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The 12 Days of Last Christmas

Looking back at festive games.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

To conclude our 12 Games of Christmas feature run, we look back in time at the games that have embraced Christmas as a gameplay or graphical theme. Let's, in Christmas Carol fashion, take you back to Christmas Past.

Christmas Nights - SEGA Saturn

In some ways, it seems unfair or illogical to include Christmas NiGHTS in our nostalgic wintry gaming rundown, since this was a noticeably short two-level demo of a game that was already released.

On the other hand, the extravagant, busy and brightly textured sheen of the parent game means it slots right into the seasonal celebrations quite seamlessly - even when the characters aren't wearing Santa hats and jingle bells chime placidly on the snow hastened breeze. NiGHTS Into Dreams was also perfectly timed to entice UK gamers into shelling out for the superb, yet sadly struggling, fifth gen console for Chrimbo '97, so the few Saturn gamers out there will undoubtedly associate Claris and Elliot with yuletide amusement.

But whether or not you owned the original game, this intricately clockworked spin-off is a vital addition to any Saturn selection box. The Japanese first saw Christmas NiGHTS as a free chuck in to their console bundle a year earlier than us, and it wasn't until winter 1997 until this well-wrapped beauty tumbled down our gaming chimneys as a giveaway on the official SEGA magazine.

Featuring the standard level one for Claris, and a revised level one for Elliot, this was a frugal taster for people who'd not already taken the plunge and picked up one of the most celebrated games of all time. But quite remarkably, once the internal clock ticked over into December, the landscape of the two sample levels changed. Elf costumes filled the sky, presents with big freakin' bows on top hid collectable surprises and Christmas trees hung in the air in exactly the same way the bricks don't (to quote the great Douglas Adams). The music suddenly rang with a melodious choir of sleigh bells, and a bitter, snow filled wind nipped at NiGHT's noble nose as snow balls burst into crisp white powder all about him.

As the year went on, and different holidays ticked by on the Saturn's calendar (Valentine's Day, Easter, New Years), Christmas NiGHTS changed accordingly. Repeatedly completing the demo awarded presents, and a host of unlockable content (even playing as Sonic, or NiGHTS evil twin, Reala) became available. What at first seemed to be rudimentary, wafer thin slice from a much bigger picture revealed itself to be a digital Russian doll.

Understandably, this has becoming something of a (increasingly less available) necessity for SEGA Saturn owners, and a vital addition to the retro Christmas staple. A remarkable achievement for what's essentially a cover disk giveaway, but in fact is a tremendous present from Sonic Team that keeps on giving each and every year.

Eddie Edwards Super Ski - ZX Spectrum

Becoming a British folk hero is no small task. We're tremendously picky about whom we pour our meagre adoration upon; our fickle natures constantly moving the goal posts in an effort to make lime light seekers jump through as many hoops as possible to win our capricious affections. In the case of Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, this was literally the case, and although he might have weighed in as technically the worst ski jumper ever, the British public made sure he knew he was also the best loved.

No other ski jumpers got their name on an 8-bit game, that's for sure. Does anyone even remember the name of any skiers The Eagle went up against (please don't answer that question if you do know - I'm just being condescending)? To top off his un-illustrious piste career, the small skiing game Eddie lent his name to turned out to be pretty damn good - proving once and for all that in Britain, a loser can be the biggest winner.

Consisting of but four quick games (three of which are almost identical) - the slalom, the giant slalom, the downhill race and, of course, the ski jump - Eddie's Super Ski was a surprising winter treasure trove of powder blasting delights. Essentially a racing game, rather than a sports sim, players had remarkable control over their on-screen, on-skies hero as be throttled down the high speed trail.

Slick, manoeuvrable gameplay and decent - if sparse - graphics made Eddie's game one of the hot, 8-bit sleeper titles of Q3 1989, and still plays well today (reminiscent, I find, of those old handheld LCD single title games). Whether by design or bad management, a wonderfully poignant touch is added at the end of every race - it seems the only way The Eagle can actually stop is by crashing through a barrier and becoming a one man avalanche.

Marvelously British in its celebration of mediocrity and veneration of the eternal loser, Eddie Edwards' name live on in glorious 8-bit commemoration.

Christmas Lemmings - Commodore Amiga / Atari ST

Like so many Christmas themed games, it seems, Holiday Lemmings (such a delightfully nondenominational title, what?) was more of a seasonal demo or snow covered gift from the developer than a full game. Still, seeing those rascally little perpetual motion machines trundling along in their Santa outfits was enough to warm the cold winter hearth of even the most tight fisted hand at the grindstone.

Nailing down exactly when those green-haired suicidal mammals first donned their Chrimbo best is as tricky as figuring out why there's no mention of Christmas crackers or cranberry sauce in the Bible. It would seem (and don't quote me if I'm wrong - that's what happened to Jesus, you know, and look how things turned out) that the massive success of Lemmings encouraged Psygnosis to do everything it could to keep puzzle gamers red hot until the sequel came along.

To promote the forthcoming add-on levels in 1991, a demo was released featuring a couple of terrains from Oh No, More Lemmings! along with a pair of bonus, Christmas themed levels since it just so happened to be that time of year. Stonking good wintery japes were had by all, so when it came time to promote the Lemmings brand once again at the end of 1992, four Christmas themed brain twisting jaunts were again put out as a demo. A demo to what, it wasn't known, but you can never have too many Lemmings, right?

Apparently, we the game playing public wanted more, and by 1993 DMA Design made the reckless rodents seasonal shenanigans official. A 32-level stand alone game was released for the commercial season. Despite its rather weighty price tag for such a short game (many of the early levels being a walk in the wintery park for seasoned Lemmings fans), the irresistibility of the wonderland wanderers in their fur lined costumes was too much. We had to have them.

1994 saw an additional 32 levels of snow covered relentless sauntering fun, and the previous year's game go out for free. Just like the year before, the box (in the UK at least) proclaimed this to be "Christmas Lemmings" while the menu screen called it "Holiday Lemmings". Mainly, this was for the sake of the Americans though it also served to make gamers question whether Psygnosis knew what they were actually doing, too.

The final Christmas present from the Lemmings inventors was yet another add-on for 1995's Lemmings 3D; a few average, ordinary puzzles already seen in the 3D original, with a sprinkling of crisp white for wintry good measure.

All in all, a critic might suggest the Christmas Lemmings outings have been disappointing ways to shore up a bit of shopping money for the developers with minimal input, and they'd be right. But now they're all buzzing around the internet for free emulation pleasures, it's hard not to fall right back in love with the idea of 99 lemmings all dressed as Santa and falling to their deaths to the tune of Jingle Bells.