Gaming

Advent Showdown Round 6 : Ludum Dare Xmas


Right now the Ludum Dare judging, following on from the competitions 31st iteration, is in full swing, with over 2500 entries for the judges to play and rate. As you may know, Ludum Dare is a game jam with two options for those who want to enter, the compo, which gives solo participants only 48 hours to create a game and all of its assets from scratch. The jam allows for groups, is 72 hours long and rules on asset generation are a little more open.

The themes caused a bit of a stir during the jam, with the snowman theme being beaten by the ‘entire game on one screen theme’. However, this didn’t stop entrants from making games with various Christmassy and snowy themes, or just featuring snowmen! So in the last Advent Showdown before Christmas (but not the last Advent Showdown) heres a list of my favourite Ludum Dare 31 games with snowy or Christmassy themes, with two winners chosen, one for the compo category and one for the jam category!

Compo Entries :

Super Snowgirl Dash

Lets start off with a charming little platformer about a snowgirl who has to gather up Santa’s stolen presents from the claws of the monsters who have stolen them. It has a cute art style, and while many sprites could have used a few more animation frames, the whole feel works for the game and the music and sound effects give a decent enough mood.

Some of the hitboxes seem a little off at times, and portions of the game seem a little hard or even unfair, but this works in the games favour, as due to time constraints the game is only 4 levels long, but it took me just over 10 minutes to play through which I think is a decent length. If the game would have been easier, it could have easily been a bit short. At the end of the game you get a total time taken and a death counter, both of which are really nice touches to add in, overall, decent little game.

Snowman’s Tropical Adventures

This is a fun little 3D platformer about a snowman who must find the magical Christmas tree to prevent him from melting on his tropical adventure. Oh and yes of course he wants to pick up presents on the way! The trick of this one is that the level is a 3D world, you control the snowman with the keyboard and you can spin the camera with the mouse, which you will need to do at various times to view different parts of the level. There are enemies you can avoid and you can sprint with the shift key.

There’s only three levels, but once again, total playtime for me was about 10 minutes, and I found a few presents were quite cleverly hidden to make the most of the games mechanics, so the game doesn’t feel overly short. It does however feel a little easy, as there’s only one enemy type and it moves quite slowly and is easy to dodge, but regardless, its a cute little game that merges the snowman theme with the ‘game on one screen’ theme quite nicely.

Snowman’s Land : SNOVERCHILL

Snowman’s Land is a hilarious little online multiplayer arena game in which you compete with other players to be the coolest snowman at the north pole. Each player has a personalised snowman on a snowboard, yes a snowboard, and the aim of the game is to get more points than the other players by either completing tricks successfully or by hitting other players with thrown snowballs while you race around the curves and jumps of the arena.

With a decent group of four or more this game immediately turns into a hilarious ‘try not to die’ contest as you dart from jump to jump, spinning uncontrollably and just trying to land without faceplanting a wall and causing your snowman to explode into a shower of snow, and the upbeat music, graphics and sound effects all add to this creating an excitable giggly mood that makes the first five minutes a mix of laughing and learning that I found simply good natured and seasonal, as I plowed into other players and walls alike not having a clue what I was doing or why my score was minus 5 thousand, but at that point I didn’t really care either, I was just having fun messing about.

After the first game though, it gets a little more involved, you start to figure out the little tricks behind landing jumps and spins, and start to throw snowballs at those within your reach. Before you know it you’re planning ahead and looking at the next jump and the next trick you can pull off, the next place you’ll be able to throw snowballs at other players to destroy them before they crash into you, and you realise there’s a little more complexity behind this then at first seems.

You need others to get the most fun out of this, and there’s only one arena so it starts to wear thin after a little while, but while the magic is there this is a real Christmas cracker of a game, pardon the pun.

Save Christmas!

No Ludum Dare would be complete without an arena shooter and here’s one about that tale as old as time, saving Christmas! Its a simple but fun top down shooter in which you, as Santa, have to fight off waves of snowmen and reclaim the presents they stole. The snowmen attack you by throwing what looks suspiciously like carrots at you, but you can fight back with…well, a machine gun, naturally!

There’s not much else I can add here really, as the top down arena shooter has been done to death over the last few years, but its amusing enough to play for a few minutes, and the graphics and sounds are all of a high standard. It has a nice little Christmassy feel, its just a shame the gameplay is a little on the shallow side.

Jam Entries :

Ultimate Reindeer Adventure

This jam game is about a reindeer stacking presents to climb up the side of a cliff to reach Santa, while trying to stop a goblin from blowing up the stack with bombs. No, I don’t get it either, but the game works a charm. You play a reindeer with the alarming ability to jump and pick up and throw objects. You’re in between two cliffs, on the top of one stands Santa, who will throw in presents for you to stack up so you can climb to him, on the other is an evil little goblin, who will throw bombs in that will send your stack flying if you don’t catch them and throw them out of the way.

The game is brilliant to start off with as you start stacking presents and hurling them around to get on top of each other, but later on the game drags, as the goblin seems to get a little to good at blowing up the tower you spent a good five minutes building, and the bomb tends to easily get lost in the stack, so your scramble to find it before it explodes and sends masses of presents flying always seems to end up in vain. I actually never made it to the top, as I ragequit after the 5th time of a stack going boom. However, up until that point its a joy to play and no doubt others will have a much easier time getting there.

Super Carrot Farming 3000 Deluxe

Another game that mixes ‘Entire Game on One Screen’ and ‘Snowman’ very successfully is this little gem. You play a boy with a plot of land, growing his prize carrot. You start by planting some carrots in the soil, but as night falls you must defend your beloved carrots from…well, you’ll see.

This little game is brilliantly executed with great sounds and graphics, which gives it an excellent mood. The controls are simple and fluid too, which gives it the feeling of a little extra polish that a lot of Ludum Dare games don’t quite have. There’s also a resource mechanic in place, where you can either choose to reinvest your carrots by planting them into the soil, or using them to help fund your defence.

Sadly, that’s where the complexity ends and as the game goes on it gets a little boring to play. Still, this shouldn’t take away from the fact that the first 5 or so minutes of this game are a hell of a lot of well executed and polished fun.

Hunt the Yeti

Hunt The Yeti is a brilliantly charming arena fighter in which you fight off waves of enemies and collect their gems to score points. Fight off enough waves and you might just find the great Yeti! It features a cute little mechanic in which you punch through ice to open up patches of water, and you punch enemies into these little lakes to defeat them. Just don’t fall into them yourself!

The graphics and sounds immediately come together and the whole experience just works as a game. The mechanic takes a moment to get used to but once you get it working it really feels good to use. The arena also changes on further playthroughs, which while not adding much, does add a breath of fresh air. Its hard to write further on the game, because it feels like such a complete little package, the difficulty feels just right, the map, while not really Christmassy, is snowy enough to give it that winter feel, and I swear if I try to use the word ‘charming’ one more time to describe this game I’ll go insane.

Snowma’am

Snowma’am is a tower defence game where you control a commander of sorts called Snowma’am. Your job is to defend the temple of winter against the forces of summer and you do this by placing two types of defender snowmen across the battlefield. Defeating attackers give you more resources, and you can also upgrade your entire army if you have enough. It starts off simple enough but the enemies arrive in waves and the later waves are so tough you’ll be scrambling to replace snowmen as they’ll fall very quickly.

Up until this point the game kind of holds together, but sadly the movement controls for your Snowma’am are awful. While you can happily place defences with a single click you can only move one block at once and this movement usually takes a few seconds. The enemies feel much faster than you and consequently you always feel a few seconds behind their attack. This is unfortunate as if the movement was more fluid the game would easily be a lot of fun to play, but it leaves you with a sour feeling as often I was scrambling to place defences with lots of resources but the Snowma’am was just too slow!

Santa’s First Christmas

Santa’s First Christmas is a stealth game about you, as Santa, staying out of sight of children by hiding in various household objects (but not Christmas trees, oddly), and moving presents from your sleigh to under their trees, before getting back to your sleigh to escape. The game starts with a short intro which explains the ‘first Christmas’ part, and then gets straight into a set of rather tough levels where you must deliver multiple presents to multiple trees.

The graphics and the sound effects and music all create a great mood, and the stealth is implemented well except for one thing : There’s no indicators to show how far the children can see. This means quite often you are playing a guessing game, which will make the difficulty very frustrating for some, especially considering you have to start the whole level again from scratch if you are caught, which can be particularly enraging if you have planted all the presents underneath all the trees, and then only need to get back to your sleigh to finish the level. Later levels complicate this even further by having enemies that shoot at you, so if you stay still in a hiding spot for too long, you will get shot aaaand back to the start of the level for you.

These issues will be a dealbreaker for some, but I found Santa’s first Christmas to be a brilliantly charming game despite the difficulty level. Theres a lot of nice little touches here, like the way trees light up when you have delivered a present to them, and it certainly hits that Christmas mood sweet spot.

31 Sugar Free

31 Sugar Free is a tower defence game mixed in with a bit of RTS. You have to defend the giant present from an endless onslaught of enemies and you can summon three kinds of soldier to help you, which you can control and move around the battlefield. Gold is the resource used to summon your armies. You will receive gold for defending gold generation spots and defeating enemies. The aim is to simply survive as long as you can.

This game could really use a tutorial as it gets right into the swing of things very quickly. I’d certainly recommend restarting once or twice until you get the hang of the map and the controls. Once you get your bearings sorted though, its a decent little tower defence that while offering nothing new or groundbreaking, certainly offers the panic of a tower defence game with the strategy of an RTS, all wrapped up in a neat Christmassy package.

Overview :

Ludum Dare is filled with great games every competition, and this one is no different. There’s a lot of games here that aren’t mentioned, not to mention plenty of great games that don’t have Christmas themes (remember, the actual voted theme was Entire Game on One Screen) so I heartily recommend everyone spends a little time browsing through and finding some favourites for themselves.

The Compo winner is…. Snowman’s Land : SNOVERCHILL !

This game was just way too fun, at one point I laughed so hard I was in tears. Sure it needs to be filled with a good number of players to get the most of it, but the games creator and other Ludum Dare creators and judges will happily play it with you if you need a few extras. Its great fun and a good laugh, especially if you have a few people over Skype to play it with. Simple good natured fun, and brilliantly made for something created in only 48 hours.

The Jam winner is…. Hunt the Yeti !

Almost all of the games in my list were slightly flawed in one way or another, but in a way that’s part of the charm of a Ludum Dare, finding out what each individual entry had to work around to make the time constraints. Hunt the Yeti was the exception to that rule. Its only flaw was that I wish there was more of it. It seemed to just work as a standalone game and it really was such a charming little thing to play. Also it had one of the most interesting combat mechanics I’ve seen in a while.

The Advent Showdown’s ‘Leftovers’ will continue after Christmas, but until then, Merry Christmas everyone!

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