I’m not sure I even want to do a review this year. 2017 has once again been a pretty dreadful year all around, so while I am going to take a look back please imagine I’m looking back with my middle finger raised while I drive away from this year as fast as possible. Will 2018 be any better? Maybe. The Fist of the North Star / Yakuza crossover game is due out early in the year, so that’s a good start. Until then, here’s the VGJunk 2017 review, where I look back at some of the games I’ve covered this year and feel a bit bad that I’ve probably written a novel’s worth of words but they’re about best-forgotten ZX Spectrum games and not, you know, a novel. I guess my magnum opus KnifeGhost: Book One of the Dark Stabbings Series will have to wait another year.

Biggest Disappointment

Given the opening paragraph included mentions of both 2017 and Fist of the North Star, “biggest disappointment” seems like an appropriate category to begin with because I’m awarding this dubious honour to the Super Famicom one-on-one fighter Hokuto no Ken 7. I love Fist of the North Star, I love fighting games, so a Fist of the North Star fighting game should be something I really enjoyed… but not like this. Not when it’s a dull, clumsy mess of wildly unbalanced characters and special move inputs that capture the grace and power of the Hokuto Shinken fighting style about as well me singing along to Rock Band captures the grace and power of Europe’s "The Final Countdown."

Weirdest Concept

Amiga platformer Demon Blue gets a mention here, because it has a strange visual style packed with torso-less angels and walls made of eyeballs… and then you read the manual and find out you’re playing as some kind of astral projection of a dead Scottish schoolkid. However, top spot on the weirdometer goes to the unreleased NES game Drac’s Night Out. It takes the crown for two reasons: it’s a game where you play as a cutesified Dracula who’s looking for his lost love but who gets information by creeping into women’s rooms at night and turning them into puppets helpless against his powers of mental domination, and also because the whole game was a tie-in with Reebok trainers. When you think basketball shoes you think vampires, right? Well, you do now, even though Dracula can turn into a bat and thus would have little use for shoes that help him jump higher.

There was also ZX Spectrum shooter Death Star Interceptor. The gameplay was perfectly straightforward – “spaceships shooting other spaceships in space” is one of the most foundational of all videogame concepts – but the weird semi-licensed hinterland that it occupied, making it half an official Star Wars game? Now that was strange.

Biggest Waste of a License

You might think Hokuto no Ken 7 would also cover this category, and there’s definitely some overlap. However, there are some good Fist of the North Star games out there but beloved claymation kid’s show The Trap Door has never had a good videogame adaptation. The home computer waddle-em-up Through the Trap Door was an incredibly fussy jumble of hard-to-discern puzzle triggers and viciously exacting platforming sections, and it’s a damn shame because with some skill, effort and talent The Trap Door could make for a really great point and click adventure. I’m aware that calling this the biggest waste is a little overblown when the amount of people clamouring for a good Trap Door game is limited to, well, just me, but I can’t help but be sad that there wasn’t even a mediocre NES platformer where I can control Berk and clobber ‘orrible scunge monsters with a rolling pin.

Most Pleasant Surprise

On the other hand there were quite a few games that were better than I expected, or that I had no expectations about but turned out to be fun. Video System’s barking-mad arcade racer Lethal Crash Race was an invigorating jolt of high-speed action with a pleasing layer of madness in the characters and endings. PS1 ollie-em-up Street Sk8er was no Tony Hawk’s but it did it own thing and did it well, and NES bootleg Donkey Kong Country 4 did an admirable job of squeezing a SNES classic into a pirate NES cartridge. In the end, though, I think I’ll go with Bruce Lee on the Commodore 64. It wasn’t a total surprise, because I know some people view it as a genuine classic, but I still didn’t expect it to be as fun as it was. Slick controls, solid run-n-jump action and the lack of the frustratingly high difficultly level that plagues so many C64 platformers made Bruce Lee a little treasure to play.

Biggest Rip-Off of an Existing Game

Even when excluding bootleg NES conversions of existing properties, this was still a hotly-contested category. London Taxi Rushour (I’m still annoyed about that spelling of “rush hour”) took Sega’s Crazy Taxi changed little besides replacing the “crazy” with “boring.” Cocoto Kart Racer wanted to be a Mario Kart game so badly that banana peels began spontaneously generating behind me while I was playing it. Those are egregious examples indeed, but only one game I played this year was pulled from store shelves for being a blatant, unrepentant theft of intellectual property, and that’s The Great Giana Sisters.

Best In-Game Text

Batman telling Mr. Freeze to “chill out” in Batman: The Animated Series for the Game Boy was the first choice that sprang to mind, just for how out-of-character it feels. I can just imagine Mr. Freeze actually stopping in his tracks and saying “c’mon, Batman, I thought you were better than that.”

I also enjoyed Frank’s ending from arcade brawler Legionnaire, because as an extremely unambitious person myself the idea of someone’s lifelong dream being to run a fun-fair hotdog stall is strangely heartwarming. If you want to become the E. Coli Fairy, Frank, you go for it.

Halloween: The Pirate’s Curse saw the return of “spooky dooky,” the series’ trademark catchphrase and a pair of words that have such a strong effect on my brain’s pleasure receptors that I’m beginning to suspect that they were used by the government as part of a brainwashing program that didn’t quite take.

My absolute favourite in-game text of the year was the song titles from execrable “dance” game Rhythm Beat, though. I hope you find it as impossible as I did to pick a a favourite from such amazing tracks names as “Bloddy Dusk,” “You’re Disgusting” and “Flying Flies.”

Best Screenshot

Toilet Truble on the ZX Spectrum included this fun gag about notorious joystick-mangling sports game Decathlon, which elicited a genuine laugh from me.

Arcade shooter Crossbow’s antagonist the Master of Darkness was another highlight, looking as he does like someone who once appeared in a made-for-TV adaptation of a Shakespeare play but who now teaches a drama class at night school. You can’t see his body here, but I guarantee he’s wearing a turtleneck jumper.

McDonald’s-themed Famicom platformer Donald Land's ending also stuck in my mind, because Ronald McDonald standing on an oil drum with the word “HERO” painted on it allows for two equally hilarious interpretations: either Ronald saved McDonaldland and all its inhabitants and this was all the thanks he got, or he painted the barrel himself and set it up in the middle of town in a shocking display of sore winner-ship.

But when the dust settles, a clear winner emerges and it’s the blank-eyed and clearly psychotic visage of Shrek from (whisper its name with a shudder) Game Boy Color beat-em-up Shrek: Fairy Tale Freakdown. Just imagine this face softly whispering “donkey, donkey, donkey” over and over again.

Best Character

I can’t believe I’m saying this but I was considering an honest-to-goodness clown for the title of this year’s best character. Kid Klown from Kid Klown in Crazy Chase is full of, well, character, and even though the game itself was often a chore to play seeing all of Kid’s various comical and very charming animations was definitely a pleasure. Also in the running was the brave and loyal rat from generically-named C64 adventure Dark Lord, a companion so just and true that he even forgave me when I used his tiny rat body to short-circuit an electrical contraption. I have yet to forgive myself.

Top billing definitely goes to Mr. Meringue from The Movie Monster Game, however. He’s a fake Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters. That’s really all you need to know. The Movie Monster Game also features an official, fully licensed Godzilla, so for Mr. Meringue to top that just goes to show how much I love him.

Best Soundtrack

Oh no, I didn’t cover a Castlevania game this year, did I? That always makes it much easier to pick a favourite soundtrack of the year, so now I’m going to have to put some thought into it. Well, there was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, with it’s high-energy interpretations of the TMNT cartoon’s theme song – that’s a good soundtrack. Mega Man 4’s soundtrack might not have been quite as good as Mega Man 3 and 2’s, but it’s still well above average.

And then there’s Sonic the Hedgehog’s soundtrack, which is head and shoulders above even the OSTs mentioned previously. While my feelings about the Sonic games are mixed I can’t fault their soundtracks, and that level of musical quality was present right from the first game in the series. From the iconic, sun-dappled Green Hill Zone theme to the smooth bass groove of Starlight Zone, it’s a delight from start to finish.

Worst Game

As always, I played a lot of really bad game this year. Is that because I’m a masochist who feels a need to punish himself? No, of course not, that’d be weird. It’s just fun to write about truly awful games and heaven knows there are plenty of them out there. So, what did I find this year after scraping through the bottom of the barrel and deep into the dungheap that the barrel was sitting on? I already mentioned Shrek: Fairy Tale Freakdown, and “Game Boy Color fighting game based on Shrek” sums it up rather succinctly. Also on the Game Boy Color was Mary-Kate and Ashley: Crush Course. I’m sure many of you thought that this’d be a shoe-in for the title, and it’s definitely a very close second with it’s barely-there gameplay, hideous graphics and nonsensical love-gathering board game sections. And let’s not forget (as much as I’d like to) Rhythm Beat, the dance game starring nightmarish cardboard golems that can be completed by doing nothing but rotating the analog stick, or the soul-dulling animal cruelty misery-thon of Family Dog.

The crème de la crap this year was the first game I covered in 2017, so at least it was all uphill from there. I’m talking, of course, about the Commodore 64 adaptation of the cult classic decapitation-themed movie Highlander. Highlander is a game truly jaw-dropping in the simplicity of its badness: it doesn’t work. The controls don’t work, the collision detection doesn’t work and frankly I’m amazed it even loads up at all. I’d say you’d have more fun with a blank cassette tape, but then you’d be missing out on Highlander’s solitary redeeming feature – the SID rendition of Queen’s “A Kind of Magic.” Sadly, Highlander is so bad that even this one positive feels like a kick in softest parts of your anatomy, like finding twenty pence in a pile of dogshit you trod in.

Best Game

Best game, huh? Best game… now, let me see. Hmm. Okay, so I kinda feel like I didn’t play anything exceptionally amazing for the site this year. Not for a “proper” article, anyway – I wrote about both Bloodborne and Silent Hill 2 and those are my two favourite games of all time. But for full, start-to-finish articles? I covered a lot of games that were good but none that I felt really moved into “excellent” territory. Some of the strongest contenders are, unsurprisingly for me, a trio of classic arcade beat-em-ups in Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Sega’s Golden Axe and Alien Storm. All three are fun, solid brawlers with great presentation but they’re all lacking that special something: TMNT’s combat is a little simplistic, Golden Axe feels a bit rough around the edges and Alien Storm goes on too long. Sonic the Hedgehog is a very good game and I had fun playing it but it’s just not quite me. Mega Man 4 is also a very good game but it’s also hard to escape the feeling that it’s a slightly less enjoyable version of Mega Man 3.

You know what? Screw it. I’m going to say Halloween: The Pirate’s Curse is the “best” game I played this year. Why the hell not? I’m not saying it’s objectively a better game than Sonic the Hedgehog or Mega Man 4 and I wouldn’t expect anyone else to rank it that way, but it’s the game I most enjoyed playing and I’ll definitely play The Pirate’s Curse again before I go back to Golden Axe, you know? I’ve made my peace with having terrible taste in basically everything, and I’m comfortable with this decision.

Favourite Article

I am almost entirely incapable of deciding whether any article I’ve written is any good, but a few do stand out as being particularly fun to write. The NES version of Predator was enjoyable thanks to the overall strangeness of the product, with a very pink Schwarzenegger and the shocking appearance of Big Mode. Also starring Arnie was The Terminator for the Megadrive, and it was nice to finally put a childhood ghost to rest by finishing that one. Going through all the monsters found in Quake was a real pleasure, and I always love writing about the beautiful game so the article about football game covers was another highlight, even if it did mean I ended up thinking about Peter Beardsley’s face.

My absolute favourite piece of the year was the Ephemera article about Bloodborne. I love playing Bloodborne, I love writing about Bloodborne, I love texting anyone I know who owns a PS4 whenever Bloodborne is on sale. It’s on sale on the PS Store right now, buy it if you haven’t already.

And so concludes 2017 here at VGJunk. I’ll be back in the new year. Will I play some god-awful Game Boy Color games? Yes, I will. Will I play any good Game Boy Color games? I suppose it’s possible, although unlikely. Will I be upset when I reach October 2018 and realise I’ve run out of Halloween: Trick or Treat games to cover? My friends, I shall weep the most bitter of tears. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s articles, and many thanks to anyone who has read them, commented and shared the articles around the internet. I’ve got my fingers crossed for 2018.



Merry Christmas – because it’s both a holiday greeting and the title of today’s game, you see. That’s efficiency, that is. Yeah, I decided to cover another quick Christmas-themed game. I thought about playing Alien vs. Predator again and just pretending it takes place in late December, because you can’t prove that it doesn’t, but in the end I settled for Melbourne House’s 1984 Commodore 64 stocking filler Merry Christmas!

With no pointless fripperies like title screens or instructions, Merry Christmas drops the player straight into the action, if you can use the word “action” to describe a graphic adventure. I’m sure you know the drill for this kind of game: type in commands, collect items, solve “puzzles” and move between locations until you reach the end of your quest. In this game you’re playing as Santa, and even though the game itself gives you zero guidance about what you’re supposed to being doing, you’re playing as Santa Claus. “Delivering presents” seems like a solid bet.
So, what do we have at the North Pole? Well, Santa’s Workshop, obviously. The snowbound cottage is a much quainter abode than the city-sized Christmas megaplex from the last article, and as a result it feels much more Christmas-y. There’s also a miserable-looking snowman that appears to be wearing a policeman’s helmet, the actual pole that the North Pole is named after and Santa himself. This incarnation of Father Christmas is particularly rotund, with a belly that’s not so much a bowlful of jelly as an overinflated basketball, but I suppose there’s not much to do between Christmases when you’re stuck at the North Pole, besides overeating and making snowmen.
The first thing I tried was entering Santa’s workshop, but the door is locked and I don’t have the key. Better get to exploring, then?

And this is why polar exploration is a life-or-death struggle against the extremes of nature, folks. I took one step away from the workshop and immediately became lost amongst the vast snowy plains, with every direction leading to yet more snow and the imminent embrace of hypothermia. Okay, not hypothermia. I’m Santa, and Santa has magical cold-repelling powers. That’s how he survives riding through the sky in an uncovered sleigh during winter.
Eventually I figured out that when the signpost appears at the top of the screen, you can head north to go back to the workshop, so let’s do that and have another look around.

I read the sign this time, and it says “digging in the snow is lots of fun and very rewarding.” Kind of a weird sign to find outside Santa’s workshop, honestly. You’d expect it to say “Santa’s Workshop,  all visitors must report to reception, photography prohibited” or “you don’t have to be a jolly old elf to work here, but it helps!!” or something. Who is this sign even for? The elves? Elves aren’t into digging, that’s work for filthy troglodyte dwarves.

I headed back to the snow fields and did some digging. Mostly I just got cold fingers, but eventually, I found the snowman’s lost nose. All right, now we’re making progress. We give the snowman his nose back and he gives us the workshop key, right?

Oh for pity’s sake, snowman. Get it together. Hang on, “lost forever”? The carrot-nose fell off the snowman’s face. Unless the arcane forces Santa employs to travel the world in a single night are leaking and effecting the surrounding area, the nose is on the ground in front of the snowman. Maybe the snowman hates having a raw carrot rammed into the snowy flesh of his face and this is all a ruse to get Santa to leave him alone. You know what? Forget about it. I didn’t even get anything for bringing the snowman his nose, not even the workshop key. To find the key, you have to use the DIG command on this screen. So I did, got the key, and now I’m in the workshop.

Here’s where the elves are hard at working, making toys for all the good girls and boys. Even in 1984 toy soldiers and beach balls were old hat when it came to kid’s presents, but that’s always the way with Santa’s workshop, isn’t it? You rarely see the elves assembling flick knives and molly tablets or whatever kids these days are into. Not that Santa’s totally stuck in his ways, of course. Combining a pile of dolls into a writing mass of blankly smiling faces is going to make some lucky kid’s Christmas morning real interesting.

In the next room are more toys and also a real human child. That can’t be a doll, can it? It looks far too, well, real. Maybe this is what happens when a child near the top of the “nice” list asks Santa for a little sister. Don’t let it distract you from the face on that teddy bear, though. That thing looks like it’s just farted and it’s waiting for your reaction when the smell reaches you.
Also in this room are a pile of letters to Santa and a book with a flashing star on the front, so let’s read those, starting with the book.

Surprise, the book is nothing but an advert for other Melbourne House games! Yes, nothing fills me with the Christmas spirit like the phrases “Grand Larceny” and “Castle of Terror.” The secret of Merry Christmas is that it’s not actually a “real” game, but rather a mail-away offer that appeared in Commodore User magazine. You sent in a coupon plus ninety-five pence and received a stealth advertisement in the form of a mini Christmas adventure game. There’s nothing more seasonally appropriate than using Christmas as leverage to make more money, after all.

I also read the letters to Santa, and naturally they tell you what gifts the children want for Christmas. In this case they wanted cricket bats and dolls, so it’s a good job Santa’s got plenty of those laying around. This is the central “puzzle” of the game, then, although obviously it’s not a puzzle at all and you just have to pick up the right toys. However, this was the point where I had to turn to a guide for Merry Christmas. Nothing makes the festive season sparkle like being made to feel like an idiot by a thirty-year-old advertisement in the shape of a computer game. The problem was that I didn’t pick up a sack to put the presents in. In my defence, as far as I could tell the game never mentions that there is a sack, even after I examined every screen. So, I checked the guide, stood on the appropriate screen and typed in GET SACK. Then I could put the toys in the sack, and now all that’s left to do is get the sleigh up and running.

At least I managed to figure that part out for myself. You can take Santa’s coat off the wall and look inside the pocket to find a silver whistle with “R” written on it. Assuming the R stands for Rudolph and it’s not a musical instrument from Santa’s collection of otherworldly artefacts that’s tuned to the key of R, I reckon this will get things moving.
I can’t believe Santa has a personalised number plate, though. I thought you were better than that, Santa, but you’re as cursed by vanity as the rest of us.

The whistle does indeed summon the sleigh. There it is in the background, coming in for a landing. The rest of the graphics in this game have been okay but I must admit the sleigh looks a bit rough. It’s probably just because it’s in the distance, though. I’m sure it’ll look better once it gets up close.

Or maybe not. “Sorry boss, we just flew in from an Atari 2600 Christmas game and we didn’t have time to change,” say the reindeer. Never mind, it doesn’t matter The kid’s aren’t going to see the reindeer anyway because everyone knows Santa and his sleigh can only slide into your pocket of reality when you’re asleep, to protect you from accidentally witnessing the unfathomable forces that power Father Christmas’ entire operation.
With the sleigh in place, all that’s left is to PUT SACK IN SLEIGH, climb aboard and tell the reindeer to go up and that’s it, Merry Christmas is complete.

And that’s your lot. Like I say, it’s not really a “proper” game, although it kinda fails as an advertisement, too: playing this graphic adventure with lame puzzles, hard-to-find sacks and pointless snowman noses is not likely to make me seek out further Melbourne House graphic adventures… although obviously I’m going to be intrigued by any game called Castle of Terror, so maybe it did work. Merry Christmas was a decent enough way to pass half an hour of a late December evening, I suppose, and hey – by writing this article, I’ve managed to put off making this year’s round of mandatory phone calls to distant relatives. I’d call that a win.



Okay, fine, why not? Let’s actually look at a Christmas-themed game for once. ‘Tis the season, and all that. I think this might be the first time I’ve ever covered a Christmas game here at VGJunk. You see, the thing is I just don’t like Christmas all that much. Not in a bah-humbug-y way - I’m not against the holidays or anything, I'm down wih the message of peace and goodwill and I’m not the type to bang on about how it’s all become too commercialised, maaan. It just doesn’t really do it for me, you know. I’ve got Halloween for fun holiday times. But Christmas time is here, and maybe playing a seasonally-appropriate game will increase my levels of festive cheer. If I could get up to “holly jolly” from my current level of “trying to plan around reduced public transport services,” it’d be nice – and if I managed to get such a boost from this game, it’d be a bonafide Christmas miracle. It’s Free Spirit Software’s 1990 Amiga deck-the-halls-em-up Barney Bear Meets Santa Claus!

There’s Jolly Old Saint Nick now, sharing his sleigh with the titular Barney Bear. At the front of the sleigh are the traditional reindeer and at the back of the sleigh is some strange, malformed creature with twiglet legs. I think it’s supposed to be a dog. I’m sure it’s meant to be sitting on top of Santa’s sack, but because they’re the same colour you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a dog with a hugely distended stomach. You shouldn’t have swallowed that canoe, Fido.

Of course, I’ve met Barney Bear before. A few months ago I wrote about Barney Bear Goes to Space, another Free Spirit title created by the same two people and also released in 1990. In that game, Barney went on a field trip to NASA, fell asleep on a conveyor belt and woke up aboard a space shuttle. It was half digital story book and half low-effort activity centre, so I’ve got a pretty good idea how Barney Bear Meets Santa Claus is going to play out.

It’s Christmas Eve, and all through the house not a creature is stirring except for Barney Bear and his dog Skippy. Not my words, folks, but the words of the robotic narrator whose dulcet tones will relay to us the story of Barney Bear, the jammiest little bear-cub in the world. Going to space and meeting Santa in the same year? What’s he got planned for the new year, finding a golden ticket and appearing in Barney and the Chocolate Factory?
Anyway, the narrator has the same synthesised voice as in Barney Bear Goes to Space. I described it there as like Stephen Hawking reading the CBeebies bedtime story, and that’s a description that holds true for Barney Bear Meets Santa Claus.

Santa has arrived. His unfocussed eyes and swaying, unbalanced gait suggest that a lot of kids have left a glass of brandy out for Santa this year. He tells Barney that he needs help at the North Pole, and asks if the young bear wants to come with him to see his toy factory. Santa, my man, it’s already late at night on Christmas Eve. If you’re desperate enough to turn to a bear-child for help, the situation has probably gotten away from you already.

And so off they fly, away to the North Pole – but not before the game reminds you that Barney Bear must ask his parents permission before travelling to Santa’s Grotto. Sadly, you don’t actually see this happen. Barney’s on his way though, so his parents must have been cool with it. The kid’s already been to outer space, he can clearly look after himself.

Before long, Barney and Skippy arrive at Santa’s Arctic fortress / toy factory. I was expecting an architectural style inspired by cosy cottages and gingerbread houses, not the opening shot of Blade Runner, but that’s what we’ve got here. I particularly like the huge flaming pylons in the background. That must be how they burn off the excess menthol from the Peppermint Mines. Then, just when I was getting my head around the weirdly fascistic look of Santa’s compound, the robot narrator informed me that the toy factory “is bigger than your whole city,” a statement that must have made player in Tokyo or Mexico City look out of their window and say “are you sure about that, sunbeam?”

So now we’re in Santa’s Workshop, and that’s where the storybook portion of the game ends. It feels like there was somehow even less to it than the story part of Barney Bear Goes to Space, to the point that I was, like, did I miss something? But no, I didn’t. Barney Bear Meets Santa Claus is both the title of the game and a complete and thorough description of the story.
Before I move on to the minigames, I must point out that while it’s easy to mock children’s entertainment for sometimes looking unintentionally weird or creepy – very easy, which is why I do it – when I reached this screen the narrator said “this is going to be lots of fun” and I swear to god Santa turns, looks into the “camera” and winks. I’m beginning to regret accompanying an old man to meet the slave workforce he keeps inside a city-sized frozen prison.
Okay then, minigames! If you click on certain background elements on this screen you can do an activity. Let’s start with the toy machine, shall we?

It’s a body-parts-swapping activity, of the kind I’m sure you’ve seen before. Combine the head, body and legs of various wacky characters to create the latest hot new toy that all the kids are clamouring for. You’ve got a few different sets to work with, including all your festive favourites – Santa Claus, a robot, a snowman, the Nativity Frog…

Whaddya mean, you’ve never heard of the Nativity Frog? The frog whose croaks led Mary and Joseph to the manger in which they lay the newbon Messiah? His flesh and shorts are the entire reason that red and green are colours of Christmas! You people need to study your Bibles more closely.

Of course, the real function of these body-swapping games is to come up with the most grotesque abomination that you can. I’ve plumped for this terrifying creation. The soulless, psychotic mind of a clown, the immortal body of a robot and the round lower half of a snowman that allows this remorseless killing machine to chase you over any terrain. Well, it’s not going to be any worse that the last couple of Terminator films, right?

There’s an odd-one-out game, which feels insultingly easy even for a game aimed at very young children. It’s obvious which one you need to pick in this line-up. Barney Bear isn’t nearly cool enough to pull off those sunglasses, and when you consider he’s been to space and met Father Christmas that’s a real burn on Barney.

There are a couple of letter games to play as well. One is a simple anagram solving challenge where you must unscramble words like “owl” and “zebra” - you know, Christmas words – and it’s so dull I couldn’t bring myself to even show you a screenshot. It looks almost identical to the minigame pictured above, where you have to find the missing letter to complete the alphabetical sequence. Beige squares, textured metal floors… I feel like I’m belabouring the point a touch but Free Spirit seem to have forgotten that they were supposed to be making a Christmas themed game. Could the letters not have been iced onto biscuits in front of a snowy backdrop or something? The “factory” part of Santa’s Unfathomably Vast Toy Factory is taking far too much of the focus, if you ask me. Although, I did learn that those textured metal floors are called “diamond plate” so I’ve got something out of the experience.

You can also enjoy a rousing game of “Find the Elf.” This screenshot’s from after I found the Elf, by the way. Even the Barney Bear games don’t make it that easy for you. What happens is that the narrator says, for example, that the Elf is in the red present or the smallest present, so you click on the appropriate gift and the elf pops out. Then the Elf says “you found me hehehehe” in the same robotic voice as the narrator, except it's pitched up a bit. This has the effect of making it sound fifty percent more elfin but roughly one thousand percent creepier. It’s the high-pitched mechanical laugh, it sounds like a disturbed robot child pulling the wings off fly-droids.

Probably the most enjoyable of the activities (a weak field to be the front-runner in, admittedly) is the colouring book. A selection of black-and-white line drawings for you to fill in, plus some very basic drawing tools so you can add your own flourishes as you see fit. It might be the best thing in this game, but it’s still a bad digital colouring book. It works in exactly the same way as the one in Barney Bear Goes to Space, and my description of that game’s colouring book applies here: it’s slow, awkward, fiddly to fill in the smaller areas and the drawing tools seem to create shapes that lay on a completely different “layer” to the rest of the drawing, making them annoying to work with. Still, you can colour in some fairly nice festive pictures, like I have done in the screenshot above. I hope you appreciate the effort I went to in ensuring that the stripes of the candy canes are all filled in correctly. If only Christmas spirit was measured by the amount of f-bombs you dropped while trying to colour a finicky candy cane, this game would be more festive than the Queen doing her speech in a novelty jumper while half-cut on Bailey’s.

The colouring book is the part of Barney Bear Meets Santa Claus that you can spend the most time with before the grinding weight of tedium forces you to stop, which is damning with faint praise indeed. But hey, at least you’ve got some nice Christmas-y scenes to look at, like Santa laughing at Barney as though our little bear friend has just told Santa he wants world peace for Christmas.

How about this toy bear? Or as Barney would call it, "a doll," I guess? Little could be more festive than baubles, gift-wrapped presents and teddy bears, even if the teddy bear does have the blank stare of someone who’s just walked in on their parents going at it underneath the mistletoe.

“Mother and father like to wrestle but it makes them sweaty so they do it with no clothes on.”

Your artistic masterpieces don’t even have to be related to Christmas! I made this horrible thing by accident. Okay, the nose wasn’t an accident, but I was a well-behaved child who was far too decent / cowardly to draw graffiti penises so I’m making up for it now. Erm, merry Christmas, I guess. As an apology, if you’re making a videogame and you want to use this thing as an enemy design, go right ahead. It could use its jug ears to fly at you, that could be pretty terrifying, right?

And that’s your lot. A short story and some rather pathetic minigames comprise ninety-nine percent of Barney Bear Meets Santa Claus. The other one percent? Well, on the main toy factory screen you can click certain things in the background and they play a sound file. The clock chimes, the buttons click and whistle and the elves in the background say “happy new year” although it probably won’t be happy for them because they’ll be out of a job. Barney Bear Goes to Space didn’t include much content either but it had more to it than this game – at least you could learn some (occasionally incorrect) space facts. Barney Bear Meets Santa Claus has some half-decent graphics and an enjoyably robotic voice-over but that’s about all it has – and it didn’t even make me feel more Christmas-y, which is all I really wanted from it. Okay, so it made me want to eat candy canes but that doesn’t take much doing. In short, I feel no more or less of the Christmas spirit now than I did before I played Barney Bear Meets Santa Claus, but it did remind me to buy candy canes. Please clap as I unfurl the world’s smallest “mission accomplished” banner.

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