As Old Man Winter closes in and various holiday scents whisper throughout our homes, millions find themselves cozying up with classic holiday-themed movies and TV specials to set the mood. This can extend into video games as well, though!
From large levels blanketed in snow to festive costumes and soundtracks, games can summon a heaping helping of holiday cheer into our living rooms just as well as anything else. So join us as we unfurl a list of distinguished Christmas video games that go great with some hot cocoa and a crackling fireplace.
1. The Division
While the themes of The Division‘s story doesn’t feel Christmas-y– The story centers around an apocalyptic pandemic after all– it does make up for those dark ideas in a lot of ways. Artifacts of a previous holiday season littering the world, a relentless amount of snow covering most of the game’s environments, and holiday-themed events that can yield some fun and festive cosmetic rewards go a long way to make The Division feel like a Christmas video game all things considered. The inherent comradery that emerges in co-op shooters while accomplishing objectives together doesn’t hurt, either.
2. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Marvel’s Spider-Man endures as an outstanding game, but many would argue that its Miles Morales expansion emerges as an equal, if not better, game with a more interesting protagonist and expanded moveset. Regardless, its holiday themes and near-Christmas setting makes it a joy to play. Swinging through New York’s skyline through the snow gives the player an interesting mix of that familiar Spider-Man valiance and a certain coziness that, when combined with the story’s emphasis on family and togetherness, make this one a must-play during the holiday season.
3. Batman Arkham Origins
Origins ends up left out of discussions about the Batman Arkham games more often than not. While the reasons for that remain a topic for another day, it’s impossible to deny that Batman Arkham Origins holds up as an excellent choice for Christmas video gaming. The story being set on Christmas Eve goes a long way with decorations lining the streets of Gotham and multiple story elements mirroring Christmas themes like goodwill, forgiveness, and community. It might seem like the ideals of Christmas would clash with the gritty feel of the Batman universe, but they end up complementing each other like cookies and milk.
4. The Last of Us Part 2
While the unflinching darkness that permeates the entirety of The Last of Us Part 2 might not feel like a Christmas video game at first, it does have some elements that could indicate otherwise if approached with the right perspective. The snow-covered mountains that Ellie and Abby trudge through to exact their own versions of revenge put the player in an undeniable Winter mood.
As the player get more familiar with Abby’s storyline, they’ll also meet Owen who shows his passion for the festivities of Christmas several times. Plus, with a story as engrossing as this, The Last of Us Part 2 will keep gamers engaged for rather long sessions, which make it a great choice for those harsh Winter months where some folks might be stuck inside anyway.
5. Saints Row 4: How the Saints Saved Christmas
Saints Row 4 remains well-known for its wacky antics, but How the Saints Save Christmas flourishes with its Christmas themes and activities. The satire, humor, and off-color insanity that Saints Row IV leaned into continue to populate the world of this holiday-themed expansion with weapons like “The North Pole” and a wealth of parodies poking fun at classic Christmas movies. All of this and more make How The Saints Saved Christmas a great choice for Christmas video gaming.
6. Borderlands 2: How Marcus Saved Mercenary Day
The holiday setting and storyline of How Marcus Saved Mercenary Day pay homage to timeless Christmas stories of the past, but mixed with the wild gunplay and bombastic characters that Borderlands remains so well-known for. Add to that the Christmas-themed loot and the camaraderie of co-op game design and it becomes easy to see this as an unskippable expansion to Borderlands 2 and a great choice for something to play leading up to Christmas Day.
7. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
The Animal Crossing community already knows this, but for the rest of us, it might be worth trying out New Horizons this holiday season to see their “Toy Day” festivities. As Jingle the Reindeer delivers presents, players will also notice the plethora of holiday-themed hats, decorations, and events scattered around the world, as has been the case for the last several Animal Crossing games.
8. Dead Rising 4
Dead Rising 4 might not be the best Dead Rising game overall, but it thrives as by far the most-themed as a Christmas video game! With a story that takes place during the holiday season, an absolute deluge of Christmas-themed cosmetics and weapons, and the ever-present absurd humor poking fun at holiday norms on a constant basis, there exist very few better options for games to play around the holiday season. The sheer amount of violence might make it less suitable for some, but the cartoonish nature of it keeps the mood pretty light.
9. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble!
While Donkey Kong Country 3 never quite crosses into feeling like a real Christmas video game, it gets close enough with its icy levels, cheerful soundtrack, pleasant level designs, and lighthearted co-op gameplay. The easy-going gameplay remains as approachable as ever, which ensures players of any age can have a good time with it. Released all the way back in 1996, it can also make a great hand-me-down gift to the next generation of gamers.
10. Duke Nukem 3D: Nuclear Winter
The Christmas video game expansion to Duke Nukem 3D won’t be winning any awards for innovative gameplay or outstanding storytelling, but it still manages to excel as a fun little jaunt to take around the holiday season with Duke’s notorious machismo and classic first-person shooting mixed with recreated enemies, items and environments that check off most of the Christmas boxes. A lot of the Holiday references emerge through the music, which consists of familiar christmas melodies. Gameplay-wise, it’s just more Duke Nukem, but the silliness of it all makes it worth a play.
11. James Pond 2: Codename RoboCod
James Pond doesn't exactly come to mind when most people think of when discussing games to play around Christmas, but perhaps it should. After the events of the first James Pond, the evil Dr. Maybe wound up in the North Pole where he now holds Santa hostage.
As such, the game inundates players with winterized platforms for James to leap to, Christmas-themed bosses to defeat, and bouncy music that will remind players of the holiday season more often than not. Christmas video game elements exist just about everywhere. There exist plenty of better games, sure, but not many that have given themselves over to Christmas-themes in such a thorough way.
12. Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko
Gex 3, like its two predecessors, has the smart-mouthed Gecko traveling through a wide variety of levels representative of different areas of pop culture and entertainment. Given that, it should come as no surprise that it contains a rather elaborate Christmas level. Evil elves, smashable presents, ice-skating penguins and more occupy every inch of this stage making it a bonified Winter wonderland. There’s even an evil Santa at the end that can be defeated by tail-whipping his flying presents back at him. Multiple missions and a handful of hidden secrets make the level worth returning to at least a couple times, so this level alone makes Gex 3 more than worth playing this holiday season.
13. Christmas Massacre
Christmas Massacre has the distinct privilege of being playable during Halloween or Christmas as its presentation and setting convey a Christmas vibe, but the gameplay takes the experience to the top of the most disturbing games to ever emerge from the indie scene. The old-school graphics and horrifying music make it weirder, but the fact that the player controls a murderous Santa Claus who takes his orders from a talking Christmas tree remains the most unsettling aspect. While not a cheerful game per se', it could still be a great choice with the right mindset and the right set of friends who don’t mind some dark humor during the holidays.