The holiday season is here, bringing with it wintry weather and a jolly sense of Christmas cheer. While many use the holiday months to indulge in their favorite Christmas movies, I prefer to spend my time hunkering down with some classic video games that infuse their gameplay with holiday fun. Truth be told, there aren’t many fantastic Christmas-themed games. That said, there are quite a few titles that use the holiday season as a brilliant way to brighten up the mood or add some festive spice to the mix.
Much like with our list of spooky retro games to play on Halloween, we’ve compiled a brief list of 5 retro games that will inject a bit of holiday cheer into your season. While not every game is a verified classic, each title included on this list has a distinct feeling of festive holiday spirit, making them a win in my book. If you’re looking to celebrate the Christmas season by mashing buttons rather than hanging ornaments, check out this list of 5 retro games you should play this holiday!
5 Retro Games That Bring Christmas Cheer
5. Elf: The Movie (Game Boy Advance)
Elf: The Movie, like most games based on movies, isn’t exactly what I’d call a great game. Developed by Human Soft and based on the 2003 film starring Will Ferrell, there are lots of problems with this tie-in platformer/adventure game. However, with its abundance of Christmas theming and simplistic concept, it’s hard not to find a tiny bit of holiday joy with this brief adventure on the Game Boy Advance. In the game, you guide Buddy the Elf through a series of snow-covered levels, dodging polar bears and collecting Christmas candies every step of the way. While it might not be a masterpiece in terms of game design or execution, if you’re simply looking to turn off your brain and hit a few buttons, Elf: The Movie provides a festive way to do so.
4. Jazz Jackrabbit 2: Holiday Hare '98
Growing up as a PC gamer in the early 1990s, there was one game I always found myself coming back to – Jazz Jackrabbit. Developed by Epic MegaGames (now known as simply Epic Games), this action-platformer franchise follows a brightly colored, maniacal jackrabbit named Jazz who hunts the villainous Devan Shell from level to level. The sequel, Jazz Jackrabbit 2, was packed with even more bombastic action, making it a marked improvement over the first. There was even a special Christmas version of the game, dubbed Jazz Jackrabbit 2: Holiday Hare, which offers a handful of new holiday-themed levels, a brand new boss, and a few multiplayer levels to boot. It’s not exactly a fully-fledged experience, but for retro gamers who want to blow some stuff up but stay festive, Jazz Jackrabbit 2: Holiday Hare is one of the all-time greats.
3. Batman Returns (SNES)
Based on the 1992 movie of the same name, Batman Returns marks the rare instance of a movie tie-in game that doesn’t drop the ball. While there are multiple versions of the game, including a platformer for Sega Genesis, my favorite iteration of Batman Returns has to be on the SNES. Developed and published by Konami, this action-filled beat ’em up puts players in the shoes of the caped crusader as he fights his way through Gotham City during the Christmas holiday. Punching clowns in the face and hunting down The Penguin has never felt better, which makes sense, considering Konami also developed some of the best beat ’em up games of all time. While it might not be 100% Christmas-themed, Batman Returns holds up to this day and remains a favorite to play during the winter months.
Bully is the newest game on this list, developed by RockStar Games and originally released in 2006 for PlayStation 2, but it had to make the cut. That’s mostly due to the fantastic use of the Christmas season within the game’s narrative, which sees a young boy named Jimmy Hopkins attending the bully-filled Bullworth Academy for an entire school year. In the game’s third chapter, Christmas comes to Bullworth, leading to some hilarious holiday-themed missions. You’ll throw snowballs at other students, help out a drunken Santa Claus, and generally cause mayhem around campus. All things considered, Bully possibly totes the best integration of the Christmas holiday in any game, but you’ll have to play it for yourself to determine if that’s fact or fiction.
With its revolutionary introduction of 3D graphics and an excellent library of imaginative games, the Nintendo 64 is by far my favorite retro game console. Additionally, thanks to its perfect theming and endlessly replayable mix of platforming and collect-a-thon gameplay, Banjo-Kazooie is arguably my favorite 3D platformer on the console. Every level in Banjo-Kazooie feels incredibly immersive and a joy to play, which is perfectly represented in its Christmas-themed level, Freezeezy Peak. Hopping around as the heroic bear and bird duo, Freezeezy Peak has you collecting presents for a family of polar bears, putting the star on top of a Christmas tree, competing in sled races, and even scaling a massive snowman. From start to finish, Freezeezy Peak is pure retro gaming bliss, drenched in Christmas spirit with a lighthearted attitude. Simply put, Freezeezy Peak represents the peak of retro Christmas gameplay, perfectly combining original concepts with holiday iconography.