Every Christmas sees a slew of new festive-themed releases, but none of the current crop are anywhere close to being as impressive as NetEnt’s Secrets of Christmas slots.
Sound and visuals
Upon opening this particular Yuletide gift you’ll immediately be hit by the quality of the soundtrack: NetEnt have pulled out all the stops on this one, kicking off with a Disney-esque fairytale-style intro, and once you start spinning this theme is expanded on with a wholly original backing that borrows ideas from various classics like Jingle Bells and Somewhere over the Rainbow, segueing them together seamlessly for one of a handful of musical slots accompaniments that we’d never choose to switch off no matter what time of year it is.
Visually NetEnt have gone for what initially seem like fairly standard ideas. You won’t see Santa on a Segway or elves playing football in a red and white snow-frosted stadium (believe us, anything’s possible in the world of online slots) - but upon further investigation it become clear that within the requirement to keep things traditional the designers here have actually put their imaginations into overdrive.
In the base game the background and reelface comprise a snowy log cabin with a 5 by 3 glass-pained window housing the symbols themselves. Trigger the free spins round and you’re taken inside, where a cozy, ornate fireplace surround is used as edging and the reels become transparent, showing off a dreamy, roaring fireplace.
Given the effort that clearly been put into this game’s visuals, the lack of any symbol animations is clearly a deliberate expression of taste – instead each symbol forming a winning line is framed by a rotating glowing ember effect, which we felt was far more suitable.
In terms of the symbols themselves you’ll see gingerbread houses, wreaths, gifts for Santa and other stock Yuletide ideas, and the lower value card symbols are all sheathed in beautifully-rendered evergreens for a highly-convincing wreath effect.
So what does Santa have on offer for anyone welcoming him onto their PC, phone or tablet this year? Lower value card symbols range from 10 to Ace and pay out from 3 times up to 150 times stake. Start lining up the more interesting symbols from left to right however, and things start looking more interesting.
The knitted stocking, milk and cookies, gingerbread house, candle and bell pay out 200, 300, 500, 750 and 1,250 times stake when appearing as a quintet on any of the 25 paylines.
Santa himself is the wild symbol in this game, and he acts as a substitute for all other symbols barring the scatter, which bears a set of fully-unwrapped toys and triggers 10 free spins when appearing in groups of three or more anywhere on the reels.
As you’d expect on one of the more lavish NetEnt slots, the free spins round comes with some extras. Before you start your spins you’ll get taken off-screen to a playroom full of toys.
Without being too congratulatory, this is hands down the most impressive ‘pick me’ round we’ve ever seen. The music goes up-tempo for this section of the game, using a sixteen bar overture-style plucked cello and double bass riff that complements the rest of the soundtrack well, and you get to explore a room that looks like something from the Toy Story movies, packed full of dolls, rocking horses, train sets, lollipops, building blocks and various gifts yet to be unwrapped.
As you navigate your way around all of this you’ll find yourself chancing upon various different groups of toys, each member of which offers a different feature to help you with your free spins. There are twenty presents in total and you’ll get to make picks dependent upon the number of scatters you landed to trigger the free spins round. Three scatters earns you three picks; four or five scatters, four or five picks.
Take your pick from Santa's sack
Your picks will range from 2,3,4,5 or 10 free spins, single or double multipliers, wild reels that will turn the whole of the second or fourth reel wild for easy line wins, and additional wild symbols that change the overall composition of the available symbol set during free spins to make large wins much easier.
If you land five scatters and earn five picks you could potentially unwrap 5 and 10 extra free spins, which will raise your total to 25 – and also earn a double multiplier plus wild reels. This may be the best outcome you can hope for, though 2 extra wilds, 2 wild reels and a double multiplier will also work well. It’s also worth remembering that a single and double multiplier combined will quadruple your wins, which can come in very handy.
Variance-wise, Secrets of Christmas slots weighs in at a fairly average level. This means that you can expect to wait a reasonably long time for the free spins round to commence, but when it kicks in the rewards should be pretty decent.
The top prize compares well to the rest of the market and other NetEnt slots, with the maximum payout yielding a win of £156,250, though for our money this is a game that needs to be enjoyed for its own sake rather than just for its gameplay and winning potential. Other Christmas-themed slots can often seem hastily put-together, but this is a game that appears to have been in production long before the summer season was at its peak and the extra effort shines through.