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Best retro game consoles 2020

GamesRadar logo GamesRadar 2/6/2020 Alan Bradley
a close up of a device: best retro game consoles © Provided by GamesRadar best retro game consoles

If you're feeling nostalgic or are in need of a pick-me-up, you can't go wrong with the best retro game consoles. They're as good as time machines; regardless of whether you played Nintendo, PlayStation, SEGA, or something else entirely, these remakes haul you back to the good old days. Most of the big names from the 1980s and 1990s are represented here, including the brilliant SEGA Genesis Mini and PlayStation Classic. More importantly, each one has a port to accommodate the best HDMI for gaming. That means you can hook them up to the best gaming TVs via HDMI cable without any trouble. 

The only downside would be the sheer volume of choice - and not all of these resurrected consoles were created equal. 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 retro consoles only have 20-30 titles on them, so there's a good chance your favorites have been left by the wayside. As such, be sure to do your research to avoid disappointment! And if you can't 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 totally viable options for the retro gamer.

For the best retro gaming coverage every single month, we'd strongly recommend picking up a subscription to Retro Gamer magazine - now with a saving of up to 57% on print and digital bundles.

Best retro game consoles

1. Super NES Classic

The best retro console you can buy

Plays: 21 built-in SNES games

  • Beautiful design and craftsmanship
  • Fantastic library of SNES essentials
  • Menu and software design is classic Nintendo
  • Controller cords still inexplicably short
  • No way on the controller to get back to the main menu

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

2. SEGA Genesis / Mega Drive Mini

The best option for SEGA fans

Plays: 42 built-in Genesis/Mega Drive games

  • Attention to detail
  • Decent selection of games
  • Cute, compact design
  • 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.

Read more: SEGA Genesis review

3. PlayStation Classic

The best retro console with 3D games

Plays: 20 PS1 games

  • Beautiful miniature design
  • Faithful recreation of the original
  • Some of the most iconic games of the era...
  • ...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.

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

4. Atari Flashback 8 Gold Deluxe

The best-value retro console

Plays: 120 built-in Atari 2600 games

  • Comprehensive pre-installed classic game selection
  • Includes two wireless controllers and even has paddle controllers
  • 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.

6. NES Classic

A simple, clean, imperfect NES experience

Plays: 30 built-in NES games

  • High-quality NES emulation
  • Very nice replica controllers
  • Includes 30 games
  • 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.

7. Retro Freak

The best emulation console

Plays: PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16/SuperGrafx, NES/Famicom, SNES/Super Famicom, Genesis/Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance cartridges

  • Nearly every 8- and 16-bit console is supported
  • Modular structure lets you choose the extras you want
  • Need to purchase classic controller adaptor separately
  • A bit dull to look at

Despite being expensive and a little complicated to set up, the Retro Freak is ultimately worth the extra effort: this is a superior machine that offers tons of functionality, and then some. It’s even got a very nice controller, which may not be wireless but is very comfortable and solidly built (USB controllers are also supported if you don’t want to spring for the separate adaptor that will use your vintage controllers). 

The actual console itself is a small brick that stores games on a MicroSD card. This plugs into a larger adaptor that reads classic cartridges and stores the game ROMs on the SD card. The sheer range of consoles supported elevates Retro Freak. All of the cartridges for NEC’s cultishly adored PC Engine, whether Japanese releases or American TurboGrafx-16 versions, run on the machine. It even supports games for SuperGrafx, PC Engine’s obscure successor, of which only five even exist.

8. Capcom Home Arcade

The ultimate Capcom console

Plays: Capcom arcade games

  • Authentic Sanwa controls
  • Satisfying to use
  • Good lineup
  • 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.

9. Retro-Bit Super Retro-cade

The best retro arcade console

Plays: 95 built-in arcade games

  • Fantastic library
  • Strong selection of lesser known titles
  • Solid output options and controllers
  • Software display options are limited
  • Not as slick as some first-party consoles

Retro-Bit stumbled off the blocks a bit with 2016’s Generations, a much (and deservedly so) maligned attempt to create a foothold in the retro emulation market. Their follow-up seems to have taken the criticism fully onboard, however, with marked improvements in the quality of emulation and a great library. 

The console itself is a combination of slick and bright and boxy and functional, a vivid white shell slashed with bright red that’s shaped like a brick and lacks contours or much other visual flair. The feature set is a similar mesh of design philosophies; 720p video output as well RCA for connecting to older CRTs, two sturdy, no frills controller with nice ten foot cables, and other solid features matched with a deep, flashy library of 90 games that represent a huge, eclectic swath of 8 and 16 bit classic, including some games that have never been available domestically. Alongside classics like Mega Man and Ghosts N’ Goblins are some lesser known but excellent coin-op titles like Side Arms and Wizard Fire. 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 retro console market.

10. Nintendo Classic Mini Family Computer

The Japanese alternative to the NES Classic

Plays: 30 built-in Famicom games

  • Several gems left off the NES Classic's game list
  • Even tinier than the NES equivalent
  • Controllers slot in alongside the console
  • Missing some of the classics from the NES offering

For the retro collector who has everything, or for the Japanese culture enthusiast in your life, Nintendo's Famicom Classic is a rare and delightful gem. It shares a level of build quality (and adorability) with its NES counterpart, but comes with a couple of cult favorites that the US model missed. Filling a couple of obvious holes are River City Ransom and Mario Open Golf, but there are also some lesser-known or Japanese exclusive titles that still hold up well, stuff like platformer Atlantis no Nazo or Tecmo's puzzler Solomon's Key. And while the original Final Fantasy is an important piece of history, Final Fantasy III (included on the Famicom) is a better game to actually play in practically every regard. 

The best thing about the Famicom Classic, however, has nothing to do with the games library. It's the design. True to its namesake, the Classic is stylish in vivid white and deep maroon, and has a much sleeker and more modern-looking form factor than its boxy grey cousin. There's also space along sides of the console body to slot in the controllers when you're not using them, which is not only really convenient but looks sharp, too. And while the interface and games are all in Japanese, fluency is definitely not required for the vast majority of the included games, and the interface is easy enough to navigate around with a little trial and error (in fact, if you have access to the NES Classic, it's virtually identical). If you're so inclined, it's actually a great way to practice some basic Japanese as text is all displayed in hiragana and katakana (the original Famicom couldn't display kanji).

11. C64 Mini

A flawed but delightful dive into early PC gaming

Plays: 64 built-in games

  • Extremely cute
  • A lot of these games are still fun to play
  • Save states and retro display options
  • Stiff stick
  • 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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