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The 30 best video game consoles and systems of all time

10. NES

Manufacturer: Nintendo Year: 1983

Even though it fared poorly in Europe that hasn’t stopped Nintendo’s console from powering its way into your top ten. We’d argue that its inclusion is down to the enduring nature of its excellent library of games, the fact those games are accessible on so many modern systems and that the console laid the foundation for some of Nintendo’s biggest franchises, some of which are still going strong today. Hey, maybe it’s not such a surprise after all. 

Answers by Chris Crawford, Videogame designer 

Can you recall your very first encounter with the NES for us?
My earliest memory of the NES was playing Super Mario Bros. on the family TV right after my dad set everything up. I’d seen it in advertisements, but not up close – and, wow, it didn’t disappoint. It had taken some time convincing my parents that our family’s Atari had become a relic, and that the NES was the wisest investment they could possibly make. Thankfully, they finally listened to reason. 

The NES quickly established its place in my and my friends’ minds as the replacement system for all those aging Atari 2600s most of us still had. By the time I
was negotiating for a NES in 1986, the Sega Master System had launched in the US, but it was too late – all the kids in my peer group had already declared for the NES. It wasn’t just timing, though. Nintendo was also producing much better original titles than what Atari and Sega could muster (it’s tough to compete with Shigeru Miyamoto), and top-tier developers like Konami and Capcom were making their own classics for the system. 

Sounds like you took to it instantly! Was there anything else that made you fall in love with it?
The graphics were a big leap, but what really sold me on the NES was the gameplay. The games felt so responsive, and their worlds were massive. There were some exciting peripherals, too. Lightgun games were unheard of outside of arcades, and while R.O.B. the robot might not have been very practical (or even very fun), he seemed impossibly advanced back then. Even the controllers felt high-tech – we’d never seen anything like them. The NES inspired me to design videogames of my own for the first time, which eventually steered me to my current profession. I used to sketch out levels and characters for my own Zelda-esque adventure games, and my brother Kyle and I would incorporate ideas and characters from NES games into our own imaginary worlds. It was a really inspiring and fun time. 

9. Xbox 360

Manufacturer: Microsoft Year: 2005

Microsoft’s second console launched us into the HD era and set the tone for every console that followed. Downloadable content and download-only games became a big deal, and the thrill of hunting for achievements was introduced. Despite rampant reliability problems, the Xbox 360 became the newest console in your top ten. 

Answers by Jon Hare, Founder of Sensible Software and Tower Studios 

What is it you love about the Xbox 360?
I cannot say I truly ‘love’ any of the more modern consoles, but if I have to choose a machine from the last ten years or so then this is the one. It simultaneously brought a technological leap, better controllers and an unparalleled, persistent online gaming community to the forefront of a machine in the way no one else had quite managed before. 

What impact do you feel Xbox Live Arcade had?
Xbox Live Arcade is the first online console community that allowed sharing and progression between titles in an elegant way. In many ways it is still unrivalled, although one suspects it is about to change within the next few years. 

What’s your favourite memory of the Xbox 360?
My best memory is of playing Skyrim to death a few years back. 

Why do you think the Xbox 360 is the highest-rated modern console in our list?
I think it has found the best balance between quality of graphics, library of games, quality of gameplay and sense of online community and ongoing account as a player. 

Answers by Shinichi Ogasawara, Sega Amusements International 

What do you think are the best things about the Xbox 360 as a piece of hardware?
It was absolutely like an evolved Dreamcast. Its network capabilities and sheer graphical power completely destroyed and changed the arcade industry. 

Did you experience the ‘Red Ring Of Death’ failure? If so, did it change your view of the Xbox 360?
Yes I did, but I didn’t mind it too much. 

The Xbox 360 had lots of support from Japanese developers, but the system itself still didn’t sell well in Japan. Why do you think that is?
It’s a good question. I always say, ‘Xbox series smells like teen Sega spirit in Japan.’ 

Why do you think the Kinect peripheral was so popular for the Xbox 360?
Mmm, I don’t think so – at least, not in Japan. Kinect’s sensor range was not suitable for Japanese room sizes, as it is too close to sense movement. But if it is popular, I believe players wanted to be Tom Cruise in Minority Report

The Xbox 360 had a lot of games released for it can you tell us a few of your favourites?
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, Burnout Revenge, Red Dead Redemption and Left4Dead

Answers by James Silva, Founder of Ska Studios

Why do you think the Xbox 360 performed so strongly compared to the Xbox?
I wasn’t yet in the industry when Xbox 360 launched, but, as a consumer, it pretty much did exactly the opposite of what happened one generation later: it was cheaper, marginally more powerful, and marginally simpler and more game-focused than its competitor. The original Xbox was more powerful than Playstation 2, but it was a lot more expensive, the gamepad was awful and the games library wasn’t there. When Xbox 360 debuted, it did everything right, and had just enough of an edge on PS3 to be a competitor. 

How critical was Xbox live arcade to the success of the console?
My understanding of XBLA in terms of the console’s overall success is that it didn’t contribute much, at least financially, compared to blockbusters like Halo and Gears Of War. And it has been shuttered since then, with ID@Xbox acting as a more hands off replacement of the organization. But, for its short lifespan, I believe XBLA contributed a great deal toward defining, incubating, and promoting all of those tiers of games that fit somewhere between hobbyist projects and triple-A productions. 

What developer do you think defined the console and why?
I’d like to pretend that we did, but Xbox 360 was absolutely defined by its big IP: Halo, Gears Of War, Forza, by developers Bungie, 343, Epic, The Coalition and Turn 10. 

What made you want to jump on that indie scene and create games like I Made a Game With Zombies in It?
I’m one of those people that has just wanted to make games his entire life, going back to drawing game levels and characters at nine and writing text adventures in BASIC at 12. The way the current landscape is, indie games are my only real option to keep living out this dream. And live it out, I shall. 

8. Commodore 64

Manufacturer: Commodore Year: 1982 

Driven by Jack Tramiel’s philosophy of making computers “for the masses, not the classes”, the Commodore 64 packed powerful graphical capabilities and a legendary sound chip into an affordable package. As a result, coders embraced the platform and created incredible games that make this Retro Gamer readers’ favourite 8-bit machine. 

Answers by Rob Hubbard, Former videogame music composer

Where did it all begin for you and the C64?
I bought a C64 based on the fact that it had 64KB RAM and a three-voice sound chip. The other machines at the time just didn’t seem as interesting. Straight away I found the machine fascinating because it was so interesting and difficult to get anything to work – like the listings in the magazines. 

Why was the machine so good for composing music?
Because it had a synth chip, which was somewhat familiar to those of us who had dabbled with analogue synths. 

How much of your career do you owe to the C64?
Difficult to answer, but looking back I’d say a huge amount. I didn’t expect the games business to take off like it did and become so huge. The C64 work led to my career move to EA. That being said, though, I think I would have still done something quite interesting in music if the C64 had not happened. 

You’ve composed a lot iconic soundtracks for the machine, but which other C64 tune do you wish you had composed?
Well, to be honest I never had much time to check out other games or music in the Eighties, when I was working flat-out and silly hours getting everything done. And then when I moved to EA, I was very conscious of accidentally ripping off some other music, so I made a point of not listening to other music, except for more some contemporary classical and orchestral pieces. I didn’t want to cause EA a lawsuit! It’s so easy to accidentally pick up a motif and use it unintentionally. Having said that, I always did like Martin Galway’s Rambo, and also Wizball. Both very good. I wish I had written that Rambo tune! 

Why do you think the machine remains so popular today?
Mainly nostalgia, and looking back to childhood or teenage years, and maybe a rejection of the bloated machines of today. And, maybe because it’s relatively simple to program and there’s no convoluted operating system or C++ to get in the way. 

7. Nintendo 64

Manufacturer: Nintendo Year: 1996

The Nintendo 64 marked the beginning of the end of Nintendo as the dominant player in gaming, but it nevertheless leaves behind a legacy of truly exceptional games. The influence of Super Mario 64, Ocarina Of Time and GoldenEye can still be felt in games today while its bespoke controller also set a trend that would be repeated in its later systems. 

Answers by Mark R Jones, Former 8-bit graphic artist and N64 collector 

You’re a big collector of the system, what do you like about it?
The big thing for me was that I felt games had actually entered the next phase with the introduction of proper 3D. With the SNES we were still really getting souped- up versions of games I’d played on the Spectrum, just with better graphics, smoother scrolling and more memory. With the N64 and the 3D it was capable of that next phase had finally been reached. The instant loading afforded to us by the games being stored on cartridge was also a welcome luxury. I was also quite ill for a period I owned my N64 and was holed up in my house, not being able to go out much, so having a machine kept me as sane as I could under the circumstances and my day would consist of  the copious cups of coffee, 20 Marlboro Lights (I did give up the evil tobacco eventually) and my N64. I worked through most of Donkey Kong 64 during this period, though I still have never managed to finish it. 

What legacy will the N64 leave behind?
It has a comparatively small library of titles compared to other consoles but that collection contains some of the best games ever produced. I do see the machine getting slagged off quite a bit due to its blurry graphics and some titles short draw distances but none of that bothered me, back then or now. Admittedly, some graphics [on certain games] look a bit dated but there’s a core of games there that can still amaze and are still a joy to play even 20 years later. 

Ah, so it was the games. So how impactful do you think games like Super Mario 64 and Ocarina Of Time are to the industry?
Hugely. They showed everyone what was needed to make a perfect game and what was possible. Both those games are still amazing to load up and play and still will be in a hundred years’ time. Nintendo got it so right. Not only did everything look jaw-droppingly gorgeous, they got the playability, difficulty levels, sound and music spot on. At the time of their release there really was nothing like them. Nothing came close. We were witnessing the second coming and I was getting the same amount of wonderment I’d experienced over ten years ago when I was witnessing all the firsts of 8-bit gaming with my ZX Spectrum! 

6. Amiga 500

Manufacturer: Commodore Year: 1987

The Amiga 500 felt like a quantum leap for videogames when it was first launched in 1987, and we can imagine that seeing demos of Batman or Shadow Of The Beast convinced many 8-bit owners that they finally needed to upgrade to Commodore’s supercharged system. It’s high placing in your list suggests that your jaws were dropping just like ours when you first encountered it.   

Answers by Martyn Brown, Cofounder of Team17

The Amiga is the highest-voted computer in our list, why do you think that is?
It doesn’t surprise me, there’s just something about the Amiga that bonded so many people and brought so much entertainment. It’s probably responsible for a massive interest surge in both gaming and a gaming career. 

How important has the Amiga been to your career?
The Amiga was hugely important for me in terms of a career. The timing, my age and associations, as well as the flavour of the machine, made it pretty much perfect in all walks of my life at the time. It was great to be associated with the machine and a number of pretty good games at the time. Without the Amiga and great friends around me at the time, I’m not sure I’d have really made it – it was a real catalyst. 

You must have a fun story from when you were working on Amiga games, surely.
I have a lot because we used to work hard and play harder. But my favourite one that perhaps can be printed was a briefing down at Commodore where everyone in the meeting went quiet when the tea lady came in, then as she le􏰀, we were shown the prototype CD32 controller. Well, it amused me that they didn’t want her to see it, I’m not sure what damage it would have done. 

Why do you think Team17 games became synonymous with the Amiga?
I think it’s because we went over and above for the machine, we shot for one-meg-only games and made crafted titles that used the best of the machine. There were a lot of ports at the time and we always tried to make colourful, smooth scrolling and great sounding game experiences. Given our independence, we were able to make the games we wanted to play. 

What is it you love about the Amiga?
I loved the Amiga because of its open architecture and the fact that you could achieve great things, with great sound and visuals. I loved the spirit of community that the Amiga brought and the passion, I’m not sure there’s ever been a computer like it before or since.     

Answers by Andrew Braybrook, Former Commodore 64 and Amiga coder 

How was the Amiga to work with?
There was a big time difference between when I first saw an Amiga and when I was allowed to start writing code professionally, something like four years, which is a long time to watch the greener grass on the other side of the fence. When I did get to write for the Amiga, there were a lot of new toys to get to grips with: the blitter, the copper, more colour choices, more memory, four-channel sampled sounds and a great CPU. I was then a tad disappointed that the machine was slightly underpowered to just use as-is, so we had to find ingenious ways to make best use of the hardware. Finally, the Amiga flowered into the A1200 AGA machine. And all too briefly after, she was taken from us. She was though by far the best at the time. 

Answers by Allister Brimble, Amiga composer 

Why have you chosen the Amiga as your favourite system?
I love the Amiga because it was a huge step in both graphics and sound, which brought us into the 16-bit era, and allowed a new generation of audio, graphic and coding artists to explore their creative potential. 

Answers by Stuart Atkinson, Former Amiga artist 

Why do you love the Amiga?
I suppose the main reason I loved the Amiga back then was for its graphics capabilities. DPaint was bundled with it and I couldn’t stop using it, it’s a brilliant art package on an amazingly fast machine. That’s what was so good about the machine – it was all about creating your own stuff, art, music, animation, programming and not just for playing games. 

The demo scene was a major part of owning an Amiga for a lot of people, too, They were such a vibrant creative bunch, it’s what lead to me and several of my friends to getting jobs in the industry. And I got to develop a couple of games professionally on
the machine I loved so much, which was awesome! 

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