In The Game – Mat Langford’s “Top 3 Favourite Retro Games That I’ve Ever Received During the Holidays (and Why They’d Still Make Great Gifts Today).”

Getting games for Christmas or during the holidays is a great way to try something new, or to finally get that game you’ve been wanting all year long. Of course, as an adult, I can buy my own games now, but back in my childhood days where you had to wait for the holidays to get the newest game, the experience was so much more special. Buying retro games today, however, is a bit more complicated, and seeing as these games still hold up, they’d be a great gift for anyone looking for a blast from the past gaming experience this holiday season.

There are a few games that I remember receiving that really kind of changed the way I looked at gaming, and got me into new experiences that I perhaps wouldn’t have tried otherwise. Here is my reasoning behind them, and some help on how to find them, if you’re looking to spread some retro gaming cheer.

Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle (Nintendo Game Boy)

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Image courtesy of mobygames.com

In 1990, my brother and I had just gotten our Nintendo Game Boy’s – bless my mom, she had twins so we had to have two of everything. Jon had gotten a copy of Batman, and I got a copy of Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle. The box looked cool, but I had heard nothing about it and didn’t really know what to expect. This game, if you’ve never played it, is a simple-looking 2D platformer featuring Bugs himself, navigating his way through various levels collecting enough carrots to complete the level, while beating up on Sylvester, Yosemite Sam and others.

It sounds simple enough, but this game frustrated me to my wits end. I’d take it with me everywhere, to the mall, to my grandpa’s house, to bed with me, all while trying to beat one more level or replaying a level I was stuck on over and over again until I finally beat it. It was tough, but so much fun at the time, I couldn’t put it down.

If you’ve never played it, you can still find it on eBay, in some retro game stores, flea markets or by using an emulator if you’ve got one. Of course you should own the game if you’re doing it that way. You can find it on eBay .

Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64)

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Ah, the Nintendo 64 – never had I wanted a console so badly – if you don’t count the original Nintendo Game Boy when I was younger, I mean. The N64 was the coolest gift going during the holiday season of 1996, and I was all in. I had seen the commercials, read all about it and couldn’t wait to see if my mom would come through on Christmas morning. Turns out, she’s awesome and my brother and I opened the black and red box yelling with excitement.

It came with a copy of Super Mario 64, which I couldn’t wait to play. It was a revelation. 3D Super Mario in a somewhat open world, with graphics that were pretty much cutting-edge at the time. It looked SO good, and the controls were so buttery smooth, making it a triple-jumping, butt-sliding, Bowser-swinging good time. The controls let you tackle the precise platforming with confidence, and failing just gave you more incentive to try again. We played it pretty much non-stop until we finally beat it, and then came back for more in the hunt for the remaining stars. It’s a game that I still have, and have played multiple times throughout my life. One for the ages, for sure.

It is currently available on the Wii Virtual Console and was re-released in September 2020 on Nintendo Switch in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection. It was later re-released for the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack for the Nintendo 64 lineup in October 2021.

Final Fantasy VIII (Playstation One)

Final Fantasy VIII - PSX - 1998 : r/nostalgia

It’s the holiday season of 1999: Backstreet Boys are tearing up the charts, the Playstation 2 has just been announced, and I’m currently at home, in bed, sick with a cold. As a pick me up, and with a few days off of school heading into the weekend, I decide to pop in the newly released Final Fantasy VIII. I had never played a Final Fantasy game before and really had no idea what I was getting myself into. Sports games were my game of choice at the time, EA’s NHL and NBA games took up most of my gaming time. But something about FFVIII caught my eye.

The combination of me being a teenager and the game focusing on the trials and tribulations of Squall, Rinoa, Zell and their teenage group trying to save the world was just the right experience at the right time. I had friends in my group that resembled each character in some way, so playing through it became an immensely personal experience. I renamed the characters to match and set off on a journey that took me nearly 90 hours.

The more I played, the more I wanted to play. There were days that FFVIII was all I could think about. Once, I got stuck at a point in the game where I actually couldn’t proceed until I beat a boss, but didn’t have enough of an inventory of items to heal myself properly through the battle. I didn’t have a save game to revert to, so I spend days trying and trying, using different tactics and strategies, until I finally beat that section, a moment which – even with all of the gaming I’ve done since – I still remember in nearly perfect detail. No game since has had the impact that FFVIII has had on my gaming life. My unopened copy sits on display in my game room and I even have a Balamb Garden SeeD Academy shirt that confuses most people that see it. Games like The Last of Us and others like it come close, but as my introduction into Final Fantasy games that has led me down a path of loving JRPG’s, FFVIII will always hold a special place in my heart.

Final Fantasy VIII is currently available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. You can even play it on iOS and Android, though the console experience it what I would recommend.

Have you played any of these awesome games? Let us know in the comments!

One Reply to “In The Game – Mat Langford’s “Top 3 Favourite Retro Games That I’ve Ever Received During the Holidays (and Why They’d Still Make Great Gifts Today).””

  1. All 3 are great titles. Personally my favourite in your list is Final Fantasy 8. I played it as a kid and have just bought the remaster for PS4 over Christmas. Haven’t got round to playing it yet though! Too many other games still to catch up on. Great article.

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