Thanksgiving is over and December has begun – it can only mean that Christmas is round the corner. As a grown up 27-year old child I still love this time of year, with the evenings get darker and the cold world outside is negated by cosy fireplaces/central heating. The best thing about the holiday season though is the build of excitement throughout the month; we all know that Christmas Day inevitably turns into a bit of a damp squib – that’s why we have Boxing Day off for the come down – but it doesn’t stop (most of) us getting all festive in the run-up to the event.
So, what better way to do so than by bypassing the only 40 songs you’ll hear on radio or television for the whole month and instead focusing on some of the best Christmas-y video game music. Cards on the table, this may get a little Nintendo-heavy but don’t despair as there’s still a good variety of music out there. Also, I’m avoiding generic ‘icy’ and ‘cold’ themes and instead focusing on music that feels like it was meant for this time of year.
As I’ve mentioned Nintendo, let’s focus there first. Obviously Nintendo has a remarkably strong stable of composers and their games lend themselves to featuring themed levels so it’s no surprise to see them featured. All of their featured games give off a feeling of warmth and joy that a child would feel during the holiday season, something which is felt most acutely in the music from Tomoya Tomita in Yoshi’s Woolly World and Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Both pieces use the well-known winter music trope of sleigh bells but each differentiates itself with flourishes of a range of instruments throughout, thus creating a great soundtrack to the picturesque landscape you find yourself bouncing through. There are 9 Nintendo properties in this playlist alone and while each contains familiar tropes it’s amazing how different they feel from each other, even the two Mario titles.
Elsewhere, Grant Kirkhope shows that he also has a knack for a good Christmas-y tune. The most obvious example of this would be Freezeezy Peak from Banjo Kazooie, but his work on Viva Pinata stands out more for me, capturing the various natures of a winter setting across numerous pieces while also marrying itself with the colourful world it portrays. Sticking with the orchestral sound, Final Fantasy is once again represented but this time through Naoshi Mizuta with his memorable Jeuno – Starlight Celebration music which has played every year during the aforementioned in-game festival. Sticking with time-specific music, you can really feel the warmth in Christmas on Dobuita Street during Shenmue, which plays only when you reach Christmas Day in-game, and the piece really captures the holiday mood (it doesn’t hurt that Santa also gets a cameo).
Finally, it wouldn’t be a quick look at Christmas music in games without talking about the most famous Christmas game tie-in ever; Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams. Released as a free demo with magazines in the UK, it was really just a glorified demo for 9 months of the year – however, played between November and January it became a magical Christmas experience with the world and music changing to fit the season; the title screen’s music becomes an exuberant version of Joy to the World while the single level on the disc has a variation of Jingle Bells playing. It’s probably as Christmas-y as a game will ever get.
What’s your favourite Christmas game music, and did I miss any blindingly obvious pieces from my playlist? Was my ban on icy music fair game? Let me know in the comments!