Do you live in constant fear that one foggy Christmas Eve, you’ll awake with a fright, scare Santa off your roof, cause him to plunge to his untimely demise, and be forced to take over à la The Santa Clause? Well, the wonderful people over at Whitepot Studios were kind enough to provide you with all the training you could ever need. And right before Christmas, too! Shelve your existential Santa dread by stepping into the big man’s boots in Ho-Ho-Home Invasion, a delightful little micro-game that teaches you the art of stealthy present delivery.
The aptly named Ho-Ho-Home Invasion is a Christmas-themed stealth micro-game. With only five levels to play, there’s not much story. With Christmas fast approaching, Santa needs to brush up on his present delivery skills. His thoughtful elves have kindly set up a series of training courses to get him in tip-top shape for some Yuletide breaking and entering. Honestly, Ho-Ho-Home Invasion doesn’t need a story; it’s plenty engaging as is.
The gameplay is surprisingly solid for a micro-game, especially one the developers created in just three weeks. Players take control of Santa and progress through increasingly challenging training courses. The first level walks you through the basic controls. For movement, you have two options: walk and sneak. Along the bottom of the screen, a meter displays how much noise you’re making, which is directly related to how heavy your steps are. A diet rich in milk and cookies has left poor Santa Claus on the… stout side of the scale. Coupled with those big, clompy black boots he insists on wearing, he’s not the quietest guy. Being able to sneak around quietly when necessary is crucial for successfully navigating each training course.
As you sneak around, you’ll encounter training robots the elves have programmed to act like people. This means some will be snug in their beds, while images of sugar plums dance in their heads. Others will roam the halls, or read a book in their kitchen in the middle of the night, as one does. Should you make too much noise while in the vicinity of these robots, they might notice and investigate what’s going on. These robots provide a really delightful challenge. If they spot you in their green beams (meant to represent their range of vision), a question mark will appear above their head. The longer you remain in their sights, the more that question mark will fill up, and if it gets totally full, you fail the level, and must restart from the beginning. There are some places you can try to hide – bathrooms, unused rooms, sometimes even running outside to hide behind a tree. The best option, though, is to avoid detection altogether.
Learning how to avoid the robots’ notice is key to achieving your goal: delivering all the presents and getting the heck out of there without ever being noticed. Spread through each obstacle course (which is set up like a house) are Christmas trees and stockings. To deliver the presents, you have to carefully guide Santa up to each tree and stocking and quietly place your gifts. Delivery is done through timed button presses. A meter appears on the bottom of the screen, letting you know how many gifts must be delivered in that particular spot. The meter also has three levels of noise: green (perfect and quiet), yellow (a bit clumsy and loud), and red (oh crap they heard you, RUN!).
Timing is key, and as you deliver more presents, the window for a quiet gift delivery shrinks. You won’t experience too much trouble dropping your gifts off at most of the trees, but most of the stockings are a different matter. Rather than being hung from the mantle with care, they’re hanging from the edge of beds, always at the feet of a slumbering robot. Make too much noise, and they’ll wake up before you can get out of there, forcing you to redo the level.
Ho-Ho-Home Invasion gives you two skills you can utilize to successfully sneak through each house. Santa can whistle to draw stationary robots away from locations they’re guarding, though I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that there was only one time I really got to use the ability. The other skill is the ability to peek around the corners of doorways and hallways. This was neat visually, as it shifts perspective to a first-person view, and you can look down the hallway to see if there are any robots approaching. But like the whistle, I found this mechanic more useful in theory than in practice. They’re neat little additions, but they don’t really feel necessary to play the game.
Overall, I really enjoyed the two hours or so I spent with Ho-Ho-Home Invasion. Visually, the game is charming, and I think the style really suits the game. The music isn’t anything special, but it’s pleasant and appropriate. The difficulty increase between each level is well-balanced, so that by the time you reach the fifth and final level, you should have built the skills necessary to get through it. And if you like a challenge, there are 22 achievements that you can unlock, so there’s a fair bit of replayability as well. Oh, and did I mention the game is free on Steam? If you’re looking for a little holiday-themed fun this time of year, I definitely recommend Ho-Ho-Home Invasion. It’s short, it’s sweet, and you’ll be ready to step up should Tim Allen ever meet the fate of his predecessor.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Whitepot Studios; Developer: Whitepot Studios; Players: 1; Released: December 15, 2020; ESRB: Not Rated; MSRP: Free