As the holidays approach, it’s time to start thinking about what you’re going to get the retro nerds in your life, you know, the type of people who would rather go duck hunting with their NES Zapper than save Skyrim from Alduin (though that’s fun too). Hope this guide gives you a head start:
1. Game Boy (1989)
Embarrassing story from back in the day: fifth grade, at the lunch table in the cafeteria, I see the kid next to me playing Tetris on one of these. Barely able to contain myself, I earnestly ask if I can be next in line to see his “Playboy.” Humiliation ensues. Moving on: the Nintendo Game Boy is the OG of handheld gaming devices (or maybe #3 is?). The days, perhaps weeks, of our lives spent playing Angry Birds on our cell phones couldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the Play… uh, Gameboy.
2. Atari 2600 (1982)
Nothing stokes the retro gaming memories more than firing up the wood-paneled Atari 2600, plugging in a classic like Combat or Joust, and joy-sticking your way to victory. The Atari system had iconic winners like Pac-Man, as well as a fair number of now infamous stinkers (think E.T. or Indiana Jones), but all in all, this was the console that laid the groundwork for modern home-gaming.
3. Galaxian Table Top Arcade Game (1987)
I always loved going to the arcade more than just about anything else. But, unfortunately, when I was a kid with no car and an allowance that would have gotten me about two plays of skee ball, I was forced to look for alternatives. So this tabletop phenomenon was totally awesome for me, especially because the machines were actually surprisingly well built and the games seemed authentic. Galaxian was my all-time favorite, mostly because I was good at it, but Donkey Kong and Frogger were great as well. And check out ThinkGeek’s fresh take on the classic tabletop, now modified for the iPad.
4. NES Console (1985)
Atari may be the ultimate old-school gaming system, but there is no doubt that the original NES was responsible for bringing 8-bit gaming into the households of most Americans in the 80’s. Anyone conscious in the mid-80’s remembers the first time they played Super Mario Brothers or Zelda, and speaking for myself here, no gaming console has ever lived up to this industry behemoth since. An all-time classic.
5. Intellivision Game System (1979)
I’m not going to argue with Mr. Plimpton: the Intellivision was most certainly the better game console when compared to Atari, at least in terms of graphics, and often gameplay as well. Unfortunately, due to a series of mishaps and poor decisions at Mattel, not that many people ended up taking the time to test George’s hypothesis, which was a shame. The games generally had advanced graphics (for the time), and it was cool to see the company try out new peripherals like the Intellivoice and ECS component. However, the paddles were a pain, and even worse, the company was notorious for promising “coming soon!” products and then never delivering. Still, if you are looking to impress a hard-core retro gamer, you can’t go wrong with gifting them the first ever 16-bit game system.
6. King’s Quest Collection (1982-1990)
Personally, I would give Police Quest the slightly higher ranking, but I can’t deny the ridiculous impact this series had on point-and-click adventure gaming. Sierra knew gamers wanted more than the typical race car/platform-jumping/asteroid-blasting gaming experience, and they delivered again and again with the King’s Quest series. Whether Leisure Suit Larry (see #10) was a smart move, that’s another story, but King’s Quest? Brilliant.
7. Sega Genesis Game System (1988)
NES snobs like to look down on the “other” console of the 80’s, but that’s because they’re still sore they were playing A Boy and His Blob while the Sega Genesis crew were ripping each other’s heads off in the unedited Mortal Kombat (Nintendo did eventually come around on MK). While it was never quite elevated to the level of the NES in terms of reputation, those that owned a Sega Genesis remember it fondly, and have never looked at a hedgehog the same since.
8. The Magnavox Odyssey Game System (1978)
The very first home video game console, the original Odyssey was being played at home years before Joust, before Beserk, heck, years before Pong. Now, to be fair, if you showed the first Odyssey to anyone born after Reagan, they would probably insist that the Odyssey is not a video game at all, but instead a a strange looking flashlight and a sheet of plastic. The reason for this is that the Odyssey was VERY limited in terms of graphics, so much so that if you wanted to play hockey, for instance, you would actually attach a semi-translucent sheet to your TV screen. This piece of plastic WAS THE GRAPHICS! Then you would use your controllers to move and manipulate your players, which were basically beams of light. The interactivity was so rudimentary that the games came with hardware like bank notes and poker chips to help you keep score… this was primitive stuff, people. But if you were an early-adopter of the 70’s it was a major moment of your life. Later on, they got wise to cartridge based gaming and released the Odyssey 2, which never quite caught on, but might be the perfect gift for the gaming historian in your life.
9. SNES Game System (1990)
Just when Sega thought they had creamed the NES with their Genesis console, Nintendo came out with the SNES and essentially laid claim to half of the console market share overnight. And it was easy to see why: the 16-bit graphics, the new audio capabilities, and the more complex and ergonomic game controller all made the SNES a huge improvement over it’s predecessor. Additionally, the games were great, ranging from the 1-on-1 violence of Street Fighter to the strategic cunning of Romance of the Three Kingdoms (not to mention the best selling Super Mario World cartridge that came packed with the console). The SNES and Genesis battle signaled the end of 8-bit gaming, but the outcome was more than worth it.
10. Leisure Suit Larry (1987-2009)
I was playing Leisure Suit Larry in fifth grade, and to be honest, I really didn’t know EXACTLY what Larry Laffer and that hooker were doing behind that vibrating, black “censored” box. But I knew I liked it. The early games were classic point and click adventures that appealed to curious kids and sleazy nerds alike. Sadly, the series went on far too long, and Sierra made the odd misstep of including less, rather than more, salty content. Nonetheless, this collection offers up the golden, early editions and makes a great gift for any retro PC gamer.
11. Full-size Arcade Machines
When Monica and Chandler got married, Phoebe thought big and got them a Ms. Pac-Man arcade machine for their wedding gift. And it was a hit. So if you are looking for a high wow-factor gift for someone special, this should be at the top of your list.