Daze Before Christmas
Platform(s): Sega Mega Drive, Super Nintendo
Release Date: 1994
It’s understandable that seasonal video games are rarely the most successful of titles. Whilst certain memorable holiday-themed spinoffs such as Sega’s Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams or magazine giveaway Christmas Lemmings exist, you’ll be hard pushed to find a christmassy title that, for lack of a better description, wasn’t developed as a seasonal cash-grab or a promotional giveaway. Daze Before Christmas is a very peculiar title for this exact reason; not only does it stand as its own right as a platformer that just happens to have a wintery theme, the circumstances surrounding its release were rather uncommon for a holiday game; not only is it one of the few commercially released christmas-themed games, said release was dealt with in a rather puzzling and unexpected manner.
You’d imagine for a country that spends an average of over $800 billion on christmas shopping every year, the USA is the first place you’d go when you want to release a christmas-themed game. However, Norwegian developers Funcom had something else in mind, opting for an incredibly limited print run that has sent asking prices for this title through the roof amongst collectors; Daze Before Christmas first made its way to the Sega Mega Drive, exclusively in Australia, before eventually being released on the SNES, this time including Europe (although the European release turned out to in fact be exclusive to Germany). This wasn’t the only PAL Mega Drive release to receive exclusive distribution in Australia, with the likes of Ecco Jr. and Fatal Fury 2 receiving a similar bizarre treatment, but expectedly this marketing move caused this particular christmas adventure to slip through the cracks somewhat.
In terms of the game itself, Daze Before Christmas offers interesting but simple platforming action. The story follows Santa Claus himself on a quest to rescue his elves and reindeer, who have been captured by what appears to be Frosty the Snowman’s criminally insane relative, in time for christmas. With an army of henchmen ranging from rats to evil possessed toys, it’s clear that this will be no easy feat, forcing the heroic Kris Kringle to traverse weird and wonderful environments, from icy caverns to ‘flooded basements’, fighting off hordes of holiday spirit-killing goons with his magic powers and of course, picking up presents along the way. The version of Santa imagined by Funcom has the unique ability to fire some kind of ice magic from the palms of his hands, opening presents from afar and transforming enemies into pre-wrapped gifts with a mere touch. At certain points, said magical attack can be swapped out for a fearsome flame spell, perfect for melting frozen obstacles and putting rouge snowmen in their places. Who would’ve guessed that the most generous man in the world was an arsonist?
Each of the game’s 24 levels (see what they did there? The level select itself even takes the form of an advent calendar, pictured above) offer platforming action in some ways reminiscent of the Donkey Kong Country series, albeit with very floaty controls (something which the game arguably suffers from as a result), with an emphasis on exploration and collection and with multiple paths available in some cases. Environments are diverse and atmospheric, both in visual and audio design, with some intricate sprite-work and the game’s wintery colour palette creating a rather warming yet mysterious world for Santa to fight his way through.
In some instances, the stage design can come across as a little confusing. Certain jumps can leave you blind, simply relying on luck when aiming for an off-screen platform down below that could be your only salvation from instant death. Extra lives and health (which exist in the form of glowing Santa hats) are fairly easy to come by and generally the game doesn’t pose a notable challenge (which is understandable, as this is a platformer which stands by its demographic of younger players), with enemies being rather simple to dispatch; however, it’s through tricky jumps and a diverse range of obstacles such as moving platforms and rising water that can catch you out, requiring some careful timing and memorisation of each level’s hazards; with few levels alike in layout, this might take some getting used to!
However, even with generous power-up distribution, dashing through each level without consideration is a sure-fire way to ruin christmas for everybody. Enemies and other obstacles such as bombs are sneakily hidden inside presents amongst power-ups and elves who have been trapped, meaning you could easily find yourself stuck in a tight space with a killer penguin or RC helicopter if you don’t pace yourself just right. Whilst similarities exist with Donkey Kong Country in the style of platforming itself, unfortunately this doesn’t extend to the actual level layout itself; if you come to Daze Before Christmas hoping for the same number of hidden items, rooms and puzzles as the Country trilogy are well-known for, you’ll likely be left disappointed. Rescuing elves and reindeer, despite being closely linked to the game’s premise, have zero effect on your outcome or score, which causes the game’s replayability factor to take a hit as a result. There are plenty of levels to keep you occupied, but if you’re looking for a game to return to that’ll offer you a fresh experience every time, you’d best look elsewhere in the SNES and Mega Drive’s platforming library.
If you somehow find find the game is posing too much of a challenge, there’s one particular power-up you can rely on, something so utterly bizarre and useless that it makes this game worth checking out for this alone; if Santa comes into contact with any caffeine, unremarkably in the form of cups of coffee dotted around certain levels, he will transform into his demonic doppelgänger, ‘Anti-Claus’, a red-skinned, horned version of the Father Christmas you know and love who ditches the magic for beating the living daylights out of his enemies with a sack full of toys; he even has his own theme tune, a distorted version of Jingle Bells that you probably won’t find any carol singers belting out any time soon. In this state, you’ll find yourself invincible, albeit with the sacrifice of being unable to collect or open presents, so if anything it’s more for show and quite detrimental to your progress through the game. One point of interest is that you can actually set the duration of this transformation in the settings menu, in 10 second increments; theoretically, if you prefer your winter season with a side-order of blunt force trauma, you could quite easily play through entire levels as this devilish alter-ego. I can’t exactly say I’d like this version of the big man himself coming down my chimney, and this this in mind, I think I might steer clear of caffeine too (who am I kidding, if I did that, how would I write these features!).
Finally, every couple of levels or so, you’ll be greeted with the charming experience of delivering the presents you’ve collected whilst playing, dumping them down the chimneys as you whizz through the sky in a flying section that feels like a less destructive Paperboy. Each of these stages is set in a different location featuring various landmarks for you to enjoy, although if you’re going for a high successful delivery count, you’ll want to focus your attention on the presents and chimneys; these stages pose a surprising challenge due to their unpredictable layout, although your progress once again lacks any real influence on the game beyond breaking up the platforming sections with something a little different. Still a nice touch regardless, this game does aim to give you the most authentic Santa experience possible. I want to believe that if there’s a Father Christmas, he even tosses presents down the industrial chimneys, just like he does in Daze Before Christmas.
If you’re looking for a laid-back platformer with a surprising amount of charm and atmosphere to sink some time into this christmas, then Daze Before Christmas is for you. It’s hardly a challenge and features some incredibly bizarre design decisions, many of which are likely to produce a few laughs, making it an ideal, fun diversion from whatever christmas responsibilities may have been thrust upon you by your family. And remember kids, be good, or ‘Anti-Claus’ will beat you up with his toy sack.