Game of the Month: Xmas Shoppin

That’s right, Xmas Shopping. Not only are you late for your son’s school play, Sticky White Xmas, you’re still stuck in the mall with little to no time to purchase Xmas presents! This masterpiece for the PSP™ is an action-adventure, survival-horror, and dramedy-filled sim with some parking-lot destruction derby thrown in for good measure. Xmas Shopping’s ability to successfully combine each of these genres has earned it the quasi-legendary Game of the Month status. Forget about your real-life credit extension, you have to get to the Xmas Shopping mall…now!In Xmas Shopping, you guide super-procrastinator Jim Maher through the last, maddening, 69 hours before Christmas morning. It would not be quite so bad if Jim weren’t a widowed father of seven kids – each of whom are less than 20 years old! The 69 in-game hours are sped up; you’ll be racing against the clock to purchase presents and still make it to the myriad of Maher children’s many holiday happenings. If the kids don’t get the gifts they want, it’ll be a disastrous December 25. Don’t worry if the ending isn’t happy the first time ‘round – the fun will come multiple times with Xmas Shopping’s seemingly endless number of original endings.If shopping for all seven kids (not counting friends and other family) in a mere 69 hours seems like an impossible task, it’s probably because it is impossible. In a unique twist, the game developers at CmCC3 decided to make Xmas Shopping a Groundhog Day-esque affair. The Disappoint-O-Meter – your gauge to approximate your kids’ Xmas-morning reactions – starts off so low that, no matter how hard you try, the first completion always results in tears, sadness, and more tears. However, each time you wake up at noon on December 22 (Jim must’ve hit the ‘nog a little hard on the 21st), you get another chance to tilt the Disappoint-O-Meter a little more towards the most awesome Xmas morning EVER!
The primary way to get the Disappoint-O-Meter where you want it is to do some serious shopping. This actiodventurroriller portion of the game is tons of fun. Using the children’s wish lists – which read like mission objectives – Jim has to hit the stores hard. Should you purchase a few presents you know you’ll be able to find, or should you throw the dice on getting one of the notoriously hard-to-get gifts (see below)?

Fellow shoppers appear as mindless zombies – instead of “braaaaaiiins,” they lurk around, groaning product names like “iiiiiiiPooood.” They flood the mall, small specialty stores, and large discount chains alike. Don’t worry, you’ll learn special maneuvers like spin moves to get past the slow-moving, “Elderly Couple” zombies and get special gear that’ll help you rappel floor-to-floor in the mall to save precious time. In order to fight off caffeine-addled, violence-prone, “Super Shopper” zombies, you’ll gain hand-to-hand combat experience during the somewhat out-of-place, yet comical, appearances of Chuck Norris. (Details are still sketchy concerning whether they paid him to appear in the game or the other way around.)

To get past vicious, bitter, store clerks, you’ll even have to create riotous distractions by carefully deploying decoys like empty Gaytendo Pii boxes, or playing off wads of colorful Oligarchiopoly cash as real money. Jim can also trade gifts or try to buy ‘em off of other shoppers. Though it may be more naughty than nice, popping out of an airshaft into a bathroom stall to run off with a crucial present is a real hoot. Just watch out for mall security! Nothing messes up your Disappoint-O-Meter like being in jail on Xmas morning.

At first the gifts are easy to find, but each kid wants at least one nearly impossible-to-find gift. Sweet little Becky wants a pony. Her identical brother, Tommy, wants a Tickle Me Metal Gearmo – a goggly-eyed, plush n’ cuddly, toy version of a Metal Gear mecha (a tactical-nuclear-weapon-wielding, bipedal tank). Though surprisingly reticent when it comes to his two missing front teeth, all 15-year-old Bernie wants for Xmas is for his voice to change and “some hair down there,” so get ready to hunt down a smidgen of human growth hormone. And just how the hell are you supposed to find Richard the Star Wars: Episodes I-VI box set… on laserdisc?! Finally, setting a precedent of unsurpassed difficulty, Jim, Jr., won’t be able to live without the holiday season’s rarest and most sought-after gift, a GayStation 3.

Besides buying gifts, sitting in on the kiddies’ seasonal occurrences is the best way to secure a happy Xmas morning. However, with seven children, someone’s not going to be happy. Becky’s piano recital might be boring, but she needs you to be there. Though it’s the last place on earth Jim wants to go, Shirley will be awfully upset if he misses “Jesusmas: A Live Reenactment of Christ’s Birth,” an extra-special Xmas Eve service at her wacky evangelical church. Remember that the only thing worse than missing 7th-grader Jim, Jr.’s, aforementioned play is hearing him say, “If mommy were still alive, she would’ve been there.” Thankfully, each time you restart the 69 hours, you keep most of the positive points gained for attending all the kiddies’ events. That means that, the next time ‘round, you’ll be able to hit the mall instead of mashing buttons to stay awake in the church pews or the auditorium’s uncomfortable folding chairs.

The developers at CmCC3 added plenty of irresponsibly fun side missions that usually don’t help out your Disappoint-O-Meter and can waste valuable time. Amongst my favorites:

-    Running into some buds from high school begins with riding around the mall, smoking a joint before hitting the arcade, but inevitably turns into an epic drug-and-alcohol binge that may or may not end until those 69 hours are up (resulting in the “Intervention” ending).

-    Acting on the advances made by Jim, Jr.’s, social studies teacher leads to scandalous fun. Hooking up with her can actually earn you some positive points on Little Jimmy’s Disappoint-O-Meter!

-    Meeting up with Shirley’s preacher for a “massage session” turns into a meth-fueled, homosexual tryst. Subsequently selling the story to a major newspaper can put a little extra shopping cash in your pocket, too.

-    Hanging mistletoe outside the dressing room at Slittoria’s Secret just to see what happens…

Xmas Shopping also features above-average stealth-based play. With only the moonlight to guide you (unless you find the well-hidden night-vision goggles), you’ll be sneaking those presents into the house like a well-trained ninja. Even the best Black Ops spies will begrudgingly admire the Xmas Eve sneakiness Jim uses to get the gifts beneath the tree. Be careful: one false move and Santa no longer exists.

When Xmas morning finally arrives, it’s time to set the controller down and watch how your latest 69 hours have affected the present-unwrapping extravaganza. Each ending plays out on home-video-style cut scenes that, depending on your current Disappoint-O-Meter standings and the gifts you’ve managed to acquire, range from utter despair to ecstatic happiness. There’s lots of outrageousness and absurdity thrown in for good measure, too. Few things are funnier than an obviously wasted Santa showing up late to give Jim’s kids boxes of coal. Call me perverse, but my favorite ending thus far is when the family gets a visit from the mother’s ghost. (She’s accompanied by a menagerie of her kids’ dead pets!) Featuring 300+ possible endings, you’re guaranteed a multitude of imaginative endings.

It’s hard to explain just how addictive replaying the sped-up 69 hours can be. Each run-through brings fun new facets to discover or hilarious side-story tangents to follow. The humor is delightfully dark, the characters rich and endearing. Pushing the PSP to its technological limits with its luscious, realistic, 3-D graphics, immersive sound, and tight controls, Xmas Shopping’s 69 hours feel great every time. I hope you’ve reserved a copy, because this game just might turn out to be one of the hardest-to-find gifts this holiday season!

The Digital Crackhead: December Releases Reviewed

Wii Launch Games

The Legend of Zelda®: Twilight Princess – You know you’re in the Legend of Hellda by the Lake of Fire fishing game.

Wii™ Sports – The term for participating in water sports while high on digital crack.

Red Steel™ – Colored metal alloy. Yay. Fun.

Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam™ – Tony Hawk’s Downhill Career.

Trauma Center™: Second Opinion – This game was S.O.A. (Sh–tty On Arrival)

Metal Slug™ Anthology – Few things are worse than a sh–tty game. An anthology of sh–tty games is one of those few things.

Tom Clancy’s™ Splinter Cell: Double Agent – …working for both Lamedonesia and Gamesuckistan.

Happy Feet™ – Sad hand-eye coordination.

SpongeBob SquarePants™: Creature from the Krusty Krab – Gonna need some special cream after playing this stinker.

Avatar: The Last Airbender™ – Yes! Please! No more Airbenders!

Excite Truck™ – Makes…me…sleepy…

Monster 4X4 World Circuit – A redneck conquest game? No thanks.

Dragon Ball Z®: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 – Sucks dragon ballz.

The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy™ – Yep.

Elebits™ – Hitting this digital crack will keep you glued to the toilet with a bad case of the Elesh–ts.

Nintendo’s Virtual Console Lineup

The Legend of Zelda® – Feeling nostalgic? Return to the wasted hours of your youth.

Super Mario World™ – A terrible place to visit and an even worse place to live.

Sonic the Hedgehog™ – Only thing dumber than playing as a hedgehog is playing as a dolphin.

Bonk’s Adventure™ – Unfortunately, not a porn. Or is it? No, it’s not.

Altered Beast™ – Coincidentally, the name of my unofficial biography.

Golden Axe™ – An axe definitely better left buried.

Ecco the Dolphin™ – Only thing dumber than playing as a dolphin is playing as a hedgehog.

Toe Jam & Earl™ – Gayer than SpongeBob SquarePants, but barely.