It is fitting that a gaming system from the Netherlands has a couple of solid Christmas-themed games in its library (since it was Dutch settlers who gave us the "Sinter Klaas" figure who eventually became our own beloved Santa Claus). But Santa is not universally loved. In recent years, he has had to endure attacks from the ACLU, critics of obesity, and anti-smoking lobbyists. In Christmas Crisis for the Philips CD-i, he faces a lesser-known foe by the name of Dr. Rubberchicken, a man so intent on destroying Christmas that he has rigged twenty-four presents with explosives. Santa must now travel across the world to dismantle the bombs before they fall into the fragile hands of children.
You begin with an arsenal of ten snowballs to ward off the evil toys that Rubberchicken has sent your way. Since they are thrown in an arc, it takes a practiced hand and good timing to clear your path. Fortunately, snow is a renewable resource and you can find more on your way through each level, but you still may want to ration your supply since there are many enemies to overcome. On route to each precarious present, collectables and power-ups abound, as well as hidden treasures and warp points. Most levels are laid out vertically, and despite his bulk, Santa moves with alacrity as he climbs platforms to reach his goal. Each of the twenty-four levels has its own theme and color scheme, making what could seem like a repetitive game fresh and engaging. The only boss battle comes at the end of the adventure, and though easy by most standards, the confrontation wraps the whole experience with a nice bow. This basic gaming formula works well and shows skeptical CD-i players that the system can indeed match 16-bit consoles in its execution and playability.
The chief difficulty in the game lies in discovering the passwords for each level. While most games just dole out a password upon a player's death, here you must earn it. If you fail to acquire enough points by picking up collectables, then you may have to restart your quest from scratch after losing all five of your lives. This may be frustrating, but the programmers were smart to make passwords unlockable, hereby turning what could have been too short a game into a decently sized adventure.
Once you have a password, entering it does seem a bit more complicated than it needs to be. An advent calendar surrounds the menu screen and each day in the calendar corresponds to a festive symbol like a star, wreath, or bell. It is up to you to decode the calendar and figure out how to input the password. It's not quite like deciphering CIA cryptonyms, but the process seems an unnecessary nuisance for a player who just wants to get back into action.
Christmas Crisis plays simply and has simple objectives, but like many CD-i games, it does try to do too much at points with the hardware. A 3D mini-game presents itself between some levels in which you steer a sleigh from a first-person point-of-view. Though the graphics looks impressive, the sled travels along a very limited rail system that allows you to swerve only a little to the left or right. You are often unwillingly propelled toward obstacles like barrels or lampposts despite your fiercest tapping of the d-pad. With little player-autonomy in these mini-games, they just get in the way of the overall adventure which is good enough to stand on its own 2D merits.
On the whole, Christmas Crisis is good, cheerful title with very fine mechanics. It has all the requisites of a good holiday game: bright colors, festive music, and playability. The fact that it is not terribly long is also a good thing. You don't necessarily want a Christmas themed game to span beyond the holiday season, when all the trim and tinsel is mothballed back in your attic.