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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

56 Models Considered
22 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
60 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for Best retro video game consoles

Gaming isn't all about hyper-realistic graphics or chaotic preorders for new consoles. With retro video game consoles, you can play the favorite games of your youth — or games you like that were released before you were born — and relive simpler times. Despite their basic graphics and lack of huge open-world maps, many retro video games are challenging enough to stump even the most hardened of gamers.

While you can still buy original retro video game consoles, we will mostly be focusing on the contemporary re-released versions, which are more reliable and practical for day-to-day use. You'll need to consider the consoles on offer and choose one of your favorites or opt for a multi-system console. Many of these consoles come with preloaded games, and you may or may not be able to purchase more, so check that the games you want to play are included.

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Although original retro video game consoles used wired controllers, some re-released consoles use wireless Bluetooth controllers for convenience.

Key considerations

Retro console types

PlayStation

Released in the mid-nineties, the PlayStation 1 is among the newer retro gaming consoles, but it still has a cult following thanks to classic games such as Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot, and Silent Hill. Sony has released the PlayStation Classic, which looks like the original PS1 console and comes with 20 games preloaded.

Nintendo

If it weren’t for Nintendo, home console gaming as we know it might not exist. Nintendo has released contemporary versions of its popular NES and SNES systems with preinstalled games such as Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, StarFox, and Final Fantasy III. Nintendo also offers some handheld re-released retro games consoles, such as the Game & Watch. Original handheld consoles, like the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance, still prove popular.

Sega

Although Sega no longer produces new game consoles, it's still well-known for its retro consoles. The earlier SG-1000 and Master System weren't as popular in the U.S. as the Genesis, which came out in 1999 and introduced Sonic the Hedgehog for the first time. The company has released a contemporary version of the Genesis with more than 40 preloaded games including Ecco the Dolphin, Kid Chameleon, Toe Jam & Earl, and — of course — Sonic the Hedgehog 1 and 2.

Atari

The Atari 2600 was one of the first home video game consoles, featuring retro favorites such as Pac-Man and Asteroids. Later Atari consoles included the Atari 5200 and the Atari Jaguar. The company has released a retro throwback console that includes a range of popular Atari games from different consoles such as Space Invaders, Seaquest, and Frogger.

Neo Geo

Neo Geo originally manufactured arcade games only. Some of its popular offerings include Metal Slug, The Last Blade, Aero Fighters, and Samurai Shodown. However, the company eventually decided to offer home game consoles in the '80s and '90s, starting with the AES and moving on to the Neo Geo CD. You can buy the Neo Geo Mini, which is a mini version of a full-size arcade game with a built-in screen, though you can also attach in to your TV to play your favorite Neo Geo games on a larger screen.

Multi-system consoles

Multi-system retro video game consoles allow you to play retro games from a range of old consoles. Some come with preloaded games from a variety of game developers that were originally found on different consoles. This type of console should be officially licenced. Otherwise, it may be loaded with bootleg versions of retro games that don't play correctly. Other offerings simply have a range of disc drives and cartridge slots so you can play original games from your favorite retro consoles. Bear in mind that working games can be hard to come by, so this option is best if you already have a selection of retro games to use.

Preloaded games

If you buy a re-released version of an old console or any other new console that plays retro games, the games are usually preloaded onto the system. This is because genuine retro games can be tricky to find in working order, and game developers don't want to re-release old games that are unlikely to sell a large number of copies. Most feature somewhere between 20 and 50 preloaded games, so you should expect to find the majority of the biggest games for any given console, plus a range of slightly more obscure titles. This works out for the most part, but if you have one or two specific games you want to play, you'll be disappointed if they aren't included with your console, since it usually isn't possible to buy additional games separately.

If you choose a multi-system console loaded with games from a range of consoles, check to see if it is officially licensed. Otherwise, you may end up with games that are poor knockoffs of the originals.

Staff
BestReviews

Features

Controllers

Your chosen retro video game console will almost definitely come with controllers. These should have the same layout as the controllers included with the original version of the console. You'll usually receive a pair of controllers, allowing you to play multiplayer games with others, where possible. Some controllers are wired; others have been upgraded to wireless technology that would not have been available when the console was originally released.

Handheld

In addition to standard game consoles that connect to a TV, you can also find some handheld retro gaming consoles. These have a small screen and controls built into the console, so you can play them wherever you like.

Multiplayer

The majority of retro game consoles offer some multiplayer options, and most come with two controllers so you can play with another person. However, these consoles only support in-person multiplayer action, so don't expect to be able to play online with your friends the way you can with modern game consoles.

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Did You Know?
Some retro video game consoles are highly collectible, which interests some buyers more than actually playing the console.
Staff
BestReviews

Retro video game console prices

Inexpensive: You can buy some handheld consoles and third-party multi-system consoles for as little as $25 to $50, though some may not be officially licensed.

Mid-range: For $50 to $150, you can buy a variety of re-released retro game consoles with a wide range of preloaded games thrown into the mix.

Expensive: The costliest retro video game consoles cost from $150 to $300. These tend to include a huge number of games as well as extras, such as spare controllers.

You'll get better graphics from retro consoles with 16-bit processing power compared to their 8-bit counterparts, but it will still look primitive next to the latest generation of games.

Staff
BestReviews

Tips

  • Consider the types of games you like to play before you buy. Likewise, determine if there are any specific games you want to play on your console. There's not much point buying a Sega Genesis if you're longing to play the original Mario Kart games.
  • You probably won’t need to purchase games for a retro console. Most re-released retro consoles come with games preloaded into the console's internal memory.
  • Decide whether you'd prefer an original retro video game console or a new re-released model. Note that real vintage consoles can be plagued with faults and compatibility issues, whereas new models often have games preloaded and are compatible with new TVs.
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If you choose an original retro video game console, it's likely you'll need to source an old TV to play it on.

FAQ

Q. Is gameplay the same on a re-released console as it is on an original retro game console?

A. While you may notice a few small differences, especially on consoles featuring games ported from full-size arcade gaming machines, for the most part, the gameplay on a re-released retro console is identical to the original. The controllers you receive should match those sold with the original console, so you'll find the controls the same as the last time you played the genuine retro version.

Q. What constitutes a retro video ame console?

A. This is open to some debate, as there's no set definition of what is and isn't retro in the world of gaming. For instance, some purists only consider consoles released in the '70s and '80s truly retro, such as the Atari 2600 and the NES. Most, however, will include consoles released in the '90s as retro, such as the SNES, PlayStation 1, and Sega Dreamcast. Some will even class consoles released in the early '00s as retro, including the PlayStation 2 and the Nintendo GameCube.

 

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