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Santa’s best appearances in video games

Santa Claus, if you’re lucky, may leave a video game or two under your tree – but that’s hardly the end of his association with the games industry. He is one of the most famous cultural figures in the world, so it’s no surprise that he has featured in a few video games in his time. With Christmas just around the corner, what better time to reflect on the merry, the not so merry and the downright weird times Santa Claus has appeared in video games?

Most people think of Santa Claus as a fairly good guy, so it’s no surprise that he’s the hero of his own game, Santa Claus Saves the Earth. Unfortunately, it’s not one worth seeking out – this 2002 PlayStation and GBA title is generally recognised as a poor effort. It’s a platform game in which Santa tries to save Christmas (not even the Earth, like the lying box promises), but the controls are poor, the levels are poorly designed and the power-ups (including snowballs and a green sack attack) aren’t worth bothering with.

For some reason, a lot of games want to make Santa a boss encounter

If you have a copy of Daze Before Christmas, a 1994 SNES and Genesis game, hold onto it – it’s a rare example of Santa as a playable character, and thanks to its limited release, a rare item in its own right. In the game, Santa tries to save Christmas from an evil mouse that has stolen the kids’ presents and cursed them. He has the power of magic, and an evil playable twin called Anti-Clause. If he drinks tea, Santa transforms into the blue-suited Anti-Claus – he can’t use magic, but he decks enemies with his sack of toys.

For some reason, a lot of games want to make Santa a boss encounter – if you want to slaughter the jolly red elf, you could do worse than the optional boss in Dead Rising 4. The so-called Sadistic Claus is a mall Santa who went insane when the zombie outbreak hit – aided by a group of murderous survivors dressed like elves, he kills people and stuffs their bodies with presents. He’s a tough guy to beat, but you can earn an Electric Axe for your trouble if you do.

One of the best Christmas-themed levels ever came during the 1999 PlayStation game Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko (it’s generally okay, even if it lacks the Leslie Phillips-voiced Gex of the first instalment). In one of the game’s first stages, Gex has to navigate the North Pole – he takes out snowboarding elves, and eventually comes face to face with the Evil Santa himself. As a stage one boss, of course, he’s quite easy to defeat – Gex flicks dangerous presents back at the Evil Santa with his tail, swiftly seeing off the villain.

This Christmas season, whatever games you get, keep your eyes peeled while you’re playing – you never know, there may be a little festive magic in the most surprising of places.

In the RPG Secret of Mana, Santa again turned up as a boss. When you arrive in the Ice Country, you’re approached by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, who tells the player that his boss has been kidnapped by the fearsome boss Frost Gigas. After you beat Frost Gigas, you learn that he was Santa Claus all along, and that it was all part of a scheme to reignite children’s belief in the season and him. Fortunately, the player saves the day and helps bring back Christmas.

Some of the appearances I like best are the random cameos. If you play Shenmue on Christmas Day, you’ll find Santa roaming the streets, wishing everyone a merry Christmas and telling them to buy hamburgers. In ToeJam & Earl, you can sometimes encounter Santa Claus and some of the presents he leaves behind – but, if he spots you, he’ll fly away on his jetpack. Sam & Max’s Santa is a paranoid, gun-toting isolationist who’s possessed by a demon, while Bully sees the main character set up a back-alley Santa’s grotto for an alcoholic homeless person who sees himself as Santa. That’s nice and festive – the bit where you destroy a more traditional Santa’s Castle, less so.

This Christmas season, whatever games you get, keep your eyes peeled while you’re playing – you never know, there may be a little festive magic in the most surprising of places.

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