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The stream of new video games seemingly never ends but, for some of us, nothing beats the classics. If you don’t feel like hunting through eBay and local game shops for old cartridges to add to your loved one’s collection, we’ve got some other gift ideas for the nostalgic gamer in your life — from video upscalers for old consoles to retro-themed books and artwork.
If you’ve never died of dysentery, have you truly ever lived? In the world of retro gaming, Oregon Trail holds a special place in the collective memory. Not just because it was possibly one of the first games people ever played, but it was likely how many of us learned about the struggles of our forefathers — including dysentery. The original game is available online, but for your vintage-game loving giftee, the Oregon Trail Card Game packages all the fun (and diseases) into a format that can be shared (or forced) upon friends around the dinner table.
Whether your recipient sees themself as a Banker from Boston or a Farmer from Illinois, all of the game’s classic dynamics are here, preserved in infinite-battery life board game format. Two to six people can play together and they’ll have to work to overcome the many challenges that faced travelers on the trail. The game is rated for players ages 12 and above, which we presume won’t be a problem for someone into a game from the ‘70s. — James Trew, Editor-at-Large
There are almost as many ways to play retro games these days as there are games to play. Or at least, it can feel that way sometimes. In our humble opinion, one of the very best of those is the Analogue Pockethandheld console. Unlike other emulators, the Pocket has a cartridge port and can play any Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance title natively. There is also an adapter for Sega Game Gear games, and options for the Atari Lynx, TurboGrafx-16 and Neo Geo Pocket Color are supposed to be available in time for the holidays.
We loved the Pocket when we reviewed it, and not just for its faithful reproduction of classic games on a fantastic modern display. We also loved that the Pocket has music-making software built right in and can easily be played on a TV via a dock (though, that costs extra). If your giftee wants to play games from other systems than those mentioned here, know that there’s a thriving community of Pocket fans that have expanded the range of games it can emulate to include digital backups from systems such as the NES, SNES and Genesis. — J.T.
If the Analogue Pocket is too pricey and your recipient doesn’t mind using emulators over original cartridges, the Miyoo Mini+ is another worthy retro handheld. Its Game Boy-style shape and 3:2 aspect ratio are ideal for vintage portable titles and it’s powerful enough to handle games up to the PlayStation 1 range without much issue. Like many emulation-focused gaming handhelds, it takes a little legwork to set up, but it’s extremely customizable once everything’s running. The Mini+ can sometimes be tricky to find in stock, though; if it’s sold out, the Anbernic RG35XX is a close competitor with a similar design. — Jeff Dunn, Senior Commerce Writer
Using old controllers is a big part of retro gaming’s charm, but sometimes there’s a fine line between classic and antiquated. For those who like the original PlayStation or PS2, but aren’t crazy about Sony’s earliest gamepads, the 8BitDo Retro Receiver for PS lets a variety of modern controllers work with those consoles wirelessly. The adapter supports Sony’s PS4 and PS5 pads, Microsoft’s Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S controllers (including the Xbox Adaptive Controller), Nintendo’s Wii U Pro and Switch Pro controllers and most of 8BitDo’s own gamepad lineup. It won’t add analog control to every game, nor will it replicate the pressure-sensitive face buttons supported by a handful of PS2 titles, but it pairs simply, supports rumble and doesn’t add any significant lag. Most importantly, it makes it easier to play Vagrant Story or Klonoa 2 from the couch. — J.D.
Collecting vintage consoles can be a blast, but most of those systems were designed for old CRT TVs, not modern flat screens. Yes, some newish TVs have legacy inputs for older devices, and it’s possible to use a basic HDMI adapter — but those can introduce significant lag and blur, making older gear hard to enjoy. For a cleaner, more faithful image, an external video upscaler like the RetroTink 5X-Pro is the way to go. It’s a little black box that can connect to a wide range of retro consoles and instantly make them look sharp on modern HD displays. It can output up to a 1440p resolution, yet keeps latency low enough that only the pickiest players will notice. It has a host of inputs and settings for fine-tuning a console’s image, including multiple forms of deinterlacing and different fake yet fairly clean scanlines that create a more old-school look.
But the beauty of the RetroTink is that it does most of its work behind the scenes, so your giftee won’t have to spend forever tinkering to make games look good. Just plug a console in, and everything’s pretty much good to go. It goes without saying that this is a device for hardcore collectors and, at $325, the 5X-Pro is definitely a splurge. — J.D.
If there’s one thing that retro gamers love, it’s a “top 100” list to disagree with. What makes this book the perfect (if slightly cruel) gift is that there’s no comment section in which for them to voice their opinions.
But in all seriousness, this hardcover book covers 100 of the most important games ever made, complete with behind the scenes stories and interviews from the developers. Alongside the historical insights are full color box art prints and tons of screenshots that are dripping in nostalgia. Whether your lucky giftee agrees with the list of games or not, it’ll look fantastic on their coffee table or, more likely, perched behind them on a shelf during a Twitch stream. — J.T.
For Sega fans who don’t want to go through the hassle of securing an original Genesis (or downloading a library of ROMs), the Sega Genesis Mini 2 is a more accessible way to enjoy some blast processing nostalgia. It comes with a library of 60 Genesis and Sega CD games that weren’t included on the first Genesis Mini, including hits like Sonic CD, Streets of Rage 3, Herzog Zwei and Phantasy Star II. (Plus decidedly non-classics like Night Trap.) The emulation from retrospecialists M2 is on point and while it only includes one controller, it’s the superior six-button Genesis pad, not the three-button model that came with the previous mini console. Perhaps most importantly, it’s one of the last mini emulation consoles you can actually still buy, though you’ll have to import it through Amazon Japan. — J.D.
Perhaps the simplest way to give someone access to a large number of retro classics is through a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. The Mario maker’s online service comes with a number of emulated essentials from the NES, Super NES and Game Boy, all of which support instant save states and rewinding in case the going gets too tough. Upgrading to the Expansion Pack adds a range of N64, Game Boy Advance and Sega Genesis titles. The N64 and GBA libraries aren’t quite as comprehensive as the other systems and, yes, it’s a bummer that the Switch doesn’t let you fully own these decades-old games. (The N64 app doesn’t support rewind either.) But if your loved one wants to experience some of Nintendo’s foundational titles for the first time or just take a stroll down memory lane, this is an accessible way to make it happen. — J.D.
We’re reluctant to peddle in stereotypes, but if you have a friend or family member that loves retro games, there’s a high chance they’d also appreciate the vintage clickety-clack of a mechanical keyboard. 8-Bitdo, a company known for its popular retro-focused game controllers (recommended elsewhere in this guide) has expanded into console-themed PC accessories, and the Retro Mechanical Keyboard is the perfect gift for the Mario-maniac in your life.
Importantly, this isn’t just a solid keyboard for Windows, Mac and Android (although it is that). It’s also not just a great tribute to the design of the Nintendo Entertainment System (although it is also that). The Retro Mechanical Keyboard is a “tenkeyless” (TKL) style keyboard that includes a volume knob, Bluetooth and 2.4Ghz wireless modes and USB connectivity. Best of all, though, are the included, oversized red A and B buttons that your giftee can assign to whatever keyboard feature they like. — J.T.
A frame from Grid Studio should fit well into any dedicated game room. These pieces deconstruct classic gadgets and tidily showcase their components as wall art. The gaming selection includes several handheld consoles and controllers, from the Wiimote, to the Xbox “Duke”, to the Sega Game Gear. Some collectors may wince at the idea of destroying old devices instead of preserving them, but if there’s a particular system your loved one is fond of, this is a classy way to show it off. — J.D.
Any self-respecting retro-game lover will have a prized collection of titles. Some of those may be physical cartridges, but many old games are available for desktop computers, too. There are several ways to organize these games, but our favorite is Launchbox — a beautiful virtual library for all your giftee's games. The free version is already great, and includes features like auto-downloading of game art, and a slick interface for browsing and launching their library. But with a Premium license your lucky recipient can enjoy even more features to make their games shine.
There are two options for Windows — a regular license ($30) and a forever updates license ($75). Both provide access to the premium features in perpetuity, but the regular license requires a $15 renewal fee for any new features that are added after the first year. Whichever option you go for, the game-lover in your life will be able to enjoy custom themes (or create their own), a much prettier “Big Box” UI designed for home theater setups and support for navigating with game controllers — among other things. — J.T.
Because they’re fun! Or because video game companies have generally had a spotty record of preserving their own history — and (legally) saving art, even in a minuscule way, is important. Or because, deep down, collectors just want to stave off the ceaseless march of time and hang onto any way to relive their youth before it dissipates for good. Or because they’re jaded with modern game design and crave shorter, more distinct or altogether different experiences that aren’t being served by today’s market. Or because they want to flip the games they collect for a quick buck on eBay. Or because… well, you get the idea. — J.D.
Why is retro gaming so expensive?
To put it simply: supply and demand. Companies aren’t making old games and consoles any more, yet a growing number of gaming enthusiasts want them. And as retro game collecting has grown more popular, sellers have become more acutely aware of how high they can price their goods. Not every retro game costs an arm and a leg, however: Popular games from relatively recent consoles are usually more affordable than lesser-selling titles for older hardware, and you can still find a good bargain every now and then by digging through local yard sales, individual eBay sellers and the like. — J.D.
Are retro games a good investment?
It depends on how you define “good.” Is it a good idea to buy a bunch of old games in the hopes that their value will skyrocket and make you a tidy profit? No, there’s little rhyme or reason to determining exactly which games will shoot up in value and by how much. There are much safer ways to invest if all you care about are financial returns. Is it a good idea to drop a bunch of cash on 40-year-old video games if you have pressing financial responsibilities? Probably not! But hey, it’s your life. If collecting retro games makes you happy, and you can budget for them within reason, that’s a good thing. Have fun. — J.D.
What qualifies as a retro game?
There’s no set definition for when a video game becomes “retro.” Personally, I think of it as any game that’s at least 10 years old and was originally released on a console that’s two or more generations old (or, for PC games, during that generation). But many others would stretch the timeline back farther, and the growing advent of “live service” games has complicated things. For instance, Grand Theft Auto V was released in 2013, while World of Warcraft arrived in 2004 — are those “retro games” when millions of people still play them today? Maybe not. With games from the ‘90s or earlier, though, the distinction is clearer. — J.D.
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