10.07.21 Mean Santa (Atari 2600 Homebrew Review)

First off… sorry I’m so late with this new feature. I had a huge event at work I have been planning and it finally took place last week, and it consumed most of my free time, along with my new class in grad school. Anyhow.. here is the long awaited first Atari 2600 Homebrew Review… A ‘Homebrew’ game is a game programmed and designed in a post-Atari world, usually by fans or game designers who wish to pay homage to the old 2600 or who are up for a challenge with programming on such a small system, or all of the above. Mean Santa, programmed by John K. Harvey and game designer Tim Duarte, was originally released back in December 2009. Here is my review! (and next up is Z Blocks, coming soon!)


I purchased ‘Mean Santa’ on a whim one day on eBay when I was poking around looking for Atari 2600 stuff. I didn’t see anything else under a certain price that I already didn’t have, and suddenly, I saw this… a picture of a Santa holding a gun, making a kid put his gift back in Santa’s gift bag. I was a little shocked, but also found it hilarious. Something like this surely couldn’t have been allowed back in the day… At any rate, the name ‘2600 Connection’ as displayed on the game manual (as seen above) rang a bell, as the 2600 Connection is/was a long-time Atari fan site.

‘Mean Santa’ follows the exploits of a deranged Santa Claus, who has officially ‘gone off the deep end’ and is now stealing gifts right out of people’s chimneys! How dare he?!!! The game manual states it best: “Mean Santa on the Loose! What could cause someone to “snap” after hundreds of years of generosity? Was it the blatant commercialization of Christmas, with cheap decorations displayed in stores well before Halloween? The threatened unionization of the elves? Or perhaps international regulators who banned reindeer propulsion because the flatulence of nine reindeer was damaging the ozone layer? Or was it just one naughty child too many?” I find the manual a pure delight. In this game, you fly your sleigh into chimneys, steal gifts (in the form of rings, stars, wreaths, Christmas dinner, candy, and such) while eluding rainstorms, thunder, snow the size of small planets and other fun elements.

The game progresses quite quickly and seems to increase in difficulty before your very eyes. However, this game is a true gem. It’s programmed beautifully with no flicker, lush colors, great sound and fun gameplay. You also can reach a ‘fast wave’ after you collect so many gifts and progress further into the game, and the gameplay ramps up. The Christmas music, bleeps and bloops, are a nice welcome, and almost sound demonic in a truly hilarious way. The whole package is unique and oozes personality and fun. The game comes in a sleek plastic case with a weird cartridge mechanism in the middle when you open it, and the manual includes ‘tips and tricks’ but strangely fails to mention the ‘fast waves’ I encountered as I progressed. The manual seems a little light and fluffy on content but the stories in it and game description and pictures are a hoot! Santa is featured in a side profile like his prison-sentencing photo… so fun!

Ten years later, to celebrate the ‘anniversary of the release of the game,’ Tim Duarte posted on AtariAge (another fan and collectors site) that he was releasing the ROM (game image) to the public for free. It can be obtained here.

My score for “Mean Santa” is an A! I think it’s a great game and if you can find it boxed and under $30, I’d say go for it! It’s a fun game that will bring you joy all around the year, not just at Christmastime. Give it a try. You won’t be bah humbugged!

-Brian Bolding

One thought on “10.07.21 Mean Santa (Atari 2600 Homebrew Review)

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  1. I’ll have to play “Mean Santa” sometime soon. I didn’t realize that the ROM image was available. Atari 2600 homebrew games have always been fun for me. I remember when the first one came out back in the mid-1990s. It was called “Edtris” and it was programmed by Ed Federmeyer. It was first talked about in the “2600 Connection” newsletter in about 1993 or 1994 and came out, maybe, a bit later than that time. Here is a link to that game:

    https://atariage.com/software_page.php?SoftwareLabelID=866

    An article that I wrote is quoted and linked to in an old book called “Gaming Hacks.” A link is provided to an article that I wrote and published in 1999 in my OC&GS newsletter. It’s about how to change graphics in games for the Atari 2600. Here is the article:

    https://www.oreilly.com/library/view/gaming-hacks/0596007140/ch01s07.html

    That link to “Changing Atari VCS Graphics — The Easy Way” doesn’t work anymore in the above article. Here is the new link to an updated version:

    https://orphanedgames.com/ocgs/issue12/vcsgraph.html

    Keep up the nice work, Brian. If you need a local gaming buddy to play any two-player homebrew games then you know where to find me.

    Liked by 1 person

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