Modern video games are amazing. With lifelike graphics, realistic physics, extensive artificial intelligence and online multiplayer options, today’s video games are so much more sophisticated than older games.
But this is not to establish that the old world has lost its charm. We still never mind a trip down the memory lane and for anyone that’s feeling nostalgic, the best retro game consoles are just what the doctor ordered. They’re like time machines; plug one in and you’re whisked back to your childhood.
With most of the best retro game consoles being brought back from the 80s or 90s in one form or the other, retro gaming is becoming more popular than ever. And this means you can revisit the glory days no matter whether you played on consoles by Nintendo, SEGA or PlayStation.
So, whether you’re a child of the ‘80s who’s been playing classic titles for decades and has a mountain of old cartridges or a teenager curious why so many people still love the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis, here is a guide that will point you to the best way to dive into retro gaming.
1. NES Classic Mini
Nostalgia is a funny thing – time can do funny things to memories. There are days you spend with the most vivid memory of an experience – be it a film, piece of music, or a game. But more often than not when you sit down to try it once more you find it’s just not the same.
Scenes that you remember being well-scripted and acted are unbelievably cheesy when you refer to them, and graphics that blew your mind as a child look positively underwhelming now.
The Nintendo Entertainment System or the NES was one of the first consoles that were released in 1983, and in 2016, Nintendo brought, along with 30 of its best games, as the Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System.
Amongst all consoles, Nintendo Classic Mini does an amazing job of striking the right chords of nostalgia. But what’s even more surprising is how well many of the games hold up. These aren’t the same as games from the days of early 3D graphics, when developers were still struggling to make use of the third-dimension. These are, in fact, games from 2D-gaming’s prime days. This revolutionary miniature classic includes stone-cold classics like The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Super Mario Bros and Castlevania.
If you’re familiar with the design of the original consoles of Nintendo Entertainment System, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of how the Nintendo Classic Edition looks. Naturally a couple of changes have been made since the original console was released in 1983.
The Nintendo Classic Mini doesn’t have a cartridge slot for example and the console uses the much more modern HDMI connector to get data onto a television’s screen, rather than the original’s ancient aerial connection.
When the NES Classic was released in miniature form, it sold out so quickly it became almost virtually impossible to find, and for good reason — NES Classic is a historically great gaming system.
The NES Classic Mini is perfect for Nintendo nostalgists. The slick presentation of the hardware, an adorable, miniaturised design, and a list of games that are a whirlwind tour of 80s essentials make it a must-have.
There is, however, one drawback – once you’ve exhausted that library you won’t be able to play anything else. The console doesn’t accept the original cartridges, nor does it let you download more content.
2. PlayStation Classic
The original PlayStation was one of the revolutionary consoles to represent a pivotal moment in the history of video games. It was there at the dawn of real-time 3D graphics processing, the moment we switched from the sprite-based visuals of the past to the texture-mapped polygons of the future.
And, if those terms mean nothing to you and the sight of a polygonal Solid Snake or Cloud Strife doesn’t give you the warm fuzzies, it may be better to give the PlayStation Classic the wider berth in the world of consoles.
For some, it’s iconic, and rightfully so – games like Final Fantasy VII and Resident Evil, both included on the PlayStation Classic, are some of the most revered titles in gaming. They also shaped the landscape of gaming for years to come. Although some high profile exclusions like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or Grand Turismo rankle a bit, Sony has done an excellent job picking a slate of titles that’s broad enough to represent one of the most diverse libraries in the history of consoles.
You’ll also be moderately impressed with the package Sony has crafted to carry its software – the Classic is a nostalgia-inducing piece of plastic. It looks identical to the original PlayStation 1, shrunken down of course, with a few modern touches like HDMI out, a power USB port and even USB controllers.
It’s not only smaller but, as you might expect, a lot lighter, too. That could make it incredibly easy to pack up and take with you. Thanks to the now universally supported HDMI port too, you won’t have to worry about finding a TV that still supports legacy composite connectors.
The whole package is a great nostalgia-trip not only for anyone looking to relive the mid-90s, but also for anyone who’s played the endless flood of sequels to these games and wonders where those series originated.
3. Sega Genesis Mini
In 2016, Nintendo was stealing the spotlight with mini retro consoles that played perfect ports of NES and SNES games.
But 2019 turned out to be Sega’s year as the Genesis Mini did as good a job with its larger library, all packed into a totally collectible design that emulates the original Sega Genesis look. Two controllers plus a bunch of previously hard-to-find games – this is the surprise gift any old-school Sega fan would drool over.
The Sega Genesis Mini not came with 42 Genesis games plus two additional titles. There are the obvious inclusions, like the first two Sonic the Hedgehog games and Sega mainstays Columns, Golden Axe, and Ecco the Dolphin. But there are also some great third-party titles, including Castlevania: Bloodlines and Contra: Hard Corps.
Further, Sega Geneis Mini also features brilliant emulation, a slick user interface, and the classic controllers you remember from your childhood. It is one of the very few consoles that have a remarkable attention to detail –the volume slider being replicated along with the cartridge slot, despite neither serving a function on the plug-and-play machine.
It’s also clear that Sega went with the original Genesis design for the shape and feel of the Genesis Mini, not the revised Version 2 that was released in 1993. With that, all of the high-tech design elements are present, like left-to-right power switch, the gray reset button, and the red volume slider. The slider can actually be moved, but doesn’t affect in-game audio.
The console is also compatible with third-party controllers because of its USB ports, meaning you can use alternative wireless controllers if the two included wired controllers aren’t doing it for you. The Sega Genesis Mini is undoubtedly one of the best consoles that harnessed gaming nostalgia in a standalone device.
4. Game Boy Advance SP
One can’t argue with the success of the original Game Boy Advance, which has sold millions of units around the world upon release. But anyone who has ever played with the original version has lamented and probably even cursed the fact that these consoles didn’t come with an illuminated display.
Well, Nintendo listened to the critics, and with the Game Boy Advance SP edition, the company has not only included a front-lit screen but has added a rechargeable, lithium-ion battery as well. And the whole package comes in a more compact, mature, flip-screen design that appeals to both kids and adults.
The Game Boy Advance SP consoles are available in several colours, including silvery Platinum, metallic blue Cobalt, Flame and Onyx. When it’s closed, the SP is an almost perfect square and looks like a super tiny laptop. The clamshell design allows you to easily adjust the angle of the screen to cut down on glare, as well as protect the LCD by simply flipping the unit closed.
The GBA SP has all the necessary buttons that its predecessor had – Power, D-pad, A/B, Start, Select, Light On/Off and Left/Right shoulder as well as a volume slider. Around the SP’s back, you’ll also find the same Game Boy Game Link jack that came on the original, which means that you can go head-to-head with up to three other GBA users regardless of what model they’re using, though an optional cable is required.
The SP consoles are also compatible with current Game Boy Advance and Game Boy games, as well as virtually all accessories.
As for differences between these consoles, the SP has a second connector for plugging in the included, lightweight power adapter, which also recharges the built-in lithium-ion battery. The cell, which is supposed to last about 500 hours, is removable and you can get it replaced when needed. However, you can’t swap in a pair of regular batteries in a pinch.
5. NEOGEO Mini International
As the classic consoles market has started booming, especially in the last decade, Japanese video game company SNK Corporation went hands-on with its local version of the Neo Geo Mini. It is an eye-catching piece of kit; it recreates the Neo-Geo arcade cabinets of yesteryear in cute micro form, complete with its own 3.5-inch LCD screen that’ll send you hurtling back to the 1990s.
Strangely, SNK didn’t feel that a single Neo Geo Mini unit would be suitable for global consumption and quickly announced that a second machine, with a different software line-up and a modified case design would be made available to buyers outside of Japan. And that became one of the most popular retro consoles of all time – the NEOGEO Mini International.
The international version of the NEOGEO Mini is a slightly different beast when it comes to pure aesthetics. The Japanese model had a bright and eye-catching colour scheme and compared to this version, the international model is rather dull. The marquee is still blue and has the Neo Geo logo on either side, but the main bodywork is now purely black and white.
It’s also worth noting that the control area of the international version of consoles has undergone some changes too. The control panel has a different shape while the shaft of the joystick has a metal cover whereas on the Japanese version, it is entirely plastic.
The final big change is that the blue power LED that sat below the screen on the Japanese model has vanished, and instead the base of the joystick is illuminated to show when the machine is turned on. We have to admit, we vastly prefer this to the Japanese original – after all, it looks seriously cool.
Apart from the aforementioned changes, the 40 games that come pre-installed on the consoles are slightly different on the international versions. While the Japanese model was keen to highlight SNK’s proud fighting game heritage, this global edition offers a wider selection of genres and is perhaps a more balanced offering, as it doesn’t rely much on you being a rabid fan of one-on-one brawlers.
6. SNES Classic Mini
Back in the early 1990s, the Super NES was the bigger, better, faster sequel to the original Nintendo Entertainment System – the ever famous consoles that had brought home video gaming back from the brink of extinction the decade before.
So it makes perfect sense that the SNES Classic is a nice step-up over its older brother, the 2016 NES Classic. Both consoles are miniaturized versions of the originals, updated with HDMI connectors for modern TVs and multiple game-save slots for the built-in titles.
The NES Classic includes 30 games and a single wired controller whereas the SNES Classic has two wired controllers and delivers 21 titles, including Star Fox 2, Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy III, Earthbound and Donkey Kong.
The SNES Classic Mini consoles come in two distinct styles – few of them have a grey chassis and red, yellow, green and blue face buttons and the others are a make do with a purple-accented model.
On the top of the machine, the console has the same power and reset buttons found on the NES Mini. The power control is a sliding switch this time around, and there’s also a fake button labelled ‘Eject’. Unsurprisingly, considering the console’s lack of cartridges, it doesn’t do much.
For those of us who grew up playing the original Super Mario, Zelda or Final Fantasy games, the current resurgence of retro games and consoles is a beautiful, pixelated delight.
Of course for anyone else, all retro game furores might either be fun or confusing as hell. However, it’s the gamers who clearly remember those early titles that the SNES Classic Mini is really aimed at. This range of console is unashamedly for those who miss the good ol’ days of gaming.
7. PlayStation 2
The PlayStation 2 took the world by storm when it was first launched in March 2000. Twenty one years later, the system still holds the record of being one of the bestselling video game consoles of all time. In fact, with over 155 million units sold, no other home consoles even come close to the PS2’s record.
Sony knew it had to do something big to follow up its debut system, the PlayStation. The original version became a hit among gamers, especially among older video game fans. Sony took everything it learned from the original PlayStation and went full force in making its new revolutionary console. Thus, the PS2 was born.
The PlayStation 2 was ludicrously popular during its heyday, and there was a very good reason for that — it had almost everything. The PS2 had an absolutely massive library of games, including three Grand Theft Auto games, the Kingdom Hearts series, Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3, Killzone and Final Fantasy X. A huge number of those games were also exclusive to the system for years, meaning that players interested in purchasing them had to buy the console.
Further, the addition of a built-in DVD player became a huge selling point for the PlayStation 2, since DVDs rapidly growing in popularity at the turn of the millennium. Regular DVD players were pricy and only played DVDs.
The PS2 offered everything a DVD player did, as well as a fully functional video game system. Many PS2 owners bought the system for the sole purpose of playing DVDs. It was fairly priced compared to leading home theatre devices and offered more forms of entertainment. This was something other home consoles simply couldn’t offer.
The PlayStation 2’s success can be attributed to more than its stellar game library. In fact, a lot of video game fans weren’t impressed by most of the PS2’s launch titles. The PS2’s game library took a little while to grow into itself, but its other features really helped it become so successful.
There is a good chance the PlayStation 2 will remain the king of consoles for a very long time.
8. C64 Mini
Our final pick is one that might not have quite as wide an audience as the consoles above, but which could still be a great addition to your home. This 80s classic is reproduced lovingly, and comes with a massive, and appropriate, 64 games on it, plus a joystick controller to add to its purely decorative keyboard.
If you were a huge fan of the Commodore 64 or feel waves of nostalgia sweeping through your body after a glimpse of that bright red joystick and beige keyboard, the C64 Mini was made specifically for you.
While it’s a console that comes with some caveats, like a joystick that’s extremely stiff and limited and a couple of high profile titles missing from its otherwise generous catalogue, it’s delightful little shell is packed with retro fun that will transport you back to the era of stained-washed jeans and hair metal.
A surprising number of the 64 included games are still a huge amount of fun to play, especially if you’re looking to jump around in a frenetic platformer, or immerse yourself in the deadly, futuristic racing league of Alleykat. While there are a lot of games that fall into similar niches there are enough distinctive standouts to remind you why the original C64 was the best-selling home computer of all time.