The charter of Jessen Jurado's "Middle SchoolGaming" is to provide an in-depth analysis of a specific game. It's not areview, it's a detailed account of the game's history, inspiration, production,and social impact. If there's a magnifying glass around, Jessen's the oneholding it. Mainly so he can fry tiny insects.
Dazed and Confused
Merry (belated) Christmas, everyone! This month I’m proud to bring you one of the quirkiest games for the Mega Drive and European Super Nintendo: Daze Before Christmas. So what if Christmas is a little out of season? Gaming is always in season, I say. I first played this game at Joe "Bah Humbug" Santulli’s house. He intrigued me with a brief synopsis, and after we fired it up, it turned out to be just as weird and offbeat as he said. The game is programmed by SunSoft (Aero the Acrobat makes a cameo guest star appearance on the SunSoft screen, by the way) and the game gives me the impression that the programmers must’ve been on some controlled substance in the creation process.
Many factors go into making Daze before Christmas an offbeat, yet fun experience. First of all, the game stars Santa Claus (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). How often does one get to play Santa in a game? Not often at all: in fact, this is the first game cartridge and only the third videogame that Santa stars in (Father Christmas on the Commodore 64 and St. Nick on the TI-99/4A are disk-based games). Not many seasonal games out there, given the limited market and sales window of opportunity for them. Strangely enough, the game was released in Europe for the Mega Drive, where Santa isn’t as popular as in the US.
Marketing and distribution incongruence aside, the subject matter in Daze is pretty uncommon. From the intro screens, which replace the text of “T’was the Night Before Christmas” with doggerel outlining the game’s plot, we find out that Louse the Mouse has kidnapped the real Santa, and our pudgy protagonist isn’t jolly old Saint Nick at all, but a horned demon named “Anti-Claus”. Anti-Claus has been given the task of impersonating Santa, freeing his elves, collecting presents, and saving Christmas for children everywhere (or at least, the children of Europe). Fortunately, Anti-Claus is well-equipped to complete these tasks, wielding his own special “Santa Magic”, and landing on his enemies with his enormous rear. Anti-Claus will save Christmas – how else? – by running around to and fro, collecting power-ups and platform-hopping.
Let’s take a tour of Anti-Claus’ adventures, shall we?
Right away, you’ll notice Daze’s superb animation. Anti-Claus bounds along at an incredibly fluid gait. The graphics in this platform game are bright and cheerful, besting even Virgin’s Aladdin for the Genesis. The music is appropriately seasonal and consists of bouncy renditions of Christmas songs. That is, at least, until you run into the “coffee cup” power-up, in which case the music changes to a creepy, minor-scale version of “Jingle Bells”, and Anti-Claus’ true colors emerge.
Behold, your true protagonist, “Anti-Claus”. For a short time after picking up the coffee cup, “Santa” reverts to his demonic self. That’s not all: Anti-Claus attacks his enemies by whacking them with his sack of presents, Homey D. Clown-style, and is invincible for a short time.
The kookiness doesn’t end there. Anti-Claus will skip, hop, and jump his way through houses rife with elves, stirring creatures, (mostly evil mice), and halls decked with holly. He’ll also plod through such Christmas-themed areas such as snow levels, cavernous pits, leaky basements, and a wood factory. (A wood factory? Riiiiight.) Santa jumps on giant Valentine’s Day hearts, rescues his reindeer, opens presents filled with trapped elves, enemies, or (surprise!) bombs. Aside from the aforementioned coffee cup, other power-ups include a magic book, which makes Anti-Claus literally pack heat, shooting fire instead of his conventional white “Santa Magic”.
In spite of Daze Before Christmas’ weirdness, or perhaps because of it, the game is incredibly fun to play. The levels are colorful, well-animated, and challenging at times. The controls are tight and spot on, and the hit detection is rock solid. My only complaints from an otherwise oddball gaming experience would be the unbalanced levels, with some being uncommonly short (4-5 screens long from start to finish), and some being repetitive and palette-swapped. But all in all, I think you’ll enjoy Daze of Christmas’ offbeat humor all year long as much as I did.
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