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
With the success of and overwhelming demand for the NES Mini Classic, a 16-bit follow up was virtually guaranteed. 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. Those games also represent some of the era's best; they're classics that changed the industry in fundamental ways. These aren't museum pieces, either - the likes of Super Mario World, 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.
Those titles are matched with a suite of neat display options ranging from fuzzy CRT emulation to crisp HD output, rewind and suspend options, and a bucketful of fun Nintendo Easter eggs. Even though the cord length issue 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 nostalgia.
- Read more: SNES Mini hands-on
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.
- Read more: SEGA Genesis Mini review
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.
- Read more: PlayStation Classic review
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.
- Read more: Evercade review
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.