What’s the appeal of retro gaming? For some people, it’s the simple graphics, the catchy music, and the straightforward gameplay. For others, it’s the creative use of erstwhile limited technologies to give you engaging and immersive experiences completely unlike anything offered by the overwhelming realism of today’s video games. For a good lot of retro gaming fans, though, it’s all about the buzz of nostalgia and the simple, comforting emotions it conjures.
Whichever the case may be for each individual, fact remains that retro gaming is alive and well. From PC emulators and modern reissues to salvaged consoles from a bygone era, people find ways to continue playing classic titles from 20, 30, and 40 years ago. Because of this continued popularity, the retro gaming genre offers rife opportunity for gift-giving. This is true not just for dedicated retro gamers who play and collect these games religiously, but for individuals who have long moved on, but retain a certain fondness for the games that shaped a big chunk of their early lives.
While actual retro games in their original cartridges and discs, along with the original consoles, make for the obvious retro gaming gifts, they’re not the only recourse. Modern consoles and handhelds designed to play retro games, along with books, accessories, and toys that celebrate those games of yesteryear can also make for excellent retro gaming presents. For many, in fact, the best retro gaming presents may be those items that simply allow them to remember and celebrate the games of their youth today.
These are the best retro gaming gifts to put on your shopping list this holiday season.
The 100 Greatest Retro Videogames Hardcover
Will you agree with the top 100 games in this list? We don’t know. Chances are, you’ll be nodding your head while reading one page and getting outraged the next. That’s how lists work. The real appeal of this hardcover is having a physical book with a 100 of the greatest games ever made, with some interesting stories, vibrant game art, and in-game screenshots, with plenty of other colorful illustrations littered across its pages. Do note, their definition of retro is a bit loose and includes games as recent as Red Dead Redemption from 2010, which might not jive with your own idea of retro gaming. Overall, though, it’s a fun read, with plenty of pretty pictures, making it a great book to keep on the coffee table.
While dedicated gaming handhelds seemed destined to fade with the rise of smartphone gaming, the Nintendo Switch’s success has, pretty much, injected the form factor with a new lease on life. With renewed interest in portable consoles, it only makes sense that retro gaming handhelds are getting some much-deserved attention. This hardcover chronicles the vibrant history of handheld consoles, along with insights and personal stories of the authors’ experiences with each one. Like any good coffee table book, it comes with tons of illustration of the hardware, along with plenty of game images. Is it a perfect book? No. It focuses a bit too much on Nintendo’s Game Boy line and not enough on most of the others, but it’s still an interesting volume to peruse for any retro gaming fan.
Nintendo kicked off handheld gaming with the Game & Watch back in 1980, making it a fond memory for a lot of people who grew up in that period. A few years ago, the outfit decided to bring it back. Instead of the simplistic single-scene games of the old handheld, though, the new one came with either Super Mario Bros. 2 or a collection of Zelda games. It looks exactly like the Game & Watch of old, from the four-way D-pad and the two action buttons to the outlined edges and the Game & Watch logo on the top left. For this iteration, though, the gaming handheld comes with a full-color display, so you can enjoy the loaded games in all their full-color glory, along with a rechargeable battery, so you can just plug in when you need to recharge it at the end of the day.
If your recipient just wants an easy way to play game ROMs with tactile controls, we have a feeling this will make for a perfect retro gaming gift. It combines a 3.5-inch 640 x 480 pixel screen with a D-pad and four action buttons to facilitate all the button mashing you need to perform, while a preloaded 64GB TF card gives you instant access to over 7,000 games from various consoles of yesteryear. A 3,000 mAh battery allows you to play for seven hours between charges, so you can immerse yourself in a whole lot of retro titles before needing to plug in. It runs Linux OS and comes with RetroArch preinstalled, all while having built-in Wi-Fi, so you can connect to the internet to download any apps you’d rather use in its place. Do note, none of these preinstalled games are licensed, so play at your own risk.
While Nintendo seems to be over the whole concept of releasing Mini versions of their classic consoles, Sega has taken up the mantle in their place. Last year, in fact, they released this second Mini version of the Genesis (based on the Model 2 from 1993), which comes with 60 classic games, packaging some 16-bit cartridge classics, Sega CD titles, and even a few unreleased games in tow. Standout games include Phantasy Star II, Virtua Racing, and After Burner II, among a whole host of others. This is seriously one good collection, complete with lots of nice software touches, that will thrill any Sega fan.
Want a retro gaming experience without dealing with ROMs and other less-than-legitimate copies of retro games? Evercade has a nice setup with this handheld, which bundles licensed titles in cartridges that you can purchase from the outfit. It creates for an overall experience that recreates the cartridge-based gaming of old, while allowing for modern conveniences like a full-color screen (800 x 480 resolution), a rechargeable battery, and even HDMI 720p output, so you can watch your gameplay on the TV instead. Do note, since all the games are licensed, the selection is still limited by what they can negotiate to bring to the platform, although any retro fan is bound to find some nice standout titles that really make it worthwhile.
If you like the idea of Evercade’s licensed cartridges, but aren’t quite enthused with the handheld form factor, you can instead opt for this home console instead. It uses the same game cartridges as the handheld, but instead comes with a 1080p HDMI connection that allows you to enjoy the games in modern high-def. You can load up two cartridges at a time, giving you a bigger selection of games without having to fiddle with the console, while supporting up to four connected gamepads for some chaotic multiplayer fun. It’s a well-made console with a good interface and an overall smooth experience, although we do wish they can expand the game licensing much further, hopefully bringing in other popular franchises to the fold.
Grid takes consoles, controllers, and other electronics, then deconstructs them into various part for displaying neatly inside a framed canvas, complete with labels for each part and diagrams linking various parts that come together. It makes for a unique and good-looking display piece that can go well in most offices, bedroom, and even living spaces. Current available selections for retro gaming include various classic handhelds and gamepads, including numerous Game Boys, various Nintendo controllers for different consoles, and more. The frames are available in two sizes: 11.7 x 16.5 x 1.8 inches and 13 x 13 x 1.8 inches.
Artovision makes shadowbox art frames of many games, including a number of popular retro titles. Right now, their retro selections include Asteroids, Crash Bandicoot, Xenophobe, Super Contra, Street Fighter, Mega Man, and more. The selections vary depending on availability, so it’s best to check in occasionally if there are specific titles you want in shadowbox form, but they do make some attractive looking display pieces that are perfect for adorning the walls of any gaming fan. Each of their shadowbox frames feature optical-grade acrylic, vibrant UV-cured inks, and MDF wood housing, all handcrafted in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Another ROM-based emulator system, this gaming handheld runs on a full Android 12 build, allowing you to play not just retro game ROMs, but even modern smartphone titles. That’s right, it’s a proper mobile gaming handheld, allowing you to partake on some newer experiences during those times you’ve had enough of blocky graphics and chiptune music. This particular model takes on a vertical form factor similar to a Game Boy, which we’ve always found ideal for portability, although they also offer a wide form factor with the controls on each side using the same hardware if you prefer that. It features a 4-inch IPS touchscreen (640 x 480 resolution), a 5,500 mAh battery (good for anywhere from five to 12 hours of play, depending on the games), built-in six-axis gyroscope for motion controls in modern games, and a bundled 128GB SD card that’s preloaded with over 3,000 games.
This gaming handheld can play any Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance cartridge natively, so games play as well as they did on the original consoles. They also sell cartridge adapters for other handheld systems, including the Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket Color, Neo Geo Pocket Color, and Atari Lynx. It features a 3.5-inch display with 1600 x 1440 resolution, four-way D-pad, four action buttons, and a 4,300 mAh battery rated at up to 10 hours of gameplay. According to the outfit, you can connect up to four handhelds for on-the-go multiplayer. Want to play it on a TV? The included charging dock has a 1080p HDMI output, two USB inputs for wired controllers, and wireless gamepad support (Bluetooth and 2.4GHz). Other features include display rotation support (for vertical games), stereo speakers, and mappable buttons.
The biggest challenge when playing with retro game consoles? Finding a CRT TV in good enough condition. While you can always use an HDMI adapter to hook up your Nintendo, Sega, or Atari console from before the turn of the century to a modern TV, it’s a far from perfect solution, often causing noticeable lag and blur that makes the experience far less satisfying. This device serves as a middle layer between the console and your modern TV, giving you a place to plug in all your analog connections (it supports composite, S-video, component and RGB). More than an adapter, though, it actually upscales the video from the console to resolutions up to 1440p, with motion adaptive deinterlacing ensuring there is no lag or flicker. It does it all with no need to tinker with any settings, either, keeping thing simple, so you can just plop down on the couch and play.
This arcade cabinet stands just over five feet, making it a great size even for smaller homes, with an 18.5-inch display and stereo speakers allowing you to enjoy the games with full sights and sounds. It comes with one set of controls, joystick on the left and six action buttons on the right, so you’ve got everything you need to enjoy any single-player arcade title that your heart desires. Out of the box, it includes 150 preloaded games, many of which aren’t really the most popular of the lot. However, it does allow you to stream games from a separate PC (either via network connection or Wi-Fi), so you can play PC games on an arcade cabinet, as well as access to the outfit’s ArcadeNet service that offers access to over 200 more titles. You can also load games via CoinOpsX, which a lot of people use to instantly put thousands of games on their rigs.