Title: Santa Claus Jr. Advance
Developer: Neon Studios
Publisher: JoWooD Productions
Date Published: 1st November 2002
Platforms: Game Boy Advance
ELSPA Rating: 3+

Santa Claus Jr. Advance is another addition to the GBA's burgeoning lineup of platform games. It was developed by German codeshop Neon Studios, who are probably best known for their 1994 debut title, 16-bit platform game Mr. Nutz (it was about a squirrel, mother), as well as a futuristic racer for the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation called Tunnel B1. In recent years they have mainly been involved in porting licensed games to the Game Boy Color for Acclaim, which eventually led to the creation of the original Santa Claus Jr. (for GBC), to which Santa Claus Jr. Advance is a sequel.

The game tells the story of a young boy called Nick who is visited on Christmas Eve by a distressed Santa Claus. Santa explains to Nick that an evil witch, driven mad with bitterness over never getting any Christmas presents, has cast a spell on the world's toys and animals, possessing them with malevolent spirits. As a result, the children of the world have gone into hiding, making it impossible for Santa Claus to find them and deliver all their presents on time. Oh, and also that only a human child can penetrate the witch's dimension and break the spell. So Nick dons a red coat, takes the sack of presents and heads off on his adventure through the twelve themed worlds of the game.

The gameplay is familiar stuff. Nick can run and jump, mantle onto platforms, and bounce on enemies to kill them. Depressing the 'A' button makes him sprint, allowing him to jump further. Nick is followed around by a small fairy called Snowflake, who can be called on to assist in various ways, for instance allowing Nick to perform a double jump, freezing the surrounding enemies, or restoring his health. This assistance costs stars, which are collected throughout the levels from packages and fallen enemies. At certain points in the game Nick can collect power-ups: one provides him with snowballs that can be thrown at enemies for a short time, and another allows Snowflake to carry him, and fly around otherwise inaccessible areas.

A measure of replayability is introduced through the inclusion of secondary goals in each stage. To receive a perfect ranking on a given level, you must reach the exit within a certain time, and also locate all the children hiding on the level and deliver a present to them. Once the main game has been completed, it is possible to return to any previous stage via a level select and try to get a perfect rating.

The various 'worlds' in the game follow a fairly consistent theme (no Aztec and Egyptian worlds here), taking in cities, mines, factories, parks, snowy wilderness and the witch's ethereal dimension. The graphics are clear and well coloured, and fairly extensive use is made of the GBA's sprite scaling and rotation capabilities, allowing for parallax scrolling, spinning backgrounds, snowstorms and other eye candy. Artwork and animation within the game levels is commendable, with some nicely stylised backdrops and enemy characters that convey expressions well. The only weak point are the hand-drawn stills that bookend the gameplay, which look amateurish and underdeveloped (as does the game's box art).

The game thankfully includes a battery save function, and has an interestingly presented music test (where each of the game's themes is illustrated by one of the many enemy sprites). One quite unusual aspect of the game's presentation is that there is virtually no text in the game at all after the copyright notices- there is not even a logo on the 'title' screen! All of the game's menus and status screens use icons alone. Presumably this design decision was made to allow young children to play the game, and also remove the need to support several languages.

Santa Claus Jr. Advance is a competently executed little platformer with some surprisingly challenging gameplay and large levels. However with multiple Sonic and Mario efforts as well as a host of other high profile platform games available on the platform, it is only really worth a look if you're a total platform junkie or have young relatives you want to keep quiet. (It's quite cheap for a GBA game as well, around £19.99.)

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