Greetings, salutations, and Happy Holidays one and all! It is once again that wretched time of year when the malls are overstuffed with agitated shoppers, children are shouting at their parents for the newest bauble, and the radio is bursting with saccharine earworms. To help you avoid the holiday blues this year, I’ve assembled a brief list of games representing all the joy, fun, and wonder of the season minus the corruption of uncontrollable consumerism. None of these games are directly linked to any particular holiday or tradition, but will nonetheless fill you with some much needed cheer. Shall we begin?
1. Super Mario Series
Perhaps no video game character in history better sums up the joy and whimsy of childhood better than Nintendo’s number one son, Mario. I am sure many of us hold cherished memories of waking up on Christmas morning and anxiously ripping off the wrapping of our newest adventure in the Mushroom Kingdom. For many more of us still, these games represent our earliest memories of video games period, which makes those holiday memories all the more important. Few other series have that kind of power over our collected childhood.
It is difficult to choose any one game in the franchise to best recommend during this time of year. You could go with any of the original three games for the NES (I personally recommend Super Mario Bros.2 simply for being the most unique of the bunch,) or you could go with the classic Super Mario RPG on Super Nintendo if you want to boost your confidence in the power of camaraderie. After all, there are few things in this world that can restore your faith in the power of teamwork quite like watching Mario and Bowser work together in turn-based harmony. Personally, I suggest Super Mario 64 by virtue of having one of the best snow levels in existence, but you really can’t go wrong no matter what route you take.
While I am mentioning turn based combat and teamwork, I might as well bring up Earthbound as another fine example of a game keeping the true spirit of the season alive. If you are looking for something irreverent and goofy to take a break from all the uptight piety common this time of year, Earthbound’s bizarre sense of humor will surely cure what ails ya. Beyond all the goofiness, though, is a legitimately touching story of childhood innocence and friendship capable of warming even the most frozen of hearts.
If you don’t believe me, just take a listen to the rendition of “Eight Melodies” above and tell me you don’t start to feel a weird wintry sense of wonder? Add into the mix a charming rendition of classic Americana featuring cheeseburgers as health items and yo-yo’s as weapons and you have a game practically made of wholesomeness. There is a good reason this game has such a devoted following since its release and it is not just because it features a warrior bee from the future. Very few games are capable of being both light hearted and touching, but Shigesato Itoi’s masterpiece walks the tightrope superbly.
3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
If I may be allowed to cheat a bit and mention a more modern game, I would be remiss not to mention the glory that is Skyrim. While I personally have never been a huge fan of the open-ended Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim got its hooks in me something fierce and for one simple reason: snow. As a Florida native, snow was something mystical my other told me at bedtime to spur tease my imagination knowing full well it was never going to happen in sunny Orlando. So when a game like Skyrim comes around and features one of the best realized frost lands ever seen in gaming, well, it deserves at least a little praise.
Again, I invite you to listen to the above audio track from the game to get a feel for what kind of a winter wonderland we are dealing with here. Sure, there is a ton of great game surrounding all of that glorious powder , but it is the game’s chilly atmosphere and wintry sense of adventure which will make you craze a cup of hot chocolate or, perhaps, a nice flagon of mead. There is a reason the Vikings romanticized the winter despite its harsh weather and cruel harvests, and the Viking inspiration is not lost in the realm of Skyrim. If you are the kind of person who needs to be reminded of the joys of winter, look no further than this game.
Y’know what? This was actually really fun. I think I’ll bring you guys some more games to check out next time. Let me know what games you all like to play around this time of year and maybe I’ll write about in the next installment in a few weeks. Until then, stay warm, stay home on Black Friday, and share some love with your family and friends. Have a safe Thanksgiving everyone and keep it retro.