Let’s not beat around the bush here: Christmas games have a general tendency to be pretty dire. For starters, not many developers even attempt to create a festive title – and the ones that do tend to be dreadful low-effort cash-grabs.
There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but by and large I think it’s probably not unreasonable to be pessimistic about any game themed around the holiday season.
It came as a nice surprise then that Watch Over Christmas turned out to be not only a good Christmas game, but a great game in general!
Many thanks to Dionous Games for the review code
The story kicks off with Santa tied up in a dungeon, strapped to a chair with what looks like velvet rope as the glamorous looking Krampus looks upon him with an evil glint in his eye. His intentions towards our chubby cheery chappy are unclear, but he certainly has plans to ruin Christmas.
Luckily, Santa has a trick up his sleeve: a small box sealed with a magical cypher is out in the real world and has been designed to catch the attention of someone enamoured by Christmas. Not exactly a fool-proof plan, but one that ends up working as the spirit of Christmas calls out to a young boy called Cisco who must seek out and open the box in order to start his journey to save Christmas.
Along his way, he’ll meet a cast of colourful characters in his journey across the spirit realm in order to save Christmas. The story may not be the most complicated, as it’s essentially the traditional ‘child saves Christmas’ story that we have seen many, many times before, but the dialogue and general presentation is what makes it work. The visuals are presented using a variety of hand-drawn environments that are mostly quite impressive to look at, although it is a style that may not necessarily appeal to everyone (as it took me a while to decide on whether I actually liked it or not!).
A CHRISTMAS CONUNDRUM
Even though the story and the dialogue itself is pretty strong, the presentation is slightly let down by unmemorable music and some atrocious voice acting. Not all of it is bad (and some of it is pretty solid), but the main character stands out as being particularly grating. It’s the type of whiney child voice you’d associate with a spoiled brat, and he witters on so much that I had to turn the voices off completely by the end of the first act. Apparently the game’s original release on Steam didn’t include voiceovers, and the game probably would have benefitted from remaining that way.
Thankfully, the game fares better where it matters the most: the gameplay. It’s the classic point and click format utilising an on-screen cursor that fans of the genre will instantly feel at home with. Characters and objects can be interacted with at the click of a button, although annoyingly items that have additional options require you to press another button to bring up a drop-down menu to choose from. Not a huge issue in itself, especially as highlighted interactable objects will have a + symbol available when there are additional actions, but the problem lies with the default action for most items being ‘look’ rather than ‘pick up’, which feels like it has been designed to intentionally waste your time. Another irritating quirk is that the game lacks the quick-travel function of the ‘double-click’ that has become a staple of modern titles in the genre. As someone who has become accustomed to this great quality of life addition, I find myself getting annoyed as Cisco wanders slowly across the screen.
These are only minor niggles of course, and are things you will get used to rather quickly. Interactable obects can be a pain to discern without using the button to highlight objects, but doing so makes things far easier to deal with. As is the case with the genre, puzzles are typically resolved by using objects with people or other objects and are largely well signposted for the most past. There’s no real help function, aside from chatting with your bear who is absolutely useless at giving you hints, but the objectives screen and a bit of common sense will usually keep you going. There are annoying moments where you feel like you’re just trying everything in order to succeed, but there’s no overly obtuse puzzles here at least.
In addition to inventory puzzles, there are also an assortment of minigames for you to solve in order to obtain key items to help you proceed. These range from jigsaws, to a sudoku inspired key puzzle, logic puzzles, and so on. They’re a nice break from the norm and there’s enough variety to keep you going over the game’s long playtime.
It’s a rather solid game throughout that does what it tries to do rather well, and works well as a festive point and click adventure. It may be aimed more towards point and click enthusiasts due to the minimal handholding, but it’s still surprisingly well done. There are some irritating quirks such as an awful save/load system that caused me to lose hours with of progress due to the game terrible autosave combined with the lack of loading confirmation), but otherwise it proved itself to be a rather enjoyable adventure title.
Whilst lacking certain elements that prevent it from becoming a top tier point and click adventure, Watch Over Christmas is still a pretty solid game for fans of the genre that helps spread a bit of festive cheer during the holiday season.