Retro gaming consoles are a great way to take a step back, and go back in time to appreciate how far video games have come over the last 30 plus years. From game-specific consoles that can only run a single type of video game to multi-game consoles, there is a wide variety of options to pick from that will take you back in time.
Since retro gaming consoles aren’t mainstream, chances are that you don’t really know much about them and what is out on the market today that you can play on today.
To help you find the perfect retro gaming console for your needs, the Pure Gaming team and I have conducted extensive research on the market to discover the best retro gaming consoles.
Our selection process was fairly complex. Initially, we conducted community research to find out what the most preferred and popular retro consoles are and why. Then, using our findings, we went out on the market to find an extensive list of retro gaming consoles that we believe are the best and would provide you with the most retro gaming experience.
We found that the average retro gaming console can be played on with 2 players at a time, had to be connected to a screen, came with a controller/s, and was compatible with an extensive list of video games.
With all that in mind, let’s take a moment to go through all of our findings, and hopefully, by the end of this guide and review, you will have found the best console that will take you back in time.
Best 90’s Gaming Console
After going through a large number of retro gaming consoles, we found that the best console dating back to the 90s is the Super Nintendo Entertainment System Classic.
The price at the time of writing was $259.99.
After the NES Mini Classic retro console’s initial success, a 16-bit variant was almost demanded by the retro-gaming community. Not so long after, Nintendo released the Super NES Classic and truly knocked it out of the park.
This time around, Nintendo have provided their gaming audience with a library of fundamental vidoe games inside a compact and sleek replica of the original SNES.
With this console, you can get your hands on some of the best 2-player video games of the era, including Street Fighter II, Turbo: Hyper Fighting, and Super Mario Kart.
As far as compatibility goes, the Super NES Classic Edition is fully compatible with the classic controller and classic controller pro accessories. You don’t need to install any software or have to sync anything up – simply plug and play.
On the downside, the two wired controllers of this retro console don’t feature enough length so that you can comfortably play from a distance. Rather, you need to really go back in time and sit in front of the gaming monitor or TV to be able to fully enjoy this gaming device.
Best Retro Console With 3D Games
If you want to try out a retro console that doesn’t go that far in time, the PlayStation Classic is an excellent choice. Using that console, you can play video games from as early as 1994 in 3D graphics.
The price at the time of writing was $64.97
The PS Classic is the original PS gaming console first released by Sony over quarter of a century ago. It takes up a very interesting spot within the gaming landscape and the evolution of the virtual gaming industry.
In terms of design, the PS Classic is approximately 45% smaller and more compact than the original PlayStation, which is great as you won’t require a bunch of free space to make this platform part of your gaming setup. To give you a little bit of an idea, the console is quite literally as big as the average PS or Xbox controller.
The PlayStation Classic also comes with over 20 pre-loaded video games in the likes of Jumping Flash, Tekken 3, Wild Arms, Ridge Racer Type 4, and Final Fantasy VII.
If you are looking for a quick trip back in time to bring you the nostalgia that you have been looking for, then this retro console will do the job better than anything out there.
With the console itself, you will get two wired controllers, and a virtual memory card where your games will be stored. Besides that, you will also get an HDMI cable that will help you to successfully establish a wired connection between the console and your TV.
What Are Retro Gaming Consoles?
There isn’t a specific explanation as to what a retro gaming console is. Retro gaming is any type of gaming that espouses a preference for older games. Typically speaking, retro games are largely confined to the console and arcade space. However, there is a wide fan base of old Amiga, Sinclair Spectrum, C64 games that often get forgotten about.
The Amiga was a giant for both roleplay (Ultima VII, Eye Of The Beholder), racing (Lotus Esprit Challenge) and platformers (Turrican 2, Flashback) to name a few. If you have no idea what those games are, for the love of all that is good, go check them out. The Amiga also helped to revolutionize how we made electronic music, with programmes like Fruit Loops and Octa Med starting out there.
There is also a fair contingent of PC gamers who prefer older games, played on an arcade machine or using a fight stick. There’s no specific dividing line on what makes a game retro. Though it’s fair to say that anything made to work on current hardware probably doesn’t count. Instead, a retro game is more about feeling old than being old – it has to carry with it a certain sense of nostalgia that can’t be found in a newer game.
Why You Can Trust This Review
The goal of this guide and review is to not only introduce you to a series of the best retro gaming consoles, but also help you find the best retro console for your gaming needs.
To do that, the Pure Gaming team and I have taken on the challenge to conduct thorough research both within the gaming community and the retro console market. This way, we can first educate ourselves on the expectations and requirements of the community, which would then help us find the best retro gaming consoles for our final selection.
We want to present you with our findings that you will see today in the most transparent manner so that you can really gain an understanding of each of the products that we have selected and genuinely decide whether there is something on here that you were looking for.
How We Picked
Picking the best gaming retro consoles was challenging in a way that is quite difficult to describe. There wasn’t anything specific that we were looking for that would determine that one retro console is “better” than the next.
Thus, after a lot of discussions, we came to the conclusion to focus on three key factors that would help us determine whether a particular gaming console is worthy of being included in our final selection.
Those three factors considered the time elapsed since the console’s initial release, consoles’ compatibility with a range of different video games, and what the community expects from a retro gaming console.
Time Elapsed Since Console Initial Release
While there isn’t a particular amount of time that needs to elapse for the market to deem any particular console as “retro“, we believe that anything before the year 2000 can be deemed as retro. This is because most gaming consoles before that followed a very simple principle, and did not advance a lot in terms of graphics.
Thus, we have only gone ahead and sourced retro gaming consoles that have an initial release date of before the year 2000.
Community Expectations & Games Compatibility
To pick a handful of the best gaming retro consoles, we dedicated a decent chunk of time to understand the gaming community’s needs and expectations when it came to retro consoles.
The average gaming profile of a retro console gamer revolved around playing and testing a range of different games. Thus, we decided to stick to retro consoles that are flexible in terms of compatibility.
If you want a trip even further back in time, then the NES Classic is a great way to get your nostalgia to a new level.
The price at the time of writing was $194.70.
First and foremost, when it comes to design, the console itself is super portable and easy to use, which makes it great for traveling. The original look and feel of the Nintendo Classic Edition were maintained, while the overall console was redesigned in a miniature version.
Having being preloaded with 30 innovative video games, you can rest assured that you won’t get bored easily. Some of the video games that are installed on this console include Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, PAC-MAN, Dr. Mario, Final Fantasy, Mega Man, and The Legend of Zelda. Besides those, in the package, you will also get an HDMI cable, AC Adapter, and a single mini NES classic controller.
Thanks to the four suspend points slots per game feature, you no longer need to worry about not finishing a game. With the suspend points, you can pick up right where you left off.
As far as compatibility is concerned, this console is compatible with classic controller and classic controller pro.
Other Great Retro Gaming Consoles
The Retro-Bit Super Retro-Cade is another fantastic retro gaming console that will for sure bring back those nostalgic feelings, which you have put aside for decades.
The price at the time of writing was $89.99.
Despite the initial roadblocks that Retro-Bit experienced with their 2016 releases, this follow up of the series has taken all of the criticism on board to produced a very decent console for the retro emulation market.
To kick things off with, there are noticeable improvements in emulation quality. Despite the lacking contours and other visual flairs, this time around, the retro-bit super retro-cade can output video quality at 720p.
In the whole package, you will get, an RCA cable to connect with older CRTs, two 10-foot durable controllers, and a comprehensive library of over 90 8 and 16-bit classics.
Some of the video games that you will be able to play on this console include Mega Man and Ghost N’ Goblins. Some less popular titles that you can try out include Side Arms and Wizard Fire.
On top of all that, you can use the included in the package SD card slot to save and transfer game progress from console to console.
Overall, the Retro-Cade is a fantastic addition to any retro gamer’s nostalgic collection.
The Neogeo Mini Pro looks like a mini version of those large arcade devices that you can see in just about any gaming room in shopping centers and malls.
The price at the time of writing was $99.99.
If you are on the lookout for a portable and compact retro gaming console, then the Neogeo Mini Pro might be a great place to start.
Featuring its very own 3.5″ LCD screen, you can go back in time and feel the nostalgia without having to connect it to a larger screen. Besides, when connected to a pair of gaming speakers or gaming headset and arcade controls, this retro console will really begin to provide you with that nostalgic feeling that you have been looking for.
The integrated LCD panel offers a crisp and bright image so that you can enjoy the console’s 40 integrated classic video games library. If you aren’t a huge fan of the not-so-big LCD screen, you can hook up the retro console to your gaming TV, however, the image quality isn’t likely to be anything great. This is generally a good idea if you play with someone else using the second controller.
Some of the classics integrated within this retro arcade console include King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, Metal Slug, Samurai Showdown, and many more.
Furthermore, the Neogeo Mini Pro also features a built-in instant save and load function, which allows you to save the progress of any game immediately and load it back up from where you left off at any point in the future.
Fancy playing alongside your friends and family? The Retro-Bit Retro Duo is a great retro arcade console that allows for up to 2 players to game together at any given moment.
The price at the time of writing was $59.95.
This fantastic dual-player retro console features 2-game cartridge slots, which allow you to plug in and play a range of different SNES and NES games. On the front of the console, you will see an 8 and 16-bit button. Depending on the game that you are going to be playing, simply ensure to switch tot he appropriate option.
In the package, you will find 2 wired controllers, an AV/S video cable, and a 5V AC Adapter, which will help you to successfully establish a strong connection between the console and your TV so that you can play nostalgic classics with your friends and family.
This retro console is fully compatible with original port 16-bit SNES controllers and the large majority of original NES and SNES video games.
If you aren’t a big fan of the silver and white model, you can also check out the black and red variant.
If you are looking for hand-held retro gaming consoles similar to Nintendo DS or a PSP, then the Retro Mini GBA is a great choice.
The price at the time of writing was $36.99.
Retro gaming relies heavily on emulation. The problem with emulation is that you never really know what you’re going to get. All emulated games were initially made to work on very specific hardware, and what you’re seeing is the best attempt to make it work elsewhere. The end result can be seen across the Retro Mini GBA’s catalog.
Perhaps the best thing about this system is that it has a good game list. There are 313 games on the list, some of which are portable classics. As with many retro consoles that come with built-in games though, there is no capacity to play physical cartridges.
You won’t be able to slot in your old GBA cartridges to play those on this system. It does have a decent battery life, though, which means you can take this game with you and play to your heart’s content.
Some of the games are not well emulated and are barely playable. These are few in number though and the vast majority work well. It is, however, prevalent enough that you’ll get frustrated with the system on a regular basis.
This system exists to play ported games, and while it doesn’t always do its job particularly well, it is a relatively cheap and convenient way to play a ton of old retro games.
Besides, we believe that the Retro Mini GBA System is arguably the best retro console on this list.
If you are looking for a real challenge, then the Pandora's Box 11 is a fantastic option when it comes to retro gaming consoles.
The price at the time of writing was $158.99.
One of the best parts about retro gaming consoles is that they can squeeze quite a “technology” in quite a compact package. The Pandora’s Box 11 is a great example of getting a lot with a purchase. Boasting a list of nearly one thousand games onboard.
Everything on here is very much in the retro mindset, though you can’t actually use cartridges. Instead, you’ll get a thousand games pre-loaded in ROM form on the console for you to play as soon as you turn it on.
This is really nice a piece of hardware for the most part. It’s great if you’re trying to set up a home arcade, for example, and it works very well with modern televisions. The joysticks are fantastic and work great with the older arcade games that are on the list. There are a few small technical problems here and there, but they’re easily hammered out with amazing customer service.
If you want something that you can set up quickly and play, this is probably a good console for you. It is also one of the best for reliving the look and feel of retro games. The control makes you feel like your standing in the arcade hammering out the old familiar buttons. It feels sturdy and well built, and it adds the physical ‘feel’ to the games that other systems lack.
Let’s talk problems for a moment, though, because they are significant. As with most systems that boast such an amazingly higher number of games, you’ll have to search through a lot of garbage.
There are some real winners on here like Contra, but you’re mostly looking through what looks like home-brew games. There’s also no way to add more games to the system, which means you’re stuck with those games.
Picking The Right Retro Gaming Console For Your Needs
If you have reached this far within this guide and review, you probably have a little bit of a difficult time deciding what the right retro gaming console is for you.
As you may already know, our goal with these guides is to not only provide you with a confident list of the best retro gaming consoles but also help you pick the right gaming platform for your needs.
Thus, the section below is dedicated towards providing you with a list of highly-relevant scenarios alongside the most suitable retro gaming recommendation.
Should you find any of the three scenarios below relevant to your needs, then you already know what retro console to go for.
Scenario 1: In case you really want to take it back a notch and want to experience the best of retro gaming, then we would highly recommend our 90’s pick, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
Scenario 2: If the above recommendation is a little too retro for your gaming needs, and would like something a little bit more modern, then the PlayStation Classic is a great choice. The PS Classic is amongst the best 3D consoles for its time.
Scenario 3: Let’s say that you don’t want to shell out on a lot of money but would still like to get your hands on a retro device that was once popular amongst the gaming community.
If you are into hand-held devices, perhaps similar to the Nintendo DS or PSP, we’d like to recommend you to try the Retro Mini GBA.
There isn’t a particular set of factors that can determine whether one retro gaming console is better than the next. Thus, you should focus more on what games you want to play and then see, which of the consoles that we have recommended you above best fit your needs and expectations.
While most retro gaming consoles are quite affordable, there are some in the likes of our best 90’s pick that cost around the same price if not more expensive than some of the most modern consoles, like the PS4 and the Xbox One.
Most of the retro platforms that we have recommended you will require to be connected to a television, there are a few that have an integrated display into them.