Holiday-themed video games are not nearly as common as holiday-themed TV shows or movies, but if you want to get into the Christmas spirit with a game or two before Santa Claus visits, there are options out there. Here is a selection of some recent releases and old favorites.
Super Mario Odyssey's Snow Kingdom
The latest (and greatest) Super Mario game is packed with diverse locales to explore, including sunny beaches and hot deserts. But one of its worlds, the Snow Kingdom, is decked with Christmas flair.
Well, OK, mostly you can just hear sleigh bells in the distance and some enemies wear Santa hats, but it's the little things that make the holidays cheerful.
Dead Rising 4
While running over zombies with an electrified go-kart is fun all year round, Dead Rising 4 shines with its Christmas setting, which adds candy cane crossbows, explosive Santa traps and plenty more holiday weaponry to keep your slay bells ringing (see what I did there? Like, slaying zombies. Because of the classic so--you know what, nevermind). The game's zombie outbreak begins on Black Friday, but thankfully, most of the action takes place in a mall and its surrounding stores, which means you have a wide variety (and high supply) of items with which to creatively kill the undead.
Originally an Xbox One exclusive, PS4 owners can experience the Christmas-themed mayhem for the first time this year, alongside a bunch of additional downloadable content that has been released for the game.
Following up last year's festive event, Overwatch's now-traditional "Winter Wonderland" kicked off Dec. 12 and will run through Jan. 1.
Blizzard's multiplayer hit has decked the halls with festive character skins, snowy landscapes and a new brawl: Yeti Hunter. They've also brought back last year's brawl, Mei's Snowball Offensive.
The latest game in the Hitman series offers up several worldwide locales that work like elaborate sandboxes ... for assassination. OK, so it's not exactly the most warm and fuzzy material for the holidays, but in this free Christmas-themed add-on, "Holiday Hoarders," you work your way through a decorative Paris on a mission to stop two thieves who plan on stealing Christmas presents. You can almost think of it like Home Alone, only more deadly.
The game's developers are also asking players to donate to the World Cancer Research Fund, so see! It's not all about killing!
All those mobile game updates
Yes, I know I'm cheating a bit on this one, but the fact of the matter is that there are way too many holiday updates to mobile games (especially free-to-play games) to cover them all in-depth -- especially when most of the updates do little other than put a Santa hat on their icon. Still, if you have a favorite mobile game, check to see if it has an update!
The Escapists: Santa's Sweatshop and Santa's Shakedown
Despite its retro, almost "cute" aesthetic, The Escapists is a pretty brutal game about surviving and escaping prison. Santa's Sweatshop is a free add-on to that game in which you play as an elf. Much of the moment-to-moment action is the same, but with a lot of festive flair.
An old favorite of mine, Christmas NiGHTS was a special version of the Sega Saturn classic NiGHTS: Into Dreams that people could get free through various means (with gaming magazines, mostly). If played during December, the game's environments would be decorated with snow, lights and presents, and an instrumental version of Jingle Bells replaced the original music. Don't have a Sega Saturn handy? The recently released NiGHTS HD (available on 360, PS3 and PC) features Christmas NiGHTS as an unlockable.
Costume Quest: Grubbins on Ice
Costume Quest is by far one of my favorite games to play during Halloween, and its Grubbins on Ice downloadable content extends to festivities into Winter. Like the main game, it's extremely charming and fun for the whole family. On PC, the complete Costume Quest package is currently on sale for a mere $2.50, so c'mon. Easy recommendation.
Batman: Arkham Origins
Like Die Hard, a movie that takes place during Christmas and is thus listed as a great "Christmas movie," this Batman game doesn't deal with the birth of Jesus or the importance of giving gifts to others ... But it does take place on Christmas Eve. The snow-covered Gotham setting is actually one of the first things that struck me about the game, and I like it a lot -- even though it has a relatively minor impact on the overall experience. The game itself is the weakest entry in the "Arkham" series, but it still has a lot going for it and is one of the better comic book video games out there.
Merry Gear Solid: Secret Santa
Part Metal Gear Solid parody, part stealthy Christmas adventure, Merry Gear Solid is a fun, free way to spend a little time laughing at dumb video game jokes and sneaking past kids on the naughty list. It and its sequel can be downloaded directly from the creator's website.
Saints Row IV: How The Saints Saved Christmas
Saints Row's Christmas-themed DLC is brilliant through and through -- brilliant idea, brilliant execution. It takes the ridiculous, over-the-top world of Saints Row IV and tells a cheesy Christmas special within it. It parodies a lot of your old favorites -- A Christmas Story being a particularly popular target of references -- and had me laughing out loud more than once. Yes, it's extremely vulgar, which is why it's only for the adult players out there, but those adults will have a lot to love. Just don't shoot your eye out.
Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa's Rampage
Let's just say, hypothetically speaking, that Santa was under a lot of stress. And let's just say that one day he finally cracked, got very drunk and slaughtered all the elves and reindeer, leaving a very bloody mess behind. Someone would probably have to clean all that up, and that someone is you. Merry Christmas! There's not a lot to it, but for its asking price of $2.50 there's some gruesome holiday "cheer" to enjoy here.
Duke: Nuclear Winter
This official winter-themed expansion pack to Duke Nukem 3D was largely blasted by fans of the original, but it's worth a mention here because of Duke's connection to the D-FW area (the series was made here). Snow-covered levels and pigs with Santa hats weren't enough to make this one stick in the public consciousness for long, but hey -- it's worth remembering that they tried.
Some other festive games:
-- Call of Duty: WWII has a festive "Winter Siege" event going on through Jan. 2.
-- Destiny 2 has brought back their Christmas event, "The Dawning," though its use of loot boxes is sparking some controversy.
-- Google has a cool page called Santa's Village, connected to their Santa Tracker, full of simple online games to keep you busy.
-- The retro-inspired 2D action game Azure Striker Gunvolt, on the Nintendo Switch and 3DS, has a Christmas mode that can only be played on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.