I love Christmas time. Where I live it brings unbearably hot weather and the sound of leather on willow. For those of you not on this end of the world it brings snowmen and open fires. Opposite seasons aside, one thing we share in common though, assuming you’ve found your way to this blog intentionally, is that the holidays are a time to enjoy playing video games, and lots of them. But while there are plenty of amazing games that will have you playing day until night, sometimes its good to just power through a whole stack of ’em, and marvel at just how great your hand-eye coordination is. Or how few friends you have.
Whichever one of those is true, let me help you sit in a dark room either in as little or as much clothing as possible depending on your hemisphere, square eyed and away from your family. Over two installments, i’ll bring you twelve games that are short enough to play through all of them in their entirety over your christmas break, or even Christmas day if you’re ultra keen. These first six games will at least get you to your annual luncheon feast, but whether you play games or not, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!
And on the family thing – you’re absolutely welcome.
(Playstation 3 / Xbox 360 / PC)
Short but sweet, Syndicate follows the rather welcome trend of shooters becoming condensed but absolutely spectacular bullet fests, and doing it with such style that the hours will fly by. Syndicate is easily the longest game on this list, but still short by any measure, taking me just under five hours to plough through from beginning to end. And if you can get past the fact that it’s not an isometric squad-based strategy game, you’ll probably be so caught up in the corporatised world Starbreeze created, and the brilliant firefights that you’ll have in it, that five hours will feel like five minutes, and before you know it you’ve missed Christmas lunch, and your share of fresh prawns and oysters has been devoured by your uncle John.
(Xbox 360 / Playstation 3 / Playstation Vita / Xbox One / PC)
Limbo isn’t very Christmassy, in fact is pretty much the antithesis of joy and festivity the holidays bring, so if you’ve got a sensitive disposition maybe save this one until the end of the day. But bleak content aside, it is still one of the best puzzle platformers experiences around, and one that can be had on pretty much every modern console known to man. I don’t want to spoil anything – experiencing the journey for yourself really is a big part of the game – so just know that you’ll leave Limbo with a new appreciation for, well, everything.
3. Under Defeat HD
(Xbox 360 / Playstation 3)
It’s kind of endearing that despite waning significantly in popularity since the 32-bit era, shoot ’em ups are still hanging around on the periphery. Even more adorable, and equal parts awesome, is that publishers are willing to put their collective dicks on the line to put them out on discs for store shelves. Under Defeat HD is one such game, with someone at original developer G.Rev deciding that the very late 2006 Dreamcast game needed some modern day loving, sprucing it up with fancy new graphics and plonking it on a disc. I didn’t play the original, but the HD re-release was a reminder that the genre was still every bit as relevant as it was ten years ago, and that G.Rev were as good of a company to keep the genre alive as anyone. The fact that the team was also responsible for Raystorm in the Taito days was just further proof in the pudding.
4. Sonic Advance
(Game Boy Advance)
The great thing about the early day of handhelds is how brief the games were. Whether it was a function of the limitations of the hardware, or a conscious decision to make games that were perfect for playing on-the-go, it means that finding a game to play start to finish in a couple of hours on a rainy afternoon was usually as easy as closing your eyes and pulling a random game from the shelf. If you were lucky, that game was Sonic Advance, marking the first time Sega’s blue blur appeared on a Nintendo console. And it was a mighty fine debut and one that saw Dimps, who co-developed the game, take the reigns of the portable entries in the series which, for those who aren’t still paying attention to Sonic, are by far the best post-16-bit Sonic games around.
5. Super Mario Land
(Game Boy / 3DS Virtual Console)
Super Mario Land will always be a Christmas game for me. On Christmas day 1990 I was well and truly surprised when the big bearded fella in red left a Gameboy, Radar Mission and Super Mario Land in my sack (hehe). In a cruel twist it was actually my sister that had asked for it, but once I’d had a taste of Nintendo’s monochromatic masterpiece, I was hooked. The Game Boy quickly became the cornerstone of my gaming repertoire, and for the first few months, it was Super Mario Land that was cemented in the handheld. Unlike those of you from the US, though, Super Mario Land was my first foray into the world of Nintendo’s mascot, and for that reason its the Land series that holds a special place in my as Mario’s – and then Wario’s – finest moments.
6. Gitaroo Man
(Playstation 2 / Playstation Portable)
I never got into Rock Band or Guitar Hero, aside from finding my inner beatlemaniac in Beatles Rock Band (I could play And Your bird Can Sing all day long), but despite that admission I’m still quite the fan of the rhythm game genre. While Space Channel 5 is a classic, at the very least for its amazing soundtrack, Gitaroo Man is the better of the two classic japanese story-driven rhythm games, and the game I cut my music game teeth on. It has a great and incredibly diverse soundtrack, taking you from J-pop and power ballads, to acid jazz and samba, all playing over some of the most bananas action sequences you’re ever likely to see in any video game. The heavy duel with the deathly pale Gregorio III in a church is a particular highlight. And the best thing, no plastic instruments required. Whether you can stomach japanese craziness or not – personally I have a stomach of steel for the stuff – Gitaroo Man‘s simple but compelling gameplay makes it worth tracking down if you have any semblance of an interest in music-based video games.
This is the part one of a two part blog post. Tune back tomorrow, Christmas day, to read the second and final installment! And be sure to leave your short game suggestions below.