Retro gaming is something that is constantly shifting, but never running out of nostalgic enthusiasts. From the older folks and millenials who hold lots of love for Sega and Nintendo to the younger folks who grew up playing PlayStation, there's room for multiple kinds of audiences in this space.

And since it's such a popular interest, all kinds of different potential gifts are floating around in the gaming market. Sure you could just literally buy some retro games, but that can be expensive, frustrating and you don't know what your friend has in their collection anyway.

That said, we've highlighted some ideas that definitely hone in on retro gaming enthusiasm, while still being outside of the box enough to remain interesting. Check out our 2021 holiday gift guide for retro gamers.

Emulator Handhelds

A growing trend in retro gaming circles are emulation handhelds, most of which are coming out of China. These are increasingly affordable devices that run on either Android or Linux-based operating systems and are specifically tailored to run emulators and other homebrew software.

The Android ones can run the Play Store as well, opening them up to things like Steam Link. The RG 350 is the most popular due to its price and sturdy build, although the most you’ll get running well is PlayStation and certain arcade games.

The next model up is the RG 351, but it's arguably not a far enough leap from the previous model to justify the price bump. Meanwhile, the Retroid Pocket is also popular, more powerful and runs Android, and can run Nintendo 64 games quite well.

Technically you can play PSP and Dreamcast games on it, but they aren’t quite up to snuff. An upcoming update could change that. More powerful devices are around the corner, but these are both tried and true when it comes to playing thousands of retro games on one device.

Evercade

If you’re looking for something a little more specified and less reliant on emulation, the Evercade is an intriguing system. Combining love for classic games and physical media, Evercade actually uses unique cartridges themed with publishers or developers such as Interplay or Namco.

These are officially licensed, and there are two different versions of the Evercade. One’s a portable, and the other is a two-player TV console.

Classic Compilations

If your giftee is just rocking modern platforms, there are plenty of options for retro gaming there as well. Compilations are widely available, especially from companies like Capcom and Square Enix.

You can snag physical copies of things like the Mega Man or Devil May Cry collections, and the occasional left field title such as the Disney Classics Collection or Zombies Ate My Neighbors. Square Enix is always re-releasing its games but a physical Mana collection?

Hell yeah. Lots of options in this space, even from the likes of Nintendo and Sega.

Clone Consoles

Maybe your recipient is such a retro gaming enthusiast they’re collecting classic cartridges already. But official systems are expensive and require care to continue running. And even that shelf life is running out.

But a number of companies like Hyperkin sell “clone” consoles, which are essentially new boxes that take cartridges and replicate their respective platforms. Some of these boxes use emulation, while others are more about getting as close to the real thing as possible.

Whichever end of that spectrum you go for, it’s going to impact the price.

Official Merch

It can be expensive and risky to track down actual old games, and buying someone a whole new device could be expensive. How about some merchandise? That’s nice and easy. Some companies like Capcom or Konami run their own stores with officially official merchandise.

But we recommend taking a look at outfits like Fangamer or Insert Coin. For our examples, while Insert Coin seeks to merge gaming licenses with fashion (expensive), Fangamer is more about cool design work done by artists such as Nina Matsumoto.

Each purchase names its artist, and when they’re shipped an art card is included showcasing a different artist. 

Related: The Best Gifts for Kirby Fans

These are just a few examples of the kinds of high quality gifts you can look at for the retro gaming enthusiast in your life. There are plenty of other things you can pick up, officially licensed and otherwise. But these are some of the best you can buy without inflated eBay prices or sketchy third party sellers.

We also recommend platforms like Etsy for high quality fan-made items you can’t get anywhere else.