Format reviewed: ZX Spectrum
Publisher: Artic Computing Ltd
Developer: Jon A. Smith, Don Day
Submitted by: Steve Halfpenny
“Ho, ho, ho!” 'Tis almost the most wonderful time of the year, etc and a grand chance to reminisce of Xmases gone by, specifically ones in the 1980s. Back when it was called “Christmas”. Remember those? Great weren't they? Not without their disappointments though of course. My lowlights include putting together my Hornby train set before dad sat down on a model tunnel. But I never did forgive my best mate for introducing me to the first (and only?) Xmas themed game I ever came across, namely Santa. We're talking bottom of the chimney here and then some.
Santa, the fictional festive father figure (sorry, five year olds) is a bit scary if you stop and think about it. A large bearded fellow who sneaks into your house in the dead of the night and enjoys nothing better than sitting kids on his knee whilst asking them what they would really, really want as… (snip! Better stop there to be on the safe side…) Still, he's not as scary as this ancient computer game. It has a lot in common with those rubbish programs that had to be typed in manually. You know the ones. Back before the days when software in the shops was commonplace (hard to believe now, I know), when you had to make your own games or copy listings from magazines that had the word “micro” in the title or wafer thin books found in the library, boasting about how they could help you get the best out of your home computer. You could never get these things to work properly and even if you did, you still found yourself wondering why you had just spent the last four hours bothering when you could have been playing… oh, I don't know… anything! For you see, Santa is written in BASIC (Beginner's All purpose Symbolic Instruction Code or so I'm told). You can spot a BASIC game from a country mile. They tend to be very… BASIC. Graphics and sound? You could achieve the same effect yourself by just head butting your rubber keyboard a few times. Gameplay? Not really. Needless to say, Santa would be considered poor on a ZX81. But the real problem is, Santa wasn't a type in game. Oh no, boss. It cost real money (over a fiver!) and no doubt ruined Christmas for the three children that were unfortunate enough to find it in their stocking in the mid 80s. But chin up, pal! This did come out in 1983 after all, BASIC titles were everywhere and hey, you get a whopping seven “games” on one cassette here! Six on one side and another on side two! Yay! Well… when I say seven games, this is akin to bragging that you have eight LCD games not by Nintendo.
First off we have Peek in the pudding! Ah yes, that old traditional Yule time game. Here you have to navigate Santa through a giant Christmas pudding, eating it all up as you do so and hoping to find nine hidden coins. Be beware of the worms! Whether you get the coins or the worms though, it's just guess work really.
Next up we have Stop the snowflakes where you have to carefully manoeuvre Santa's big pole (oo-er!) back and forth catching snowflakes from the sky. Miss a few and you'll be buried alive! This kinda reminds me of Missle Command for some reason, except it's far worse and I'm sure I once typed in a version of this game, possibly from the book I got with my machine. Anyway, I can't play this nonsense for more than ten seconds so we'll quickly move on…
Press '3' for Stack the stocking!. Here, once again as Coca Cola's mascot, you watch on as presents fall from the sky, one at a time and then quickly have to run and push them into your big stocking! Be careful though not to let them fall on top of our hero's head or you'll get 'bumped'! Well, it was better than the last game.
A change of pace in the forth game as Rudolf goes racing. Probably the most advanced game on offer as it features continuous SCROLLING. Controls are simplified as Rudolf automatically runs from left to right and all you have to do is move up and down, avoiding trees and er, other nasties (not sure what they're supposed to be quite frankly). It's not particularly responsive though and you'll end up plowing into trees and stuff not matter how quick you are with the keys.
Party time next in Burst the balloons! An odd game where Santa is based at the top of the screen and balloons float towards him, which he has to quickly run into before they get to the top of the screen. If they do manage to pass by the beardy one, he'll move down a level, giving him less time to get to a balloon. Far too simple, even for this comp.
Lastly, at least on side A, is the Twelve days of Christmas where one must run around collecting the various different items from the song. You can only get them in order however, beginning with the partridge in a pear tree and ending of course with the twelve… er… spider thingys. A timer is involved here (going up, not down) so you can see how quickly you can collect everything and then try to break that record! Or switch it off as you'll inevitably do.
You can play any of these in any particular order from the main menu, which is nice or flip the cassette over to play a more epic Santa experience! This additional game involves a tad bit more brain power and is like some kind of primitive RPG where you guide our red coated geezer around a labyrinth, unlocking doors and collecting presents whilst avoiding nasties. Sadly, it runs far too slowly rendering it pretty much unplayable and the game just seems intent on telling you that you've dropped your keys. I never really understood it properly and certainly can't be bothered now. Might I suggest that if the programmer wished to attempt something like this he really should have learnt machine code.
So that was Santa. 16K “joy” on the Spectrum. It's pathetic now and it was pathetic in '83 and I never did come across another game featuring good ol' St. Nick. See, if I'd have had made a game like this, I'd have stuck him in some kind of crazy shoot em up with Santy blowing up prezzies and whatnot. What's that? Somebody did make a game like that?! Of course they did! Merry Christmas!