2019 Gift Guide: Nostalgic Classic Video Game Consoles
Whether it was the novelty of the NES Classic console that caused this or how Nintendo continued and elevated the quality into the SNES Classic, the nostalgia video game console market has transformed from an experiment into a genuine product marketplace. Sure, there was some expectation that an officially released, small-scale retro console loaded up with popular old-school games might do well, but the scarcity of both Nintendo’s little devices upon release proves how even that was underestimated. Since, the other companies have come to the realization that they’d like a piece of that market as well, and now we’ve got a full-on “Nostalgia Game Console” market.
Nintendo may or may not have plans for other consoles in the future — *cough* N64 Classic *cough* — but this year they aren’t getting involved with the mini console market, instead letting the other companies fight it out with their own releases. Along with that, other companies have realized the potential for tapping into nostalgia as well, so now we’re getting other higher-quality spins on retro video game devices that aren’t necessarily home consoles. This may be the renaissance of retro, so let’s live in the moment. Below, we’re going to explore what 2019 had in store for this new niche, what’s worth the scramble over the holiday season and, perhaps, at what price.
Sega Genesis Mini 30th Anniversary System
Number of Games: 40 | Scarcity: Available … For Now | MSRP: $79
While, yes, it’s hard to argue with the fond memories of little red plumbers flattening turtles and dogs chuckling after ducks get shot at, the evolution into the next line of consoles proved to be the real genesis point for the rise in home video gaming. Sure, earlier units did many of the same things, but this batch of Nintendo and SEGA systems for the 16-bit era did ‘em far, far better, tapping into the potential of graphics, storytelling, and multiplayer competition. Whether you belonged to one console fanbase or the other was a big deal, and sometimes it boiled down to more than personal preference. Regardless, however, the capability of the SEGA Genesis to compete as well as it did with the House of Mario was impressive, resulting in one of the most enjoyable systems ever created.
Perhaps more than other companies, SEGA has offered compilations of their games on disc format for many later generations of systems, yet there’s something particularly iconic about the shape and presence of the top-loaded, jet black Genesis system. Because of that, it’s hard to deny the appeal of the Genesis Mini system, a perfectly scaled-down duplication. It isn’t just a copy-paste of the same old games, though: yeah, you’re getting Sonic and Altered Beast and Streets of Rage again, but you’re also getting some deeper cuts as well, from Ecco the Dolphin and Earthworm Jim to the lesser-known fighting game Eternal Champions. The interface options are awesome in how they allow for numerous sorting and display functions, and it comes with a few visual tweak options, adding in scan lines and adjusting aspect ratio. Down to the pair of hefty 3-button controllers included, this is a retro console done right.
Sony PlayStation – PlayStation Classic
Number of Games: 20 | Scarcity: Widely, Widely Available | MSRP: $99; Plan on $30-40
This retro mini comes with some flaws and caveats, but it deserves to be viewed a little differently this year. Enthusiasm quickly mounted upon the announcement of a small-scale PS1 sourced directly from Sony, as there’s a wealth of potential for the titles that could be released within the compact rendering of the iconic console. Unlike its Nintendo predecessors, this one could also have a slate of more mature-leaning games, from survival horror titles to in-depth RPGs and the original stealth experiences from Hideo Kojima. Add to that the expectation that the PS Classic would want to rival Nintendo’s consoles in quality and stability, and you had the making of a real competitor. Then, the details started coming out: no thumbsticks, no dualshock, and restrictions on the included titles as a result.
For $100, the PlayStation Classic didn’t meet expectations … but as the price has tumbled since release, settling in the $30-40 range, the positives of the unit have grown far more appealing. There is some hardcore nostalgia to be gleaned from the fact that it’s a direct replication of the state in which the system was originally released, which was without those modern bells-‘n-whistles that would later exemplify it. While it’s missing notable heavy hitters — no Tomb Raider, no Silent Hill, no FF: Tactics — it does come with both some desirable familiar titles and some deep cuts. Final Fantasy VII and Resident Evil: Director’s Cut are expected yet welcome, while Revelations: Persona and Intelligent Qube delve deeper into its unique catalog.
Neo Geo Mini – International Edition
Number of Games: 40 | Scarcity: Available Online | MSRP: $89-100
Do you prefer your retro experiences to be more about function or aesthetics? It’s a relevant question, as part of the appeal of most of the mini systems lies in how they’re shrunken representations of their original builds. One of the most unique things about the Neo Geo home gaming system was its build, in that it was available both as a standard top-loading console and as a multi-slot full arcade cabinet typically reserved for commercial use. Previously, if someone wanted to have some of the Neo Geo catalog crammed into one unit, they could purchase the Neo Geo X: it contains a limited, yet robust selection of 20 titles from several of the format’s primary franchises, fit within a PSP-like portable device that could also be run to a TV. What SNK have done with this Neo Geo Mini, however, is captured the experience of owning one of the cabinets in, yes, a shrunken-down format.
At less than 9 inches tall and still equipped with a fully functional joystick on the front, the Neo Geo Mini clearly aims for the novelty approach. A 3.5” LCD screen displays the games in their original glory, contained within the nifty replication of the arcade cabinet positioned just high enough above the joystick for full visibility. An HDMI port and controller jacks – controllers sold separately — can transform it into a standard Neo Geo unit playable on the TV, though, and it comes equipped with 40 titles across its history, including installments from the Metal Slug, Fatal Fury, and Samurai Showdown franchises. While you’ll have to check out the list of games to see if the right ones are there, as it isn’t comprehensive, there’s a whole lot to battle through in this compact device.
NES and Super NES Classics (Minis)
Number of Games: 30; 20 + 1 | Scarcity: Sold Out, Third-Party Available | MSRP: $59; $79
So, what’s the status of these bad boys nowadays? For a while, people were still spotting them randomly at Targets and GameStops and such for their asking price, but that time seems to have ended. Across most online and brick-and-mortar retailers, both have become scarce commodities; you can still find them for not-so absurd amounts through third-party avenues on Amazon, but they’re almost certainly going to be above retail. At this point, the physical media or downloadable alternatives are probably worth considering above hunting the minis down; however, bear in mind that Star Fox 2 remains a SNES Classic exclusive, so there’s something special to pursue with that one.
Arcade1UP Arcade Cabinets – Mortal Kombat, Et Al
Number of Games: Varies | Scarcity: In-Store at Walmart, Available Online | MSRP: $275-300
And now for something completely different. Something that runs against pretty much everything that the previously mentioned mini consoles are hoping to achieve, but taps into as much, perhaps even more good feels from the past. While standard arcade cabinets can get very pricy, someone has found a way to bring the stick-clacking, button-mashing feel of that experience to the home in a cost-efficient way: Arcade1UP’s at-home machines. Just be prepared to do some light assembly if the plan’s to give one as a gift.
Available in brick and mortar stores (like Walmart) and online, the options currently come in a nice handful of flavors: Pac-Man, Street Fighter, Golden Tee, several compilations, and as of this year Mortal Kombat. These are smaller in scale, sit low out of the box, and need to be assembled; however, they’ve received numerous positive reviews for the build quality and accuracy of the titles once they’re together. In the case of Mortal Kombat, it comes with the first three entries in the franchise, notably the “ultimate” version of MKIII. From control responsiveness to build sturdiness and screen vividness, these cabinets pack a punch in a small body. Note: booster platforms can be purchased separately.