On Christmas Day one of my traditions that helps me to get in the spirit of the season is listening to Christmas songs, and last year I shared with you all a wonderful collection of Reggae Christmas songs. This year I decided to try my best and listen to all the Christmas-y songs in the world of Video Games.
After listening to more than a hundred songs from numerous games, I came up with a list that I consider are the 12 best Christmas Songs in Video games. It’s no secret that game developers love to create ice levels with broken physics to make our lives miserable, but every now and then these levels will come accompanied by arrangements of songs that get right up in the spirit of of the season. Tambourines, Bells, Accordions, you name it, from Animal Crossing to Shenmue, these are the best songs that will grace our ears with the joy of Christmas:
Ice Man Stage - Mega Man: Powered Up
Mega Man is not the kind of game you would associate with Christmas, sure a lot of the Robot Masters have ice themed levels, but none of their levels have any references to the holiday. But I couldn’t leave the adorable looking Ice Man from Mega Man Powered Up out of this list... just look at him he’s too freaking cute!
Lake Bresha - Final Fantasy XIII
It’s a Christmas miracle... first Serah rescues the crew from dying as they fall into the lake, then Snow finds his focus and as they fight a horde of enemies discover that they have been marked by the fal’Cie, and if there’s one thing I learned from the Final Fantasy XIII trailer is that L’Cie grants its user some kind of special magic.
“l’Cie. Those marked by the fal’Cie for a greater destiny.”
—Official Final Fantasy XIII game trailer
Unnecessary drama, hours and hours of cutscenes full of cheesy dialogue and characters that makes you feel uneasy (I’m looking at you Vanille), it’s everything I’ve always wanted in a Final Fantasy game.
Toy Day - Animal Crossing New Leaf
Rolling snowballs, making snowmen and catching snowflakes. Animal Crossing once again succeeds at making menial tasks fun and entertaining. In the month of December you’re tasked to collect all the wishes from your animal friends to help Jingle deliver gifts to the neighbors on Toy Day, in which the player has to dress up as Santa Claus and make every villager dream come true.
Snowball Waltz - Sonic Lost World
But if there’s a better activity than rolling snowballs and dressing up as Santa, is becoming a snowball yourself, and only Sonic can achieve that. In the second stage of the Frozen Factory Act from the forgettable Sonic Lost World, Sonic himself becomes a snowball as he treks trough the frozen floating platforms in a level that can only be described as whimsical.
Although the first stage of Frozen Factory Act is better and more memorable, Snowball Waltz, the song that plays in this stage, is unquestionably the better of the two, a soothing and charming arrangement of strings, piano, bells and synthesizers waltzing together as it portrays an extraordinary aura of festivity and happiness without being too garish.
Happy Holidays - Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX
Located behind a door in the Hinterland of Halloween Town, a magical place waits to be discovered. A secret area in the universe of Kingdom Hearts 2 in which the Lord of Christmas travels the world once a year to give the nice kids treats. Behind that aforementioned door lies Christmas Town.
In the original version of the game the music that played during the battles was the same that played in Halloween Town, but in the Final Mix and the HD ReMIX of the game, the battle song was replaced for “Happy Holidays” a catchy and upbeat Christmas arrangement that mixes the best of the two universes that are constantly clashing in the world of Kingdom Hearts.
Christmas on Dobuita Street - Shenmue
Animal Crossing is not the only title on this list that forces you to do menial task for what it seems to be a cast of incompetent villagers. The 1999 Dreamcast title, Shenmue also shares many elements with the Nintendo life simulator. Some elements of the game even take place on Christmas Day, but instead of helping an anthropomorphic Reindeer, in Shenmue you’re tasked to deal with the bread and butter of video games, you see this was the game that coined the term Quick Time Event, and the gameplay feature was included in almost every single aspect of the game, including conversations... well it wasn’t actually a QTE but you were given in-screen prompts to continue the conversation.
Think About it, without Shenmue we wouldn’t have memorable moments such as “Hold X to pay respects” or “Press X to Jason”. But joking aside, the game was unique back when it was released and even for today’s standards. Heck, even the excellent battle system could be used to create a spinoff series based on it, just that speaks on how innovative and remarkable Shenmue really is.
Wii U Christmas eShop Music - Wii U
Christmas is a time of sharing with the family and friends, and exchanging gifts. Forget about the religious origins of the festivity, the only ritual that should always be respected is the one of binge shopping and then lamenting when the bank statement comes out on January. Nintendo tries to lighten the blow by changing the theme song for the eShop for a merrier and cheesy song...
I admit I cheated a bit by including this song since it doesn’t belong to any game in particular but during the holiday season I deliberately spend hours in the eShop just to listen this song as I browse the library of games available for my 3DS and Wii U (still waiting on a better VC, though). I wonder what would happen if Microsoft and Sony start adding specific theme songs on their respective shops.
Snowball Park - Super Mario 3D Land/World
Ah Snowball Park from the Super Mario 3D Series, either version of the song is equally amazing. The original one is a bit more simple and heavier on the midi use, but it was still impressive, specially for a portable game. But on Super Mario 3D World a great song was made even better. The live version of the song contains more chimes and playful quips that you can handle. It’s a song that will simply put a huge smile on your face as you chase away goombas while riding a Kuribo Skate (which IMO is way more awesome than the overhyped Kuribo Shoe from SMB3).
Jangle Bell - Donkey Kong Country 3
Dust off your old SNES, Insert Donkey Kong Country 3 cartridge. Boot up the game. Press Start on the Title Screen. On the File Select Screen press L, R, R, L, R, R, L, R, L, R. After a quick prompt change the file name to “MERRY”. Access the file and head to any Bonus Stage.
Voila! Now all the stars and green bananas are replaced for Christmas Ornaments and Presents respectively. Even better, the Bonus Stage Song changes to a merrier tune. What makes this song so amazing is that most players may have finished the game without discovering this little secret, since it’s completely optional.
Freezeezy Peak - Banjo Kazooie
Adorned with a giant Snowman as the centerpiece of the level, the fifth world of Banjo-Kazooie confronts the player against a barrage of evil (albeit tinier) snowmen, a bunch of twinkle-light-munchers who the Bird & Bear duo have to defeat to light up the Christmas Tree. But most important... play the role of Santa Claus as you help a trio of polar bear cubs who are in the verge of orphanage because their clumsy father is too obsessed with burning off rubber in the racetracks.
A story of Sadness (The Bogey Cubs), Sloth (Bogey the Bear), Gluttony (Bogey the Bear), Envy (The Twinkle-Munchers), Pride (Wuzza the Walrus), Wrath (The Evil Snowmen) and Greed (Mumbo-Jumbo) but most important the joy that Banjo and Kazooie bring to Freezezy Peak, and with a dynamic soundtrack that fits the world perfectly this one should be the best Christmas themed level in any video game...
Sadistic Xmas (Artic Dream) - Tekken Tag Tournament 2
But the Artic Dream stage from Tekken Tag Tournament 2 takes the cake. It is simply the best Christmas-themed level in all the history of video games, The stage is surrounded by what I consider the best collection of Christmas memorabilia and events that your brain can handle:
- Northern Lights? Check
- Reindeer? Check
- An Explosion of Christmas Lights? Check!
- A bunch of Santa impersonators riding down the mountain in numerous vehicles, skis and snowboards? Check!
- Giant Candy Canes? Check!
- More Reindeer? Check!
- A convention of Santas drinking Scotch and eating Turkey around a bonfire? Check!!
- A Christmas Tree the size of a 10 story building? Check!!
- Giant Ice Sculpture of Reindeers?! CHECK!!
- And last but not least, the real Santa and his Reindeer-led sled flying over the stage while sprinkling the night sky with magic dust and joy!!
I couldn’t decide which one I liked best... so I went with all the snow themes from the MOTHER series. In Snowman, Winters White and White we have three songs that are very different but similar at the same time, each one capturing a different emotion and situation.
Snowman composed by Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka is the most important of all three winter themed songs of the game and it is also the most tranquil. Titled after the town with the same name, Snowman is a recurring song throughout the series.
In MOTHER it plays in the town where Ninten meets with the third part member, Ana, who later becomes the the love of his life. In MOTHER 2/Earthbound the song plays during a cutscene right before the player takes control of Jeff. And the final appearance of the song takes place in Snowcap Mountain in MOTHER 3.
But my choice for MOTHER 3 does not play in any level in particular, instead it plays on an old Jukebox located at the Dur-T-Cafe in Pork Bean Highway. A cafe so run-out and neglected that the owner warns Lucas not to run inside the cafe to avoid kicking up the mold spores.
White is an inconsequential song that will play once Lucas insert a coin the jukebox, Shōgo Sakai channels his best impersonation of the duo of Suzuki/Tanaka as he evokes, just like in Snowman, an image of a snow-covered peaceful village.
And although I consider Snowman to be the best of all the winter themed songs from the series, my favorite has to be Winters White from MOTHER 2/Earthbound.
Which coincidentally is also my favorite area of the game. Winters is where Paula contacts the genius boy Jeff, who according to his father, the mad scientist, Dr. Andonuts, still wets his bed. But it’s not all jokes and games, in Winters Jeff traverses the plains with the help of a quirky monkey who loves to chew bubble gum and even meets up with a legendary beast.
Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka once again managed to create a song that echoes the feeling of the series creator, Shigesato Itoi, a winter wonderland full of mysteries and surprises.
Merry Christmas to all and hopefully you’ll enjoy this list as much as I did while writing it. If there’s a song that I missed don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments section below.
Forgotten Cadences examines the less celebrated, but always unusual sounds of video game music.