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Top Christmas gifts for retro gamers: from Sega to Super Mario 3D All-Stars

(Image credit: Nintendo)
Christmas gift guides

We're bringing you a tech-focused Christmas gift guide every day up to the big day itself, to help fuel your present buying inspiration.

Day 1: Apple fans | 2: Photographers | 3: Nintendo fans | 4: Xbox fans | 5: PlayStation fans | 6: Retro gamers |7: PC gamers

Looking for the best retro gaming Christmas gifts this year? If you're buying for a family member or friend who's into the classic side of gaming, it's not always easy to pick out presents for them that they'll absolutely love. It's not like you can lock in a pre-order for a brand new PS5 or Xbox Series X and call it a day (and it's not like that's easy to pull off right now, anyway).

No, retro gamers will prefer something of an older vintage. Something that's stood the test of time and only improved with age. Something that'll help them relive those moments as they unwrapped their brand new Nintendo Entertainment Systems, original PlayStations, and Sega Mega Drives on Christmas day as children.

Gaming isn't all about beautiful graphics and fast frames. They help, of course, but your favorite retro gamer will be looking for ways to rekindle those heady days on coin-op arcades and 16-bit consoles, and we have gift ideas to suit all tastes, from Sony, Nintendo, and more. 

With the recent trend of games companies preloading classic games in more compact, but still recognisable, packages, it's now easier than ever to indulge in the best of gaming history. So, if you're in the mood for a gaming education, or you have a retro gamer in your life, here are a few festive gift ideas to bring the memories flooding back.

(Image credit: Sega)

Sega Genesis Mini / Sega Mega Drive Mini

Sonic's time to shine

Reasons to buy
+A generous 40 games+Excellent emulation
Reasons to avoid
-A few duff games

Whether you're an American gamer who remembers it as the Sega Genesis, or a European gamer who fondly recalls playing with a Sega Mega Drive, Sega's 90s era 16-bit console was the company at the height of its powers.

Sonic the Hedgehog. Ecco the Dolphin. Golden Axe. Streets of Rage. Classics of the era, the Genesis / Mega Drive had an edgy, adult-oriented feel that was the perfect counterpoint to Nintendo's family-friendly fare.

The mini Sega consoles are arguably even more refined than those that Nintendo put out, with a generous 42 games included, two controllers and note-perfect emulation, right down to beautiful edge wallpaper designs to flesh out 4:3 games for a 16:9 modern age. Do note however that Sega has licensed a few different versions of these machines over the years, and only the 2019 models have the full feature-set listed here. Double check before making that purchase, even if the older ones are listed at a lower price – they're far inferior.

super mario 3d

(Image credit: Nintendo/TechRadar)

Super Mario 3D All-Stars

A brilliant trilogy all in one place

Reasons to buy
+Some of the best Mario games ever+Superb platforming and value
Reasons to avoid
-Not great touch controls-Barebones port

Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a selection of three Nintendo platforming classics - Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy - all packaged together (without Super Mario Galaxy 2, sadly) to celebrate Mario's 35th anniversary. It's an ideal retro player's gift, and is probably a better choice for retro Nintendo fans in 2020 than the retro consoles below, each of which is hard to get hold of these days.  

For some reason, you will no longer be able to buy this collection after March 31, 2021, even digitally. That makes it an ideal nostalgia trip for the holidays.

Game and Watch Super Mario

Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros

The classic Nintendo device returns

Reasons to buy
+Looks fantastic+A definite nice-to-have gift
Reasons to avoid
-Very limited game selection-It's no SNES Classic Mini

Featuring the classic games Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels and the Mario version of the game Ball, this return of the Nintendo Game & Watch devices – the predecessor to the Game Boy – isn't too expensive at a retail price of $49.99 / £49.99. You'd hope so too, considering the limited games line-up, but it's still a nice-looking handheld for a hardcore Nintendo retro fan. You might find it hard to get hold of in the US right now, though. 

Buy Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros at Amazon US
Buy Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros at Amazon UK

SNES Mini deals stock alert

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo SNES Classic Edition

As good as 16-bit gaming gets, but hard to get hold of in 2020

Reasons to buy
+Truly classic games+Lovely European and US-variant designs
Reasons to avoid
-A few notable missing games-Controller cables a little short-Hard to get in 2020

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (or the SNES, as it's now more commonly known) was where 16-bit gaming truly came into its own.

With established franchises on its hands, Nintendo started refining series like Mario and Zelda, with the wonderful Super Mario World and A Link to the Past. The SNES has games that any self-respecting gamer, whatever their age, truly cannot afford to miss.

The SNES Classic mini shrinks the console down, fills it with tons of excellent games from the era, and makes it easy to hook up to modern TVs. Just like the NES mini, quality of life improvements like the ability to rewind and save games at any point are also appreciated.

The problem is, Nintendo has stopped producing them – so while it still makes a great gift, you'll likely have to hit eBay to find one in 2020.

(Image credit: Sony)

PlayStation Classic

32-bit games in a pint-sized box

Reasons to buy
+Some all-time greats included+Excellent USB game pads
Reasons to avoid
-Poor emulation-Missing lots of classic games-Hard to get hold of for cheap in 2020

3D gaming, here we come! 1994's PlayStation, Sony's first effort at a home console, ushered in a new era of gaming, with detailed 3D worlds to explore, adult-orientated genres like survival horror cemented, and a marketing blitz that made gaming long into adult life more culturally accepted than ever before. The roots of modern gaming start here.

But, though the era is full of gems, the PlayStation Classic mini console proved to be a bit of a disappointment. A relatively short 20 games list and poor quality emulation undermine an otherwise-wonderfully shrank console design.

And while there are plenty of classic games missing, there are some undeniable gems squeezed in here, with the unmissable Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII and Tekken 3 taking the limelight. The problem is, in 2020 it's a little pricier to get hold of than it used to be.

the oregon trail card game

(Image credit: Pressman Toy)

The Oregon Trail Card Game

The best card game that may also kill you with dysentery

Reasons to buy
+Faithful to the retro classic+Nostalgic fun for all the family
Reasons to avoid
-Stomach upsets

"You have died of dysentery". An alarming way of starting a festive gift idea recommendation, certainly, but retro gamers will know what we're talking about. The Oregon Trail is a vintage 1985 video game primarily designed to teach students the realities of real-life American pioneers on the path of the same name, which also features one of the most recognisable in-jokes in the history of gaming: the dysentery fail state.

Now, courtesy of Pressman Toy, the iconic classic has been adapted into a card game. Not only is it a faithful take on the game that'll be nostalgic fun for the retro gamer in your life, it's a great way for them to share their interests and classic anecdotes with the rest of the family on December 25.

Gerald Lynch

Gerald is the Executive Editor for TechRadar, taking care of the site's home cinema, gaming, smart home, entertainment and audio output. He loves his gaming, but don't expect him to play with you unless your console is hooked up to a 4K HDR screen and a 7.1 surround system. Based out of TechRadar Towers, London, Gerald was previously Editor of Gizmodo UK. He dreams of the day when he can pop on a VR headset and meet Lawnmower Man-era Pierce Brosnan. Sadly, Pierce doesn't share the dream.