I've not just been dreaming for a white Xmas, I've long been waiting for any old excuse to play the particular game that's being reviewed before your very eyes...
Yes folks, while this may have been written a good time before the holiday festivities truly kick in, it's the down right obvious choice for a great many retro gamer in the world as they await a visit from good ol' Saint Nick. It's also being activated to coincide with Xmas on the site. So, there's that. Dig it!
Daze Before Christmas is at its core an action-platform game from the creative minds over at Funcom (the developers) and published by Sunsoft. Released in 1994 for the Sega MegaDrive exclusively for the Australian (and New Zealand) market(s) in good ol' PAL format. It was later subject to a port over to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in other PAL territories, namely Europe; but oddly had its release in the United States cancelled. Funcom these days are arguably more well known for their Age of Conan series, but made their mark prior with other licences games such as A Dinosaur's Tale (which some of the source code was borrowed for Daze) and Disney's Pocahontas, but also the JVC Mega-CD ports of Fatal Fury Special and Samurai Shodown.
Now typically I would try and run down what the game is all about, but I do believe the back of the box tells you much better than I ever could, as it's down right awesome. Get those quote marks ready, folks! Story time:
“Twas but Daze Before Christmas and at Santa's shop, work on the toys has suddenly stopped! The elves are on strike as Christmas draws near, but much worse than that, there's something to fear! Give Santa the potion to drink and he'll change, he'll become Anti-Claus on a rampage of rage! He'll break all the toys, he'll ignore his good work. Could it be Santa is just a fat jerk? You must help Santa find his way, fix all the toys and take off in his sleigh. Through 24 levels you'll put up a fight. Can you help save Christmas? Let's find out tonight!”
Seriously, any blurb that is told in Dr. Seuss like rhyme is fine by me. If I was a young man down under and saw this, I would probably have a breakdown of pure joy and want to buy it immediately. It's the simple kind of thing that just really gets me going and is too few and far between in this day and age, so I felt it natural to have to highlight it here!
Anyway, while the crux of the story is really all there in black and white on the back of the box, you'll probably be wanting a bit more from me on the game and in considerably less rhyme. Well, it is my review, but it's Xmas; so I'll oblige. The in-game story actually offers up a slightly different case of events that more closely resemble what is going on as you play through. The elves, as opposed to unionising and going on strike, were actually scared away by an Evil Snowman, while the Timekeeper steals Santa's plans and Louse the Mouse rips open the pressies and casts an evil spell on them (thus, turnin' them from nice to naughty, if you will).
All the above characters appear as Bosses and are even featured on the title screen, alongside the likes of Mr. Weather, who is literally an evil cloud that wants you dead and Xmas ruined. What a dick. Those toys that Louse tinkered with appear as standard enemies alongside the likes of penguins, jacks-in-boxes, little helicopters and rodents in scuba gear. Because video game.
Essentially you (the player) take control of Santa (A/K/A: Father Christmas, etc.) and you must use your (Santa's) running, jumping and magic to smack down foes and progress as you would in any standard platformer from the time. Daze Before Christmas does play slightly different depending on whether or not you drink the (as the blurb calls it) potion, which essentially looks like a cup of cocoa (the real demon drink, quite clearly).
As Santa, your magic will turn baddies into collectable, wrapped gifts (blue) which help toward stacking points but also for the sections of the game I'll come to in a bit. Your magic also opens red gifts that is typically an item of some kind such as a hat (which acts as a hit), an enemy, an extra life or a bomb (so a bit of a crap shoot). The third and final type of gift is the yellow/gold ones that when opened unleash a happy helper elf who will then wander around aimlessly with a dopey grin on its face. There's also power-ups that give Santa certain extra tricks to use against enemies, such as throwing fire to melt the Evil Snowman down to size. You can also find and release reindeer, so it's basically collectables galore in this game.
When you partake in the sipping of potion however, that's when Anti-Claus comes to town and gets on that so-called rampage of rage. Instead of using magic, as Santa's evil twin from within; you will be swinging your sack around like its the hammer of Thor and bonkin' things on the head which ultimately kills things as opposed to turning them into collectables. No longer will collectable items be, well; collectable, either. It's probably best to leave the drink as is, to be honest. You can, as Anti-Claus, easily take out those big wooden robot looking things blocking the way (which contain elves), so that's where the option becomes worthwhile. It is limited, however. There's actually a timer that you can set in the options menu if you want the ability for longer or shorter amounts.
Now to get to where I alluded, those blue presents. Why collect them? What good is that bar the score? Well, that would be for when you enter the 'Over' stages (ie: Over England, Over Russia, etc.) which on the surface look like a side-scrolling shooter, but has you dropping presents down chimneys. Hey, it is in your job description as Santa after all! There are hazards such as hot air balloons and the like that'll get in your way and it's actually fairly easy to miss your drop off point and just end up chucking the pressies ON THE GRROOOOUUUNNNNDDD. Bummer.
You're probably sitting there now, thinking “wait a minute, Olly023 – I wanted a review, not overview! Opinions, please!!”. First off, calm down. It's Xmas. Secondly, yes I'm getting to that right here: in my honest, totally unbiased and certainly unpaid opinion (because unlike random trolls may chat, there aint no advertising revenue here; ask our banks!) - it's pretty freakin' sweet. The game design and controls, while not anything extraordinary or particularly game-changin' (for back then, let alone now) are on point. The controls are responsive and Santa reacts just as you'd imagine with each sequential button press. You want things tight in a platformer and thus Daze succeeds, instead of leaving the player rage-quitting over finicky jumping mechanics or poor hit detection. It's just all good stuff and compliments the presentation accordingly.
The presentation itself is absolutely top-notch. As this was one of the few commercial Xmas titles, it's imperative that it was (to put it bluntly) festive as fuck! Really, the game is. Besides the obvious, it genuinely does look, act, sound, play and (I'm pretty sure if it could, it would) even smell like a Xmas game. In fact, perhaps Sunsoft should have dipped the plastic of the cartridge into some mould cider before shipping, just to go that extra mile. Unfortunetly not the case, but the drift (never mind the whiff) must be caught by now. Daze Before Christmas should be to gaming aficionados what the superior (yeah, I said it) Miracle on 34th Street remake is to those who love a good seasonal flick.
Graphically speaking, Daze looks gorgeous. It's totally just cartoonish fun, of course; but it's as of a standard you would find in a 16-bit Disney title. Which you'd rightly assume, is high praise from moi if you've ever seen me comment on Virgin's Disney releases, specifically. Foregrounds thankfully stick out enough that you don't ever get muddled with what's going on at the back (and thus make ridiculous decisions in-game due to such), with much of the games actual platforms having a neat slanted effect. Animation across the board here is as smooth as a newborns behind, too – with each character having decent and defined cycles with a good few frames a piece. Santa (and by extension Anti-Claus) is obviously the real star of the show. Whether it's the eye-popping look he gives when falling, or pulling his hat down in an over-the-top motion when crouching, or simply just taking in the scenery while idle. Anti-Claus specifically has a crouch n' move animation where he creeps inside his sack and slithers along the floor. That sort of thing deserves medals.
Before each stage, you also get a cool static art screen, ala Rayman and the like; that also gives the specific title for said stage. This coupled with the whole advent calendar thing that I previously mentioned helps give the game that extra edge. Just simple things that can easily be overlooked but really added to my personal enjoyment. The levels are a bit all over the place, however. On the one hand Santa will be trekking through the snow, but the next minute you'll be in a magical cave or a factory. Everything fits in and the design remains good, it's just a little one-eyebrow raising when you're at polar opposite locations while working your way through. Also, some levels are insanely short, so that may be a downer to some folk; but for me when paired with larger stages it's fine as it helps everything move at a swift pace. A pace that can be upheld despite lack of a stage timer. Exploration is also key in some levels to rack up the most points and such, which is something I always appreciate.
To bounce off of the overall presentation and land back in gameplay central for a minute, while the game has three modes of difficulty, finding hats and gaining extra lives are never a chore. This is either an upper or a downer, it's dependent on the individual. For me, I was happily simply in context. I wanted to play Daze to play a game that was a relatively straight forward challenge, which it most certainly provided. Besides that, there is also a password save system in place, with continuing only really having an impact on your scoring and amount of presents obtained. But, there's even a trick around that where you can essentially grind on certain levels just by memorising where an extra life item is and proceeding to attack and attack again the respawning enemies post-suicide. I don't recommend that, as that is tedious and ultimately unnecessary, but figured I'd point it out regardless. Within the stages you will also be able to find a checkpoint in the form of a bell. Ends of stages are indicated by a flashy looking star (such as that that sits atop your tree) that Santa can touch for further adventure.
Diving ear first back into the presentation side of things here brings me right into that freakin' awesome soundtrack. If you know games and you know Sunsoft, you should know that they rarely disappoint on the music front and here is no different. Whether it's take offs of classic Xmas themes, the whimsy-inducing soundscapes of the caves and the like, or the more rugged and thumping sounds that kick out as a boss fight ensues. On a stand alone CD, it would certainly make for perfect backing track to your next office party – certainly better than anything Cliff Richard has given us.
Being this is the MegaDrive version of the game I'm reviewing, it is obviously that version of the score I'm referencing; that driving Yamaha chip just always delivers when used correctly for me. I adore it no end and always trumps that soft, reverb-ridden hell that is the Sony-SNES equivalent. By comparison though, the other digitised sounds in the game aren't really here nor there, so lost marks for that. Though the boxing glove sound effect is aces.
Ultimately, while leaning on the easier side of retro video games and certainly gaining replay value (score attacking aside) simply on a seasonal basis (that being the one in the games title, of course) Daze Before Christmas could be considered somewhat a hidden gem if it wasn't for the internet and collectors going absolutely Toki to own a copy. While more well known now than ever, Daze is a game for those of you out there who just want something old school and fun when it comes to showing some love to your Sega this Xmas. While my review is focused solely on the single player mode, there does exist a two player option and the game should happily appeal to all age groups, so get the family involved! Lord knows it will cause less arguments than Monopoly, so it gets a hearty recommendation from Olly023 for sure.
So kick back in front of the fire, put your feet up and dim the lights to get magically swept away to the fantastical fantasy land on display in Daze Before Christmas. The perfect choice for any retro gamer this or any holiday season…
Happy Holidays, RGG readers! Xx
Verdict:- Daze Before Christmas is a game that gets the Olly023 stamp of approval. It's Sunsoft doing what Sunsoft did best. What's that you ask? Making fantastic games out of something other developers would perhaps cock up!
The graphics, music and gameplay are all top notch. When it comes to Xmas based platformers, there's a suprising amount available. However, this remains one of the greatest for sheer fun and variety, as well as being a nice use of the systems hardware.
Daze is also available on the SNES but I can't speak for that version having not played it. But from what I have to go on, it will likely be awesome, too.
Want an admittedly rare and expensive stocking filler this and/or any holiday season? Then this is the game you've been looking for.
Play it NOW! It's bloomin' great!!!
Second Opinion:- Icey weather conditions can bring Transbots circuits to a boil when it gets in the way of a typically enjoyable Type D excursion. Yet this jolly Santa fellow seems all about it. More power to him.
This is indeed a fun game from Sunsoft, it's just unfortunate it saw such a limited release and is now practically only obtainable physically and original by way of doubled up shelf collectors (who, Transbot must assume, work for DALAUS) looking to clear an area for another copy of Addams Family Values.
Transbot states this is where the internet and emulation save the day, yet again. But doesn't quite understand why that silly fleshling reviewer here keeps insisting on reviewing such pricey games...
Long and short? Daze Before Christmas gets the Transbot stamp of approval, too. Docked half-point for it being so icey. Bzt.
Transbot Scores:- 7.5 out of 10