Happy Holidays! The festive season is almost upon us, and what better way to celebrate what many consider the most wonderful time of year by counting down the greatest virtual depictions of Christmas.
We’re talking Santa, elves, reindeer and goodness knows what else. So long as there’s snow and the slightest hint of festive cheer, we’ll find an excuse to cram it onto our list.
Toy Day – Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Nintendo’s Animal Crossing franchise has done a fantastic job of depicting seasonal celebrations since its inception. Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Christmas have all had the treatment in the utterly adorable sim, offering players an incentive to drop into their villages each and every day to stay on top of things.
Known as “Toy Day” in the world of New Leaf, the festive cheer commences on December 24th with a character known as “Jingle” making his presence known across the town. They’re too lazy to deliver presents themselves, and will hurl responsibility onto the player if they’re in possession of a Santa costume purchased from The Able Sisters general store.
From here, you’ll have a handful of hours to deliver presents to your favourite townspeople, wishing them a Merry Christmas before vanishing into the night. It’s absolutely adorable, made even better by the cold, welcoming snow dropping throughout the evening. If you have a 3DS to hand, I’d whip this one out on Christmas Eve.
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Willamette – Dead Rising 4
While it’s certainly the weakest entry in Capcom’s zombie series, the depiction of Willamette in Dead Rising 4 is drenched in festive cheer, although you’ll be doing a different kind of slaying to which Santa is used to. The original game was confined to Willamette’s surprisingly massive shopping centre, but this entry gives players access to the entire town, mall and all.
Frank West is free to trudge through the snow-drenched town in all manner of outfits and vehicles, taking out zombies with a variety of equally bloody (and festive) weapons. Despite lacking many of the mechanics and nuances that made the previous games so excellent, Dead Rising 4 still emits an infectiously festive vibe that’s worth experiencing.
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The whole game – Celeste
Celeste is an absolute delight, and drenched in a positive, uplifting spirit that’s undeniably representative of Christmas. However, this platforming adventure is far deeper than a simple celebration of all things festive. It’s a deep, challenging experience focused on themes of anxiety, mental health and accepting who you truly are despite all the faults.
You play as Madeline, a young girl who tasks herself with climbing a mountain as a way of conquering demons both real and imaginary. From a gameplay perspective it’s a tight, challenging platformer, with increasingly difficult challenges as you progress. There’s even optional levels that turn the skill requirements up to 11. If you’re after a heartfelt yet unforgiving adventure this Christmas, look no further than Celeste.
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Christmas Event – Hitman 2
Agent 47 is making a list, and most of the unfortunate souls on his parchment are in for a rude awakening. He’s going to kill them, that’s what we’re getting at. Holiday Hoarders is a limited-time event for IO Interactive’s stellar stealth outing, which throws everyone’s favourite assassin into a Santa outfit and gives him one simple mission – eliminate his target by any means necessary.
The Paris Map has been updated with a bunch of visual quirks that truly make it feel like Christmas, with the sprawling manor and outside grounds reflective of the season in a variety of ways. It looks gorgeous, adding a sense of festive cheer to all the murder you’ll be committing. Like the game’s other missions, you can complete your objective in whichever way you like, so long as the target doesn’t leave the level alive. Merry Christmas!
Starlight Celebration – Final Fantasy 14
Seasonal events in multiplayer experiences are nothing new, but Square Enix’s Final Fantasy 14 is easily the cream of the crop, and its Christmas event is no exception. Known as Starlight Celebration in the world of this MMORPG, it centres around giving back to the community, whether its friends, strangers or even characters in Eorzea itself.
Parts of the world are transformed into a gorgeous winter wonderland filled with optional quests that reward players with a variety of unique cosmetic goodies. Much like other seasonal events, you’ll have plenty of time to complete Starlight Celebration’s optional quests before the New Year. Chances are the game’s online storefront will have some new items ahead of the big day, too.
Dating Pigeons – Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star
There’s nothing more festive than spending Christmas with a bunch of handsome birds you’re trying to flirt with. Yep, you read that right. Hatoful Boyfriend is a dating sim where your faceless heroine attends a school populated entirely by different species of birds, all of which are eager to befriend our nervous freshman. Holiday Star is a Christmas-themed sequel to the cult classic visual novel, carrying all the quirks of the original with it into the festive season.
The plot of Holiday Star revolves around you and your feathery friends finding out who is stealing everybirdie’s Christmas trees ahead of the big day. As without them, there’s absolutely nowhere to put your presents. Holiday Star is filled with charming dialogue, playful jokes and such an absurd premise, that it won’t take much before you fall in love with it.
Totally Scrooged – Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko
Remember Gex? If you don’t, we can’t really blame you. The wise-cracking reptile had a trio of titles on the original PlayStation and a variety of other platforms, culminating with the surprisingly fun Deep Cover Gecko in 1999. It wasn’t the perfect platformer, but had enough distinct ideas and great level design to stand out.
Totally Scrooged is an early level, and one of the finest odes to Christmas the gaming medium has ever seen. Dressed in snowboarder gear, Gex must navigate a festive town drenched in decorations, hidden secrets and evil elves intent on ruining your day. This all ends with a boss battle facing off against Father Christmas himself. Now, when are we getting a Gex reboot?