spit fire.
Oddball concept notwithstanding, there’s some solid gameplay here. The game has a decent length and is fun enough to warrant a complete playthrough. Just be ready to hunt it down though. Daze Before Christmas is pretty rare.
I know what you’re thinking and right about now, you’re probably looking just like poor Kevin on the cover here. “Oh my god, you included a game based on Home Alone? Yes, yes I did. The Genesis game is based on the hit film but surprise! It doesn’t suck. In fact, it’s pretty darn good. Instead of having to only defend his own home, Kevin must stop the Wet Bandits from looting the entire block. To do this, you have to inflict a certain amount of damage on the two crooks before they rob the whole house. Marbles, tar, and toys can be used as weapons and you can even set traps! Even neater, you can combine items to create new weapons.
Home Alone looks great, although the character designs are a bit to generic for my taste. It’s pretty decent in the sound department as well. The gameplay may be a bit complicated for some gamers but it shouldn’t be anything that would cause you frustration.
James Pond 2 Codename: Robocod
I remember being the only one in my circle of gaming friends who bought the original James Pond. Upon playing it, I immediately knew why that was. The game was bland and hard as hell. Thankfully, Millennium improved the sequel in just about every way. Even the story was a bit more coherent, although it remained just as cheesy. Our aquatic hero must now save Santa’s toy factories from being destroyed by Dr. Maybe. Bombs have been planted and James must diffuse them before Christmas is ruined! Right.
You’d be quick to think that a cod would be in big trouble in a place like the North Pole. Being the secret agent that he is, however, Pond has been fitted with an exosuit that allows him to maneuver on land. He can also stretch his body to snag items, grab ledges and shimmy over pits, and duck into his suit to avoid damage. The game is gorgeous, even by today’s standards, and has some amazing detail. The music is also top notch. Sadly, all this eye and ear candy comes with a price. The gameplay is a bit too floaty for some of the precision jumps and you’ll be cursing your screen at the cheap deaths some areas dump on you.
ToeJam & Earl
Two sequels and the power of Xbox couldn’t equal the genius that was the original ToeJam & Earl. As one of the first console games of its time to feature a decent kind of of open-world, it was a big hit and the two groovin’ aliens from planet Funkotron captivated gamers everywhere. The mishaps and mayhem they encountered as they looked for the pieces of their spaceship caused more than a few players to shoot soda out of their noses. The game cleverly disguised power ups in the form of presents, allowing ToeJam or Big Earl to zip past enemies with rocket shoes, replenish their energy with pizza, or even fly around with Icarus wings! The fat man in the red suit makes and appearance, as does the bogey man. C’mon, it doesn’t get better than this.
The best feature of TJ&E is the two-player cooperative mode. If both players stay together, they share the same screen. However, either one can wander off, splitting the screen and offering a great level of freedom. Since the game features random levels, no two adventures are the same.
Perhaps the only downside to this great title is its price. A complete copy on eBay can go as high as $60, so snatch one up quick if you can find it cheap.
It seems that Sega has something for every occasion and while the pickings here may be a tad thin, I think those games mentioned are a great way to spend the holidays, so go check out a few of these games and have a safe and happy holiday!