The Twelve Games Of Christmas – A Dozen Festive Memories – Feature

As we’re often told, Christmas is a special time of year, a season of goodwill, generosity and gift-giving. For gamers, festive memories are often tied in with the excitement of receiving a brand new game, perhaps something that released months ago that we had been waiting for, and sliding that lovely cart or disc into our console for the very first time.

Sometimes it’s easy for one Christmas memory to blur into another — the same decorations, the same tree, the same people, music and post-meal drowsiness — but the first time you every played Ocarina of Time or that one when Grandad bowled you over in Wii Sports? Now that sticks in the memory!

Below we present to you twelve yuletide gaming memories from Nintendo Life staff and contributors, each one featuring a different game that holds a special, festive place in our hearts and minds.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD

Release Date: 23rd Nov 1998 (USA) / 11th Dec 1998 (UK/EU)

Christmas, 1998. I remember this game releasing earlier in December (in the UK) and for a while it was touch-and-go whether I’d be able to get a copy. I’d devoured every word of the preview and review (stretched across two issues of N64 Magazine) and was gagging to play my first ever Zelda game.

Fortunately, Ocarina of Time was sitting under the tree that year. I somehow managed to convince my parents to let me set up the N64 on the downstairs telly, too, so I took my first steps into the woods on a fittingly large screen in view of elderly relatives. “He’s an angry little chap, isn’t he?” they said as Link yelled and chopped through grass collecting rupees for the very first time.

I don’t remember if I got through the forest and out onto Hyrule Field that first day, but I’ll never forget the notes and floating fairy detritus in the air of Kokiri Forest that morning… *counts* twenty-two long years ago. — Gavin Lane

Pokémon Red and Blue (GB)Pokémon Red and Blue (GB)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Game Freak

Release Date: 30th Sep 1998 (USA) / 10th May 1999 (UK/EU)

I’ll never forget the moment I opened my presents on Christmas morning, 1999, and found a shiny new turquoise Game Boy Color along with a copy of Pokémon Blue. It was the start of my journey with Pokémon that, for better or worse, has lasted to this very day.

I spent so many hours with Pokémon Blue in the days and months following Christmas, and it’s still the only mainline game in which I completed the entire Pokédex! At the age of ten, it arrived at the perfect time, and the visuals, the music, and the story will be etched in my memory forever. What a great Christmas! — Ollie Reynolds

Animal Crossing: City Folk (Wii)Animal Crossing: City Folk (Wii)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD

Release Date: 16th Nov 2008 (USA) / 5th Dec 2008 (UK/EU)

Animal Crossing and the holidays go together like Santa and cookies. Or reindeer and sleighs. Or new video game consoles and siblings fighting over them on Christmas morning. My ultimate Christmas gaming memory was waking up on December 25th, 2008 to find a brand new, shiny Nintendo Wii and a copy of Animal Crossing: City Folk wrapped under the Christmas tree.

Ever since playing on my friend’s GameCube, I had yearned to experience Toy Day for myself (and sadly, though I had Wild World on the DS, the devs had apparently decided holidays weren’t important for that entry in the series). It took two years of Nintendo’s marketing to finally convince my parents that a gaming console on the TV wasn’t the devil’s work (we’d only been allowed handheld consoles prior to that). My little brothers and I spent the entire day playing City Folk, marveling at the graphics and magic of the Wii Remote – and of celebrating a real-time holiday with NPCs… Ah, to be a kid again. — Austin Voight

Wii Sports (Wii)Wii Sports (Wii)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD

Release Date: 19th Nov 2006 (USA) / 8th Dec 2006 (UK/EU)

Whenever I would talk about games with my family they would say “that’s nice kiddo” and continue to do whatever it is people who don’t play games do. That all changed on Christmas Day 2006 — for the very first time my parents not only took an interest in games but they actively wanted to play them with me.

In the morning my mum and sisters all bowled together and played Doubles in Tennis. After dinner my dad called me into the living room asking if we could play a round of Golf. It’s easy to look back on those Wii adverts and snort at the exaggerated motions and forced smiles, but honestly that’s exactly what it was like playing the Wii for the first time.

Even my Granddad took an interest when he came to visit on Boxing Day. He couldn’t play real Golf anymore due to problems with his legs and the joy on his face when he discovered you could play sitting down is a memory I’ll never forget. — Jon Cartwright

Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (SNES)Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (SNES)

Publisher: Capcom / Developer: Capcom

Release Date: 15th Jul 1992 (USA) / 19th Jan 2007 (UK/EU)

T’was Christmas Day of the year Nineteen Hundred and Ninety-Two when I received my most cherished Xmas present ever, a shiny new Super Nintendo console with a copy of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. After years of putting up with shoddy arcade ports, terrible controls and excruciating loading times on my dear old Commodore 64 here, for the first time ever I had in my own home what I considered to be a pixel perfect version of a game I’d previously spent months pumping coins into down the local arcade.

That entire Christmas holiday, as well as the weeks and months that followed, were a blur of street fighting action, myself and my brother playing incessantly through dinner times, study hours and homemade haircuts – for as everybody knows, the true measure of a warrior is their ability to best M. Bison while their mammy chops their locks. Looking back now, even after all the many games I’ve played and platforms I’ve owned since, nothing has ever really come close to matching the excitement of those heady days some twenty-eight years ago and I sincerely doubt anything ever will. It may have as much to do with warm reminders of my home and family as it does the game itself but Street Fighter II is absolutely my number one Christmas gaming memory. — PJ O’Reilly

Super Mario 64 (N64)Super Mario 64 (N64)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD

Release Date: 26th Sep 1996 (USA) / 1st Mar 1997 (UK/EU)

I don’t remember much about Christmas 1997, because I was a tiny little prawn of a human back then and most of my time was spent mastering the alphabet and shoelaces. I do remember my dad getting a pristine Nintendo 64 console under the tree, which swiftly became the sole property of me and my brother as we sat under it for hours at a time. We had Lylat Wars, Super Mario 64, Mario Kart and GoldenEye; I never completed a single one of them, because I was a baby idiot, but I would spend days exploring Peach’s castle and the train tracks of Mario Kart’s Kalimari Desert. Winning isn’t the only way to have fun! — Kate Gray

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES)Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Rare

Release Date: 20th Nov 1995 (USA) / 14th Dec 1995 (UK/EU)

I was never bought Nintendo stuff for Christmas, as a rule. Mainly because I didn’t have a Nintendo until my desperation purchase of a GBA SP when the Nintendo DS was sold out at launch. A shocking revelation, I know. But I was kept in the loop by a somewhat disreputable Christmas gift from a family friend back in 2002 – two discs of SNES roms, encompassing the majority of the system’s noteworthy offerings. A big deal when you have no private internet access, and only 1.4mb will fit on a floppy disk.

It was this cheap, cheerful and extremely hooky gift that woke me up to the sheer quality of the Super Nintendo’s library, and almost directly responsible for my subsequent purchasing of almost every retro-tinged Nintendo offering. Without those CDs, I may never have got the Nintendo bug. Now I’m a devotee.

Most of my friends got GTA: Vice City for Christmas. I didn’t care, though. I had Donkey Kong Country 2. — Stuart Gipp

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (MD)Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (MD)

Publisher: SEGA / Developer: Sonic Team

Release Date: 21st Nov 1992 (USA) / 6th Jul 2007 (UK/EU)

Tuesday 24th November 1992 is remembered (by Sega fans, at least) as ‘Sonic 2sday’, the release date of one of the very finest 16-bit sequels ever made. Still, for many kids of the era (including yours truly) Christmas morning would be our first opportunity to dive into Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Mega Drive / Genesis.

I remember being able to unwrap one present before the rest, and there was no question that the game-box-shaped one would be first. Following the cursory thanks to mum and dad, I ran upstairs, opened the box and placed cart in the slot with all the ceremony an excited eight-year-old could muster. Everything looked so blue! The colours really popped and I remember playing for around an hour before the shooting arrows and water of Aquatic Ruin Zone sent me back to the beginning. I was soon called downstairs to re-join the festive collective and would spend the rest of the day poring through the manual.

I remember precisely nothing else of Christmas ’92, but that hour or so is burned into my memory: the matte black metal of my old TV stand, the dry texture of the carpet, and the first time I experienced the soundtrack and vibrant hues of Emerald Hill Zone on my little 14-inch Matsui CRT. — Gavin Lane

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD

Release Date: 13th Apr 1992 (USA) / 24th Sep 1992 (UK/EU)

That satisfying “clank” when you push on the power button of a Super Nintendo control deck is always a privilege. In the distant year of 1992 I was the happiest kid on the block because in September I had managed to put enough money aside and (along with the generous help of my parents) for a PAL Super Nintendo with Super Mario World packed in, along with the revolutionary F-Zero. After mastering all 96 levels of the first game and completing all the cups on Master in the second, Pilotwings was my third game, having picked it up in October for my birthday. I eventually became a full fledged flight cadet after acing the game (except for the bonus rounds that I didn’t know existed — in 1992 there was no internet in my country!). Fast forward to December where I picked up my next two SNES video games: firstly, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, a game I replayed over and over again, alone or with friends and one I could beat with Raphael in Hard mode just shy of eighteen minutes.

But then there was the fifth game. As a previous Spectrum, Amiga and Game Boy owner it might not come as a surprise that I had never really played any RPGs thus far, so this fifth game was something truly intriguing and mesmerising. It was also by far the best value for money at the time because I certainly could not complete this game in one sitting and without any sort of game guide. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was all about exploration along with trial and error.

Christmas Eve, 1992. As per tradition, my uncle, aunt and cousin would come over for dinner and other Christmas related activities. Once me and my cousin moved away from the dinner table, we took refuge in the kitchen with its small CRT TV over the fridge since there was no way we could hook up the SNES to the big living room TV. After we blasted all the way thought TMNT IV, I was excited to showcase Zelda to my cousin. I erased my previous game that had an hour of progress and started a fresh quest. Before midnight tolled we had rescued the princess, conquered the Eastern Palace, the Desert Palace, the tower of Hera, found our way through the Lost Woods to retrieve the Master Sword and stood up and defeated the mysterious wizard Agahnim. Surely this epic quest must be at an end?

Imagine me and my cousin’s face when, instead, we were teleported to the Dark World, a place we had glimpsed slightly at Death Mountain. There were now five new dungeons to tackle on the map. Sadly, not only had the clock struck midnight but I was stuck in rabbit form because in the innocence of my first-time blind playthrough I had skipped on retrieving the Moon Pearl back in Hera’s Tower.

We didn’t finish the game that Christmas Eve. Come Christmas morning and I distinctly remember being more eager to return to Hyrule than unwrapping my brand new gifts. That game turned me into a hardcore action-adventure/RPG and Zelda franchise fan for life. Eventually my cousin ‘grew out’ of video games — obviously, I didn’t. Still, what we shared that Christmas Eve was a magical, unparalleled bonding experience. Time to hook up the SNES Classic Mini for one more princess rescue. — Gonçalo Lopes

Metroid II: Return of Samus (GB)Metroid II: Return of Samus (GB)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo R&D1

Release Date: Nov 1991 (USA) / 21st May 1992 (UK/EU)

Worryingly recently (Christmas 2013 according to my Activity Log), my brother and I decided that a grand old way to spend a few festive hours was to replay Metroid II: Return of Samus on our own 3DS Virtual Console copies; it was on sale or something and we thought ‘why not?’, or words to that effect.

So we downloaded the bloomin’ game that had sparked our love for the series, and found both of ourselves glued to the systems. Neither of us had ever considered doing anything like a speedrun before (and to be fair, we weren’t all that speedy about it) but we were both shocked at just how much we remembered about the game, and indeed how uncomfortable those pitch black areas make me feel.

We blasted through everything, getting most if not all of the upgrades, and all in around five hours-a-piece. We had never sat down and played the game all the way through in a single sitting, and more to the point we’d never done anything like this together. It’s a simple memory and not all that exciting to recount (or read I’m sure), but it’s something a bit special to me, and something I still think about every so often. — Alex Olney

Mario Kart 64 (N64)Mario Kart 64 (N64)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD

Release Date: 10th Feb 1997 (USA) / 24th Jun 1997 (UK/EU)

I remember one Christmas when we were visiting family about three hours from home. On the big day, my parents gifted my brother and me a copy of Mario Kart 64. We were told we, unfortunately, had to wait until we got home to receive the other half of the present (the N64), so for the next five days or so, all we could do was look at the game cartridge.

I studied the game manual and additional papers that came with Nintendo’s games back then for the rest of the week. When we finally returned home, I was blown away by the ‘next generation’ of Nintendo. Racing through that tunnel on Luigi Raceway, with the fancy screen above it — what a moment!

Happy Holidays, everyone! — Liam Doolan

Banjo-Kazooie (N64)Banjo-Kazooie (N64)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Rare

Release Date: 31st May 1998 (USA) / 16th Jul 1998 (UK/EU)

I don’t remember the exact time of year I first teleported into one of the most Christmas-y of all winter-themed levels in all video games — it was likely in one of the summer months. However, in the years that followed it became an annual ritual to blast through the first couple of hours of Banjo-Kazooie in the early weeks of December, just so I’d have the pleasure of rescuing the Twinklies, flying through the star on top of the tree, catching up with Wozza and racing Boggy around Freezeezy Peak on the morning of the 25th.

And in the years when I haven’t had time to get my save file to the appropriate spot? I’ve made do by adding Grant Kirkhope’s festive theme into the Xmas playlist of standards alongside Mike Oldfield, Phil Spector and the rest while knocking up some breakfast. — Gavin Lane

Well, there’s a selection of our favourite holiday gaming memories. We hope you’re having a fantastic time this holiday season — feel free to let us know your own treasured memories below.

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