+ It’s so bad, it’s almost worth playing for the sake of experience
– Terrible graphics and music
– No support or feedback for the player
– Hideous physics and enemy AI
– It’s just awful. Truly awful.
If I were to pitch you a game in which a sack-swinging, moon-walking, tomato-firing Santa Claus slays a wild array of bandits, birds and aggressive dog-things, you might think we were onto a winner. Unfortunately, you’d be as wrong as Telegames, the creators of Santa Claus Saves the Earth for the PS1. If you’ve never had the pleasure of playing this game (and I daresay you haven’t), then you’re in for a treat with this one; it’s horrific.
I love a terrible video game. I can’t explain why, exactly, but there’s something incredibly fun about playing a game that was clearly created with no love, care or attention. Santa Claus Saves the Earth is quite possibly the purest example of a game devoid of all three of those qualities, all in equal proportion. The game sets you – unsurprisingly – in the role of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. An evil fairy called Nilam has decreed that the children of Earth aren’t entitled to happiness this December 25th, curses the holiday and begins a mission to take over the planet. Thus begins one of the greatest video games ever made.
The first thing you notice when loading into Santa Claus Saves the Earth is the truly awful art style and graphical capabilities. The main menu depicts these problems quite aptly; here we see Santa Claus, apparently wearing a giant red onesie, clutching his iconic… green handbag? The tree behind him is somehow smaller than him, which is all the stranger given the house is correctly sized. The fairy Nilam looks… well. Rather aggressive, doesn’t she? Complimenting it all is a bizarre soundtrack that’s almost so bad it’s good; the menu music is essentially “Jingle Bells” played on baby’s first electric keyboard.
When you load into the game and navigate the opening cutscene, which barely contexualises the nonsense you’re about to endure, you’re dropped into level one with absolutely no support. No button prompts, no directions, no objectives and no UI support.
After a few seconds of attempting to gather your bearings, you find yourself facing an array of enemy types that bare no indication of continuity – we have yellow dog/hedgehogs, cowboy gunslingers, goblins with torches and weird blue birds. Your only methods of resistance are snowballs, which you can throw from distance, a tomato machine gun (which Santa has always had, it’s fine), and your iconic green sack. The sack is probably my favourite; whenever you swing it, Santa breaks into a moon-walk, and more interestingly, the sack actually swings in a 180 degree left-to-right motion, so you have to time your swings to guarantee you make contact with your enemy, lest they kill you and send you back to the start of the mission.
What makes it all so much more frustrating is Santa himself – his physics are so far detached from reality that it’s almost incredible. Not only does he move incredibly slowly, but when you jump, you seem to drift into the air like a balloon, and suddenly descend from the heavens like a sack of hammers. Couple a poorly controlled Santa with an aggressive AI that flings itself toward you as soon as they enter your sphere of influence, and you’ve got the ingredients for a rage-cake like no other.
In terms of gameplay, the title offers you no guidance and no indication of what can and can’t be achieved. The player is often required to take a blind leap of faith in the hopes of landing on solid ground, attempt to interact with buttons and switches that show no indication of tactility, and collectables that give you no context. Who knew that those golden triangles you were gathering were keys, that fit actual key holes? Not me. Oh, and I only learned they were keys when I paused, because the pause screen is where all the useful UI is hidden. On your actual screen, you’re shown your health in the top right, your chosen weapon in the top left, and three science vials that, again, completely lack in context.
Ultimately, this game – which was also released on the Gameboy Advance – feels like a Gameboy game ported to the PlayStation. Lets remember that this was released in 2002 – the same year the first Spider-Man movie game was released. The same year Kingdom Hearts 1 was released. FOUR years after Metal Gear Solid. I have no idea how this game was allowed to release in this state, or whether or not it was designed for the GBA before the PlayStation, because this game always seems non-existent when you type it’s name into Google. It appears to have been scrubbed from history, and in truth, that’s exactly what it deserves.
Final verdict: 1/5
A truly awful game with no endearing qualities, except how awful it is. Good luck even getting past level one – it’s terrible, and you shouldn’t play it.
If your morbid curiosity has been raised, however, the boys at Vidiots Official will be playing Santa Claus Saves the Earth for their “Worst Games Ever” series in the near future. Enjoy the game, Ben and Peter, and I can only apologise for sending you such an atrocious addition to your games collection.