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Christmas Season 2011: Gaming Recollections, part one - a very downloadable Christmas
by Andrew Testerman

Happy December, everyone! In this month of year-end retrospectives and Oscar-bait films, we here at GGTL are beginning our annual Christmas content series.

In the past, we've had countdowns, poems and various other sundries celebrating the Yuletide, and this year, every Sunday until Christmas, I'll be offering my reflections on some of my past holidays in gaming. Christmas is a special, memorable time of year for all, and I hope you enjoy my memories of winter gaming gone by.

Part I – A Very Downloadable Christmas (2009)

Sometimes the best gifts come in small packages, or even no packages at all. During this Christmas, I was staying at my parents' house for the holiday break, thankful for the reprieve from what was a very gruelling senior year of college. My old bedroom had long been given to my younger brother, but I was able to set up shop in the back room, where my parents did office work. It was cozy enough, and though the sofa-bed I was using wasn't ideal, the area was mine, and that was all that mattered.

In the room was a small, 18-inch television that my step-dad used for watching his Second World War documentaries (like a typical History major), and with a little fiddling, I was able to hook up my Xbox 360 using an HDMI cable I found on Amazon for $3.50. Since it was the Christmas break, I had a good two weeks of free time to spend with myself, and in no time at all, I had set up my own little area: Xbox 360 and television, plus my computer and monitor set up on a chest I used as a foot rest. It was my own little corner, and I loved it so.

Christmas was quiet that year; we forwent the usual trips to visit relatives, and instead stayed at home. I didn't receive any new games for Christmas, but I took advantage of several Xbox Live holiday sales whilst barricaded in the office: specifically, Chair Entertainment's Shadow Complex and Stainless Games' Magic The Gathering: Duel of the Planeswalkers. I had just finished the first Assassin's Creed game before Christmas and, whilst I loved it, I was ready for something a little less grand in terms of scale. How ready I was, though, I wouldn't know until I fired up my two downloadable gems.

I had heard nothing but praise for Shadow Complex all summer, and I was excited to discover whether the game would live up to the hype. Fortunately, the game surpassed my expectations, utilising everything I loved about the Metroidvania formula (exploration-friendly environments, backtracking, item-collection, etc.), whilst excising all of the elements that I didn't (lack of direction, uneventful moment-to-moment gameplay, unintuitive exploration, etc.). Shadow Complex's two-dimensional environments were both simple and deep, letting me either explore as I wished, or follow the map screen to the objective. I never try to deliberately complete games like Shadow Complex to one-hundred percent - the over-exploration involved in finding that one last item tends to kill the experience for me - but that was just what happened during the course of my playthrough. So hungry was I for Chair's supremely satisfying platforming that I even completed all of the tutorials and challenge rooms after I had finished the main storyline.

After I finished Shadow Complex, I shifted my focus to Magic The Gathering: Duel of the Planeswalkers, another game I picked up on sale. As an avid Yu-Gi-Oh! player who dabbled with Magic during my sophomore year of high school, I loved the chance-elements and strategy of collectable card games, but lacked the financial capacity and encouraging community to ever play regularly. For the price of two-and-a-half booster packs, Duel of the Planeswalkers scratched my card-craving itch, giving me the opportunity to play against computerised opponents with fourteen different decks. Some reviewers cried foul concerning the game, due to its inability to create decks from scratch, but I appreciated the simplicity of pre-made decks and enjoyed simply diving in and playing.

Whilst I was playing my two downloadable goodies, I was using my computer to revisit two of my favourite animé series: the pulpy space opera, Outlaw Star, and the sci-fi neo-western, Trigun. Additionally, I was chewing through Stuart Hill's fantasy novel The Cry of the Icemark; hardly a challenging book, but the story was engaging, and the prose was to my liking. My winter break was heavy in escapism, but I can't say that I didn't need it; I had just completed my second of three nineteen-credit semesters, and a nice, long wallow in escapism was just what my over-tired brain was craving.

When told as a laundry list of what I accomplished, my 2009 Christmas season sounds pretty uneventful, but - truth be told - I wouldn't trade it for anything. My opportunities to do absolutely nothing are rare and far between, and to be able to relax and enjoy a trifecta of my favourite hobbies - gaming, animé-based nostalgia and imaginative, if under-taxing, fantasy books - was nothing short of memorable. More often than not, I need a holiday away from my holiday. That year, however, I got exactly what I needed: indulgence and rest, and I attribute no small part of my break's success to two of the best downloadable games I've ever played.

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- Andrew Testerman

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