The best retro game consoles celebrate the design and form of classic games consoles as well as enabling us to easily play classic games. This can include remakes of old games and retro consoles as well as new games consoles designed to play on games and emulated games.
In my list are a mix of mini console replicas of the top games consoles of yesteryear as well as new consoles designed for retro games and the best handheld retro games console, the Evercade EXP. Some of the retro game consoles below come with pre-installed games and some enable you to download games or plug in cartridges. (If you love retro games, read our feature on the best video games of the 80s.)
If you're after something with a little more power then Nintendo Switch is a good choice, as it has a wealth of emulated and remade classic games (for example, subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online you can now access many of the old NES, SNES, GameCube and N64 games for free).
The best retro game consoles available now
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The Evercade EXP is the perfect blend of modern tech and retro gaming at a sensible price. The handheld comes in two models, the standard white and the limited edition black, but aside from colour these are the same console. The original Evercade (below on my list) remains an excellent device but this new console is weightier, better made, features a beautiful 800 x 480 IPS OLED display, built-in WiFi for and overall feels like a modern console, that just happens to play old games.
The Evercade EXP uses cartridges loaded with classic games that generally feature some of the best emulation around. Launched with the EXP is the IREM collection and it comes with pre-installed Capcom games; overall you get 24 games, including Street Fighter II, Final Fight, Breath of Fire and R-Type.
The handheld unique TATE mode - turn it vertically and you can play games as some were intended in the arcades. This is great for shooters like Truxton and it's simple and easy to switch modes. In my Evercade EXP review I did find the slim design of the console made it a little cramped to use TATE mode.
Overall, given you can plug and play all Evercade carts with hits from Atari, Namco, C64, and more, the Evercade EXP is the best way to experience retro games. There's a slight niggle, older carts can jam in the new handheld, and this was an issue with the older Evercade too. The newer Evercade EXP Limited Edition has a reworked case that solves this issue, so expect future consoles to make use of this design. But this slight issue doesn't distract from being the best retro console; its OLED display, overall build quality and list of games is superb value.
The Nintendo Classic Mini, a replica of the NES, enables us to get a rare insight into the games and design decisions that made Nintendo the game publisher of the 1980s. The Nintendo Entertainment System was where things really began for Nintendo. It was the company's first home console and the birthplace of Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid as we know them today.
As such, it's no surprise that Nintendo have chosen to resurrect the system in miniature. It's hard to tell that the NES has been shrunken at first, though – it's a perfect recreation and a slice of history that fits into the palm of your hand. The grey colour scheme, red lettering, and bold black stripe have been remade exactly as they were back in the 1980s, and that goes for the iconic controller as well.
What's more, its 30-game library features all the classics you'd expect. They've aged pretty well thanks to their 2D visuals, too. These aren't arcade conversions either, but home console games that are tailored to the NES – including Castlevania, Kirby's Adventure, The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man 2, Metroid, Super Mario Bros. 3 – and as such game design shines. The gameplay is much harder and more frustrating than we're used to nowadays, but the 8-bit pixel-art style has an endearingly retro feel nonetheless.
The only downside? This one is hard to find and was released in limited numbers. You'll be lucky to find one for less than $220 / £200. But of you grew up on the NES or wish to experience some great game design, it could the worth paying the price.
The Super NES Classic comes in number 3 behind the NES Mini, and is equally well-built and offers another glimpse into Nintendo's development. The SNES was the successor to the NES, and as such its games are more advanced. Like the NES Mini this replica is also very expensive.
The model you get depends on where you live. US gamers can buy the angular North American Super Famicom version with purple accents and controller buttons. The Super NES version, with its more colourful, rounded design with red, blue, yellow, and green buttons is for UK users. Everything else is pretty much as you remember, and it's we found it heartwarming to see it in our living room again.
But what about the games? You'll get 21 fan-favourites with the US and European version of Super NES Classic, and they're all excellent. Be it Super Mario World, Star Fox, or The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, these 16-bit icons are every bit as playable today as they were 30 years ago.
In play I find almost all of them hold up in terms of visuals and gameplay too, but each one has been boosted with the addition of rewind or suspend options (not to mention the ability to save anywhere).
The Sega Mega Drive Mini 2 or Sega Genesis Mini 2 (for US) is an excellent follow-up to the previous small retro console, the Sega Mega Drive Mini. This edition features 60 games, including bonus titles that have never been released before. The eye-catching titles, however, are the mix of Sega Mega CD games that feature in the Sega Mega Drive Mini 2's roster.
Sega hasn't really offered these late Mega Drive releases before. This was a muddled time for Sega as it transitioned from 16 to 32-bit gaming, and it tells. Some games are true generational leaps, such as Virtua Racing, while some use the format to add music and video to older releases, such as The Ninja Warriors. Curiosities include FMV game Night Trap and shooter Silpheed CD that uses pre-rendered backgrounds. Naturally, Sonic CD is included.
Other notable non-CD games include, Revenge Of Shinobi, Rolling Thunder 2 and Ristar – but everyone can find favourites in a 60-game list. To play these games you get a six-button controller, a recreation of the Sega Mega Drive MK2 controller designed for Street Fighter II, and yes, that game is included. It's a good replica controller and features a nice long two-metre lead. (Read my best retro controllersr feature for more accessories.)
As I mentioned in my Sega Mega Drive Mini 2 review, the only downside to this mini console is it lacks any real game histories or concept art, and the game manuals are accessed off-console via a QR code – but you can download and keep them. But, the games list and emulation is fantastic and more than makes up for any shortcomings.
The Evercade VS is the new home console version of the Evercade handheld and brings some interesting design ideas to the retro game console market, notably the cartridge system of the handheld gets a boost as this larger console also supports 32-bit games.
A big part of Evercade VS is you can play multiplayer games. The console comes with two NES-like controllers and the game packs included in the Premium Pack are co-op focused. The Technos Arcade 1 cart, for example, features the excellent Double Dragon 2.
Unlike other retro consoles this supports a broad list of games from various developers, so it's not Nintendo / Sega focused. The Vs comes in two versions – £89 / $99 for the console with one controller and one cartridge, or £109 / $129 for the console, two controllers and two cartridges – we'd recommend this bundle.
The Sega Genesis/MegaDrive Mini threatens to restart the console wars of yesteryear. If you grew up in the 1990s, you often fell into one of two camps – team Sega or team Nintendo. This particular throwback honours what may be the former's best work.
For starters, it's a gorgeous device that's the spitting image of the original. That includes the various dials and switches, but it also stretches to a cartridge slot you can actually open and blow the dust from (despite the Mini not using cartridges in the first place).
Better still, it packs 42 classic games drawn from the breadth of the Genesis/MegaDrive era. That includes obvious candidates like Sonic the Hedgehog and Ecco the Dolphin, but you also get more unusual choices such as Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse.
Most of these games have aged well, too; their 16-bit graphics are every bit as full of life and verve as they were decades ago. There's even a brand-new menu soundtrack by 16-bit composing legend Yuzo Koshiro using technology from the 1990s.
As you'd expect, the design is slightly different depending on where you buy it – the US gets the Genesis, while the UK has the very slightly different MegaDrive, up to and including any localisations on games.
The A500 Mini is a tiny replica of the Amiga 500, the home computer that launched many coders and developers careers. Arguably the likes of Team 17 wouldn't exist without this computer. The replica model is excellent, and in my A500 Mini review I found the general build and responsiveness of the console and its controllers – it supports both a gamepad and mouse – is excellent.
The pre-installed games are a mixed bag of classics and curiosities from the late 1980s and early 1990s. We really enjoyed dipping back into the likes of Cadaver, Speedball 2 and Alien Breed. Stunt Car Racer remains a forgotten masterpiece and adventure Simon The Sorcerer will impress anyone brought up on LucasFilm point-and-click adventures.
The downside? The games, while excellently emulated and even support a virtual keyboard and disc swapping, are missing some classics that made Amiga an iconic system. I would love to be able to play Sensible Soccer, The Secret of Monkey Island, and the Cinemaware series of games, for example.
You can, kind of, as the A500 Mini enables you to download and install games (though you should own the originals). The issue I found in my hands-on is not all games work with this mini console, and some need a lot of adjustments to get the gamepad and virtual keyboard to work properly.
A minor quibble, all in the A500 Mini is one of the best ways to play Amiga games in 2022 (though some classics are on Evercade now as cart collections). It's an easy plug-and-play console that showcases some of the best games of the 1990s.
The SNK Neo Geo Mini brings together 40 of the cult Japanese developer's best games in one package. This tiny retro arcade cabinet contains some of the best fighting games that aren't Street Fighter; if you want to experience incredible character design just boot up King of Fighters '98, Samurai Shodown II or Metal Slug.
The mini console is beautifully designed (though this Western edition lacks the Japanese release's colour). The console lights up from below when turned on, which is, frankly, amazing to see. The little arcade stick has a metal cover which is good and will certainly last. The screen is incredibly sharp and bright, and really showcases the pixel art on display.
The slight downside to the SNK Neo Geo Mini is it omits some of the fighting games found on the Japanese release for a broader selection of titles. Die hard SNK fans could be disappointed but more casual players will welcome the variety. Also, when connected to a TV via HDMI the screen can look a little burry. And the final upside, the two gamepads are replicas of the Neo Geo CD pads, one of the best designs of all time.
Evercade is the older model of the fantastic Evercade EXP, and it's only this far down on my list because the newer version is really the one you should own. But, you can find some good deals on the original Evercade handheld so it's still worth looking at if you're on a budget.
We'll get to the games, but first the design. In my Evercade review I found the Evercade handheld sits perfectly in the hands and its rounded edges and curved rear makes long plays easy and comfortable. The buttons are responsive and we love the juggle the d-pad offers, which is ideal for 2D gaming. The screen is bright and clear but we find the speakers could be beefier.
Now, those games. Evercade supports cartridges that come with between six and 22 games each. These range from classic arcades games such as Namco, Data East and Atari hits of the 1908s (Pac-Man, Dig Dug, etc) to console ports, 16-bit home computer collections and rare releases.
It means you can play the likes of Dizzy, Earthworm Jim and Cannon Fodder as well as Space Invaders, Double Dragon and even Atari Lynx games. There are new game packs released regularly, so you're never shy of something new to play.
The Numskull Designs Quarter Arcades series are an accurately modelled range of classic and iconic arcade cabinets from the 1970s and 1980s, including intricately modelled versions of Galaxians, Pac-Man and Bubble Bobble. They may be a quarter of the size but the arcade emulation is perfect and the models are beautifully made, and include era accurate artwork, sticks and buttons.
Each small arcade cabinet comes in a collector's box, complete with original art and a screen to display your small piece of gaming history. The detail is wonderful, for example the Ms. Pac-Man cabinet is made from wood, just as it would have been originally.
As well as looking the part it plays well too, the five-inch TFT screen LED backlit screen is excellent and the joystick and buttons are fully functional. It can be plugged in and played or charged using the micro-USB connection (open the cabinet's back panel just like the real thing).
The only downside is the limitations of each cabinet, as you'd expect each is tailored to one game so the price is steep. But these are collector's miniatures, and if you really love classic arcades they're a nice indulgence, or gift for the dedicated gamer in your life.
The PlayStation Classic released to celebrate Sony's first foray into console gaming landed with the force of a bomb. As well as being immensely popular at the time, the PlayStation established a lineage of machines that continue to dominate the market today. As such, it was inevitable that they'd bring the original back for a lap of honour.
This re-release reduces the console's size and adds USB and HDMI cable ports. Other than that, it's been left exactly as it appeared in the era of the Spice Girls and Friends. And honestly, why would you change anything about it? It was always a gorgeous machine to begin with thanks to its simple design, friendly oversized buttons, and eye-catching disc tray.
The replicas of the PlayStation Controllers are just as excellent, and because they are USB can be used on other consoles or PC emulation. It's easy to plug and play, and the package overall is of a high quality.
Where the PlayStation Classic experience stumbles slightly is with a poorly thought through approach to emulation. In my PlayStation Classic review I discovered some games played slower than the originals while others appeared blurry and muddy. There are no options to tweak video settings and no background on the games.
Yet, it's hard not to love this package overall. The games included vary in quality but all have a place in PlayStation's history – Tekken 3, Ridge Racer Type 4, and Metal Gear Solid are excellent. Though it's a shame we don't get Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot and other big entries.
If you remember the Atari 2600 with fondness, the Atari Flashback 8 Gold Deluxe is a must-have. The Flashback line has always been good, but this version throws in 120 emulated games for your trouble, including Yar's Revenge, Pitfall, and Adventure.
It also features two wireless joysticks (not to mention two paddles for specific titles) that are a pitch-perfect ode to days gone by. Equally, the machine itself is as close to 1980's chic as you can get with a fake wooden panel on the front and plastic ridges. While it's not a perfect recreation, it definitely captures the essence of the original.
As for those games, the Atari Flashback improves on them with 720p HDMI output and options for saving, pausing, and rewinding the action. And let's be honest - getting 120 titles for your money is superb value.
Did you love the Commodore 64? Is there still a special place in your heart for 1980's games like Stormlord or Alleykat? This is the retro system for you. It's designed specifically to give C64 fans a warm, fuzzy feeling of nostalgia.
Although a few awesome games have been left behind, there's still enough here to make a purchase worthwhile. In fact, you end up with 64 games. Which is only right, we suppose.
In terms of how it looks, the C64 Mini is a beige 1980s keyboard complete with blocky keys and that multi-coloured logo. It also comes packaged with a joystick that couldn't be more '80s if it wore a seagull haircut.
The latter is a tidy little device with bold red buttons that are probably visible from the upper atmosphere, and they complete a system that is bold, brash, and a slice of gaming history. If you're after a solid 8-bit retro console, and you don't have a fond affection for ZX Spectrum, this is a good choice.
What are retro gaming consoles?
A retro gaming console is a modern device that can play old games on new TVs. These are usually mini replicas of old consoles and come with pre-installed games running on emulation. Some retro consoles are new, such as the Evercade series, that feature bespoke games and emulated titles from the 8, 16 and 32 bit eras.
Which retro gaming console is best?
Our list here has a general order to which we consider the best retro gaming console, and these devices can be judged technically on how good the video game emulation is along with build quality and other features. However, with the best retro gaming consoles you are also dealing with nostalgia, so your personal connection to an old system or games may supersede any technical merits.
Why are retro games so expensive?
As with any media created in the past old video game cartridges and discs are a scarcity. This means values are placed on old games out of production. With video games there is the added consideration of nostalgia and limited print runs of some old games – it means not all great games are worth a lot and some terrible games have since soared in value. If a game is sealed and unplayed, it's even more expensive.
Are retro games a good investment?
Yes. In recent years retro games have soared in value, partly because the age of gamers is increasing and nostalgia is a great influence, but also because the status of games and game design has increased. Some old games are seen as works of art, and as such are highly sought after. Retro games have a number of built in values too, including scarcity and the fact they can only be played on old hardware.
Are emulators legal?
Yes, it's legal to download and play an emulator but you can't share or sell the ROMS. Some mini retro game consoles, such as the PlayStation Classic and the Amiga A500 Mini allow users to install their own games via USB storage. The best retro game consoles make emulation easier and offer scale model recreations of the classic consoles.