Videogames and Christmas are indelibly linked, and we rather hope they will be forever. Much of that is due to this industry’s historic obsession with the final three months of the year; while release schedules are doubtless better spread out these days, big-budget development is still all about Q4. For most of us, of course, business considerations don’t come into it, and never did; there’s just nothing quite like a great game on a cold winter’s day, and if you’ve spent days or weeks looking forward to it, poring over magazine previews while eagerly eyeing the suspiciously sized present under the tree then so much the better. As such, if you love games, chances are there’s one in particular that you will forever associate with Christmas Day. If you’re anything like us, you’ve probably got many more than that. Here, staff and contributors share their own favourite memories of videogames at Christmas. We encourage you to do the same in the comments.
Animal Crossing (GameCube)
Ben Maxwell, writer
A picturesque white Christmas may be an increasingly mythical ideal, but while drawing back the curtains on December 25 usually results in mild disappointment, booting up Animal Crossing on my Lik-Sang-imported Gamecube never did. Crisp white powder covered the ground, without fail, beneath the orchard my girlfriend and I had planted, many of the trees covered in flashing fairy lights – the perfect setting to open the gift I’d pestered Jingle for the preceding evening. But perhaps the stand-out Animal Crossing memory for me is that, from Christmas ’02 to ’04, it was my girlfriend, not me, that most wanted to get the presents out of the way and get the console powered up.
Fable II (Xbox 360)
Chris Schilling, contributor
One Christmas morning, my real-life wife and I decided to return to my virtual spouse in Oakfield. The villagers’ greetings echoed the sensation of being welcomed home into the bosom of a family, as we followed the golden trail back to our homely cottage. It had been a month since we last played, and through our property empire we’d amassed a tidy sum, so we spent the morning playing Santa, exploring Albion to find the rarest gifts we could find, before doling them out to delighted villagers. A snow-covered Knothole Island may be where Fable II looks at its most Christmassy, but it’s the game’s warmth and generosity that most evokes the spirit of the festive season.
The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)
Matthew Clapham, production editor
The year was 2006, it was 7am, and the wrapping paper on one of my presents looked like it had been ravaged by a chest burster. From the gaping hole shone an image of a blue-eyed hero and a shaggy wolf in tasteful golden hues. The long wait was over, the incessant drip feed of data finally at its conclusion – or so I thought. Then came the traditional Sunday service; our only TV with relatives immediate and distant; the lengthy Christmas dinner. All good, all enjoyable, but all unbearably extending the time before I could dive back into Hyrule. I devoured the instruction manual three times that day (not literally, my Mum does a great Christmas lunch). But these delays to my gratification only heightened the moment when I cut down my first Moblin, and fired my first arrow from horseback. It was worth the wait.
David Valjalo, contributor
It was December 1999 and a local shopkeeper had taken my order for a Japanese import Dreamcast. He brought the machine, with its exotic orange swirl, back from a family holiday to the east in his suitcase. Only in Liverpool would that be a legitimate way to run an import/export business. I was giddy with excitement. The first game I fired up was Giant Gram: All Japan Pro Wrestling 2 In Nippon Budokan. The second was Shenmue. I couldn’t understand a word of it. And I played it for the next twelve months, captivated, until the PAL release.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 (PlayStation 2)
Nathan Brown, online editor
So often indistinguishable during our childhood, my brother’s tastes and mine naturally began to drift once we flew the coop, but videogames have long remained an anchor. We shared a love of the Tony Hawk’s series, and I’d played an awful lot of the third game already – or so I thought. When my brother set up his new PS2 and loaded the game up I realised just how cut-down the thing I’d been playing on PS1 really was. That was all we played that afternoon, passing the pad back and forth, taking turns to fetch another two cans of warm Fosters from the kitchen because Mum never, ever put enough in the fridge – though to be fair, she’d have needed quite a fridge. I would never look at that ageing console in quite the same way again, and a hardware upgrade followed soon after.
The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
Craig Owens, contributor
Zelda games aren’t obscure titles made special by festive association. They’re obvious classics: the games my childhood self would pine for as advent marketing campaigns sent me into an ever more anticipatory frenzy. Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask were both opened beneath the Christmas tree and played until Boxing Day, and last year I tried to reclaim that magic, lugging a Wii and a copy Skyward Sword home for Christmas. The Zelda series is already steeped in tradition, and returning as an adult to the bedroom where I played them as a child felt like establishing a Christmas ritual of my own. Magical, whimsical, and capturing a childlike thrill of discovery at their heart, there’s something Christmassy about all Zeldas, and bathing in the glow of an unlocked chest still feels like opening a present.
Fire Emblem (Game Boy Advance)
Alex Wiltshire, editor
Christmases were a lot more boring before we had children. Christmas 2004 was our last before the birth of our first son, again spent at my mum and dad’s with boring TV on and conversation dwindling. What better to avoid the season’s costume dramas, then, than by slumping in the corner of the room with Fire Emblem on my GBA SP? The horror of losing characters in botched tactical manoeuvres wasn’t exactly restful, mind, my strangled swearwords punctuating such televisual highlights as the Vicar Of Dibley Christmas special and PD James’ Murder Rooms, but it was far, far more gratifying.
Diddy Kong Racing & GoldenEye 007 (N64)
Christmas Eve, 1997. I’d been shunted off to bed after securing a shaky promise that Santa would be bringing me the two things I desired the most: Goldeneye 007 and Diddy Kong Racing. The second I closed my eyes, I opened them again. But this time I wasn’t in the dark of my bedroom; I was in front of a 14” CRT television, and Diddy Kong Racing was playing. Joy of joys! Santa and my brain had conspired to make a rip in time through which I could jettison the aching boredom of sleep! But wait. No. No no. something about this was wrong. There, on the Diddy Kong Racing character select screen, there between cartoon clock T.T and cartoon turtle Tiptup, was a resolutely un-cartoon James Bond. He had his PP7 drawn, and while the others swayed cheerfully, he stood still. No, James! I woke in a sweat. It took me hours to get back to sleep.