Andrew Newton presents a selection of festive retro games to enjoy this Christmas…
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year and adds so much joy, cheer and colour to life. That being the case, it is no surprise that there were once many games released based on the festive period that brought enjoyment to many a gamer. Many a Christmas computer was graced with a grand game like those listed below. So sit back, relax, grab a mince pie and join me on a walk down a Yuletide memory lane.
Before we get into the main list we first have an honourable mention for a developer who got into the spirit of the season for a cover disk demo. ATR: All Terrain Racing Christmas Demo was developed by Team 17 (famous for Worms among many) exclusively for the Amiga Format magazine. Making its appearance in issue 67, this playable demo had players racing around a snowy, Christmas themed environment. It scored highly on the old festivity meter but as this is only a demo we can’t count it on this year’s list.
There’s also a dishonourable mention with Maria’s Christmas Box. This weak excuse for a Christmas game was just strip poker featuring the very busty Page 3* model Maria Whittaker, wearing a Mrs Claus outfit…… which you soon got off. You didn’t get to see everything and the game was around £15 so it was much cheaper to buy the Sun newspaper if you wanted to see Maria get them out.
*Page 3 was essentially a whole page in certain UK newspapers where the only thing of interest was a topless model posing and Maria Whittaker was one of these girls. Most 1980’s strip poker games featured one of these page 3 models.
But Christmas isn’t a time for pervy gambling – it’s a time for exciting antics with Santa and magical adventures with…
The Snowman – Quicksilva – ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and MSX.
Based on the hugely popular animated film which itself was based on the best selling 1978 book by Raymond Briggs, The Snowman had players jumping over platforms and avoiding enemies to build the titular man of snow.
Over four phases players will need to bound around icy platforms ,climbing ladders and collecting various items with which to build the snowman, all the while avoiding the little flames that want to send the little lad to bed. The first phase is to collect the snow to give the man his shape, the second is to collect the various items to create his features. Once the snowman has been created it is time to dress him so once more we race around the screen collecting items of clothing and avoiding the various enemies.
Finally, with the Snowman all built and dressed, players just need to keep him alive by stacking up lots of ice cubes next to him. This prevents the poor fella from melting and once all ice cubes have been collected it’s a win for you and the Snowman.
Throughout all phases of the game it’s vital to keep the boy’s energy levels up by eating the Christmas turkeys and puddings that show up. Let his energy fall too low and it’s off to bed you go.
The Spectrum once again proved the victor in the computer wars as Speccy gamers didn’t have to put up with the tune to ‘We’re Walking in the Air’ like those with the C64 version thanks to not having as good sound. To be fair, the C64 did do it rather well but the real winner is the MSX which had lots of carols to keep you entertained while you played.
Was The Snowman any good? For a 1984 game it was pretty good and certainly could get you hooked, although the controls could be a bit fidgety when climbing the ladders. If you get chance to give this a go, don’t give it a cold reception.
The Official Father Christmas – Alternative Software – ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64
Alternative’s The Official Father Christmas was released in 1989 and featured gameplay that was almost impossible to fail. Players had to help Santa accomplish his Christmas goals through three different sections and although each came with a time limit, it was such a generous one that you had plenty of time to complete it.
Part one has Father Christmas running around his workshop gathering bits and pieces of the sleigh and assembling them outside where a reindeer (not Rudolph) waits patiently. How did the sleigh end up in pieces I hear you ask, well it’s those irritating little elves that people put all over their houses. To make us dislike the elves even more, if one touches Santa while he’s carrying a sleigh piece the little sods steal it back and we have to find it again.
Once all the sleigh is assembled and the elves given a kicking (not shown in game but you know he would) it is time for Santa to read the letters from the children and gather the toys. Actually that’s the other way round as the children send a letter and it’s up to the player to choose what they get but then it’s time to run backwards and forwards trying to catch all the presents you’ve selected as they fall from the sky (to be honest this isn’t the best way to gather gifts, especially when gifts include televisions). Gather all the presents to complete the level, easy peasy!
Finally, with the sleigh repaired and presents gathered and packed it’s time for Father Christmas to use his magic to deliver gifts across the world. Going from continent to continent, from America to Africa, Santa will fly through the air high above the different settings (depending on the continent – America has skyscrapers while Africa has tiny huts) while avoiding clouds that blow in different directions, jet planes and birds. Once the airspace is clear it is time to drop those presents to complete the level and win the game.
We can’t judge The Official Father Christmas too harshly as it supported the Save the Children charity, was sold for a budget price of £2.99 and was a game designed for children. There’s better games for us older children to play but if you have a young ‘un who still believes in the rosy cheeked fat fella then this will be a nice little game to put on for them. One question remains however, who endorsed this game to make it the OFFICIAL Father Christmas game?
Merry Xmas Santa – Icon Software – ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro
Merry Xmas Santa is another game that focuses on Father Christmas making deliveries and rather than doing it over multiple phases just gets right down to business with putting Santa on the roof of a typical working class neighbourhood of terraced houses. All Santa has to worry about is delivering the presents to all the good children and avoiding the assorted hazards of slippery roofs, snowballs that whizz past at warp speed and icicles.
The BBC version of the game adds in a ‘Belly Bonus’ meter at the bottom of the screen which gradually goes down as time goes on, fortunately Santa can refill the meter by consuming the Christmas puds and glasses of sherry that appear on screen.
Back in 1984 Icon Software described Merry Xmas Santa as being “an extravaganza of arcade action and fun” though whether this is an accurate description is entirely up to personal preference. Personally, I find it alright on the Spectrum but repetitive, while the BBC version is so attractive to look at but takes approximately 33000 years to get Santa to the bottom of the screen.
Summer Santa – Alpha-Omega Software – ZX Spectrum
Released in the August of 1986 (hence the title), Summer Santa is a Christmas game in all but name only and has players take control of jolly Santa to help him deliver gifts to children. However, old Santa must have a bad back as he can only take one gift from his grotto at a time and then navigate his way through a house to deposit that pressie in the right stocking. However, the house has a touch of the Jet Set Willys in that there’s loads of things going backwards and forwards that instantly take one of Santa’s five lives and it’s essential to make the timing just right as you jump. The various nasties include dogs, birds flying saucepans and adults.
For £1.99 Summer Santa was ok, there were lots better games available at the time with similar mechanics (Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy to name just two). If you can find it on any emulator, or even fortunate enough to own the tape you could kill 10 mins playing it if only to see how ropey the collision detection is. Back in the day Crash magazine rated it a mere 31%.
Special Delivery – Santa’s Christmas Chaos – Creative Sparks – ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit
There were many games about Father Christmas in the old 8-bit days and Special Delivery is another that has players completing stages throughout the fat man’s busiest night. At least what his left of his night as Santa has overslept massively and has just 5 hours left to deliver presents to children across the world.
Thankfully, unlike the elves in The Official Father Christmas game, his helpers are much more considerate (they’re actually angels) and are dropping the presents to him and this sets the scene for the first of the three stages.
Players will control the sleigh as Santa flies over mountains catching the falling gifts that are being dropped to him while avoiding clouds which will cause him to drop a gift. Be warned though as there are thunder clouds which will strike Santa and cause him to lose an hour of his very valuable time. Players will need to catch a set amount of gifts in order to move onto stage two.
The second stage has players land on the roof of a house then venture inside via his trademarked entrance, the only problem is as Santa climbs down the chimney there are fireballs shooting upwards destined to hit him in the bum.
The final stage finds players having to navigate a house filled with sleepwalking kids in order to get the gift under the tree and once this is achieved get out the house again. Strangely enough he opts not to climb the chimney so instead must seek out the door key and leave through oddly placed doors.
You think it’s all over once this is done? Not on your nelly! It’s time to do the same thing all over again but with the difficulty ramped up.
Special Delivery is probably the most challenging game on this list and is quite enjoyable to boot. In fact it earned a respectable 71% in Crash magazine. It wasn’t worth the £6.95 in 1984 though.
As we end another look at games of Christmas past, all of us here at Flickering Myth wish you a very merry and safe Christmas and a happy, prosperous new year!