Those who enjoy gaming have their reasons for loving the hobby. Still, one prevailing thing that keeps us coming back to keyboards and controllers is the ability of video games to take us to new worlds, introduce us to new characters, and ultimately tell us stories that stay with us long after the credits roll. Maybe someone’s looking to explore a fantasy realm to get away from what might be a more mundane setting here on Earth. Perhaps someone feels homesick and wants to visit a game world that happens to be their old stomping grounds.
Games can even take us to different time periods and seasons, too. Here are some of our favorite games that take place during the holidays.
Dead Rising 4
Harking back to its origin, Dead Rising 4 puts players in control of Frank West yet again…in a mall, yet again. This time, though, the mall is decked in Christmas decorations as zombies took it over during the rush of Black Friday. While seeing another mall in a Dead Rising game colored by Christmas lights and Black Friday sale signs is a treat, it’s the meta-commentary of this setting that solidifies Dead Rising 4’s place alongside other games that take place during the holidays. Dead Rising 4 is a fun and raucous reminder that Black Friday and really, the holidays in general, can turn people into monsters. Take care not to become one by allowing this game to remind you of that.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
The most recent winter holiday-themed game, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a crowning achievement in video games, sitting on a throne joined by others such as Marvel’s Spider-Man, and of course, Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series. However, one thing that sets Miles Morales apart from most other superhero games is its usage of the festive, gift-giving season. With a story centered on community and family, Miles Morales uses Christmas to accentuate what the narrative is trying to accomplish. Could a story about a Spider-Man becoming the Spider-Man for Harlem have occurred during any time of the year? Sure, but a Spider-Man becoming an integral part of a community, almost as if to become family to everyone he protects, feels all the better surrounded by the glow of Christmas lights, the chill of falling snow, and the theme of what gathering for the holidays is all about. The winter holiday setting of Insomniac’s latest web-slinging game is the blanket that makes the story of Miles Morales feel as warm and as comforting as it does.
Batman: Arkham Origins
You can’t talk about video games that take place during the holidays without mentioning Batman: Arkham Origins. The first Arkham game developed outside of Rocksteady (this time, WB Games Montréal took the reins of the caped crusader series) some perceived Origins as the weakest entry in the series. Despite that, it might have the best setting, and that’s not just because it was the first to unleash the Bat in larger Gotham; it’s also because it takes place on Christmas Eve. There’s something so fitting about Batman, and consequently, Bruce Wayne, fighting against a rogues gallery looking to claim a massive bounty placed on his head on a night when most are bundled up in bed awaiting Santa to bring them gifts for the morning. A hero like Superman might be with the family on Christmas Eve, preparing for the joyous occasion. Not Batman, though. Sure, he had to get out there and kick some butt, but there’s a part of Bruce Wayne that was happy to learn he’d be spending the holiday on the bloody streets of Gotham. Why enjoy the holidays with the family (probably just Alfred) when you can spend the night as Batman? It doesn’t hurt that a completely evacuated Gotham is a gorgeous setting to feast your eyes upon, either.
Bayonetta 2 might be the greatest Christmas game of all time and what’s astounding about such a statement is that the holiday veneer largely falls away after the prologue. However, that opening features Rodin as Santa Clause, and that’s a win across the board. I saw on Reddit once that Bayonetta 2 is a Christmas game in the same way that Die Hard is a Christmas movie (which yes, it is) – does the game have anything to do with Christmas? No. Is it a better game because of the Christmas stuff that’s there? Yes. Is it a game I think about playing every December? Yes. Is the reason because of Rodin Clause? Absolutely. I mean, just look at the image up above – iconic, legendary, the best Santa there’s ever been.
Many Yakuza games could find a place on this list, considering most take place around the winter holidays, but Yakuza 5 leans into that aspect of the setting and season the most. Christmas in Yakuza’s Japan is great, but we’re going to highlight one particular part of the game here: The Santa Hunters. Taking place in Chapter 4, when you get close to a certain hideout entrance you’re tasked with finding, you encounter a man on the ground dressed as Santa. You decide to help him by finding the Santa Hunters, a group of people who beat up Santas. It’s as comical and as Yakuza as it sounds. If you change into a Santa outfit as instructed to find the group, you learn that the Santa Hunters might be a group of children who want their presents early. Saejima yells at them that they’ll get their gifts on Christmas day, but that doesn’t do it, so he flees. After a short chase, Saejima runs into the real Santa Hunters – a group of criminals who enjoy beating up Santa Clauses because they don’t like the holiday. Essentially, you’ve found the Grinch(es) of the Yakuza universe. While Dr. Seuss’ famous story lets the Grinch run rampant and almost ruin the holiday, Seajima stops these Grinches right in their tracks with some roundhouse kicks and a couple of solid sucker punches. It’s what we all wanted to do to the Grinch the first time we heard the story, right?
Special Shout-Outs: Limited-Time Holiday Events
- Overwatch’s Winter Wonderland: New game modes, the return of some fan-favorite game modes, rewards that are free for everyone to earn, and holiday-themed skins make this event a standout.
- Fornite’s Winterfest: An entire lodge dedicated to the holidays, a character to help ring in the wintery cheer, daily presents, and skins galore keep us coming back to the battle royale every December.
- Apex Legends’ Winter Express: While it’s one of the minor Christmas-themed events here, it’s still a wintery treat for Legends, and that’s because it presents a fun and unique game mode to enjoy. In Winter Express, three squads fight to board and capture an always-moving train. It’s a blast.
- Call of Duty’s Festive Fervor: This year’s holiday fun in Call of Duty Vanguard and Call of Duty Warzone Pacific spices up classic game modes and store bundles with holiday cheer…well kinda. There are new holiday-themed bundles to buy, presents and Christmas trees spread throughout maps, and a Krampus out to kill anyone and everyone who ignores a mode’s objective.
- Stardew Valley’s Feast of the Winter Star: There’s nothing better than a good ol’ festival in Stardew Valley, and the Feast of the Winter Star is perhaps the best. That’s because it turns your community into a winter wonderland complete with Secret Santa-like gift-giving fun, a massive Christmas tree, and candy canes galore.
- Animal Crossing New Horizon’s Toy Day: The Winter season in Animal Crossing brings with it plenty of snow, but Toy Day on December 24 (and into the next day) is the real treat, and that’s because Jingle the Reindeer arrives. Plus, you can craft wrapping paper, deliver toys to villages, purchase new items, and more. Best of all, you can gift your villagers with presents, and nothing’s more heartwarming than that.