The video game market grows and expands at an extraordinarily fast pace. It advances so quickly that sometimes it becomes difficult for us to keep up with all the new tech and games we get each year. You barely had a chance to familiarize yourself with a certain new concept, and you shortly realize that it already becomes obsolete.
If you feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of modern gaming stuff that constantly floods the market, maybe it’s time to slow down and relax with one of the retro consoles, remembering the good old days when everything was simpler.
Now it’s easier and more accessible than ever, due to the fact that numerous old classic consoles got re-released in recent years – and we’ll be focusing on these re-released versions today.
As the video game industry evolved over the last decades, we got used to a variety of gameplay features we see in video games today and we now take them all for granted, but it wasn’t always like that. Everything had a beginning somewhere in the past, more often than not starting with some retro game that introduced a new game mechanic that met with praise from the gaming community, so it got polished later and now it’s everywhere.
That’s one of the reasons you may be interested in playing some old classics on retro consoles – this will allow you to experience games as they were decades ago, possibly giving you a better understanding of why games are the way they are today. You’ll be surprised how many features that you think were always part of games weren’t actually available. Believe it or not, but even something as basic as game saving wasn’t a thing back in the day. The same goes for pausing and loading screens, not to mention more obvious things, like graphics and physics. And there are tons of differences when it comes to the consoles themselves, but we won’t spoil anything more – discovering all of them yourself could be an exhilarating experience.
But which retro console to choose? We’ll get to that in a moment, after a short history lesson.
The Golden Age of Gaming
There is no consensus when it comes to defining the exact timeframe of what we call the golden age of gaming, but most of the gaming community can agree that there was indeed a period like that and that it’s, unfortunately, an era that belongs to the past. The golden age is long gone, but we can still travel back in time and experience the original games that were popular back then.
Depending on who you’d ask, they could say that the golden age of gaming took place somewhere during the ‘90s or the early 2000s even, and it could be best characterized by the rapid development of the gaming industry and a constant flow of video games that were actually good and innovative. It’s not to say that today we don’t get good games or that today’s market is not evolving, but from a technical point of view, we don’t get as much innovation today as we got a few decades ago. These days we get things like ray tracing, DLSS, or 4K 244 Hz gaming – and sure, it’s all great, but it’s not as impactful as things from the golden age of gaming, where we were able to experience the birth of things that shaped the entire video game industry for years to come and they still serve as a source of inspiration for modern development teams.
The industry as a whole stands now at the point many players consider stagnant. We get more content, but the quality is worse and the novelty factor is missing. More and more games are just cheap cash grabs and copy each other with no soul or passion poured into them. Once again, it’s not to say that we don’t get great games today, but it feels like today’s market got oversaturated with much less valuable titles. Games are being released in an unfinished state, they are receiving endless fixes and updates, content that should be included in the base game gets locked behind paid DLCs, and so on. There’s also so much stuff being released every year, that it may be hard to keep up with everything. Filtering through tons of crappy games to get to the good ones takes a good amount of effort not everyone is willing to make.
If it makes you tired, picking up a retro console and reliving the golden age of gaming can be a soothing experience. Or you could pick some indie game, as the indie market is thriving, due to how easy it is to make your own games today, allowing solo developers to fully unleash their creativity and actually make something new – but that’s a topic for another time.
Factors to Consider when Choosing a Retro Game Console
So let’s say you finally made up your mind and decided to pick a retro gaming console, but now new questions popped up in your mind. There is a number of retro consoles to choose from, so how would you decide which one to actually pick?
Before choosing, you should consider various factors that may be more or less relevant in your particular case. For example, if you don’t sleep on money, you should consider the price, and we’re not talking only about the price of the console itself, but also about the price of the games. Before purchasing a console, take a quick look at the prices of the games to get a general idea of the budget you’ll need for that hobby of yours.
You should also consider the availability of games for each console. In the console world, it’s not uncommon to find exclusive titles that can only be played on a console of a specific brand. If you have a specific game in mind you’d like to play, make sure to get a console that actually supports that game.
If you value quantity more than quality, you should also check how many games are available for each console and how easy it is to actually buy them.
Connectivity is also an important factor. If you want to buy an actual old console, you may have trouble connecting it to a modern monitor. This is much less of an issue with retro consoles that were re-released in recent years, as they are better suited to work with modern devices, but you still may need to get yourself a specific cable adapter, such as VGA to HDMI.
Top Retro Game Consoles to Consider
After a few words of introduction to the topic comes time for the juicy part. On the list below we’ll present you with a selection of retro game consoles that are worth picking up right now. We’ll briefly describe each option and we’ll try to show the pros and cons of each of them to help you decide which console to get.
Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from trying them all, but if you’re tight on budget, it would be best to familiarize yourself with all available options first, and then choose the one you think will satisfy your needs best. This way you’ll be guaranteed to get the best bang for your buck and you’ll end up with a device you’ll actually be happy to use.
Without further ado, here are some of the best retro game consoles you can pick right now.
NES Classic Edition
Fans of NES had an occasion to rejoice in 2016, as that’s when Nintendo decided to show the world a modern, miniaturized version of one of their most successful classic devices.
NES Classic Edition was warmly welcomed, allowing players to once again dive into some of their favorite games and play them the way they were intended to be played. Compared to the original NES, this one supports HDMI and is capable of outputting image at 720p and 60 Hz, so the games look much better when connected to a modern monitor.
NES Classic Edition comes with a pre-installed library of 30 popular NES games, including The Legend of Zelda, Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., and Final Fantasy, so you basically get an all-in-one package that’s ready to play right after unpacking. There’s a caveat, though – you can’t install new games, at least not without voiding the warranty. This means that you’re stuck with that initial choice of 30 games – to avoid disappointment, make sure that the game you wanted to try is actually on the list.
|Pros & Cons|
Super NES Classic Edition
Shortly after releasing a refreshed version of the NES Classic, Nintendo announced the re-release of its successor, SNES.
From a technical point of view, there aren’t many differences between the two, but some of these may prove to be an important factor when deciding which retro console from Nintendo to pick.
SNES Classic Edition comes with a pre-installed collection of 21 games – the number isn’t impressive, especially considering that you can’t make it bigger. However, here we have a case of quality over quantity, so you’re guaranteed to find some exciting titles on the list, including Star Fox 2 – a rail shooter that was initially planned to be released in 1995 but was eventually canceled.
Nintendo also addressed the short cable issue, extending their length significantly, which makes it unnecessary to purchase additional accessories, such as cable extensions. You also get two controllers out of the box, so you can play your favorite titles with a friend or an important one.
|Pros & Cons|
Sega Genesis Mini
Following the trend of re-releasing retro consoles, Sega also did the same with their own device from 1988.
As a result, we received a Mini version of Sega Genesis in 2019, which resembles the original console in every detail. Even the buttons and the cartridge slot resemble their original counterparts, although they’re just for the show and aren’t functional.
The console comes pre-loaded with a selection of 40 legendary games that were available back in the golden age of gaming, including Earthworm Jim and Sonic the Hedgehog. However, just like in the case of Nintendo’s retro consoles, you have to stick to this default set of titles, as there’s no official way to extend the library.
But this may not be the biggest issue – the controllers sold in the version available outside of Japan have only 3 buttons, as opposed to the Japanese ones that come with 6. As a result, playing some games may be a bit annoying.
|Pros & Cons|
PlayStation Classic is an attempt to revive the original console from 1994 and it follows a similar route chosen by the other developers, which means it’s a miniaturized version of the first PlayStation with completely different internals.
Just like the other re-released retro consoles, PlayStation Classic is primarily an emulator closed inside a familiar-looking box to give you a sense of nostalgia you wouldn’t get playing with the use of a standard emulator on your PC.
The console was criticized for the lack of popular games, such as Tomb Raider and Gran Turismo, but it’s still one of your best choices if you want to try Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII, or Resident Evil: Director’s Cut with a full classic flavor. This is important, considering that the library can’t be easily expanded.
At least it comes with 2 controllers and necessary cables, so you can plug and play instantly after receiving the package.
|Pros & Cons|
Atari Flashback X
Atari Flashback X is unique when compared to its competitors for several reasons.
This is actually a part of the Atari Flashback series that started back in 2004 – that’s when the first refreshed version of the original device, the Atari 2600 from 1977, was released. As such, developers of Atari Flashback were able to amass a huge amount of experience over the years, allowing them to perfect their craft. In 2019 we got the latest release in the series, and arguably the most successful one.
Atari Flashback X comes with 110 games installed, which already completely leaves the competition behind, but that’s not all. With a bit of tinkering, you can actually get access to tons of extra games – and it’s all completely legal. No need to hack or crack the device, as the development team hosts a necessary firmware update on their servers, allowing you to unlock Flashback’s full potential.
|Pros & Cons|
RetroN 5 is an interesting device. Why get several different consoles when you can get one that can serve as a substitute for others?
RetroN 5 is a console that has four cartridge slots for cartridges from NES, SNES, Genesis, and Game Boy games. However, the device doesn’t actually play the games from cartridges – you can use cartridges, but they’re only used by the console to determine which pre-loaded game to emulate. As such, the device is quite deceiving and it won’t play games it doesn’t have installed, even if you slide a cartridge inside.
It’s still an interesting device, but it doesn’t serve any nostalgia purpose really and has no collector value. If you want just the emulation functionality, you may just as well use free open-source emulators available for PC.
|Pros & Cons|
Neo Geo Mini
We can’t forget about classic arcade games. Getting a real arcade machine can be problematic, not only because of the high price tag but also due to how much room it takes, but thankfully there’s a much better, semi-portable option, that will allow you to enjoy numerous retro arcade games at home for a much more affordable price.
Neo Geo Mini is an attempt by SNK to popularize classic arcade games – and let us tell you, it was a truly brilliant idea, and a well-executed one. The device looks simply adorable and the pre-installed games will become a source of your entertainment for hours to come. The drawbacks include rather high price and no way to add more games without hacking, but even then Neo Geo Mini is something you shouldn’t be passing by indifferently.
|Pros & Cons|
There’s one special mention on the retro game console market and it’s a company called Analogue. While all of the devices we mentioned earlier can be simply described as emulators in pretty boxes, Analogue approaches the retro console market from an entirely different perspective – instead of relying on simple emulation, they actually create devices that behave like the real old classic consoles, using FPGA chips to recreate the internals of the original devices. This means that with Analogue products you can launch games from your physical cartridges as you would on the original devices a few decades ago. And their consoles can output a crisp image on your HDTV, which would be a nigh impossible task for old consoles.
It has some cons, however, and the most notable one is the price – Analogue products are much more expensive than emulator-based solutions. If you’re willing to pay extra for that kind of experience, though, it’s completely justified.
Raspberry Pi-based Retro Consoles
Finally, a quick mention of solutions based on the use of Raspberry Pi –small single-board, low-cost, and open-design computers. This is, however, something for the enthusiasts of technology, as it allows you to build your own retro console at home, so it requires some passion and patience but will reward you with a sense of accomplishment. By following online guides and using 3D-printed models, you can create from scratch a fully functional console capable of emulating simple classic games. If you want to learn more, try looking for RetroPie – they’ll guide you through the entire process.
Emulation vs. Original Hardware
Before we get to the end, let’s answer a question some of you may have. We already mentioned that most of the retro consoles you can get today are just emulators inside plastic boxes, but there are exceptions that work like the original consoles. So, what’s the difference, and does it even matter?
Emulation is what allows us to run games on non-original hardware, be it a PC, a phone, a different kind of console, or something else. Emulators don’t require a physical copy of the game – all you need is a ROM image of the game. Keep in mind, however, that using ROMs may not always be legal, so it would be best to double-check every time before downloading them if it’s actually okay to do so.
With that being said, a lot of old games are not being sold anymore, so there’s no way for you to buy them legally. If you get them for your personal use to discover new games, there’s no harm done and you probably won’t get into trouble for that – but you’re doing it at your own risk and we do not encourage any illegal activities.
Original hardware gives a much more impactful nostalgic feeling, but it has some major flaws. For example, you must have a physical copy of the game to run it – there’s no workaround here and it may be difficult to get your hands on games that were sold 20 years ago. Not to mention that you may actually need an old CRT monitor as well. There are more steps to get things done and they’re more difficult, so if you’re not a die-hard retro enthusiast, usually emulation will be good enough to re-live the retro age of video games.
Preserving and Collecting Retro Games
The differences between emulation and original hardware are also clearly visible when it comes to collecting and preserving retro games, which is done infinitely easier in ROM image format. Sure, you can’t touch it or feel it, but you can safely copy it and make as many backups as you want. Once you break your cartridge, it’s gone, but if you accidentally lose your ROM, you can easily find a new one or restore it from your backup storage.
On the other hand, having a physical collection of games can look much more impressive – it would be much easier to brag about your physical cartridges and show them to other people. There’s no real point in collecting ROMs, as they’re widely available online, so they have no collector value attached at all.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
Getting into retro gaming is more accessible now than ever, mainly thanks to the existence of emulators. Retro awareness is also further expanded by the big companies that re-release their original classic consoles, allowing more people to learn about old games and what was popular a few decades ago.
If you’re curious about the games that shaped the entire video game industry we know today or you want to relive the past and once again play the games you played when you were a child, or perhaps you’re young and you’re interested in discovering titles your parents played – all you need is a retro console. Most of them come with a bunch of pre-loaded games, which means that absolutely no technical knowledge is needed to jump into action. You just connect the device to your TV and you can start playing right away – it can’t get much easier than that.
Pick your favorite retro console and enjoy a classic experience with some of the most popular and influential titles of the past.