Games are very good at evoking certain emotions. The fear of being hunted by a horrible monster. The dark thrill of creeping up on someone and breaking their neck. The adrenalin rush of speeding past the opposition in a top class sports car. Games are less used to summoning feelings from the gentler end of the emotional spectrum. This is a particular problem when it comes to Christmas games, where cosiness - that least game-friendly of emotions - is in highest demand.
The Snowman and the Snowdog is a very cosy game. Based on the sequel to the beloved Raymond Briggs animation due to be broadcast on Channel 4 on Christmas Eve, it's a curious mixture of festive chill-out, on-rails shooter and hidden object game. Not a combination that should work, yet it proves surprisingly charming in the execution.
“We're walking in the air” trilled Aled Jones back in the 1982 original animation, and that's also what you're doing here, 30 years later. You take flight with The Snowman, and his new canine companion, and glide gracefully, following pre-rendered routes through a 3D snowscape.
How long your flight lasts depends on how many snowflakes you can tap as you swoop and swirl. Each one adds a second to the clock, so each flurry that blows across the screen is the cue for frantic tapping. You're also looking out for other things. More snowmen, for example, or cakes, presents and Christmas tree angels. Periodically, the Snowdog offers the chance to diverge from the path and explore an alternate route. It's up to you to follow him or not, and the game is suitably relaxed about forcing its collection-based gameplay on the player.
The journey takes you across the gorgeously crisp English countryside and over a snowbound London, up to the North Pole and back again. It takes about 20 minutes to complete the trip, at which point you start over and can seek out anything you missed.
It's hardly taxing, but nor is it particularly easy. There's a strong rhythm to the game's flow, building up to faster paced sections with plentiful targets to more sedate passages where you can simply enjoy the ride. You have some control over your flight - a swipe up speeds things up, a swipe down applies the snowbrakes - and the need to keep collecting snowflakes adds a small measure of urgency without encroaching on the beguiling atmosphere.
Some objects are tricky to spot, and the alternate routes complicate things just enough, but the presence of an exhaustive stats page and Achievements helps to keep track how much you've still got to find and where. While it may be surprising to find such a kernel of genuine gameplay in a free app designed to promote a TV show, it's less surprising when you see former Free Radical and Rare names in the credits. This is a handsomely produced and confidently crafted little experience.
Kids will be drawn to the simple and shameless Yuletide tropes it so gleefully offers, brought to life with a truly lovely representation of the cartoon's pencil-and-pastel aesthetic and delightful folksy music from film composer Ilan Eshkeri. Yet parents might also find themselves compelled to sneak a late night flight or two, if only to briefly recapture that elusive and magical childhood feeling of festive wonder. Grab a mulled wine and sink in.
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