The time-sensitive strangeness of Xmas-themed indie games

The time-sensitive strangeness of Xmas-themed indie games
Orbit Studio | Deep Silver

Written by 

Joseph Kime

Last updated 

23rd Dec 2023 21:30

Time-locked games don't really benefit anyone. We've seen it with Nintendo in recent years, teasing fans with the triple-pack of Switch ports of Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Sunshine and the legendary Super Mario 64, giving them mere months to buy the ports before they vanish for good.

The same goes for the -99 series that the company has been developing, spitting out multiplayer battle royale versions of the likes of Super Mario Bros, Tetris, and even F-Zero - only to yank them away from players as soon as player numbers threaten to dwindle.

Video games are a fun hobby that many don't have the time for, so to leave us with little choice but to grind a game with our little free time if we want to play is pretty unfair. It's not just Nintendo doing this, even if it isn't on purpose.

You see, there are games that naturally have their own life cycles, but there are some that impose a holiday-led time limit on themselves that won't strip them away from players without their knowing. Instead, they drift away naturally, and if they're lucky, will find their way home the same time next year.

For many, Christmas games don't make an awful lot of sense - but to others, they couldn't be simpler.

Christmas DLC has the right idea

A player attempts to tidy up a dishevelled workshop in Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa's Rampage.
Click to enlarge

Christmas-themed games are incredibly oddities, what with their obvious draw being found only in one (albeit, to quote Sinatra, "wonderful") time of year. But for many, it seems to work in their favour.

Take the likes of Viscera Cleanup Detail - the game's concept made it a game of minor YouTube celebrity at the time, and for its Santa's Rampage spin-off to launch shortly after was a stroke of genius.

It kept eyes on the title, and with the absurdity that comes with having to dispose of elf corpses and tidy up their innards that have been strewn across their workshop, there was practically nowhere else to turn for festive fun, even if it was pretty gory.

It seems that the same is the case of Lake's Season's Greetings DLC, bringing the game back to a more snowed-in reflection of what we recognise - but games that stand alone are a curious case, especially as they take so long to create.

What's the point in developing a Christmas game?

The key art for Ebenezer and the Invisible World.
Click to enlarge
Orbit Studio

Take, for instance, Ebenezer and the Invisible World, a game that sees a yassified Ebenezer Scrooge use the powers of the ghosts he came to meet in the events of A Christmas Carol across a MetroidVania world. It's bonkers, perhaps so bonkers it works incredibly well - but it's still boxed in by its atmosphere, meaning that players likely won't return once the fateful day has passed.

The game looks like a real treat, and it's only amplified by its bizarre choice of IP to work with, but when Christmas comes and goes, what's its fate? Will we enjoy it in the same way if we can't beat it by the time Saint Nick clambers down our chimneys?

The thing with Christmas-themed games is they're presumed to be a similar beast to Christmas movies, but they're not. In many cases, they're isolated experiences that demand more time, focus, and often money to both bring to life and to play, which is exactly why they're not considered alongside Home Alone and the like.

It may seem that they're mere time-sensitive themed ways to fill the odd five minutes, and yet, it's this that makes them so special. Any game that gives itself a slim period of time to thrive is accepting a risk, but as a result, when fans are looking for festive fun specifically, they'll fall straight into the laps of indie devs.

In many ways, it's a great PR move to put teams on the map, and depending on how much work the games themselves demand, one that actually makes a good amount of sense.

AAA Xmas games are next

Agent 47 in Hitman: Blood Money's You Better Watch Out mission.
Click to enlarge
IO Interactive

Of course, all of these games come from smaller teams. When it comes to creating Christmassy content, there's a high risk-reward ratio. But, all we need to do is look as far as The Escapists' Santa's Sweatshop level and You Better Watch Out from Hitman: Blood Money to see that going all in on Christmas cheer isn't so bad for a game with an existing audience.

There's a pretty good reason that we haven't had a successful Home Alone game yet - but now that video game distribution is simpler than ever, maybe we'll finally be so lucky. In the meantime, we'll be clearing up viscera after one of Santa's signature rages.

Joseph Kime is the Senior Trending News Journalist for GGRecon from Devon, UK. Before graduating from MarJon University with a degree in Journalism, he started writing music reviews for his own website before writing for the likes of FANDOM, Zavvi and The Digital Fix. He is host of the Big Screen Book Club podcast, and author of Building A Universe, a book that chronicles the history of superhero movies. His favourite games include DOOM (2016), Celeste and Pokemon Emerald.

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