8GR8 #05: Wintry Mix (8 Great Winter/Christmas VGM Tunes)


Welcome back to 8GR8, where we take eight excellent video game songs that have something in common and put them in a list together. The Yuletide season is upon us, and Cheese & Pixels gets in the spirit the best way it knows how, with another octet, some of it specifically Christmas-oriented and other parts more generally winter-adjacent.

1. Jazz Jackrabbit, “Holidaius”
Composer: Robert Allen
Platform: PC/DOS (1994)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPl86qk5n5w]
In the 90s, it was common practice for developers of especially popular games to release a small pack of Christmas-themed levels, one of two early forms of what we now call DLC (the other being the expansion pack). Epic Megagames got in on the fun twice (in 1994 and 1995) with their Holiday Hare stages for Jazz Jackrabbit. Why not start with the amps turned up to 11 for this crunchy Yuletide medley? I’m not a fan of the sequel, but Alexander Brandon’s “A Cold Day in Heck” is also an aces wintertime tune.

2. Gran Turismo 5, “CHRISTMAS TREE”
Composer: Mitsutoshi Satoh
Platform: PS3 (2010)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxISNMbXxAs]
From a rabbit named Jazz to actual jazz. If extra Christmas levels were gaming’s expression of the holiday spirit in the 90s, then the Christmas-day interface change is the 2000s equivalent. With every console now packed with an internal calendar, don’t be surprised if the game you boot up every day looks a little different this time, or if a tune like this replaces the usual menu music. This track blends seamlessly into any occasion. Play this powdery delight over that 45-minute Nick Offerman Yule log video, or at your next ugly sweater party. Better yet, cancel your ugly sweater party, because life is too short for ironic enjoyment.

3. The Flintstones: The Treasure of Sierra Madrock, “Sliding on the Tundra”
Composers: N. Furukawa, Kennosuke Suemura
Platform: SNES (1994)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00AseEenL98]
Somehow I doubt this game is about Fred and Barney finding gold on a mountain and watching their friendship get consumed by their naked greed and loss of sanity. So I’ll just never play and avoid the inevitable disappointment. I will listen to this song 20 times on repeat though.

4. Daze Before Christmas, “Anti-Claus’s Theme”
Composer: Kim M. Jensen
Platforms: SNES, Genesis (1994)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ww6qP8r_Chw]
Boy, 1994 had all the Yuletide hits! One of the defining features of Sunsoft’s Daze Before Christmas, a game released in almost every English-speaking country that isn’t America, is Santa’s ability to turn into his devil counterpart Anti-Claus, who wears a blue short-sleeved suit and hits enemies with his bag instead of using his comparatively benign Christmas magic. This sounds like the version of “Jingle Bells” where you get roughed up by cigar-chomping street toughs wearing long-sleeved horizontally striped shirts and chapeaus.

5. TalesWeaver, “Feliz Navidad”
Arranger: Jin-Bae Park (“ESTi”)
Platform: PC/Windows (2003)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sewOYrFzIrU]
If you think “Feliz Navidad” is corny and you wish there was an instrumental version that sounded like Mannheim Steamroller halfheartedly attempting shoegaze[1], then buddy, do I have the track for you. I found this gem on the blog of composer Winifred Phillips, a rather prolific composer whose work I’m admittedly not keen on—too much orchestral stuff for my taste. I have to give credit where it’s due, however; she does know how to root out the diamonds in the rough.

6. Mega Man X4, “Frost Walrus – Snow Base (Inside)”
Composer: Toshihiko Horiyama
Platforms: PlayStation, Saturn (1997)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlF7Lkfdvn0]
If I have to put at least one “obvious” choice on this list, I’ll make it from this game, my sentimental favorite of the Mega Man X series. I like the snow/ice level tunes that sound like they were performed in an actual ice cave, and this one has that kind of Home Alone call-to-action frequency I can detect because I was the right age for it to be irreversibly branded onto my cosmic antennae.

7. Snoopy Concert, “High in the Treetops”
Arrangers: Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka, Minako Hamano
Platform: Super Famicom (1995)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-PJjgPOdc4]
This is actually “Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi; I’m not sure what would necessitate a name change other than trying to dodge copyright, but I don’t know the whole story. For me, this is a discovery from the amazing Legacy Music Hour podcast, where cohost Brent Weinbach astutely observed that it’s largely based on the David Benoit smooth-jazz cover (originating from the 1986 album This Side Up). Listening to the two versions back-to-back is an eye-opener; the Super Famicom version’s breakdown is a lot funkier, but there’s more energy in the Benoit cover.

8. Ski or Die, “Downhill Blitz”
Composer: Rob Hubbard
Platforms: NES, Genesis, PC/DOS, Commodore 64, Amiga (1990)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7N3yrz9g4s]
We started off with cheeseball hard rock, so why not bookend the list with it? And by a master of the form, to boot: no less a VGM luminary than Rob Hubbard. Ahh, the Ad-Lib speaker, the 15 frames per second, the 16 colors—makes me feel like a kid again, waking to the sounds of a dot-matrix printer grinding out an eight-foot banner, alerting me to the gift of our family’s first PC. Now there’s a ghost of Christmas past I’ll welcome a visit from any day.

[1] Not an insult, though I’m aware it sounds like it.

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