Ho ho, hello, ladies and lads! The most wonderful time of the year is here, I tell you, now that we've all spent a pretty penny heaping up Christmas presents for our loved ones, close ones, nice ones, little ones, and I-don't-like-you-but-please-don't-slap-me ones, too. Have you managed not to squander the holiday spirits? One does wonder sometimes how much the Christmas hijinks and the playful joy could cost.All this ranting aside, let's try to relive the magical night having braced ourselves with some cute jolly thingies available for as much as sweet FA. That is, as expensive as hearing Wham's 'Last Christmas' in a department store in December (which is free, incidentally). But hopefully much more entertaining. That would remind us it's time to look forward to and make merry, right?
So let's put on our searching trousers and try to find some free games that could put us in the proper Christmas mood again. Or at least some Christmas-themed games for us to while away a boring winter evening with. Hop in the sleigh and hold on, because our first course is...
Ah, what could be more refreshing than a nice sleigh ride on a winter evening? Well, pretty much anything, actually, if the ride feels like you're working a night shift.
You've guessed it: first game on our list, and we're already playing Santa. The presents are scattered all over a mountain village or some sort, and we have to deliver them to twenty-five houses in a specific order, one present per house (before you get to the task, put your sleigh in reverse and have a laugh at the deer mincing on their hind legs, mind). There's a compass that shows us the direction to the next house we are to deliver a present to, and the said house itself is marked with some glittery stars swirling around it. Sounds simple.
Here's how the game usually plays. You're merrily riding your sleigh along a nice road picking up all the presents you see on your way, then you get to the first target house and press 'Space' to deliver the present, and then 'H' to deliver your usual 'Ho ho ho!' and then the very next house on your way gets marked with glittery stars, and you repeat the whole delivery process without even slowing down, and so on - all in all, things go quite swimmingly, despite the crippled and unresponsive controls and questionable topography of the village you're driving through. But then, just when you think you're actually starting having fun with the game, you run out of presents and have to make a U-turn looking out for more, and then make another U-turn to get back on track. At this point (which is just about two minutes into the game), the flow of the game is completely ruined. You might think that the game could pass for an exploratory ride, without a certain 'track' altogether, but you're actually rushed into delivering presents fast and more or less regularly, as children are gradually losing their faith in you. Oh golly, Santa has turned into a delivery boy.
So does the game itself deliver? I'll spoil it for you: the only reward for finishing the task is a place in the high-scores table, so you're actually pretty welcome to give it a go or two. Nothing will urge you further anyway.
Christmas spirit: 6/10.
Look, Santa has lost all the presents again! Hamfisted greybeard.
Your eyes are not deceiving you this time; it's a 2D platformer and it's probably as cute as it gets. Again, we're playing as Santa collecting presents and delivering them to intended houses (each present has a tag attached to it saying which house the present should be delivered to). Having delivered all the presents, we just make our way to our highly advanced deerless sleigh and move on to a next level.
This time, however, our progress is hindered by actual enemies, rather than the landscape and controls alone. The horrible monsters we're facing are - wait for it - green lights and owls. Each time one of the enemies hits you, you are sent to the beginning of the level or to the latest checkpoint (these are, oddly enough, marked with red lights); since the number of 'lives' you get is infinite, the only penalty for touching an enemy is a little bit of time wasted. The real problem is that the enemies, as easy to avoid as they are, actually look no less cutesy than everything else in the game; so I often found myself running into them thinking they were just bits of the scenery, or some bonus. Cute critters aside, it's the green lights that are mind-bogglingly insidious: they just don't look threatening at all. That is, unless we're actually playing David Duchovny cleverly disguised as Santa, of course.
It's also worth mentioning at this point that the planet our Santa has to deal with is not your average Earth; no, that'd be for retired Grandfather Christmases with fake beards. To give you a rough idea of the uber-Earth real Santas play on: it has two sets of Americas (and a Eurasia in between) on its visible hemisphere alone! Better come prepared: there is much, much work to do.
The whole 'fetch that, go there' process soon becomes rather tedious, however. There is no real diversity to it, and there is almost no challenge whatsoever - it just feels like your regular evening walk has been unnecessarily encumbered with a delivery task at some point. It's worth a start, at least, but it may not be worth finishing off.
Crisp footsteps: 7/10.
Which is essentially an amalgam of the previous two games.
That's right, yet another 2D platformer about delivering presents in a specific order (must be something in the general Christmas chaos that makes Santa so meticulous). To a certain extent, this game can be described as a somewhat old-school version of 'Christmas Eve Crisis'; but not in regard to its being a DOS game, however, or its relatively crude graphics. Rather, it's the way the game actually plays - its fast pace, tricky jumps, and limited number of attempts - what makes you fondly reminisce about Mario brothers and the lot, wondering if they could've been bothered to wear tartan berets and give up plumbing for courier service.
First of all, in addition to presents, you also need to collect and deliver a great lot of ginger biscuits - five per house. Delivering presents themselves isn't quite a straightforward task either, as their fancy colours are not just for show (although, admittedly, they do contribute to the overall gaiety): they designate which house each present is to be delivered to. To make things a bit more complicated, you have to deliver presents in the same order you have picked them up - so you're actually forced to do some backtracking and hop across each level at least twice before you finish it: you either have to skip certain presents and return for them later, or return for intended chimneys if you're picking up each present on your way. Which, given that each level is replete with pitfalls, and narrow ledges, and enemies (whatever Santa did to those birds to upset them?), is actually a nice added challenge.
If you manage to complete a level within a short time frame, which is different from the longer general time limit and usually implies that you make your way across the roofs with the swiftness of a wasp-bitten chimney sweep on steroids, you are transported to a bonus level, which is notable for two reasons. Firstly, it takes place in summer - which is a welcome change of scene and is worth seeing for the peculiar sight of a midget Santa trotting on lush green grass. Secondly, it's about ten times as difficult as the average level of the game. Yes, as if the usual tricky roof-jumping weren't enough, the bonus levels are nothing but crumbling narrow platforms and enormous gaps in between. The prize, you say? Oh, yes, you get a spare life if you manage to collect a hundred ginger biscuits in a bonus level, but, really, that's not why you're here.
There you go. A game for the sake of the game at last - even though it could actually be about plumbing instead of Christmas for all we know. Makes you think it's just as well that Christmas isn't about plumbing, doesn't it?
Fancy-coloured presents: 8/10.
Happy second Christmas, everyone! Be sure to have a splendid New Year on your first try, pray.