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Best retro game consoles 2021

best retro game consoles
(Image credit: Nintendo)

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. 

There are plenty to choose from nowadays, too. Most of the best retro game consoles from the 80s or 90s have been brought back in one form or another, and that means you can revisit the glory days no matter whether you played on consoles by Nintendo, SEGA, or PlayStation. Because most of them feature HDMI ports, you can also hook them up to the best gaming TVs

The only downside? The sheer volume of choice. That's where we come in. To help point you in the right direction, our team has put together a list of the best retro game consoles that every fan needs in their collection. We've also gone looking for deals, discounts, and reductions to save you cash along the way. 

Just remember to check which games are included on your console of choice before buying it. Most of the best retro consoles only have 20 - 30 titles on them, so there's a good chance that some of your favorites have been left by the wayside. Be sure to do your research to avoid disappointment! 

Struggling to find the games you want right away? Don't lose hope. It's worth bearing in mind that many older games have been ported over to mobile. That means the best gaming tablets and the best gaming phones are viable options for the retro gamer when all else fails.

If you'd like to continue your retro journey, be sure to investigate a subscription to Retro Gamer magazine. It's stuffed to the brim with features and coverage of every era, and you can normally make a good saving on print or digital bundles.

Best retro game consoles

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(Image credit: Nintendo)
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(Image credit: Nintendo)
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(Image credit: Nintendo)

1. Super NES Classic

The best retro console you can buy

Specifications
Plays: 21 built-in SNES games
Reasons to buy
+Beautiful craftsmanship+Fantastic library of SNES essentials+Menu and software design is classic Nintendo
Reasons to avoid
-Controller cords still inexplicably short

With the success of and overwhelming demand for the NES Mini Classic, a 16-bit follow up was virtually guaranteed. And here we are - once again, Nintendo has knocked it out of the park by providing a library of essential games inside a faithful, adorable replica of the original SNES. 

Besides being hugely nostalgic, these games represent some of the era's best; they're classics that changed the industry in fundamental ways. Whether it's Super Mario World or Street Fighter 2, these are games that inspired generations. They aren't museum pieces, either. The likes of Yoshi's Island, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Super Punch-Out! are still as engaging today as they were in the heyday of the SNES. 

They're displayed at their very best here thanks to a suite of display options. These range from fuzzy CRT emulation to crisp HD output, rewind and suspend options, and a bucketful of fun Nintendo Easter eggs. Even though the issue of controller cord length persists - it’s longer, but still nowhere near long enough for living room setups - it’s hard to imagine a more slickly packaged, densely concentrated dose of retro goodness.

That's true no matter which side of the Atlantic you're on. While US readers get the North American model with its sleek purple accents, UK fans are able to revisit their unique version with primary-colored buttons on the joypad. Perfection.

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(Image credit: SEGA)
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(Image credit: SEGA)
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(Image credit: SEGA)

2. SEGA Genesis / Mega Drive Mini

The best retro SEGA console

Specifications
Plays: 42 built-in Genesis/Mega Drive games
Reasons to buy
+Attention to detail+Decent selection of games+Cute, compact design
Reasons to avoid
-Controllers don't really hold up

If you're a SEGA fan from a time when Sonic had just arrived and the Biker Mice From Mars were still a thing on TV, you're in luck - the SEGA Genesis Mini (or Mega Drive if you're in the UK) is downright superb. From an adorably dinky console with a cartridge slot you can actually open for 'blowing away dust' to its authentic packaging, this is a system that excels at the little things. It even has original menu music by the 16-bit era legend Yuzo Koshiro, created using authentic tools of the day.

Then there's bang-for-buck. Thanks to 42 all-time classic games (and bios on the significance of each one), the Genesis Mini offers better value for money than most. It's an excellently handled throwback to another time that'll hit you right in the nostalgic feels.

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(Image credit: Sony)
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(Image credit: Sony)
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(Image credit: Sony)

3. PlayStation Classic

The best retro console with 3D games

Specifications
Plays: 20 PS1 games
Reasons to buy
+Beautiful miniature design+Faithful recreation of the original+Some of the most iconic games of the era...
Reasons to avoid
-...but some noticeable absences

The original PlayStation holds an interesting spot in the landscape of the evolution of gaming. It was amongst the first (and certainly the most popular) console to truly push the 3D frontier, expanding beyond the flat 2D planes of gaming's primitive origins and launching a revolution that would define the future of the medium. 

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 console history. 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.

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Evercade retro console handheld

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Evercade retro console handheld

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Evercade retro console handheld

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Evercade retro console handheld

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Evercade retro console handheld

4. Evercade

The best retro handheld console

Specifications
Plays: NES, SNES, Mega-Drive/Genesis, Atari 2600, Atari 7800 and more
Reasons to buy
+Officially licensed+Sturdy and comfortable design+Wide selection of game collections
Reasons to avoid
-Titles arguably spread over too many cartridges

We've seen a lot of seriously dodgy retro handheld emulators knocking around the net over the last few years, but now we have an officially licensed product that really appeals to our old-school sensibilities - the Evercade.

The Evercade is a little different from the other retro consoles on this list as it actually comes with game collection cartridges that you can buy separately in order to build up a sweet retro selection. These boxed collections include between six and 20 games from the likes of Namco, Atari, Interplay, Technos, Data East, Mega Cat Studios, Piko Interactive and more at around $20 / £15 per cartridge.

The PSP-sized display is wonderfully crisp and clear and you have the option to switch between the original 4:3 aspect ratio or stretch things out to 16:9 if you want to take advantage of the full screen. The handheld console feels great in the hand too, even if the button layout takes some getting used to for the Mega-Drive/Genesis titles. While we're expecting more retailers to take orders soon, it's available to order from Amazon now.

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(Image credit: Retro-bit)
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(Image credit: Retro-bit)
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(Image credit: Retro-bit)

5. Retro-Bit Super Retro-cade

The best retro arcade console

Specifications
Plays: 95 built-in arcade games
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic library+Strong selection of lesser-known titles+Solid output options
Reasons to avoid
-Not as slick as some first-party consoles

Even though Retro-Bit stumbled with 2016's Generations (a deservedly maligned attempt to create a foothold in the retro emulation market), this follow-up seems to take that criticism on board. 

To begin with, there are marked improvements in emulation quality. Despite its white shell lacking contours or much other visual flair, the superior feature-set also impresses. 720p video output sits alongside RCA for connecting to older CRTs, two sturdy controllers with ten-foot cables are included, and a flashy library of 90 games represents a huge, eclectic swath of 8 and 16-bit classics. That line-up features some games which have never been available domestically. Alongside classics like Mega Man and Ghosts N’ Goblins, you can try lesser known (but still excellent) coin-op titles like Side Arms and Wizard Fire. 

In short, the Retro-Cade is a great addition to any retro collection and a convincing argument for Retro-Bit staking out a permanent position in the market.

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(Image credit: Atari)
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(Image credit: Atari)
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(Image credit: Atari)

6. Atari Flashback 8 Gold Deluxe

The best-value retro console

Specifications
Plays: 120 built-in Atari 2600 games
Reasons to buy
+Comprehensive pre-installed classic game selection+Includes two wireless controllers+Paddle controllers
Reasons to avoid
-No classic licensed games like Halloween or Empire Strikes Back

While AtGames’ Sega Genesis console is an abomination, its Atari Flashback line of machines are well made and offer an exhaustively detailed option for revisiting the game console grandpappy’s library. 120 games come pre-installed in the Flashback 8, including most of the Atari-published essentials like Adventure, Yar’s Revenge and  Swordquest. Although they are emulated, they do run properly. 

While it’s MSRP is a bit pricey, the Flashback 8 makes up for its relatively high cost by also including great controller options, including two wireless joysticks and two paddles for paddle-specific games like Warlords. It also offers proper 720p HDMI output and pause, save, and rewind functionality.

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(Image credit: Plug and Play)
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(Image credit: Koch)
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(Image credit: Koch)

7. C64 Mini

The best retro PC console

Specifications
Plays: 64 built-in games
Reasons to buy
+Extremely cute+A lot of these games are still fun to play+Save states and retro display options
Reasons to avoid
-Missing some C64 classics

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 it's otherwise generous catalog (you won't find Wasteland, Skate or Die, or Elite here), 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 (platformers and scrolling shooters are available in abundance), there are enough distinctive standouts to remind you why the original C64 was the best selling home computer of all time. 

Read more: C64 Mini review

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(Image credit: Nintendo)
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(Image credit: Nintendo)
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(Image credit: Nintendo)

8. NES Classic

The best retro 8-bit console

Specifications
Plays: 30 built-in NES games
Reasons to buy
+High-quality NES emulation+Very nice replica controllers+Includes 30 games
Reasons to avoid
-Can’t be expanded (officially)

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 are issues, yes (the controller cables are too short and there's no way to download additional games), but the 30 titles that are included here are stone-cold classics. Metroid. Super Mario Bros. The Legend of Zelda. Excitebike. The list goes on. When coupled with the ability to save and display in HD at 60Hz, the NES Classic Mini is a welcome return from an old favorite.

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(Image credit: Capcom)
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(Image credit: Capcom)
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(Image credit: Capcom)

9. Capcom Home Arcade

The best retro Capcom console

Specifications
Plays: Capcom arcade games
Reasons to buy
+Authentic Sanwa controls+Satisfying to use+Good lineup
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

Although it looks ungainly and is a little snug when you’re using it with a second player, the goodies contained within make it all worthwhile (and let’s be honest, it does capture that sense of jostling shoulders with your friends in front of an arcade machine). That's partially because of its lineup of classic games and range of screen settings that offer sharp visuals - even when displayed in 4K - but a lot of the credit goes to how it feels in use.

Its developers made the decision to build the Capcom Home Arcade with authentic Sanwa arcade pieces, and that results in a comfortingly tactile feel which boasts an oh-so-satisfying 'click'. It's a move that significantly increases this console's price, but it's also one that pays off in a big way.

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(Image credit: SNK)
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(Image credit: SNK)
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10. Neo-Geo Mini

The best retro Neo-Geo console

Specifications
Plays: 40 built-in games
Reasons to buy
+Great LCD screen+Cute, dinky design+40 built-in games
Reasons to avoid
-Doesn't look good on TV

The Neo-Geo Mini 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 faster than listening to Smells Like Teen Spirit. When combined with stereo speakers and arcade controls, it's as authentic an experience as you could hope for. 

Happily, that LCD panel is crisp and bright - it's the perfect companion for the console's 40 classic games. Even though it can be used on a TV, the Neo-Geo Mini is definitely at its best as is. 

Alright, so it doesn't look great blown up on the big screen and its joystick lacks that ever-important tactile feedback. However, it's still a good Neo-Geo experience overall.