Friday, December 25, 2009

Holiday Oddities: The Official Father Christmas

Seasonal games are uncommon, mostly because they only really sell during the holidays, and technology moves so quickly that a game may be viable for one or two seasons at most.  But novelty Christmas games are fairly salable, if they're inexpensive enough to be picked up as last-minute stocking stuffers.

Back in 1989, UK publisher Alternative Software released The Official Father Christmas for the Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum ZX, developed by Enigma Variations and presumably licensed from St. Nick himself.  A portion of sales went to benefit the Save the Children foundation:

The game is a three-stage arcade affair, sending Santa on a mission to deliver toys to good little girls and boys.

First, he must collect all the parts of his sleigh, while keeping his elves from hiding them again.  It's not clear whether there is some sort of labor dispute going on, or the elves are just mean little people, but it's really difficult to collect the pieces.  The elves move quickly and appear randomly, and it's impossible to retrieve a stolen part by chasing the culprit down -- instead, Santa must wander all over the house until he spots its new, random location, and make another attempt to carry it safely to the staging area without running into an elf.  Once a part is placed on the sleigh, thank goodness, it becomes immune to elf-thievery:

Once the sleigh is ready to go, the player issues his or her Xmas demands to the man in red by picking gifts from a scrolling list:

Father Christmas must then collect the six presents selected by the player, by catching them as they fall from the sky in a fast-moving barrage of holiday merchandise.  The objects fall quickly and are hard to make out against the background, so this level consists mostly of moving Santa around at random, making chance contact with as many toys as possible until the quota is filled:

On my first attempt, I ran out of time -- fortunately, it's Christmas, so the designers have arranged for a happy ending courtesy of the suddenly helpful elves:

If St. Nicholas manages to collect the toys in time, he delivers them by dropping them over populated areas, dodging jetliners and birds, while trying NOT to drop the gifts into the incredibly viscous clouds that dot the sky and keep the parachuting gifts from landing below.  Only one gift can be onscreen at a time, so if a gift gets caught in a cloud, Santa has to hightail it in the other direction to move it safely out of play.

The high score board puts us in good company:

And that's about all there is to The Official Father Christmas.

Happy holidays!

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