Daze Before Christmas

Daze Before Christmas
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Game Name: Daze Before Christmas
Platforms: Mega Drive
Publisher(s): Sunsoft
Developer(s): Funcom Olso
Genre(s): Platformer
Release Date: 1994

Christmas-themed games, as I quickly discovered, are few and far between. The majority of commercially/professionally released ones are holiday packs or freeware demos of existing titles, given as either a “Happy Holidays!” from the developers, or for a little extra money. The rare exception is this title, made by Sunsoft and released around X-Mas 1994. I remember Sunsoft from Batman for the NES, and then a streak of kid’s games for the Genesis like Aero the Acrobat. This game offers no exception to their new image, but the skill and artistry of their craft is readily apparent.

As explained in a short opening poem, Daze has you playing as Santa and attempting to recover presents and elves that have been Shanghaied by villainous, jealous, generally humbuggerdly characters like the Timekeeper, an evil snowman, and a mouse appropriately named Louse. You will use your Christmas Magic™ to repel enemies, open presents, melt snowmen, and generally perform any action needing to be performed. The rest of the game involves leaping from platform to platform through various North Pole scenery.

Anti-Claus prepares to deliver some Christmas cheer.

This is a standard platform game through and through, but the holiday elements don’t seem forced or tacked on. Part of this are the charming animations and backgrounds that bring a sense of wonder and splendor to the, for lack of a better term, Santa “license.” The game also makes great use of classic Santa elements. Presents are scattered about the levels. Opening them with your magic results either in health pickups, freed elves, or nasty surprises. Some presents, as well as some defeated enemies, just result in… different presents. These go toward bonus levels where Santa and reindeer fly over various parts of the world and drop presents down chimneys. The number of presents you collected determines your total gift “ammunition” here. Also worth mentioning is a new element to the tale that’s a Sunsoft original – when Santa drinks cups of hot cocoa found in some levels, he briefly transforms into Anti-Claus; a horned, blue-clad, invincible version of himself who bludgeons enemies with his hefty sack of toys.

Now I know, a demonic version of Santa Claus isn’t exactly on the record. Despite the name, and the look, Anti-Claus doesn’t actually seem evil, he’s just a chap who can get things done. You’ll need his invincibility to get past certain obstructions, like a living brick wall, and his back sack whack attack does in some enemies oblivious to Santa’s usual magic. When you arrive upon cocoa, it’s usually a tip from the designers that you will need the power of Anti-Claus in the next twenty seconds. He is tempered only by his inability to open presents, and benefit from their useful powerups or extra lives. Though did I mention he’s invincible?

Anti-Claus also helps make the game quite easy, probably intentional for the kids. The generous, frequent powerups help also, as do the enemies that mostly just walk back and forth without offering much of a direct threat. I also thought I detected a little Christmas generosity in the form of platforms that would change their timing to appear beneath my feet, or a Santa that was slightly guided to next jump. These sorts of narrow jumps on short platforms over dangerous chasms are rare in this game, but they did seem a little more effortless than in others, I suspect due to quiet, programmed intervention. Though it could have just been a Christmas miracle.

There are 24 levels to the game, tracked between levels by a Christmas calendar. I’m telling you, these guys thought of everything. Most are awfully short by typical platform standards, and their design usually doesn’t prevent you from doing more than running for the end-of-level star. Occasional boss fights occur, but these are simple as well, and all have very generous timing to their attacks.

Daze is admittedly adorable. The graphics are bright and colorful, and the artwork done well for all levels. The variety of locations is impressive too, from Santa’s workshop and cozy house, to flying over England and Japan. Santa’s animation is appropriate and fun, and his wobbly run is quite cute. The stills introducing each level, usually drawn with Santa showing off some element or encounter from the level, are done very well and the expressions alone make the character loveable (as if Santa needed help in that department). Music consists of either refurbished Christmas music with more of a rock, upbeat slant, or some original and slightly more generic themes. As would be expected with the Genesis processor, they sound nice. Effects are a little more generic, with lots of cartoon “boink”s and “pop”s, though all are still appropriate for the game. Some digital voices are also used, mostly Santa-isms like “Ho ho ho!” and these sound a little muffled, but understandable.

The entire game feels warm and inviting, provided Christmas is your thing. It doesn’t do anything itself to be offensive to other religions, though certain geographic locations admittedly get snubbed for the gift-dropping sections. But for a charismatic Christmas game, this would be hard to top. Sunsoft had some help by using Santa and all, but the character they portray certainly exudes fun and merriment. The game, while not very challenging, does the same.

The Good

Cute, colorful graphics without feeling overdone. Quick and enjoyable platform gameplay.

The Bad

Not a challenge, but doesn’t need to be.

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