For One Reason Or Another: My Festive Games
----- in no particular order -----
With it being the Xmas period, and some well-overdue game time is on the horizon, I feel a strong compulsion to write briefly about the games that hold a festive connection - for one reason or another.
I'm not sure the idea of a 'Christmas video game' really exists in the same sense that say 'Home Alone', or 'A Christmas Carol' [plus 'Die Hard'] does for Christmas movies, it's far more about nostalgia - perhaps a game was given to you as a gift, or you happened to play a certain game over this period, or indeed a game simply holds significance, personal to you around this time.
Anyway, here's a shortlist of the games that are all the above for me - in no particular order...
Game | 'Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse'
Platform | Sega Master System
There's so much that I don't remember about this game - even simply looking up screengrabs to paste into this blog has me scratching my head with "what is that?!" and "oh yeah, that thing!".
But the memory remains of opening a gift from my parents whom very likely visited our local video game retailer, without any idea of what to buy, they see this, they see Mickey Mouse, and the decision is made. I'll love them forever for it.
As this game would result in building a familiarity between games and what I already knew - taking something pre-existing and thrusting it into a side-scrolling platformer whereby I would plough hours into this fantastical world.
The clearest memory I have of this game is stumbling across what I believe to be the first ever secret I'd managed to find in a video game. I remember thinking [and feeling] as though the game was broken, like it had a scalextric race-wall missing, and I'd fallen off the track - but no. This was a secret and I was made up.
Game | 'Pit Fighter'
Platform | Sega Master System
This was a strange beast for a 10ish year to be playing at the time. It's a game about underground fighting arenas, where beefcake brawlers and sassy-bad-assy vixens fight for cash, in a bare-fist knuckle throwdown, dressed in spandex, [and some] sporting chains around their necks. Violent stuff.
But of course this is the early 90s era, and this type of fantasy violence was far easier to dress up as 'playtime' behind the curtain of the relevant platforms limited hardware.
I remember being pretty bad at this game, and couldn't of gotten far. I remember the controls being very sluggish, and the hit detection being inaccurate for sure - it was a port of an arcade game after all and I think the distinct jump between the two platforms was clear.
For me, this game served somewhat of an overture for the incoming 'Mortal Kombat' that was yet to befall me - 'Pitfighter' was pretty eye-catching for the time because of its use of digitised live actors, although in the Master System version these only appeared as menu art-backdrops - for the more superior 'Pitfighter' experience play the arcade version.
Anyway, I had this at Christmas one year during my youth, I sucked, but I had a great time with it.
Game | 'Sonic Chaos'
Platform | Sega Master System
Sonic was ev-ree-wheeeeere in the early 90s and I was pumped to receive 'Sonic Chaos' at this time.
I already owned Sonic and Sonic 2 on the MS, but had played a lot of the Mega Drive versions of these games, and always felt a little aggrieved when returning back to my MS to play 'my versions'.
Man, what a spoilt thought, but then I was around the age of 10 and there were many things I didn't fully understand.
But on Christmas Eve that year, we were spending the evening with friends of my parents, and I can't recall how, but it was let slip that I might have a 'new Sonic game' in the morning.
During those formative years, I never followed the release of new titles or franchises, so when a new game turned up on the shelf, it was like..."okay then, mint".
'Sonic Chaos' was great. I could play as Sonic and Tails in a brand new adventure. The game felt fast, it was rapid - of course the system was being pushed a little harder by this point, games were evolving, but SC offered me my first gaming taste of something that felt greater than 8bit.
Game | 'David Beckham Soccer'
Platform | PlayStation
I know right... somehow even David Beckham made it onto this list.
'David Beckham Soccer' was released in 2001 right around the time that the guy was becoming a megastar. This games isn't even remotely 'Xmassy' but it offered a nice alternative from the likes of 'FIFA' and [at the time] 'Pro Evolution Soccer' which dominated the market.
Beckham was [and arguably still is] a global icon so having his name and likeness attached to this game was perfect fodder for me at this time.
I played to death and outgrew the game quite quickly but nonetheless, it filled an enjoyable hole early in the millennia, before I began transitioning away from Football titles.
DBS felt 'official' enough by way of including VO from recognisable vocal talent throughout the commentary box too.
By todays standards the game has not aged well but I remember the contrast in commentary barks being pretty varied, offering up an early dynamic tether between game and player.
Not a game that I'll be returning to anytime soon, but it oddly holds its own and warms a place in my nostalgic heart.
Game | 'Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII'
Platform | PlayStation 2
I was really pumped for DoC - a spinoff sequel to one of my two fave games of all-time: Final Fantasy VII.
Despite owning FFVII since around 1998, I had actually only completed that title shortly before the announcement of DoC, so it arrived at the perfect time.
Returning to Midgar, playing as Vincent [one of the FFVII protagonist party members] was really inviting - the character had a mysterious past, and it was one that was perfectly set for the spinoff treatment. The entire experience was helped by the fact that Vincent hooks up once again with those familiar faces I held so dear.
Receiving a small update as to the whereabouts and progression of all these characters was wonderful - the Final Fantasy series [despite having so many releases throughout its time], rarely exhibits a sequel, sticking to a consistent paradigm, so DoC felt like a one-off - a semi-sequel that players never thought they'd get.
As far as its gameplay goes, it's a pretty generic third-person shooter within the FFVII universe, and I don't remember there being anything all-together unique about it, but I simply played to death during an Xmas university break, Midgar was enough for me, I was sold.
Game | 'Xcom 2'
Platform | PC
I'll keep this entry as brief as possible - it's a slight pandoras box for me - X2 is the other of my fave games of all time and I could talk for hoouuurrrsssss about it.
The Xcom series was very unbeknowst to me prior to this title, and even when X2 was released, colleagues of mine were talking at length about this new title, which I just didn't understand.
The hype was seemingly palpable, the replayability endless, the emotional depth of despair thick - I made a life decision by purchasing this game on Steam, I just didn't know it when I handed over that dollar. The game was originally released around February of 2016, and I had incubated the thought of buying it for almost the entire year, but in November 2016 I did.
Initially, I sucked at X2. I sucked at X2 so bad that I even began comtemplating why I even bought this so called "amazing" turnbased strategy game.
Missions were tragically awful, and my base management untidy - I needed to give it more time.
And that's the trick, as a newb to the series, give X2 a chance. The X2 reward is in learning from mistakes, and there will be maaaaannnnyyyy mistakes made - decisions like leaving behind a squad member for the betterment of the mission and campaign is what drives X2's emotional vehicle - every choice has a consequence, and the balance is forever on a knife edge. Christmas 2016 was dominated by X2.
I'm talking specifcally about the vanilla release of X2, don't get me started on 'War of the Chosen' and its DLC - more of the same, more great-goodness-moments.
The customisation, the 'feeling' of managing your war effort against Advent, the loss of your troops in battle, bringing home whom you can, alive - it was again all wonderful [and perfect] fodder for me at the time, seeking a game that treated me like an adult gamer, and brought about all the nostalgia that I held so dear in Scifi, 80s action movies, strategy games, cover mechanics, I could go on - but I'll stop here.
Although one last thing... I'm still yet to get even a foothold on a Legendary Ironman campaign.
Game | 'Total Annihilation'
Platform | PC
Many many many 'feels' for this title.
My Dad was psyched during the Christmas of 1998 - he had worked hard that year, putting money aside for our first PC home computer. We could argue that this PC was mostly for the benefit of his small building business, producing estimates and invoices - but he presented it as a gift to myself and my younger sister - it came bundled with a square box of loose discs, one of them being that of 'Total Annihilation', a real-time strategy game from developer Cavedog Entertainment.
I had never previously been compelled to delve into this genre, but the prospect of an AI mech war with loads of cool bots and units to command was too much to resist.
This was a far deeper game than I had played before, with much to learn about unit abilities, resource management, and somehow strategizing a plan against the enemy. The campaign was fun, presenting some 20 or so missions, each with unique objectives and a cluster of predetermined units to command.
But the Christmas of '98 was lost to the Skirmish mode - every unit, huge maps [for the time], and up to x3 other enemies simulataneously. These battles felt really dynamic as every play-session was different, even with the exact same rules, and tonnes of others to continue mixing things up.
The soundtrack too was an early example of a symphonic score supporting the action - one that I really took notice of. Composed by Jeremy Soule whom would later go on to write music for the Elder Scroll series. It's an interesting soundtrack in that [by itself] it plays out like an opera - but together with the gameplay [in retrospect] it's a real missmatch, as there are no Scifi colours in there at all. Had this soundtrack been produced now, it would sound sooooo very different.
1998 was a great Christmas.
Game | 'Fallout 3'
Platform | Xbox 360
'Fallout 3' remains the only title to date that had me playing through the night.
I had returned home from university ready for Xmas, and kinda knew that F3 was upon me. I was semi-familiar with the Fallout series, but had never played - F3 offered a new modern perspective with a change in POV, and had received a tonne of marketing, so every gamer and their gold fish were talking about it.
This game felt biiiiiig - offering up an open world that was packed full of sidequests [often more inviting than the campaign]. The retro-futuristic aesthetic was a sweet and unusual combination, certainly one that I hadn't encountered much.
F3 wasn't and isn't remotely Xmassy, but again it's just another title that [for one Christmas] was all I played and thought about during that period.
I'll never forget the moment when my visiting nephew walked into the room where I'd remained ever since he had gone to bed the previous night - his face was priceless in that [for one moment] his face demonstrated a combined impressed and bemused look, rolled into one.
Game | 'Goldeneye 007'
Platform | Nintendo 64
I didn't purposely save this for last, but it's fitting that it is the final mention on this list. The christmas where I received this title as a gift was felt, biiiiiig, and as a result this christmas goes down in history for the gaming my brother and I had together.
We duked it out in death-matches and watched each other complete 'every other' mission - it was an absolute blast.
This was however until my brother decided to jump ahead, completing a mission, whilst I wasn't around and thus giving him a leg-up in the know-how - opening the spoiler floodgates too.
I wasn't happy.
Like many before this title on this list, none of them have anything to do with christmas, but with G007 having a couple of snow missions - this helped solidify the memory and the times we had.
The soundtrack for one is an instant classic, whilst the facial scans, the sfx and missions themselves all proved to be memorable. The 4v4 death-matches already eluded to are so iconic now that there's little to be said of them that feels new - 'remote mines', 'golden guns', and 'choppy slaps' [as we called them] were however our picks.
Other than perhaps Xcom 2 of course, G007 is likely the only other game here that I'll actively seek out most christmas' for a session. the second the splash screen lands, I'm instantly thrown back to around 97/98.
----- END -----
Oh wait, some honourable mentions below...
'Disney's Gooftroop' [SNES]
'Fatal Fury: King of Fighters' [Mega Drive]