Seasonal videogames are a rare breed. It can take a minimum of a year to make something that will only be relevant for at best a month a year. Because of this most Christmas games are… a bit crap. They’re either minigame collections or weird licensed games for the Wii.
Fortunately, Christmas hasn’t been short changed in games. Developers have used Christmas either to add fun expansions for existing games or as settings rather than the entire concept. So if you want to enjoy games over the holidays and really want that feel, there are still options. Not all of them really get the warm giving spirit down, but as long as there’s a tree or a mention of December 25th, it’s fair game. This isn’t in any particular order, because it’s not in the spirit of the season to compete. Any of these games will happily get you through to the new year.
Honorable Mention: Kingdom Hearts II
This doesn’t get to be on the list proper, but it felt wrong to miss it. Nightmare Before Christmas was represented in KH1 but it’s expanded on in the sequel. There’s an explorable Christmas Town as the plot sees Jack decide… Again for some reason, to try and handle the holiday himself. Only being one world in a larger game knocks it down points but it’s not often you see anime/Disney/goth/holidays art design. The film is required viewing over the season and KH2 catches the same magic.
Yakuza… Nearly all of it
As unfitting as this may sound, Yakuza is actually a Christmas game… In the same way some people say Die Hard is. Fortunately I think both definitely count. The first game sets itself over the period and most of the games after follow suit. There’s even evidence in the games.
Most players will be distracted by the dramatic story, excellent combat or completely bonkers side activities. Yet each game does have progressively more Christmas spirit. It starts off with just a reference to the time, by Yakuza 5 there’s a whole Santa substory. The fans have noticed too, modding in Santa outfits for Kiryu and his friends. Plus it’s not as if gift giving isn’t part of Yakuza’s charm. If you count beating someone over the head with a bicycle the same as giving one.
Parasite Eve, for those who want a scary Christmas
You might not think horror is a go to genre with Christmas. However, every year parents get trampled on looking for gifts. Every retail worker has to deal with last minute shoppers. There can be a great amount of fear in the holidays. This is not the type of scare cult horror RPG Parasite Eve goes for however. It, and the book it’s based on, are more concerned with body horror and the idea of our very cells rebelling against us. So while it may not be the cheeriest game for the holidays that’s not the point of this list. This is to find the best games set on Christmas.
In terms of setting, there’s not much better than starting on Christmas Eve and going through the next week towards new years. For it’s claim as one of the best? it is a PS1 game which does date it a bit. The high sales it got at launch in Japan though, and the amount of hype that is generated whenever Square Enix hint at doing anything with the franchise cement it’s cult classic status.
Batman: Arkham Origins, on a Dark Christmas Knight
Out of all of the games to play on Christmas, this is easily the most fitting. Somehow Batman always looks best in the snow and this game is no different. Gotham went all out for this year, every building has some form of decoration. Christmas trees are out on display, even the theme song of the game contains Carol of the Bells. The only unfortunate thing is that Batman Arkham Origins is possibly the least good Arkham game.
In this case however being the least good Arkham game means you’re still in for an excellent time. The gameplay still has the fluid combat and clever stealth and the atmosphere is amazing. Despite being a prequel and rehashing a fair amount from Arkham City it still contains some of the best moments in the franchise. It’s also the only game to give us a fully fledged Batcave to walk around in. Even the minor details of Alfred and Batman talking about working on Christmas just has this game dripping with holiday theming.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Be Yourself over the holidays
This list isn’t in any particular order, but I still put Spider-Man last because these Insomniac Spider-Man games are some of my favourite ever made. As a game Miles Morales, while smaller in scale, improves on the game before it in many small ways. The swinging is even better, the two new powers completely overhaul the combat and the stealth while still keeping it recognisable. The story is great too and really showcases Miles at the forefront with barely anything from Peter Parker for support and still succeeds. So the game is great, but what about it’s Christmas…iness?
The snow covered New York covered in Christmas lights manages to get that feeling of cold air across unlike most other games. The setting is a bit vague as it starts explicitly on Christmas Eve but seems to ignore the day itself. But what Miles Morales does that the others like Batman doesn’t is the holiday spirit. This is a game about community and of coming together, and naturally for a Superhero title, about helping others. The games Friendly Neighbourhood app adding mini-side quests that allows Miles to help out random citzens with problems big or small shows this clearly. Ironically for this list one of the best Non-Christmas Christmas Games… May actually legitmately be a good Christmas game.
If you want more of GNN Year end goodness, or are looking for something fun to play into the New Year, here’s a few of the best Indie Games to come out in 2021