December is typically a very light month for game releases. Publishers try to get their big titles out in time for Black Friday and the start of the holiday shopping season, while also trying to secure inclusion in the various “Game of the Year” discussions. Missing that key release window can make or break a game’s chances for success.
Nevertheless, there have been some extremely notable exceptions to this “don’t release in December” rule. In fact, this month alone brings us Just Cause 3, Rainbow Six Siege, and Xenoblade Chronicles X, not to mention several digital and PC releases, including Fat Princess Adventures, Nuclear Throne, and Shadow Complex Remastered. Let’s take a look at some other notable December releases from the past 10 years that may have missed the awards cut, but are absolutely not to be missed.
The Talos Principle
U.S. Release Date: Dec. 11, 2014
One of the hallmarks of the Serious Sam games was their use of environmental puzzles, interspersed between generous helpings of carnage and gunplay. That’s why it shouldn’t be too surprising that developer Croteam went on to create The Talos Principle, a first-person narrative puzzle adventure created using their Serious Engine. What sets the game apart is the way it interweaves over 120 puzzles with a heady dose of philosophy and narrative. These elements blend for a uniquely-satisfying experience for those willing to put in the time and thought to unlock the mysteries contained within this gem.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
U.S. Release Date: Dec. 5, 2014
The titular character of this charming puzzle platformer first made an appearance in Super Mario Galaxy, where he and the Toad Brigade are rescued by Mario, and proceed to help him throughout the rest of the game. He returns in Super Mario Galaxy 2, then again in Super Mario 3D World, where he is playable in a series of courses known as “The Adventures of Captain Toad.” These courses make clever use of the Wii U’s unique control scheme as Captain Toad tries to avoid obstacles and collect all five Green Stars in a set of unique puzzle stages. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker expands upon this premise with Captain Toad’s very own plotline, more complex courses, and an expanded moveset, which all add up for a unique and charming experience exclusive to Wii U owners.
Gran Turismo 6
U.S. Release Date: Dec. 6, 2013
The sixth major title, and twelfth title overall in the Gran Turismo series, Gran Turismo 6 was released exclusively for the PlayStation 3… in December of the year that the PlayStation 4 came to market. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why this solid entry in the franchise — which improves and expands upon many things from Gran Turismo 5 — is sometimes overlooked. It could also explain why its sales are the lowest of any of the numbered versions, with under half that of its predecessor, according to VGChartz. However, with an astonishing 1,200+ cars and over 40 tracks with more than 80 different layouts, there’s plenty of excellent racing to be had in this entry of the revered sim racing franchise.
Far Cry 3
U.S. Release Date: Dec. 4, 2012
Far Cry 3 seemed to come out of nowhere. It was a breath of fresh air at a time when the shooter genre had gone stale, and games like Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Borderlands 2, and Halo 4 all seemed extremely familiar to those who’d played their previous iterations. Far Cry 3 opened gamers’ eyes to what else was possible in a shooter, with its sprawling open world, free-roaming, open-ended design, diverse weapon selection, abundance of activities, and outrageous cast of characters, including the enigmatic antagonist, Vaas.
Mario Kart 7
U.S. Release Date: Dec. 4, 2011
The ninth entry in the Mario Kart series, and the third handheld version, Mario Kart 7 introduces gliding, underwater racing, kart customization, and new items and characters — including my personal favorite Metal Mario. While the bikes from Mario Kart Wii are no longer present, the game brings back a feature missing since Mario Kart: Super Circuit – Coins. Mario Kart 7 managed to squeak into the holiday shopping season with the help of co-developer Retro Studios, developers of Metroid Prime and Donkey Kong Country Returns.
Prince of Persia
U.S. Release Date: Dec. 2, 2008
This quirky entry into the Prince of Persia franchise is a departure from the previous Sands of Time trilogy, though it does carry over several of the series’ signature elements, such as an unnamed Prince hero character, and exhilarating, acrobatic puzzle platforming sequences. This game introduces a unique combat style, a new open-world design and a new character, Elika, a useful sidekick who assists the player character in combat, puzzle solving, and platforming throughout the game. Probably the most striking difference from the previous games is this version’s unique graphical style, a cel-shaded meets watercolor look reminiscent of Okami.
Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops
U.S. Release Date: Dec. 5, 2006
Despite being the fourth Metal Gear entry on the PSP – counting the digital interactive novel – Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops is the first entry to retain the series’ signature action-stealth gameplay. It continues the story of Big Boss, and chronicles several significant events, such as the founding of FOXHOUND, and the San Hieronymo Incident seen in flashbacks in Guns of the Patriots. Portable Ops introduces the all-new Comrade System, where players recruit and play as a four-man squad in each mission, utilizing the unique strengths of the different squad members to help approach the mission in a variety of ways. Portable Ops is also the first Metal Gear game where you can capture enemies and recruit them to your squad, a concept that is expanded and improved upon in the latest major game in the series, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
Dead or Alive 4
U.S. Release Date: Dec. 29, 2005
Talk about barely making the cut. Dead or Alive 4 was originally intended to be a launch title for the Xbox 360 release on Nov. 22, 2005, but due to delays was moved back to Dec. 29, which placed it closer to that system’s Japanese launch on Dec. 10. This Xbox 360-exclusive title improves upon its predecessor in several ways, including the addition of three new characters — Kokoro, Eliot, and La Mariposa — multi-tiered, interactive fighting arenas, and a modified counter system which requires more skill to execute, but improves the balance of the overall fighting system. At the time, DOA 4 was a showcase for the power of the new Xbox 360 system, and can still be considered one of the best-looking titles on that platform.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
U.S. Release Date: Dec. 8, 2005
While this may not be the most highly-rated or best-selling Silent Hill game, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories has steadily built up a following in the years since its release. This re-imagining of the original Silent Hill tries new things that set it apart from other titles in the franchise. Its narrative switches back and forth between a series of psychiatric sessions and the protagonist’s memories of events, interspersed with several tense nightmare sequences where the series’ characteristic combat is removed, and the player is forced to evade or outrun enemies as they try to reach the exit of several maze-like environments. The game also has a unique psychological profiling system — complete with a warning on the game’s startup screen — where answers given during the psychiatric sessions, as well as player behavior during the exploration sections, subtly affect the game in many ways. Of course, this couldn’t be considered a true Silent Hill game without many of the series’ staples making a return, such as chilling, eerie environments, cerebral psychological scares, and multiple endings — including a joke ending involving fan favorite Mira.
Animal Crossing: Wild World
U.S. Release Date: Dec. 5, 2005
The first portable Animal Crossing game improves and builds upon the Gamecube original with a ton of new content and features, including the addition of new bugs, fish, clothing, tools and furniture items to collect; new holidays; more customization options; new locations and buildings; and new villagers and NPCs such as Brewster, the barista as mellow as the brew he serves. Perhaps the most significant addition is online play, which lets players visit other players’ towns. The game also streamlines many of the systems from the original, but does come with some noticeable omissions, including the absence of fan favorite Don Resetti; the collectible NES games from the original; and some holidays, most notably the series’ Christmas analogue, Toy Day.
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