Can you remember a Christmas that stood out more than all the others, a Christmas that you just never wanted to end because it was such an amazing day, and perhaps a present that you couldn’t quite believe you were opening?
For many of the Retro Dodo team, and I guess kids both little and big everywhere, Christmas wasn’t just a time for celebrating with family and eating more turkey than we could get our grubby little hands on.
It was also a wondrous time where we kept everything crossed that Santa had brought us the new video game or collectible that we had written at the very top of our lists.
And more often than not, the big guy delivered.
We all had that one gift that we tore back the wrapping of and saw the logo underneath, guessing the artwork from a game or console by the slightest colour or shape. These were game images we had studied every single day from Nintendo Official Magazine or Playstation Magazine, and we knew them like the backs of our hands.
As we grow older, however, Christmas starts to become a little less about the receiving and more about the giving. Notice I said ‘a little less’ there; I still enjoy opening up retro games from family and friends and reliving the Christmas glory days.
But what were the games & toys that defined the Dodo’s Christmasses, the Christmas presents that are still so far at the front of our minds that we’d still rather play them 100 times over than play the newest PS5 or Switch game?
I guess we better find out; you won’t know what to buy us all otherwise!
Table of Contents
Pokemon Cards – Brandon Saltalamacchia, Founder
Growing up as a child, my parents rarely put a cap on video games, especially when I was playing with my brother or friends.
But around Christmas, this would all change.
Instead, we had to entertain ourselves with friends and family using physical games… boring I know, but it actually ignited lots of passions for me.
One of those passions became my obsession with Pokemon Cards, which has spiralled into eventually building CardGamer.com, our sister website.
Christmas was the season of trading; I vividly remember opening booster packs for Christmas and putting them in my broken, crusty binder ready for swapping.
Typically on Boxing Day, the streets were filled with kids showcasing their new gifts. Brand new bikes were drifting around the block like it was a Fast and Furious movie. There were kids playing with JoJo’s Boneheads in the alleyways, footballs being smashed against windows, and remote control cars flying throw the air thanks to the ramp made out of a small child’s head.
Then, there was a group of us running around with our Pokemon cards, looking for new cards that we’ve never seen before thanks to the release of new sets.
Bad and good decisions were made, and more often that not tears would be shed because Tom traded a holo Dark Charizard for a fake Ancient Mew bought in Spain 3 months before for 1 EURO off the back of a suspicious van by Jamie’s dad.
Screw you Jamie, I won’t ever forget!
However, it was a nostalgic experience and one that I won’t forget. It taught me how to negotiate and to not be taken advantage of, and it helped me to figure out agreements so both parties could grow their collection mutually without tears.
I do have many memories playing video games at Christmas, but trading Pokemon cards and opening packs under the tree to find a holo Machamp is a memory that I will cherish.
Luckily for me, I am expecting a son in January, and I can’t wait to replicate this experience with him… I have the fake Ancient Mew ready with his name on it.
Donkey Kong 64 – Seb Santabarbara, Editor In Chief
Whenever I think about Christmas, the morning that I opened Donkey Kong 64 comes hurtling straight to the front of my mind.
I can still see it like it was yesterday; nine-years-old, sitting in the chair closest to the TV, the wrapping paper with Santa on it, holding it thinking ‘this has gotta’ be a game’.
My parents usually disguise presents inside other boxes so it’s not instantly obvious what they are. The amount of Cheerios boxes I’ve unwrapped over the years might make a passer-by think that I’m just mad on cereal, but it’s a trick that I’ve taken on into my adult life and one that keeps you guessing when presents are under the tree.
Still, this present wasn’t disguised – I think they knew that it was the one I’d been waiting for, one of the best N64 games that I had been chattering on about for months after reading about it in Nintendo Official Magazine.
I can still remember opening the black box, taking out the expansion pack, plugging it in, and enjoying a new gaming experience with DK and the gang.
It was probably my happiest Christmas of all time.
It was also the Christmas that my parents decided to tell me that Santa wasn’t actually real. Nine-years-old seems like an old age to find that out these days which is a shame – I guess it’s harder to keep the magic alive these days now kids are born with smartphones in their hands. Still, I was that happy that it didn’t even really matter.
So yeah, Donkey Kong 64 holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. And don’t tell anyone, but I didn’t believe that load-of-rubbish about Santa not being real.
People say ‘seeing is believing’, but I’ve never actually seen our News Producer Anthony smile and I know he’s been happy at least a couple of times… probably.
Super Mario Bros & The NES – Anthony Wallace, News Producer
Like many of you reading this, many of my video game memories are directly tied to Christmas. Because that’s when most of our parents finally caved to pressure and got us that video game console we had been begging for most of the year.
My earliest video game memories are playing Super Mario Bros. at my neighbors house when I was about 4 years old.
And needless to say, I started my campaign to get my own NES back in 1986.
But I still remember being quite surprised when I was handed one last very large box on Christmas morning by my Uncle, and discovering a fresh NES inside.
So I guess you could say that my video game obsession and the day I became Team Nintendo was December 25, 1986.
I can still remember playing games like Super Mario Bros., Contra, Gradius, Mega Man 2, Battletoads, Castlevania 2, Duck Tales, Ironsword, and more like it was just yesterday.
Those are the kind of memories that are burned into our hearts and minds, and we are forever chasing that kind of magic in our lives. It is no coincidence that I chose to focus my life on that kind of feeling.
Croc: Legend Of The Gobbos – Theo Litston, Content Editor
I’m a December baby, my birthday landing exactly twenty days before the annual celebration of miraculous deity arrivals and red-suited home invaders.
I was turning ten years old in December 1997 and all I wanted from life was to be able to play the PlayStation. We didn’t have one of course, but my friend Oli did and I used to visit his house every day after school, playing Crash Bandicoot and scribbling down passwords in the back of the manual.
An elegant pastime for a more civilised age.
As much as I enjoyed spending time with Oli and Crash, my heart’s one true desire was to have a PlayStation of my own.
Then, on my tenth birthday, my parents presented me with a present. ‘This is it’, thought I, brimming with excitement about the impending gift. ‘I’m finally going to have a PlayStation to call my own!’
And then I saw the gift.
It was small. There was no way a PlayStation was hiding inside this little cuboid.
I was right. I graciously opened my present to discover a game. Croc: Legend of the Gobbos.
Initial concern was quickly washed away by excited questions. Who is Croc? What’s a Gobbo? Does this mean I might eventually get a PlayStation?
My parents had given me three gifts that day. The game, hereto unrivalled excitement for Christmas Day, and the gift of patience.
I spent my birthday, and the nineteen days that followed it, pouring over Croc’s manual and drawing the cute characters who I’d yet to see in motion.
Christmas Day 1997 is a momentous and unforgettable moment in my journey through life, and I can say with great confidence that the twenty day long wait to play Croc: Legend of The Gobbos was well and truly worth it.
Super Smash Bros. Melee – Rob Page, Video Producer
One of the Christmas presents I most fondly remember has to be the one and only purple beast; the GameCube.
Before then I had never experienced a home console from Nintendo, for me they had always been the kings of the handheld scene but I had completely missed out on the NES, SNES and N64.
This meant that my introduction to the wider world of Nintendo franchises really started here and no game served as a better starting place than Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Being able to play as Pikachu and beat the snot out of Mario, Link and even other characters I had never seen before like Fox and Samus was not only extremely fun but also enlightening. I needed to know where these mysterious characters came from and eventually led to me discovering Star Fox, Metroid, and more.
Not only was the GameCube impressively powerful for it’s time, but it really appealed to me due to being weirdly quirky.
The tiny discs, the handle attached to the console for no real reason, the functionality with certain Game Boy Advance games by attaching them to the system with a Link Cable – I love stuff like this, and it gave the system a real sense of identity that hasn’t quite been matched since.
At the end of the day though, you know that any console which has an official first party bongo controller is going to be a blast.
You don’t see PlayStation offering that, do you?
A Link To The Past – Jason Brown, Retro Gaming Expert
Despite the excitement of receiving a Sega Master System and a nice little pile of games to accompany it on one chilly Christmas in the late 80s, my fondest Christmas gaming memory has to be related to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past in 1992.
Though I’d love to pretend that I was blown away by the game as I started playing it on the 25th of December, that wouldn’t be quite true.
I’d actually seen a friend play the game at his house a few months before Christmas. The absolutely stunning, incredibly atmospheric intro sequence – which felt genuinely cinematic in those days – took my breath away.
This intro – in which your Uncle ventures out into the torrential rain in the middle of the night, responding to a telepathic cry for help from the imprisoned Princess Zelda – convinced me that I didn’t just want A Link to the Past; I needed it.
Which is what led to me requesting it for Christmas in the first place – and I spent the Christmas holidays playing it every single day, for hours on end, barely leaving the SNES during my waking hours.
I was utterly absorbed in the vivid, open and huge worlds – both Light and Dark – contained on the cartridge.
The game still holds a very special place in my heart; once I’d finished it, no other game on the SNES quite matched up to the experience.
Arguably, few games ever since, on any console, have reached those heady heights for me.
Christmas 1992 will almost certainly always be the best Christmas I ever had; all thanks to my SNES and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
Pokemon Crystal – Jacob Woodward, Writer
Christmas is always a special time when you’re a kid, especially if you get those all-important games you’ve been craving.
The one that sticks out to me as being the pinnacle of my childhood was Pokemon Crystal.
After already playing Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow (trading each one in after one another just to get the next colour variant), when the second generation of titles were announced it wasn’t a want, it was a need.
When Crystal was up for release in November 2001 in the UK, it was the main thing I added to my Christmas list.
Having to wait over a month to even get the chance of playing it was killing me but something one must go through as a child who spent all their cash on Pokemon Cards instead…
When the all-important day arrived, there were other goodies such as a Team Rocket theme deck, a couple of other toys, and the usual chocolate goodness, but no Pokemon Crystal in the pile.
After all was unwrapped, I was given one last present that was hidden and saved to the end – a small square shaped box, very Game Boy game like.
You guessed it, it was Pokemon Crystal.
From that point I was glued to my Game Boy Color, paired with worm light and magnifier to get the best picture possible on the non-backlit screen.
It was played long into the night, nurturing my little Cyndaquil into the beastly Typhlosion and beyond.
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Seb Santabarbara has bought every Nintendo console that has ever been released in his 34 years on Planet Earth. His favourite game franchise is Zelda, and he’s patiently waiting for Banjo-Kazooie to come back to the fold. When he’s not playing games, he’s travelling the world in his self-converted camper van.