And my game of the year is…

It’s that time of year again!

Time to have a rummage through the past twelve months of gaming and find out exactly what I did and didn’t like, highlight something that pleasantly surprised me, spend a paragraph or three sticking the boot into a game that disappointed me for some reason five months ago, and then declare one single game as being definitively better than all the rest, the whole thing ideally presented as some sort of SEO-friendly top ten list artificially spread over multiple clickable pages.

I wish I was capable of writing an article like that, but the truth is I’d have an easier time building a functional gas barbeque out of fresh snow. Just remembering everything that’s passed through my fingertips this year, even just as a simple list of Games Wot I Has Plaeyd, is difficult enough as it is, never mind recalling enough about every single one of them so I can compare and contrast them until I’ve worked out which one is definitely the “best”, or a little more sensibly, my favourite of the bunch. But even then, how the heck am I supposed to decide when the past year’s worth of gaming includes an X68000 action RPGa horror game for the ZX Spectrum, and the final tear-jerking adventure game spinoff of a landmark dating sim series?

Those links bring up another issue: If I spent any serious amount of time with an interesting game in 2022 then I’ve probably already written about it either here or elsewhere back when it was fresh in my mind, so you don’t really need to waste any time wondering what I thought about a game I’ve played this year, because I’ve more than likely already said so.

And just as I was about to chuck this document in the bin alongside other not-classics like “Squirtle Shells All: An Exclusive Interview” and “DooM Dinner Date Tips: Don’t Order The Rabbit” I remembered another issue that frequently dogs end of year lists: recency bias. This is where games released closer to the time a “best of” list is written tend to appear higher up the rankings because they naturally spring to mind more readily than something cleared at 2am back in May—which isn’t anyone’s fault, that’s just how memory works.

The thing is… I can use this. I can confidently say the most recent game I’ve played is excellent, imaginative, and unique. It is more than capable of standing the test of time, and will be just as much fun next year as it is this one.

I can say that because I always play the same game at this time of year, and it’s always good.

It’s always… Christmas NiGHTS.

(I’m sure you saw that coming, seeing as there’s a photo of it sitting at the top of this page)

There, problem solved! At the time of writing I have honestly not played a better game since I last played Christmas NiGHTS, and I last played Christmas NiGHTS about five minutes ago. My logic is flawless, my argument inviolable. I’ve finally cracked it, I’ve found a foolproof way to decide the best game of the year. Of every year.

As silly as that statement obviously is, this oft-overlooked promo disc (Saturn) bonus extra (remasters) honestly deserves more praise than it gets. Yes, it’s a game you can start-to-credits clear in about ten minutes without trying, but it’s also a beautiful accompaniment the already incredible NiGHTS that goes above and beyond at every turn. If you’re a huge fan of the technical side of Sonic Team’s dream ’em up then you’ll find Elliot’s all-new Spring Valley course a joy to fly through, especially the breathless infinite link you can perform during his opening Mare (if it sounds like I’ve just started throwing random words at you this little guide I wrote might help). And if you’re just here for the festive fun there’s a cameo from Santa to look out for, plenty of exclusive seasonal animations for those adorable little Nightopians (every one of them dressed to suit the occasion) to catch sight of as you glide overhead, and anyone lucky enough to own the Saturn version of the game can look forward to unlocking a playable minigame starring Sonic himself, impeccably rounded off by an epic battle against a Christmas’d-up Robotnik (read: a fun reskin of the existing Puffy boss battle).

Just seeing the game use the system clock so well, a feature every console has by default these days and yet not a single one of them manages to use half as well as this little giveaway disc does, is an absolute delight. You can keep coming back to Christmas NiGHTS throughout the year and/or at different times of day to see everything from the kids wearing several new costumes to novel replacements for the falling snow, and on one very special day you’ll even unlock the ability to play as NiGHTS evil counterpart, Reala.

(To save you a trip to GameFAQs: It’s April Fool’s Day)

As good as it is, it’s astonishing to think Christmas NiGHTS exists at all really—purely from a business perspective, what was it for? This was a magazine cover disc in some regions, and a console/game bundle freebie in others. It wasn’t trying to drum up interest for an upcoming NiGHTS 2, and as much as it pains me to say it “Hey, check out the seasonal pom-poms we put on the flying purple person’s hat” wasn’t in any danger of turning a PlayStation owner’s head away from another round of Tekken 2.

But that lack of any real “point” or marketing focus is also part of the reason why it’s so great. Christmas NiGHTS is a real bumblebee of gaming: something that by most logical measures shouldn’t exist or do what it does, and yet it merrily carries on anyway. It’s such a thoroughly Sega thing to do, and regardless of anything else I love the game just for having the audacity to actually exist.

So here I am, still playing it more than two decades later, still as overjoyed by the whole experience as I was the first time around, even though this game was meant to be a little freebie available for a few months back in 1996. Whatever you think of the highly dubious method I used to select my game of 2022, surely a game—a game with just two main courses set in the same place and one boss to share between them—that can hold my attention and my heart for so long can’t be all that far off genuinely deserving the title of best game of the year, can it?

Exactly.

So congratulations to Naoto Ohshima, Takashi Iizuka, Tomoko Sasaki, Naofumi Hataya, and all the other people responsible for creating such a wonderful little treasure—Christmas NiGHTS is my game of the year… again.

 [Ko-fi supporters read this last week!]

One thought on “And my game of the year is…

  1. I love returning to a trusty old game or genre for special ocations. I barely miss a Halloween without a quick go at the original Clock Tower myself, even if it is a busy day there’s always time for at least the 5 minute worst ending route. And I love playing a Harvest Moon or Animal Crossing during December/January, there’s just something special to me when it hits winter in these life simulations during the same time – but with prettier snow and less stress than in real life.

    Like

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