There are two games that we’ve looked at here previously that I’ll forever associate with Christmas, but actually have nothing to do with Christmas at all – Olli and Lissa: The Ghost of Shilmoore Castle and Rogue Trooper, both on ZX Spectrum, and both first played on various 1980s Christmas Eves. And as we all know, they were the best Christmas Eves! Now, I did once talk about a proper Christmas game, Moley Christmas, but that was in the middle of summer last year, so I thought that this year we’d go the whole hog and look at a proper Christmas game at proper Christmas!
Apart from that Monty Mole Your Sinclair cover tape from 1987, the only other proper Christmas game I remember playing much of was Special Delivery on Commodore 64. This had you gadding about on Santa’s sleigh, avoiding lightning while you caught presents from angels in the clouds. Collect enough and you landed on a roof, climbed down one of three ladders in a very oversized chimney dodging unspecified baddies, then crept around a crude 3D house to deliver them under a tree while avoiding its inhabitants. It was no Winter Games, but it was alright!
Time to add one more strand of tinsel to my festive bow now though, and what could be better than a relatively almost new (but more recently updated) ZX Spectrum game, A Very Sheepy Xmas! This was originally a 2020 Christmas bonus from Quantum Sheep, who I know from Last Train to Tranz-Central, a two-part run ‘n’ gun adventure released in August that year, but there’s a lot more besides for all sorts of new and old systems that you can check out here.
Back to A Very Sheepy Xmas, you are Quantum Sheep, out to help Disco Santa, the dancing queen whose unbridled enthusiasm is distracting him from collecting the presents he needs to deliver on Christmas Eve! What’s more, some toys have come alive and become hazardous! You need to collect presents scattered across 25 screens, avoid the baddies and get them back to Santa.
It’s all platforms and ladders as you make your way through the game’s five stages, starting in Santa’s Grotto, then the Ice Castle, The Cabin, The Workshop and finally The Chimney. You’ll mostly be moving from the bottom of the screen up to the top using ladders, ice slides and vines to get about. Small gaps can be crossed just by walking over them, but some levels demand a bit of controlled falling to reach a few dangling presents. Very simple and it mostly feels good, though in moments of panic later on I did find myself struggling to connect with the vines in particular at times.
The game is all about puzzling out the timing of your movement. Most screens will start off easy, with the first couple of presents just needing a bit of navigating to before you get to the rogue clockwork soldiers, teddies and the like. Then you’re working out their movement patterns, finding a gap and going for it. Some of them are a bit more difficult to work out though, moving up and down ladders seemingly at random, which adds a lot of a risk to every movement when they’re in play just above you!
In the main, if you’re patient you’ll quickly work out what you need to do and when, even when there’s a bunch of different enemies and moving obstacles on the screen. The only place I really struggled was on the last screen of The Workshop, where you need to get up a big vine and past a circular saw while avoiding two teddies bouncing around with no obvious pattern. Took me ages to beat! Otherwise, the five lives you begin with and the extra ones you get by collecting occasional cups of tea will see you through to a nice closing message.
The five stages each have their own character, nicely complemented by a continuous snowfall effect in the background – for something so simple it adds a lot of atmosphere! Player and enemy sprites are detailed, and brought to life by a bit of a bounce as they move. Plenty of colour without much clash going on too. Sound effects are sparse and do their job, but there’s a very jaunty Spectrum take on a well-known seasonal tune if you’re running on 128K!
A Very Sheepy Xmas is simple, short and very sweet, and you’re definitely going to have an enjoyable thirty minutes to an hour playing through it. Hell of a proper Christmas game for the price…
You can name your own price and download A Very Sheepy Christmas here. Happy Sheepy Christmas!