Believe in Santa Review

For those who haven’t already gobbled their fill of Diner Dash and overdosed on holiday cheer, there’s no better way to ring in this Christmas than with similarly-styled outing Believe in Santa.

One of the most unabashedly gleeful titles we’ve ever played, it’s as much a spastic arcade experience as ode to seasonal consumerism that’s all-too-easy to get hooked on. Thank the title’s brilliant cartoon visuals, snow-filled intro screen, comic book-style story interludes and a fun-filled guest appearance by old St. Nick himself.

Well, that and a steady array of 40 speedy, mouse-mashing challenges featuring 25 different presents and a dozen different consumer types to keep you constantly hopping…

The story in a nutshell: Highlight-haired heroine Sandy visits her grandmother, who owns a gift shop, every year about this time. Only things have suddenly taken a turn for the worse; the bank’s about to foreclose on the store if she can’t pay back a $10,000 loan in record time. Thankfully, Santa appears and offers up two of his elves as handy helpers, who’ll assist Sandy as she hits the factory floor and cash register, hoping to please enough patrons and earn enough scratch to get grams out of hock.

So there you find yourself – at the candy-colored, animated boutique or mall kiosk – when the action begins. In the center of the screen rests a conveyor belt, upon which toys (cars, teddy bears, planes, action figures, etc.) appear when you pull the lever. Below, to the left and right, sit cherubic elves and several jars of paint in various colors ranging from red to blue, violet and gold. At the top of the display lounges a retail counter, at which customers arrive in steadily increasing volume as the timer, depicted as a ticking clock representing official store hours, counts down.

To the left-hand side of your monitor, you’ll also spot a display case where varyingly shaped/colored gift boxes wait. On the right, there’s a wastebasket for dumping botched creations, and a rack of cards and bowl of candy canes, which can be dragged and dropped onto customers to improve their mood.

Your goal: To make as much money as possible by frantically filling orders for these shoppers, whose happiness – depicted via heart-shaped icons above their head – wanes with each passing second. Hence the action plays out as follows…

Check the speech bubble by each customer to see a picture of the specific toy they want. Grab it off the conveyor belt (or summon a new batch of goods by pressing the lever), then hand it to the appropriate elf for painting. Once made, deliver it to the buyer for a cash reward, or add extras like balloons, flags, gift boxes and bows as needed before doing so. Collect the loot and move on to the next patron.

Mind you, the further along a board game-type map you move, the harder things get. The trick here’s learning how to queue up multiple actions to most effectively respond to the hordes of shoppers who soon start hassling you while making a minimum of errors. And, of course, deciding who to please first or temporarily ignore, depending on their maximum cheer level (which varies, and affects your ultimate payout) or whether a visiting clown is present to help you entertain them.

Repetitive as scenarios get – there are only so many flustered businessmen/women, flashbulb-snapping tourists and smiling grannies you can hand model roadsters or boy scouts ponies (don’t ask) before becoming frustrated – the outing still proves enjoyable nonetheless. Battle through some minor control issues, e.g. problems canceling actions, being unable to correct production errors while they’re happening and issues with accurately dropping tiny candy canes on customers’ heads while under the gun, and you’ll not only gain access to new background settings, patrons and toys. You’ll also get to decorate shops with cabinets, curtains, pictures and potted plants, plus access bonuses like gloves and magic potions which speed up the production process.

Besides, even for us Scrooge-like reviewers, it’s hard to say "bah, humbug" in the face of an awesome presentation featuring stunning visuals and jazzy, upbeat versions of seasonal tunes like "Oh Christmas Tree," "Deck the Halls" and our personal favorite, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Which, naturally, those who pick this one up will undoubtedly enjoy…

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