It was a cold night, and the gentle snow was just beginning to fall. All throughout Nintendo Life HQ there was evidence of good cheer. After all, Christmas was coming! Martin and Morgan were decorating the tree, newcomer Liam was introducing the team to his home-made eggnog, and Ron was entertaining the children by shaping his beard clippings into little reindeer for them to play with. Carols were sung, gifts were exchanged, and merry was being made. Of course, there was one little boy who was not quite as happy.
Poor Philip was asleep in his room, suffering through vivid nightmares of all the terrible games he was forced to play throughout the year. Philip never got to have a good a Christmas. Instead he lived in fear of what he'd unwrap on that magical morning. The closer Christmas got, the sadder Philip became. So imagine his surprise when he was visited that night by a kindly angel, who woke him up and told him not to be afraid!
"I have a special surprise for you," the angel said to him, tapping Philip's credit card number into his 3DS. "It's a new game that will help you rediscover the true meaning of Christmas." Visions of plumbers, hedgehogs and super fighting robots danced in Philip's head, but when the angel handed him his 3DS back, his heart dropped.
"Christmas Wonderland 3?" Philip asked. The angel nodded. "But I've already played the first two. And that terrible Halloween one. These games are awful." Yet the angel reminded him that it wasn't right to judge games without playing them.
And so the angel departed, leaving little Philip to open his heart to Christmas Wonderland 3, which would have made for a wonderful moral if the game wasn't every bit as horrible as its predecessors.
While there was a 3D effect added, and while it did look quite nice, the nature of the game meant it didn't get much use. After all, it was a hidden-object game, and its images were displayed on the touch screen. This meant that the 3D was almost always applied to simple lists of objects to find, which sort of defeated the purpose of having it at all.
The story involved two siblings that win a trip to the North Pole, but it was difficult to concentrate on the dialogue when it was always displayed next to their hideous, frozen faces. Much like the previous games in the series, Christmas Wonderland 3 had a pervading air of unintentional creepiness, with the faces of all of its characters resembling static death-masks. It was even more unsettling for Philip to watch the game's few attempts at animation, which involved jostling the completely rigid figures up and down in order to simulate movement, while their dead eyes stared into his defenseless soul.
Each stage was a single image that Philip had to scroll around in order to find the hidden objects. But, as ever, the images were very low quality and of terrible resolution, which made its idea of Christmas look an awful lot like a carpet covered in dog vomit. Philip used his stylus to tap on the items he found, but, as with its predecessors, Christmas Wonderland 3 decided that sometimes his input would not count. As much as he tapped on that candy cane, the game refused to recognize his input. In fact, it punished him with an angry error message, chiding him for tapping randomly and not playing the game properly. Once the error message cleared Philip tapped the exact same thing he had tapped before, only this time it worked. Philip sighed.
Christmas Wonderland 3 did add a feature that allowed doors and drawers to be opened in order to find more items hidden inside. Philip was very happy that the developers finally decided to put forth some effort and mix the formula up slightly, but very quickly this proved to be a big step backward. In some cases, the things he could "open" turned out to be objects that he never would have thought to tap, such as the hat on the head of a nutcracker. Being as the game already punished him for tapping things other than what it was asking him to look for, it seemed pretty counter-intuitive that he should have been expected to tap on a hat that wasn't listed as an object to find. There also seemed to be some faulty programming, as tapping a mailbox didn't open the mailbox, but instead caused the door to a house to swing open somewhere else. Philip wondered if he was still having a bad dream, but he was not; he was simply playing Christmas Wonderland 3.
Between the stages there were smaller games to play, none of which were any fun and all of which were both pointless and skippable, which made Philip wonder why they were there at all. Particularly terrible were the spot-the-difference puzzles, which placed large, obtrusive markers on the touch screen when he found a difference between the two images, and therefore obscured his view of the other things he was supposed to be looking for. Philip was not happy.
The game continued, and Philip realized that he'd been swindled. He was very angry with that angel! None of the levels were any different from the last, the game never got any better at recognizing simple inputs, and it sputtered and chugged during scene transitions even though it was only swapping out one static image for another. By the time Philip was tapping his way through what had to be the twentieth consecutive MIDI version of "Ding Dong Merrily on High," he was convinced that there was nothing about Christmas Wonderland 3 that made it worth playing any more than the others.
Oh sure, there was a 3D effect, but it wasn't exactly put to much use. And the title screen did offer the choice of an easier difficulty, which would give players a faster recharge on the hints system. But neither of those served to make the gameplay any more fun, or to make the experience even slightly worth having.
Little Philip was sad. He closed his 3DS, and then he closed his eyes. He knew that this Christmas would be just as bad as any other.
But then something magical happened. He opened the door to his room, and he saw the rest of the Nintendo Life staff dancing, singing, and playing much better games. It warmed Philip's heart, because only then did he understand the angel's message: by playing these awful games, Philip was freeing others to spend time playing titles they might actually enjoy.
Seeing the smiles on his colleagues' faces as they played things other than Christmas Wonderland 3 caused his heart to grow three sizes that day.
Christmas Wonderland 3 does offer a 3D effect — even if it isn't really put to any use — and an easier difficulty mode that its two predecessors did not, so if you absolutely must have a Christmas Wonderland game, this would be the one to buy. However that's as close to a recommendation as we would dare give this game. All of the problems that infested the other Christmas Wonderland titles are present and accounted for here as well, with poor input detection, muddy images and a pervading visual creepiness that all comes together to remind us that Christmas is not only the season of giving, but of quickly slapped-together crap rushed to market in the hopes of tricking you out of your hard-earned money. This is one game that will emphatically not go down in history.