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Daze Before Christmas (SNES) artwork

Daze Before Christmas (SNES) review

"I’ve been playing Daze Before Christmas for a while and really enjoy it. Admitting my liking for this 1994 Sunsoft platformer is a pretty easy thing to do — explaining why I like it isn’t such a simple task. "

I’ve been playing Daze Before Christmas for a while and really enjoy it. Admitting my liking for this 1994 Sunsoft platformer is a pretty easy thing to do — explaining why I like it isn’t such a simple task.

While many platformers look like they were designed for small children with their jovial heroes and seemingly non-threatening foes, the actual difficulty (especially on the final levels) suggests that an older and wiser gamer may be better-suited to withstand the many challenges held within each cartridge (or disc). On the other hand, Daze Before Christmas not only looks like a kids’ game, but plays like one, too.

The plot reads like a nightmare come true for wee lads and lasses. An assortment of villainous goons have stolen all of Santa’s presents, apparently ensuring that there will be no Christmas for all the good little girls and boys! Dry your tear-filled eyes, children — although things look grim, there is still hope! Having made countless Christmas Eve deliveries in the past, Santa will NOT let some minor-league assortment of foes ruin the holiday season for all you greedy, present-hoarding brats!

And that’s where you come in. Control Santa through 24 stages of platforming action as he retrieves (and delivers) presents and gives the villains their just comeuppance. With many locales ranging from flooding basements to factories laden with conveyor belts to eerily beautiful mystic realms, it will be hard for players to become bored with the quirky realm that Santa calls home.

At least they won’t be bored the first time through.....after that, all bets are off. With this game, what you initially see is what you get. There are no bonus levels or hidden rooms. There is no reward for collecting all the presents on a given level or releasing all of Santa’s elves (who were trapped in packages by the bad guys). All you really have to do is go from the beginning of each level to the end without falling into a pit or taking enough damage to put a premature end to the quest (not the easiest thing to accomplish).

Now compare that to another 1994 platformer — one that is widely considered a sterling example of how to properly pull off a game in this genre: Donkey Kong Country. Boasting over 30 stages and seven bosses, DKC is obviously much larger than DBC. To further drive home that point, hidden within those 30-plus levels were nearly 70 secret bonus rooms, many of which were cunningly hidden. To TRULY beat Donkey Kong Country, a player must not only go through every level, but find every single hidden room to get the best (100 percent) ending — a daunting prospect for gamers of any skill level.

With Daze Before Christmas, once you’ve beaten the final boss, the game is over. The only incentive to continue playing is out of sheer enjoyment, as there are no new goals to reach and no previously missed secrets to eagerly search for. Fortunately, this game is loads of fun, as long as you can overlook a few nagging flaws.

As I mentioned before, it’s not that easy to lose a life to the average collection of foes strewn throughout the levels. Initially, Santa can take five hits and there are a couple of life-restoring items in nearly every level. However, it’s a far simpler task to succumb to bottomless pits or deep, arctic lakes. After only moments of play, you’ll notice that whenever Santa jumps, the screen rises with him. As you play through the game, you’ll also notice that there are several instances where you’ll either be jumping to a ledge (bad) or a moving platform (much worse) below you. Combine those two factors and what you end up with is a number of blind leaps that make things far more challenging than any number of easily-killed enemies ever could.

Santa’s primary attack, which appears to be a sort of magical ice projectile, has enough range to wipe out most foes before they even have a change to inflict harm upon him. There are only two power-ups in the game, both of which are very limited. In a couple of levels, you can pick up the ability to have Santa shoot fire instead of ice. While necessary to defeat the evil snowman boss and to rescue the reindeer imprisoned behind walls of ice in the cave levels, this rare weapon is otherwise exactly the same as the default attack.

And then, there’s the “Anti-Claus” ability. Winning the first-ever “Overdrive’s Most Useless Power-Up of All-Time” award, this ability is interesting, but not that handy in combat. Run into one of the plentiful cups of hot cocoa scattered through Santa’s world and you’ll change into a diabolical, satanic version of St. Nick — the sort of fellow that gives presents to himself with money obtained from beating up good little boys and girls. For a limited amount of time (10-30 seconds depending on if you fiddled with the Options menu), Santa will lose his projectile attack in lieu of simply bopping foes with his gift bag. Fun in theory — until you realize that you’ll actually have to let enemies get close to you, which sort of negates the main advantage that Santa has over his enemies. After watching “Anti-Claus” in action a couple of times, you’ll be going out of your way to avoid that cocoa.

By this point, I know what you’re thinking — how can I claim to enjoy this game when all I seem to be doing is running down a lengthy list of problems I found? Well, even though it’s simplistic and too easy, it just has a certain addictive quality. I like it for many of the same reasons I enjoy playing Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I’d never call C:SotN a legendary adventure game (or even one of the top Castlevania games, as difficulty-wise, it’s a toothless kitten in a den of lions), but if I’ve had a hard day and I just want to play something to unwind, it’s one of my top picks. It’s pretty, has nice music and is guaranteed to NEVER frustrate me, making it the perfect cure for frayed nerves and a tension headache.

Daze Before Christmas makes me feel much the same way. Graphically, the stages range from decent to amazing, with the three “mystic realm” levels (Blue Magic, Magic Cave and Magic Bubbles) ranking among my favorite 16-bit platform levels of all time with their otherworldly beauty. Even many of the more mundane levels have several nice touches. Maybe it’s the large whimsical faces the gift-wrapping machines have or the mistletoe hung throughout the “house” level or the wonderfully drawn reindeer imprisoned in the caves. Or maybe it’s even smaller touches, like how, when he ducks, Santa’s entire body fits into his hat, with only his eyes exposed to the world. Things like that really give this game a certain cartoonish feel that is very welcome.

Musically, this game delivered a pleasant surprise. I had no real expectations when I started DBC up — after all, a Christmas-themed game likely would have poorly-reproduced, but constantly-played Christmas music, right? Fortunately, I was wrong on that one. While some of the game’s tunes are quite forgettable, there were enough good ones to make this game a pleasing auditory experience for me. The light, ethereal theme of the “mystic realm” levels only adds to their overall ambiance, while the one cool side-effect of becoming “Anti-Claus” is the devilishly diabolical rendition of one particular holiday favorite.

And, if you are able to ignore the blind jumps this game forces you to endure, play control is well-done, making Santa an easy fellow to control. Boasting excellent jumping ability for someone his size, Mr. Claus is nimble, agile and quite coordinated, making him easy to handle, whether you’re jumping from cloud to cloud or tossing magical ice at penguins.

All things considered, if Sunsoft was able to honestly do one thing right when they created Daze Before Christmas, it was to give the game a cartoonish charisma. Sure, it’s extremely easy and I won’t deny that a lack of secrets really lowers the potential replay value, but in the end, that doesn’t really matter to me. It’s good, relaxing fun — just the sort of thing to unwind with after a rough day. I can’t honestly give DBC a high rating, as it does pale in comparison to the top SNES (or Genesis, for that matter) platformers, but I will recommend that you try it out. It just may grow on you, too.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (June 24, 2004)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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