Old-time gamers - need a recommendation for an out-of-date video game system for 5-year-old
August 24, 2009 5:35 AM   Subscribe

Recommendations for an obsolete video game system for a 5-year-old

So, my 5-year-old is interested in video games. We've been using the newly manufactured games that simply plug into the TV and have old-timey (my era) games - frogger, pac man, etc.
I'd like to give him some variety on the cheap. Local craigslist postings are replete with old-time video game systems like playstation and nintendo ds but I know nothing about these video game systems (or any others for that matter). I'm looking for one that is somewhat simplistic (not too many buttons, paddles or sticks) and, although now obsolete, during its time, had games that were young kid oriented.
posted by notcomputersavvy06 to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd suggest going Nintendo. The NES was great for many a 5-year old, with one D-pad and two buttons. The controller is great for small hands, and there are tons of games for all age ranges.

That said, I wonder if some of the hassles might make it not worth it (so hard to find games, you're going to eBay for them, and you have to clean the connectors regularly).

Next up I'd say a N64. The controllers were big and brightly colored, great for kids. Yeah, there's quite a few buttons on there, but give him some time and I think he'll figure it out, and the more youth-oriented games don't use many of them anyway.

Glad to see the new generation getting to enjoy some of my old faves!
posted by arniec at 5:39 AM on August 24, 2009

I have still have my old Sega Genesis system. We hooked it up for my nieces and nephews and they love it. Even the youngest can hook it up by herself and turn it on. We had the typical assortment of popular games (Golden Axe, Ghost and Ghouls, Sonic, etc) but were able to pick up a few Disney games for the younger ones. I also have an original PlayStation hooked up but they prefer the Sega games.
posted by pghjezebel at 5:43 AM on August 24, 2009

Does it have to be a console? Because if a handheld is okay, it's hard to go wrong with a GameBoy Advance. It'll play GameBoy Advance, GameBoy Color and GameBoy games, all of which are available both on eBay/Amazon and at almost all used-game stores both corporate and local. It's cartridge-based, rather than optical-media-based, which means that the media is a lot more durable, especially in the hands of kids. And there's a wide, wide variety of games aimed at children.

If handhelds are not okay, I think the sweet spot might be the SNES.
posted by box at 5:49 AM on August 24, 2009

Actually, I'm going to suggest that Nintendo DS.

The system itself is not 'old' - as nintendo still makes them, games are still made for them, and they play the exact same games. The only difference is that Nintendo has remodeled the system a few times.

I suggest the original Nintendo DS (although it can be a little bit big for small hands) or the Nintendo DS Lite.

There is another one out there called Nintendo DSi. The reason I do not suggest this system is because the previous two models had the ability to play Gameboy Advance games. Basically giving you two catalogs of games to play.

It's a little newer, more expensive, and doesn't have the retro-feel of the game systems of the 80's and 90's.. but I think you will get more miles for your money.

Nintendo DS/lite is portable. He can play it in the car, at home, etc. There are large amounts of kid-friendly games for the system.

Also, since he is so young, you may want to consider the learning systems. Stuff like leap frog. Not video gaming in the sense that teenagers think of it - but it will still apply the idea of fun, interactive video games and help him learn and grow as well. Get him a true game system when he's a little older.
posted by royalsong at 5:58 AM on August 24, 2009

I would disagree with the original NES as a system for a kid.

Those games were HARD. Like cruelly hard. Contra was essentially impossible to beat without using the cheat code. Ninja Gaiden? Forget about it. Mike Tyson's Punch Out has like 10 people world wide who have ever beaten it.

Granted, it could just be because I've gotten older and don't have the superhuman reflexes of a kid anymore, but I seem to recall throwing the controller across the room in a fit of anger on numerous occasions even when I was a tyke.

Playstation does have more buttons etc, but it also has a slightly more reasonable difficulty level on most games. On top of that, you can also get some of the games online and burn them to a CD to play (not that I'd advocate anything illegal, just saying if you happened to buy a game and the disc is too scratched to play or whatever...)
posted by reticulatedspline at 6:01 AM on August 24, 2009

Have you considered emulation on a PC? Legal issues aside, it's pretty easy to get a handful of cool old games and load them up in MAME (site appears to be down at the moment for me). It comes with an easy-to-navigate menu system, and can read game files from a variety of old systems, including the ones traditionally found in coin-operated arcade halls, like Pac-Man and Centipede.

Though it uses the keyboard and mouse, it does support external controllers and you can find information on hooking these up in the forums. There are also some bootable cd options, so you can burn a disc with MAME and use any old PC to get started, no setup required.
posted by odinsdream at 6:03 AM on August 24, 2009

In general, Nintendo products (all of them, from the original NES to the current Wii and DS) are the most kid-focused, both in terms of game type and actual hardware construction: more durable and kid-proof. Nintendo is the "safe" brand to bet on for kids.

For a five year old I would avoid any CD/DVD-based games, as they're delicate and scratch easily and the lasers get ruined if they're dirty and on and on. So that would rule out PlayStations (all) and Wii's and such.

So sticking to cartridge based and Nintendo-branded, that makes the Nintendo Super NES (SNES, aka "Super Nintendo) or Nintendo GameCube the correct old-school TV-connected choices. I'd find the one on eBay that comes with, like, 20 games and just stick to that. There's not a whole lot of "upgrade" difference between the SNES and (newer) GameCube.

Box is also right about GameBoys (any) for handheld games, if those are acceptable. Your kid will soon be addicted to all sorts of handheld gadgets from cell phones to iPods anyway, so might as well get started on that. Also nice that they don't take up the TV all the time playing, and a big power saver. Any GameBoy, up to and including the DS... but GameBoy Advance (Advance meant "color") is the cheap/plentiful used option right about now, I'd think.
posted by rokusan at 6:04 AM on August 24, 2009

There are a lot of three-in-one or four-in-one systems out there now, that have some combination of original Nintendo, Sega Master System, TurboGrafx and/or others. You might check into those. I've seen them available for $30-40 in some local comic/gaming stores. One big benefit is that they will be brand new systems that don't ahve 20 years of wear and tear.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 6:14 AM on August 24, 2009

We got our Super Nintendo when I was six, back when it was new, and it was a terrific system. Some of the games are hard enough that I still find them mildly challenging, but easy enough that even a six year old could derive some satisfaction from them--I remember being really, really proud the first time I got through a castle on the first island of Super Mario World.

If you go the SNES route, do try to get a MarioPaint cartridge and mouse. I used to have loads of fun making "music videos" to the sheet music I had from elementary school band.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:19 AM on August 24, 2009

Another vote for SNES. I was also about 6 when we got ours new, and I played it through my teens despite having a PS2 around. There are loads of games for SNES, ranging from 'fun fluff' to 'challenging', which is why I was able to enjoy it for so many years. I would probably still play it if my older brother hadn't appropriated it for his gaming collection. As phobwan points out, Mario Paint is an awesome idea for a 5 year old. Between music and animation, it makes for an endlessly fun, mess-free creativity machine.

If you want something a little newer, I also had lots of fun with GameCube, although I was in my 20s before I decided to give it a chance.
posted by sunshinesky at 6:31 AM on August 24, 2009

It's hard to go wrong with a Super Nintendo or Nintendo 64.
posted by The Deej at 6:32 AM on August 24, 2009

Nthing a Gameboy Advance, especially get the SP edition, which has a lighted screen and folds up like a little laptop to protect it. Plenty of kid friendly games that can be enjoyed anywhere without taking up a TV or mucking about with cables and controllers.

I need to find mine again; I'm getting nostalgic!
posted by PunkSoTawny at 6:42 AM on August 24, 2009

Nthing Super Nintendo. Pilot Wings is a great game for it as well.
posted by bunny hugger at 6:43 AM on August 24, 2009

NES games are hard and easy. SNES games are hard an easy. I mean, damn, the games reticulatedspline mentioned are hard there's no doubt about that. But would you get those for a 5 year old anyway?

If you want an actual system I'd go for one of the combination ones. It gives you more flexibility when buying games.

If you don't mind the copyright issues then emulation can be a good route to go. It's what I do (I've had them since middle school back in the 90s when there was no way to get old games other than that or having the system). It gives you the benefit of not having to worry about messing up the game. And save states are great, means I don't have to finish a game in one sitting that otherwise doesn't have a save feature.
posted by theichibun at 7:03 AM on August 24, 2009

Super Nintendo.

I was trying to solve a similar problem. I didn't get the actual hardware though; I just bought a Pentium 3 computer that somebody was selling at a garage sale, stuck all my useless 64MB RAM sticks in it, installed Ubuntu and ZSNES on it and let the kids go to town. ROMs acquired separately. I ended up buying them a $20 Playstation-style USB controller so they didn't have to use the keyboard to play the games.

Added bonuses: ZSNES has a built-in Game Genie/Pro Action Replay. If the games are too hard (which is likely to be the case) you can help them along by typing in some codes, saving the codes and have them automatically toggle on when the game is loaded-- the kid won't know what's going on behind the scenes, but now they can beat Street Fighter and have unlimited special ammo in Mega Man.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 7:13 AM on August 24, 2009

NES is an awesome system for a kid. The games aren't terribly complicated, and hold up well to repeated game play.

PlayStation might be a bit much at this age, as that system was directed towards teens and twentysomethings.
posted by reenum at 7:13 AM on August 24, 2009

I'm looking for one that is somewhat simplistic (not too many buttons, paddles or sticks) and, although now obsolete, during its time, had games that were young kid oriented.

If you really want a simple control scheme and an obsolete system, I would suggest the original Nintendo, Super Nintendo, or Genesis. Also here are some suggestions for games to look for if you pick any of those systems:


Super Mario 1, 2, and 3
Kirby's Adventure
Duck Tails
Double Dragon 2
River City Ransom
The Legend of Zelda
Dr Mario
Bubble Bobble
Micro Machines
Duck Hunt (requires Zapper gun)
Paper Boy
Super Dodgeball
Baseball Stars

Super Nintendo:

Super Mario World
Prince of Persia
Star Fox
Street Fighter 2
Samurai Shodown
Tetris & Dr. Mario
Super Bomberman
Super Mario Kart


Sonic The Hedgehog (any)
Ecco The Dolphin
Gunstar Heroes
Streets of Rage (any)
Samurai Shodown
Comix Zone
Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
Micro Machines
posted by burnmp3s at 7:37 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Original NES hardware is wrought with problems. Yeah, those of use in our late 20s/early thirties grew up blowing in game cartridges to make them work, but thats not something you want to be doing today -- there's just no need. It was frustrating back in the day, and I can't imagine 20 year old hardware is any better today.

I'd recommend the Nintendo DS. I love mine :) There are a ton of games available, the system in relatively cheap (especially used), and is portable, so your kid can be entertained on those long car rides. It'll grow up with him -- he will still be able to find games to challenge him 5 years from now.
posted by cgg at 9:22 AM on August 24, 2009

I don't have one, but on the strength of it being able to play GBA stuff, my vote would go for a Nintendo DS if a handheld is something you're willing to go with.

Mike Tyson's Punch Out has like 10 people world wide who have ever beaten it.

Although a lot of NES stuff was wickedly hard (I agree with you re: Contra/Ninja Gaiden), Mike Tyson's Punch Out really wasn't. It's just pattern memorization & reflexes. I don't remember how old I was when it came out but I managed to beat it. Not sure the reflexes would be up to the task anymore, but I don't recall it being that bad at the time.
posted by juv3nal at 10:55 AM on August 24, 2009

nintendo ds is the best handheld solution, but if you can spring a little bit more money i think you'd be better off getting a nintendo wii. partly you can buy most of those awesome old games online through the wii to play on it without having to worry about aging hardware problems, partly because nintendo has an unbeatably awesome and deep catalog of kid-friendly games out for the wii specifically but also from the gamecube era (which the wii plays), and partly because it's got lots of games that your kid can play either alone, with friends, or with you. really, the wii is made of win.
posted by lia at 11:47 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

nintendo ds is the best handheld solution, but if you can spring a little bit more money i think you'd be better off getting a nintendo wii. partly you can buy most of those awesome old games online through the wii to play on it without having to worry about aging hardware problems, partly because nintendo has an unbeatably awesome and deep catalog of kid-friendly games out for the wii specifically but also from the gamecube era (which the wii plays), and partly because it's got lots of games that your kid can play either alone, with friends, or with you. really, the wii is made of win.

lia beat me to it--I was just going to come back and suggest the wii if you're going to consider modern systems. For around ten dollars apiece, you can purchase many older games from their back catalog (do get a classic controller if you're playing SNES games--game cube controllers don't quite work), in addition to many current kid-oriented games. I enjoy my DS, but I play my wii much more often thanks to the inclusion of multiplayer-games and the extensive downloadable back-catalog.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:58 AM on August 24, 2009

Pretty much anything prior to the original XBox will end up feeling "old timey" to your child. Now, anything less than near photo realism seems quaint. What systems are you interested in being nostalgic about? If I was five, I'd be stoked about saving the princess alone, but if I managed to slaughter my Dad in Battle Mode in Super Mario Cart (snes or 64) I would throw myself a ticker tape parade.

The SNES continues to be my favorite console ever. I beat Star Fox, Super Mario Kart, and Super Mario World at least once a year.

The point of this whole exercise is to have fun with your kid (I assume). If you set it up so you'll have fun, it doesn't matter how grainy or simple the games are. I'm a firm believer in Refrigerator boxes, how you frame this exercise will determine how much fun you two have.
Best of luck, there are some great games out there.
posted by JimmyJames at 12:05 PM on August 24, 2009

Just give him an old, vanilla GameBoy (or a GameBoy Color/Pocket/Whatever). The systems themselves are cheap, the games are cheap, and they can take a beating. There's also a wide variety of games for it, and it doesn't take too much looking around on the internet to find sites that list some of the better games.
posted by Dreamcast at 1:33 PM on August 24, 2009

Thanks very much to those who have already sent in their recommendations. I appreciate all of them (of course, I wish there was consensus, but that never happens). I'm not looking for a hand held game system since my son already has a leapster 2 so we have the mobile side of things covered. Odinsdream, your suggestion sounds great... if I only knew what you were talking about. For those of you recommending the Wii - I agree, those seem fun but I'm going for used and cheap. Wii may be in our future but right now, it's cost prohibitive. JJ - I'm cool with old-timey. Huge pix-elated frog-like shapes hopping between constantly repeating car-like shapes are good enough. Plus, those games make it easy to discern patterns (see how easily I can justify?).
Again, thanks and if someone feels strongly about either Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis, feel free to chime in.
posted by notcomputersavvy06 at 5:48 PM on August 24, 2009

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