As we all know, there are twelve days of Christmas, unless you're a goopy family channel, in which case Christmas starts after Thanksgiving and doesn't end until New Year's. But if you want to celebrate with something other than the same old movies, we might recommend playing video games to enjoy the season. After all, it's a beloved holiday celebrated the whole world 'round! There have got to be a few good video games involving it. Right?
12. Elf Bowling
Elf Bowling is one of those games that you understand how it was conceived, how it was made, how it was marketed, and how it hit shelves. You just can't understand how it left those shelves. At all.
The concept? You throw heavy objects at elves. That's it. That's really it. Oh, there are special balls and powers, but it's pretty much just a terrible bowling simulator with a Christmas theme. And somehow they're up to seven of them and counting.
But that's casual gaming! What about consoles?
11. Santa Claus Saves the Earth
Released for the Game Boy Advance, we can really just let this game's ad copy speak for itself:
"Meanwhile, very deep underground lives a wicked fairy, Nilam. She has a magic pot that allows her to see everywhere in the world. She looked into her pot and saw Santa and his helpers packing presents for all the children and became furious that so much joy existed in the world."
Right, the fairy with the magic pot cares about Santa and his toymaking. That's not generally our experience with magic substances.
As for gameplay, it's pretty much your standard platformer. Sadly, there are no magic herbs or leaves Santa needs to collect for his pipe, which we considered a missed opportunity.
Already this sounds pretty bad, but it can get worse. How much worse? Let's try some film tie-ins!
10. The Santa Clause 3
We know what you're thinking, and no, this is not the third game in some sort of wildly successful "Santa Clause" series of games helping Tim Allen pay the rent on whatever crappy apartment he's currently living in, wondering where it all went wrong.
No, it's just a game of the third one.
Once again on what you'll rapidly realize is a dumping ground for crap games (the Game Boy Advance), it is, unsurprisingly, yet another platformer. That you can still buy, actually, it's five bucks on Amazon, if you're buying something for twenty bucks and need a gag gift.
Hey, speaking of digital dumping grounds...
9. We Wish You a Merry Christmas
We like the concept of the Wii, and we like it when it's used for real games, but one thing that has to stop is these collections of "mini-games" which barely qualify as games by cell phone standards.
Still, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" barely qualifies as a game; there are carol sing-alongs, a virtual Yule Log, and lots of other stuff that would have been insulting shareware gifts for your coworker on a PC in 1995. That's the great advance in gaming: shareware on a disc.
8. Christmas Clix WiiWare
This ranks this high on the list for one simple reason. It's an identifable game, and it's not bad. It's just basically "Columns" with Christmas presents instead of jewels, and as such is actually tolerable for five minutes.
Still, we find ourselves thinking of shareware again. Will the game stop halfway through and demand we mail-order a disc for the rest of the levels?
7. Chicken Invaders 3: Christmas Edition
Photo: Interaction Studios
Hey, finally, something we can actually identify as a video game! A kinda crappy video game, but a video game nonetheless!
"Chicken Invaders" is pretty much your standard top-down shooter, rife with chicken puns and somewhat wobbly gameplay, but what's attention getting is the fact that for some reason they created a Christmas version, which takes what just seems faintly kiddy and ridiculous and turns it into a digital bad acid trip. Seriously, this is a game that will open doors in your mind, and probably also make you vomit.
6. Daze Before Christmas
Finally, a visit to the classic consoles, with this SNES and Genesis game that has one item that makes it stand out, because it's probably censorship.
One of the power-ups Santa can grab is a cup of coffee, and it turns him into "Anti-Claus". We don't know about you, but grabbing some coffee generally makes us the exact opposite of evil. We've got a few people on the bus that we see every day we would have fed their earbuds to them by now if not for a 24 ouncer of dark roast.
What happened, of course, is that originally it was something a bit stronger, but nobody really wants to explore the idea of Santa being a mean drunk. Unless you're Billy Bob Thornton, and sadly there's no "Bad Santa" video game.
5. James Pond II: Robocod
Photo: Millennium Interactive
Speaking of classic console gaming, here's the one game that gives Chicken Invaders a run for its money in the "heavy drug use" sweepstakes. Here's the plot: a fish superspy receives some bionic upgrades to fight his nemesis, who has taken over Santa's workshop.
Amazingly, the cartridges did not, in fact, reek like a freshman dorm of pot smoke. Still, we've really got to wonder what these guys were thinking, or rather taking. Were drugs really that good in the early '90s?
4. Home Alone
Hey, speaking of bizarre games that are patently ridiculous and on every console possible, how can we make it worse? Let's make it a tie-in!
Seriously, you want a Christmas game that's kind of insane, play a Home Alone game. Which one? Pick one. And it doesn't matter which movie, either. You'll be attacked by toys, or have to avoid characters that seem to have nothing to do with video games, forget the franchise, and...yeah...it's kind of weird.
3. Raw Danger
Stretching the point a little bit, here's an action adventure survival game, kind of like a cross between "Die Hard" and "The Day After Tomorrow". The idea is that you lead six different characters to safety before the city they live in gets wiped out by a flood.
It's generally a pretty solid game that consists pretty much of rescuing survivors, and even has a unique control scheme with the right controller that lets you create your own gestures to rescue them (being escorted characters, they're all dumb as bricks), but it has one problem: the voice acting, which makes those synthesized voice samples on the NES sound amazing by comparison. It turns a decent game into an unintentional comedic tour de force. But, hey, at least it's entertaining.
2. The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie's Revenge
We know what you're thinking: this list has been all about beating on tie-in games with a blunt object. How'd one of them make it to the second spot? Are all Christmas games that bad? Is there any good game for this holiday?
Yep, this game is actually pretty good. That's for two reasons: one, it wasn't slammed together to exploit the release of the original movie, but made to exploit the goodwill goths and other Hot Topic bait have for it well after the fact, and two, it's "Devil May Cry".
No, really. It's "Devil May Cry", except with slightly easier difficulty. Capcom essentially just copy-pasted a classic film onto a classic game.
Well, that's one way to make a tie-in not suck, we guess.
1. Sam and Max: Ice Station Santa
Photo: Telltale Games
Finally, because this is the season of giving and love and other stuff that generally makes us barf, we're going to end this on a good note and talk about a Christmas game that's genuinely awesome.
"Sam and Max" started life as a comic book, and would have been doomed to obscurity except that LucasArts, back when they rocked, got their hands on it and turned it into a classic point-and-click adventure game, right before point-and-click adventure games vanished in the wake of "Doom". Years later, Telltale Games would revive the franchise with episodes released on a real schedule instead of Valve Time.
Ice Station Santa opens the second season, and features giant killer robots, a machine gun wielding Santa, and evil demons running amok amid a winter wonderland. It's enough to make even the hardest man tear up with joy.
God bless us, every one of us, and have a merry death-bot-riddled, violent Christmas.