Here’s a Christmas bonus for you – completely unplanned and off-the-cuff, but when a brand new Commodore VIC-20 game comes along you have to pay attention, and when it’s a Christmas game that lands just a few days before Christmas then you have to pay attention quickly!

Fortunately, when we’re talking unexpanded 3K VIC-20 there’s not going to be that much to talk about, so I’m going to give you some quick impressions, a few screenshots, and the verdict on whether or not you should be going to Misfit’s itch.io page and naming your own price to download and play Bloody Xmas. And obviously you should, or I wouldn’t be spending time writing this emergency review, so while you’re there, have a look at Misfit’s other games too, and in particular have a look at Pentagorat for the mega-expanded 32K VIC-20. It’s one of the most impressive things you’ll ever see on there!

Anyway, back to Bloody Xmas, you are one of Santa’s elves and you’ve been given the opportunity for some payback on all those nasty little buggers that don’t deserve Christmas presents! You need to steal all of their presents before they catch you, aided by Santa’s magic gun. Clear the screen of presents, and you move to the next.

This is such a VIC-20 game! From the second you load it up, your ears are assaulted by the most stern rendition of Jingle Bells you’ve ever heard, with abrupt successive single notes that took me right back to religiously working my way through the Personal Computing on the VIC-20 – a Friendly Computer Guide book that came with it, and the section on sound and music… Things had already got exciting in there by this point – we’d just been through animation, programming some jaw-dropping flying birds and bouncing balls (and I say that without a hint of irony!), and now we’re making music, learning about the VIC’s four voices, generating white noise, using the VIC as a piano and getting it to play songs. To do the latter, you had to fire up the VIC’s speakers and, using a table of music note values, represented by DATA statements giving values for the note itself, its duration and pitch, you could get it to play anything you went to the trouble of creating data tables for. Including Jingle Bells, a bit like this version. Love it!

Pressing fire gets rid of that particular audio treat though, replacing it with an ominous Jaws-style two note back and forth as you walk, leaving a solid snaking trail of footprints behind you that are going to hinder your progress if you’re not one step ahead of your route to the various presents around the screen. You can clear a gap in them with Santa’s magic gun, and that can also be used to stun the nasty little children trying to not have their presents stolen by an elf! And those pesky kids are going to be a far bigger worry than your footprints – running into them or even brushing past them too close is instant game over. No mercy. Oh yeah, they’ve got footprint trails too to slow you down even more.

The further you go, the more presents there are to collect and the more congested the walled-in playfield gets, with more bauble-type obstacles to negotiate on the way to them and more children on the warpath. And the more of everything on the go, the quicker you need to suck up those presents and get onto the next screen. And the quicker you go, the more likely you are to come a cropper, so death is always a split-second balancing act away! It’s all randomly generated too, so sometimes the presents will be close at hand whilst other times (more likely!) their positioning is far more cruel.

Obviously the graphics are simple, but what’s there is well designed, distinctly coloured and perfectly identifiable, and on some of the more complex levels those clever footprint trails suddenly turn what started out as a very simple blank screen with a few sprites on it into a chaotic, panic-inducing mess! Despite the panic though, it controls very nicely while it’s all moving at a very impressive whack.

All of that combines into something very impressive overall when you consider what it’s running on, and for fans of the system I can’t recommend it enough. The only thing it’s missing for me is any kind of high score mechanic, whether for presents collected or screens completed – admittedly it gets so hard so fast that you’re unlikely to get that far regardless, but it would be nice to realise you’ve made it just one more present or one more screen further than your previous best. Despite that, it’s fiendishly addictive, and you’ll be using the very instant restart over and over, if nothing else to stop that rendition of Jingle Bells haunting your Christmas dreams!

And whether it’s Christmas or not as you read this, don’t worry about it. Just head over to https://misfit.itch.io/bloody-x-mas, download it and give Misfit as much love as you see fit!