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The 30 best video game consoles and systems of all time

20. Nintendo Wii

Manufacturer: Nintendo Year: 2006

It’s easy to forget that Nintendo’s home console sales were on a continuous downward slide before the release of its Wii system. Moulded around a unique, instantly accessible controller and bolstered by robust motion technology, the Wii delivered a gaming experience that no other system of the time could compete with and proved the company was still a force to be reckoned with. 

Answers by Sam Barlow, Writer, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

What did you think about the Wii when it was first revealed to the world?
I remember being psyched – that first reveal trailer where they didn’t even show the TV screen, just the people swinging their arms around – it looked so different! And you could see what an easy sell it was from the reaction when everyone saw it. 

How important was the motion controller to the Wii’s success?
I think it was a huge part. It was a controller you didn’t have to explain and it was fun to hold and it didn’t look like a big complex piece of plastic. I still miss it today – it’s easily my favourite game controller. The Nunchuck and Wii Remote combo made for such a great core setup. I’m pleased the Switch borrowed that element with its Joy-Cons. 

How do you feel Silent Hill Shattered Memories benefited from releasing on the Wii?
It was everything. We built the whole game around the machine. We wanted to make a game that was accessible and different, and having the core movement and camera be based on the remote pointer playing the part of your flashlight was amazing. We wanted the puzzles to be simple but tactile, and the motion controls and pointer and remote speaker allowed us to make those moments feel like you were reaching in and touching the world. We had fun with the remote speaker to allow you to also use the remote as your phone and actually this unlocked the idea of losing all the game UI and building it around an in-fiction phone – which was another way to further immerse you in the world. 

Years from now, how do you think the Wii will be remembered?
Clearly it was with the Wii that Nintendo really broke with the pack. A􏰀er the Wii there was no going back to parity between the different platforms and we all knew that Nintendo was doing its own thing in the face of an industry that was moving in all sorts of directions. We live in a world where the majority of games are made for people who aren’t ‘hardcore gamers’ and I think Wii really showed people and reminded people that making games for human beings in general is possible and ultimately more rewarding. 

19. Master System

Manufacturer: Sega Year: 1985

During the late Eighties, Sega carved out its own slice of the console world with conversions of hot arcade games including Hang-On, Shinobi, and Wonder Boy. This powerful 8-bit system was particularly popular in Europe and South America, and survived well into the Nineties as a cheaper alternative to the Mega Drive. 

Answers by Mark Cerny, Former Sega programmer/designer

You spent some time at Sega working on the Master System, Mark, what do remember from that period?
For me, when I think back to the Master System, what I remember is... fun! I transitioned from arcade games to console games just as it was coming out, so it was the first console I ever programmed. It was amazingly fast to get up to speed on it – the manual was a few dozen pages of handwritten instructions, and there were so many tricks you could use once you had familiarity with the hardware. 

Of course, the rest of the world was more focused on playing the games than creating them. The Master System did have a broad collection of games, from quirky to outstanding. Some of these titles, such as Alex Kidd, were created by names you probably wouldn’t recognise today. But the Master System was also the training ground for huge talent, such as Yuji Naka. If memory serves, he was responsible for the ports of Sega’s biggest arcade titles while still finding time for amazing original work, such as Phantasy Star

After I pitched the Master System’s 3-D glasses to management and prototypes were floating around the office, I came back from the new year break to find that Naka had programmed a full blown ‘canyon run’ flight simulator, in 3D! Quite impressive. The only bad news being that in order to keep the framerate up, he had to shrink the size of the screen to the point where the graphics were just a postage stamp-sized area in the centre of the TV, and the rest was black. He volunteered that it was a bit too small, asked if I shared his opinion, and then reluctantly dropped the project. What a talent, though! 

18. Nintendo DS

It may have started off a “third pillar” for Nintendo, but the DS’s innovative design, strong marketing and quirky-looking games meant the handheld outsold the combined totals of both the GameCube and Game Boy Advance. It effortlessly captured the casual market that had eluded Nintendo since the release of the NES and arguably paved the way for the widespread obsession with mobile gaming today. 

Bill Harbison, Former 8-bit graphic artist, artist on Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

How were you introduced to the DS?
It was when a bunch of guys I worked with decided to go out at lunchtime to buy the new DS with Mario Kart so we could play multiplayer games in the studio. It was a great game to play in a group and it took over our lunch breaks for many weeks. 

Why do you think the DS become so incredibly popular?
Not only did the DS have many great games but also it was easy to hack. One could simply go on eBay and buy an R4 card which you could fill up with emulators of other systems from the SNES right back to the ZX Spectrum and C64. While this must have taken its toll on Nintendo, it didn’t seem to worry them too much. 

What was it like creating games for the DS?
I guess developing games on the DS was similar to the N64 with its low polycount for models and its tiny texture size. I remember trying to use as few textures as possible and mainly use single colours on models. We couldn’t see our graphics directly on the screen and had to upload them so that the programmer could create a build maybe once a day. 

Do you think the DS contributed to the rise in casual gaming?
The DS made a huge contribution to casual gaming as it had titles that non-gamers could enjoy, like Brain Training. I was surprised to find out that an older member of my family had bought a DS and was a fan of the Professor Layton games. It was the first time she had bought a gaming system and she bought it just for these mystery games. Even my mother used to play Solitaire and Dominoes on my DS and it was because there was no button pressing, everything could be done my touching the screen with the stylus. 

17. Atari 2600

Manufacturer: Atari Year: 1977

The oldest machine to make it onto the list was a phenomenon, selling millions and remaining viable for over a decade. Atari’s power in the arcade industry provided the system with ready-made hits, and the company innovated by licensing additional games from its arcade rivals, including the million-selling Space Invaders

Answers by Nolan Bushnell Atari Inc cofounder

Are you surprised the Atari 2600 continues to attract attention today? I am somewhat surprised, although the games for the Atari 2600 were well designed, even though the graphics were primitive. 

Did the Atari 2600 achieve everything you set out to fulfil at the time?
It heavily exceeded my expectations. When the system was initially designed we thought it would get up to 20 cartridges at most and I felt the machine would have a three-year life. We thought it would need to be replaced with better hardware and more memory within that time frame. Warner thought it was a record player and it only wanted to focus on cartridges. 

Of all the games for the Atari 2600, which were your personal favourites?
I really liked Combat and later on I enjoyed Pitfall! – even though it was not an Atari label game. Combat was the most successful. 

What tricks could the Atari 2600 pull off that set it apart from its rivals at the time?
We had no real rivals until much later, but the platform was amazingly flexible. 

What aspect of the machine’s development did you most enjoy?
I enjoyed the early design aspects. The trickiest part was keeping the costs down to be able to hit sub-$200. 

What do you think about the plans to launch a new Atari console – the Ataribox?
It’s predictable. I’m happy to see the brand has traction. 

Answers by Allan Alcorn Designer of Pong

What do you think makes the Atari 2600 so revered today?
Few consumer products can claim a dedicated following for 40-plus years. I think it is still loved due to it being the first popular game platform and because many new games were first on that platform. It also helped that the initial design goal was to have the lowest manufacturing cost. 

We think we know the answer, but as a project, would you say the Atari 2600 was a success?
The Atari 2600 was a very successful project. The hardware architecture was very cost effective, the programming model was very primitive and the machine met FCC emission rules. But it had greater flexibility than we expected as well. 

What did the Atari 2600 have that made other games systems shiver in fear?
There was no frame buffer and there was very little support hardware, so it meant the programmers could be more creative. 

We asked Nolan this and he said Combat... what’s your favourite Atari 2600 game?
My personal favourite game for the Atari 2600 is Chess. It was technically very challenging to create a very good chess algorithm in 2K of ROM and 128 bytes of RAM, and displaying that many objects on the screen. It was probably our least successful game, though. 

Let’s go back to when you were making the 2600, what was your standout achievement back then?
My most biggest achievement on the project was putting the teams together of ‘all-A’ players. Steve Mayer and Ron Milner created the prototype in three months, while Jay Miner led the chip effort. We also had the top product team from National Semi which was led by John Ellis. 

Has anything else come running back to you? 

I remember going over to consumer engineering on Monday mornings to see who got injured that weekend, because most of the hardware engineers were into motocross and would o􏰀en break and arm or leg. 

16. PC

Manufacturer: Various Year: 1981

As home consoles rise and fall throughout countless generations, the PC remains a constant in the market, through big-boxed floppy disk games to today’s era of digital distribution. For many of you, the era that evokes the most nostalgia is that of DOS games running on 486 processors, but we’re celebrating everything to do with PC here – all the way through to digital platforms like Steam. 

Answers by Wright Bagwell, Formerly of EA, Visceral and Valve 

What one game made you realise the importance of PCs as a platform for videogames?
Quake was the game that brought us all into the future, and showed how so many emerging technologies could come together on an open platform to do something revolutionary. I loved playing Quake, but I enjoyed making content for it on my PC and sharing it with the world even more. 

Why do you think the 486 era is so popular with our readers?
Why is the 486 so well loved? I’m not really sure, because my first PC was actually a 486. My money is on Doom being the driver of its popularity. 

What developers do you feel define the PC as a gaming system?
Today, Valve, Epic, Bethesda, Mojang, and Riot are the companies I most closely associate with the PC – they’re companies that embrace user-generated content, and the idea that the content that players generate and share is the most valuable part of their business. 

What is it that you personally love about PCs?
I love that PCs are an open platform for developers to build whatever they’re interested in. It’s where all the cutting-edge software and hardware shows up first, the hardware is the most powerful, and the communities are far more passionate than any other. 

Answers by Michael Latham, Formerly of Activision and Sega 

Why has the PC been your most-played platform? 
One of the key moments that made me want to make games was when I when into a computer store and saw a IBM PCjr, a horrible computer, playing King’s Quest from Sierra. My mind was blown! I’d never seen details like that. There were small touches of animation going on all around the background, unlike any game I had seen. The story was movie level. I was seeing the proto-Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted. My first PC was a Compaq Portable with a green monochrome screen, and I played a load of games on it that I loved. From there, it was upgrade a􏰀er upgrade, PC gaming just got better. Now it’s so good it threatens to push out consoles, which are being hit from the PC and mobile side. It’s also the best solution for VR/AR gaming right now. 

15. Game Boy Advance

Manufacturer: Nintendo Year: 2001

It’s easy to forget that the Game Boy Advance was succeeded by the DS within four years, such is the number of great games released on the system. The 32-bit handheld was an oasis of 2D gaming in an industry that had embraced 3D graphics, and hosted many retro conversions. 

Answers by Steve Lycett, Sumo Digital

How much of an improvement did you feel the Game Boy Advance was over the Game Boy? 

I always thought of the original as a portable monochrome NES, and at first glance, the GBA appeared to be a portable SNES. Early games suggested that, like F-Zero; but as developers got to grips with the system, it proved to be quite a step up. It was reasonably capable of 3D as Doom, Crazy Taxi and Stuntman proved, but it was 2D of course where the system shined, and with loads of sprites, smooth scrolling and transparency effects, it was starting to border on PlayStation quality! 

Do you feel the SNES conversions overshadowed the original games?
It was a bit of a wonder to be able to play Super Mario World on the go for sure! However, this is a system that spawned Advance Wars, Mario Superstar Saga, plus the connectivity that gave you four-player Mario Kart and Zelda Four Swords, Nintendo was really pushing multiplayer in a way others weren’t. 

What game best sums up the system?
Tough question, it’s home to many classics. Probably my favourite game was Castlevania: Aria Of Sorrow, as Konami was really firing on all cylinders. This was a game as good as the PlayStation Symphony Of The Night in all respects, especially on the audio front, running on a system that fit in your pocket and ran on two AA batteries! 

Do you remember when you first got your GBA?
I actually secured mine from Nintendo before the UK release. Except... of course it didn’t come with any games! So I had to buy imports of F-Zero and Castlevania: Circle Of The Moon which, not speaking a word of Japanese, made it quite interesting to play the games! 

Which is your favourite GBA model and why?
I loved the feel of the original, but the GBA SP is where it is at. You could actually see the games! No more needing to get a chair near a window so sunlight could illuminate the screen. It’s a shame about the headphone port (and yes, I did buy the adapter). Honourable mention must go to the GBA Micro, but my eyes were never quite up to it! 

14. Sega Saturn

Manufacturer: Sega Year: 1994

Non-fans might remember the Saturn as a flop, albeit one with great conversions of Virtua Fighter 2 and Sega Rally, but the console’s diehard fans knew something the general public didn’t – Japanese imports were where the real action was. That international appeal accounts greatly for the Saturn’s strong showing on your list. 

Answers by Jon Burton, Founder of Traveller’s Tales 

What were the strengths of the Sega Saturn?
In my mind, the strengths were that it had a lot of separate chips that you needed to work hard to get the best results. Anything that put off lazy developers left a nice advantage for us to exploit. 

What is it you personally love about working on the system?
I loved thinking up ways to get the best out of the hardware. The chip diversity gave you lots of options on how to tackle a problem, and so you could create really novel solutions. For instance, you couldn’t make transparent polygons (well, you could but the hardware corrupted them), but I figured out a completely different way of doing it so we had several stages of transparency to fade out polygons in the distance. 

What was it like making the only new Sonic games for the system?
Both games had such tight deadlines that it was more of a time pressure than a, ‘We’re making Sonic games!’ pressure. We knew we were helping Sega out of a bit of a Sonic hole left by Sonic X-treme, so we didn’t really feel the pressure of making a Sonic game so much as getting it finished on time. 

What’s your best Saturn-related anecdote?
I always liked to impress Sega with a cool new effect each time they visited, so I worked really hard on making amazing reflective water for the first track in Sonic R. On his next visit I proudly let our producer Kats Sato play the newly polished level, and he didn’t even notice it had changed... gutted! 

Answers by Yu Suzuki, Formerly of Sega, founder of YS Net 

Why was the Saturn so great for 2D games?
I think that was due to the good balance the machine had for distributed processing. The setup did not put a burden on program processing, etc even if you did not pay attention to the graphics or sound. 

What was it like to code for?
My design philosophy extended to all facets of the system so writing code for it was fun. 

What is it that you love about the Saturn?
Using any one system did not adversely affect other systems through reduced functionality, so you could program without that worry. 

What memories do you have of coding Shenmue on the Saturn?
Going into 3D functionality development, we did a variety of basic experimenting to push the limits of what we could do. It was thrilling, and my pulse was pounding the whole time through development. 

What game do you feel defines the Saturn?
I think that would be the Virtua Fighter series. A􏰀er the title launch of Virtua Fighter, the year after we came out with VF2 which sold a record 1.7 million copies. 

Why do you think that the Saturn remains so popular with our readers?
I think that was because the hardware itself sold well, and over 1,000 titles came out for it, giving players increased choice. 

13. Gamecube

Manufacturer: Nintendo Year: 2001

Nintendo struggled to fend off Sony and Microso􏰀 in the market, but players had little reason to care. With excellent new Mario and Zelda games, as well as Metroid’s first-person rebirth, new games like Pikmin, and third-party efforts like Resident Evil 4, there was no shortage of classic games to play. 

Answers by Mike Keith, Former programmer at Factor 5 

What was the GameCube like to code for compared to its peers?
Nintendo knew from the outset that they had to provide a great developer experience if they were to have a chance at regaining market share. The GameCube was a very elegant, clean and powerful architecture with a good toolset. It’s a shame Nintendo had to downclock the Flipper graphics chip at the last minute – prior to that Rogue Leader was running at a rock-solid 60fps. 

How important do you think the GameCube was to developers like Factor 5/LucasArts?
It was hugely important for us at Factor 5. In addition to delivering a key launch title, we worked closely with Nintendo during the development of the machine, particularly on the audio side. Our MusyX system was the official audio middleware. LucasArts struggled with consoles, but Rogue Squadron for the N64 had been a real success and hopes were high for the sequel. Thankfully the GameCube got off to a good start and Rogue Leader along with it. 

Do you have cherished memories from that time you want to share with our readers?
Perhaps my highlight was E3 2001, where we were one of the standouts of the show. The buzz was electric – I lost count of how many times I overheard someone say, “Oh my god, have you seen Rogue Leader!?” Meanwhile, the Xbox was somewhat underwhelming, with a certain FPS suffering from a poor framerate due to hardware issues. We left feeling pretty cocky about the situation... and, of course, we know how that turned out! 

Why do you think the console is so collectible at the moment?
At the time grim, gritty games were all the rage, and the GameCube got branded as a ‘toy’ which – for some reason – was considered a bad thing. This meant a lot of gamers overlooked it, and in doing so they sadly missed out on a truly impressive library of fantastic games, which many people are only now discovering. 

What makes the GameCube stand out amongst other machines in this list?
It was a console that combined technical prowess with a focus on gameplay, that didn’t take itself too seriously and had a healthy sense of playfulness. It was a wonderful machine for developers and game fans alike. 

12. Game Boy

Manufacturer: Nintendo Year: 1989

Nintendo’s greyscale great is your favourite handheld, and we’d imagine longevity was a key factor in more ways than one. Not only was the machine a fixture throughout the Nineties, thanks to great games, but its modest hardware made it cheaper to run than the colour handhelds it competed with. 

Jas Austin, Former programmer at Martech and Bits Studios

What was the Game Boy like to code for compared to 8-bit micros?
I found the transition fairly straightforward. I had previously coded on the ZX Spectrum and the Game Boy was also based on the Z80 processor. It did, of course, bring some unique new challenges, mostly with the Game Boy’s hardware support. It was the first time I worked on a machine that had the luxury of hardware sprites and scrolling. Not to mention the daunting task of my first game being the iconic shooter R-Type

Was there anything else you liked about it?
I feel its strengths lie mostly in its simple design, both for the player and us developers. While it did have hardware support for scrolling and sprites, it was pretty basic. This forced us coders to think outside of the box to get the most out of the machine. For example, even though I didn’t end up writing the game, I put together a demo level for R-Type II. I chose the third level, with the two huge spaceships. They were way too large to display as sprites, so I utilised the hardware’s vertical blank to create a floating raster line to enable me to have two separate scrolling areas on the screen. 

Which game do you wish you had made and why?
Oh, that’s an easy one – it would have to be the mighty Tetris. Such simple and elegant gameplay to produce the most addictive experience. The Game Boy was the perfect home for it, being able to get your quick fix while on the move, or even on the toilet. 

Why was it such a popular system?
I would put this down to the fact that it was a truly portable games system. Around the same time there was also the Game Gear, and while it had superior graphics with its full-colour screen, this also caused it to have terrible battery life. Nintendo clearly saw the importance of playing time, even over graphical quality. Not forgetting it also had some fantastic games – Zelda, Mario, Metroid, Pokémon and Tetris to name but a few. 

Answers by Richard Spitalny, President of First Star Software 

So was it love at first sight?
My memory is that I first saw the Game Boy at CES. I loved it immediately! There really wasn’t anything like it at the time, and it felt great. Finally, here was a handheld that let you switch cartridges so you could play different games! 

Why do you think the system become so popular with non-gamers?
There were not lots of intimidating wires or controllers. Its controls extremely simple, and the games were bite-sized bits of entertainment that could be picked up and put down after a few minutes, or played for an hour or so. Even though the Lynx was released at about the same time and had colour, the Game Boy crushed it. Not only were there better games for Game Boy, but I think that there were too many controls for ‘most of us’. The Lynx seemed more targeted at ‘gamers’ versus the masses. 

Why do you feel classic 8-bit games like Boulder Dash worked so well on the system?
Boulder Dash and most of the classic 8-bit games relied on innovation: clear and simple game mechanics, straightforward controls and well-designed levels and gameplay. The games were not reliant on superfluous graphics or stories. Thus, they didn’t lose much when presented in that funky green, black and white. Finally, the fact that one only needed to move in four directions meant that the Game Boy’s controls were perfect and supported the precision movements that were required. 

What is it you love about the system?
You could carry it with you anywhere. Tetris and the other launch titles, like Tennis, were wonderfully engaging and easy to learn and play. The dot matrix screen presented graphics that were crisp and well defined. It’s perfect for playing the simple types of games I really enjoy the most. 

11. ZX Spectrum

Manufacturer: Sinclair Research Year: 1982

Sir Clive Sinclair’s 8-bit marvel was a huge success in the UK and helped lead the gaming revolution that started off in bedrooms up and down the country. Many talented developers, from David Perry and Matthew Smith to the Stamper brothers were linked to machine, while huge companies, like Codemasters and Rare, built their early businesses off the humble 8-bit micro. Little wonder, then, that it’s placed so highly in this list. 

Answers by Steve Crow, Former ZX Spectrum programmer

How important was the Spectrum to your career?
The ZX Spectrum was absolutely fundamental in launching my career. My first professional game, Laser Snaker, was published for the Spectrum. After that, as I continued to progress as a game creator, the Spectrum was the ideal platform to create large expansive games and was always the machine I developed my games on. 

What was the Spectrum like to code for compared to its peers?
Compared with C64/Atari 800 the Spectrum had virtually no built-in graphics or audio hardware, such as sprites, audio chip or any form of hardware screen scrolling. However, it had one advantage: a faster processor with some pseudo-16-bit operations. This made it like a blank sheet to work with, as everything had to be done in software. It was up to you, the programmer, to write the fastest sprite routine or create great sound and music from a speaker that could only be moved in or out! This made it a great challenge to work on and also very rewarding at the same time. 

What is it you personally love about the Spectrum?
It is such an iconic design – it doesn’t look like any other personal computer – with its rubber keys, rainbow stripe and all the basic words accessible from key combinations truly a unique and efficient design. 

Why do you think the Spectrum has such a vibrant following after all these years?
It was the right PC at the right time. It was affordable to the average family, had fantastic games available and gave so many of us such wonderful memories of our childhood. Saving up your pocket money and then the excitement of loading up and playing the latest game to come out! I think it is that feeling of reliving those times and all the memories associated with them that keeps the ZX Spectrum so popular today. 

Click Next Page as our countdown of the best gaming system of all time continues from 10-6