Starting in the 2000s, the trend of retro gaming spawned the launch of several new consoles that usually imitate the styling of pre-2000s home consoles and only play games that released on those consoles. Some retro style consoles play the games of pre-2010s handheld consoles.
Most retro style consoles are dedicated consoles, but many have an SD Card slot that allows the user to add additional games, an internet connection that allows users to download games, or even support the cartridges of older video game systems such as the Nintendo Entertainment System. Take a look below for our list of top 10 best retro gaming consoles.
1. Nintendo Entertainment System
The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is an 8-bit third-generation home video game console produced, released, and marketed by Nintendo. It is a remodeled export version of the company’s Family Computer (FC) platform in Japan, commonly known as the Famicom, which was launched on July 15, 1983.
The NES was launched in a test market of New York City on October 18, 1985, followed by Los Angeles as a second test market in February 1986, followed by Chicago and San Francisco, then other top 12 U.S.A. markets, followed by a full launch across North America and some countries in Europe in September 1986, followed by Australia and other countries in Europe in 1987. Brazil saw only unlicensed clones until the official local release in 1993. In South Korea, it was packaged as the Hyundai Comboy and distributed by Hyundai Electronics which is now SK Hynix; the Comboy was released in 1989.
As the best-selling gaming console of its time, the NES helped revitalize the US video game industry following the North American video game crash of 1983. With the NES, Nintendo introduced a now-standard business model of licensing third-party developers, authorizing them to produce and distribute games for Nintendo’s platform. It had been preceded by Nintendo’s first home video game console, the Color TV-Game, and was succeeded by the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES).
2. Nintendo 64
The Nintendo 64 is a home video game console developed and marketed by Nintendo. Named for its 64-bit central processing unit, it was released in June 1996 in Japan, September 1996 in North America and Brazil, March 1997 in Europe and Australia, and September 1997 in France.
It was the last major home console to use the cartridge as its primary storage format until the Nintendo Switch in 2017. The Nintendo 64 was discontinued in mid-2002 following the launch of its successor, the GameCube, in 2001.
Codenamed “Project Reality,” the Nintendo 64 design was mostly complete by mid-1995, but its launch was delayed until 1996, when Time named it Machine of the Year. It was launched with three games: Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64 (worldwide) and Saikyō Habu Shōgi (exclusive to Japan).
As part of the fifth generation of gaming, the system competed primarily with the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn. The suggested retail price at its United States launch was US$199.99, and 32.93 million units were sold worldwide. In 2015, IGN named it the ninth-greatest video game console of all time.
3. Super Nintendo
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), also known as the Super NES or Super Nintendo, is a 16-bit home video game console developed by Nintendo that was released in 1990 in Japan and South Korea, 1991 in North America, 1992 in Europe and Australasia (Oceania), and 1993 in South America. In Japan, the system is called the Super Famicom (SFC).
In South Korea, it is known as the Super Comboy and was distributed by Hyundai Electronics. The system was released in Brazil on August 30, 1993, by Playtronic. Although each version is essentially the same, several forms of regional lockout prevent the different versions from being compatible with one another.
The SNES is Nintendo’s second programmable home console, following the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The console introduced advanced graphics and sound capabilities compared with other systems at the time. The system was designed to accommodate the ongoing development of a variety of enhancement chips integrated in game cartridges to be competitive into the next generation.
The SNES was a global success, becoming the best-selling console of the 16-bit era after launching relatively late and facing intense competition from Sega’s Genesis console in North America and Europe. Overlapping the NES’s 61.9 million unit sales, the SNES remained popular well into the 32-bit era, with 49.1 million units sold worldwide by the time it was discontinued in 2003. It continues to be popular among collectors and retro gamers, with new homebrew games and Nintendo’s emulated re-releases, such as on the Virtual Console and the Super NES Classic Edition.
4. PlayStation 1
The PlayStation (officially abbreviated as PS and commonly known as the PS1 or its codename PSX) is a home video game console developed and marketed by Sony Computer Entertainment. It was first released on 3 December 1994 in Japan, on 9 September 1995 in North America, on 29 September 1995 in Europe, and on 15 November 1995 in Australia, and was the first of the PlayStation lineup of video game consoles. As a fifth generation console, the PlayStation primarily competed with the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Saturn.
The PlayStation was the first “computer entertainment platform” to ship over 100 million units, which it had reached nine years after its initial launch. In July 2000, a redesigned, slim version called the PS one was released, replacing the original grey console and named appropriately to avoid confusion with its successor, the PlayStation 2.
5. Sega Genesis
The Sega Genesis, known as the Mega Drive in regions outside North America, is a 16-bit home video game console developed and sold by Sega. The Genesis is Sega’s third console and the successor to the Master System. Sega released it as the Mega Drive in Japan in 1988, and later as the Genesis in North America in 1989.
In 1990, it was distributed as the Mega Drive by Virgin Mastertronic in Europe, Ozisoft in Australasia, and Tec Toy in Brazil. In South Korea, it was distributed by Samsung as the Super Game Boy and later the Super Aladdin Boy.
Designed by an R&D team supervised by Hideki Sato and Masami Ishikawa, the Genesis was adapted from Sega’s System 16 arcade board, centered on a Motorola 68000 processor as the CPU, a Zilog Z80 as a sound controller, and a video system supporting hardware sprites, tiles, and scrolling. It plays a library of more than 900 games created by Sega and a wide array of third-party publishers delivered on ROM-based cartridges.
Several add-ons were released, including a Power Base Converter to play Master System games. It was released in several different versions, some created by third parties. Sega created two network services to support the Genesis: Sega Meganet and Sega Channel.
In Japan, the Mega Drive fared poorly against its two main competitors, Nintendo’s Super Famicom and NEC’s PC Engine, but it achieved considerable success in North America, Brazil, and Europe. Contributing to its success were its library of arcade game ports, the popularity of Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog series, several popular sports franchises, and aggressive youth marketing that positioned the system as the cool console for adolescents. The North American release in 1991 of the Super Famicom, re-branded as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, resulted in a fierce battle for market share in the United States and Europe that has often been termed as a “console war” by journalists and historians.
As this contest drew increasing attention to the video game industry among the general public, the Genesis and several of its highest-profile games attracted significant legal scrutiny on matters involving reverse engineering and video game violence. Controversy surrounding violent games such as Night Trap and Mortal Kombat led Sega to create the Videogame Rating Council, a predecessor to the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
30.75 million first-party Genesis units were sold worldwide. In addition, Tec Toy sold an estimated three million licensed variants in Brazil, Majesco projected it would sell 1.5 million licensed variants of the system in the United States, and much smaller numbers were sold by Samsung in South Korea. By the mid-2010s, licensed third-party Genesis re-releases were still being sold by AtGames in North America and Europe. Many games have been re-released in compilations or on online services such as the Nintendo Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and Steam. The Genesis was succeeded in 1994 by the Sega Saturn.
The Nintendo GameCube, commonly abbreviated as GameCube, is a home video game console released by Nintendo in Japan and North America in 2001 and Europe and Australia in 2002. The sixth-generation console is the successor to the Nintendo 64. It competed with Sony’s PlayStation 2, Microsoft’s Xbox, and Sega’s Dreamcast.
The GameCube is the first Nintendo console to use optical discs as its primary storage medium. The discs are in the miniDVD format and the system was not designed to play full-sized DVDs or audio CDs, unlike its competitors, and focused on gaming instead. The console supports limited online gaming for a small number of games via a GameCube broadband or modem adapter and can connect to a Game Boy Advance with a link cable, which allows players to access exclusive in-game features using the handheld as a second screen and controller.
The GameCube uses composite video cables to display games on the television; however, there are differences in the two GameCube models. The models produced before May 2004 also have the ability to use digital component AV cables and progressive scan and a second serial port. The nameplate on the top of the console with the words “Nintendo GameCube” can be removed.
This model is known as DOL-001. All those features were removed in GameCube consoles produced between 2004-2007; the later model was known as DOL-101. The newer model has firmware that disables Action Replay cheats and cheat codes and the disc-reading laser was improved in many ways, though it is not as durable. The newer model came with a 48-watt AC adapter to power the console, while the original is 46 watts.
Reception of the GameCube at the time was generally positive. The console was praised for its controller, extensive software library and high-quality games, but was criticized for its exterior design and lack of features. Nintendo sold 21.74 million GameCube units worldwide before the console was discontinued in 2007. Its successor, the seventh-generation Wii (some models of which have backward compatibility with most GameCube software), was released in November 2006.
7. PlayStation 2
The PlayStation 2, officially abbreviated as PS2, is a home video game console developed and marketed by Sony Computer Entertainment. It was first released in Japan on March 4, 2000, in North America on October 26, 2000, and in Europe and Australia in November 2000, and is the successor to the PlayStation, as well as the second video game console in the PlayStation brand. As a sixth-generation console, the PS2 competed with Sega’s Dreamcast, Nintendo’s GameCube, and Microsoft’s Xbox.
Announced in 1999, the PS2 offered backwards compatibility for its predecessor’s DualShock controller, as well as its games. The PS2 is the best-selling video game console of all time, having sold 159 million units estimated by IGN, with 150 million confirmed by Sony in 2011.
Over 3,800 game titles have been released for the PS2 since launch, with over 1.5 billion copies sold. Sony later manufactured several smaller, lighter revisions of the console known as Slimline models in 2004. In 2006, Sony announced and launched its successor, the PlayStation 3.
Even with the release of its successor, the PS2 remained popular well into the seventh generation, and continued to be produced until January 4, 2013, when Sony finally announced it had been discontinued after twelve years of production – one of the longest lifespans of a video game console. Despite the announcement, new games for the console continued to be produced until the end of 2013, including Final Fantasy XI: Seekers of Adoulin for Japan, FIFA 13 for North America, and Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 for Europe. Repair services for the system in Japan ended on September 7, 2018.
8. Atari 2600
The Atari 2600, originally branded as the Atari Video Computer System or Atari VCS for short until November 1982, is a home video game console from Atari, Inc. Released on September 11, 1977, it is credited with popularizing the use of microprocessor-based hardware and games stored on ROM cartridges (a format first used with the Fairchild Channel F in 1976) instead of dedicated hardware with games physically built into the unit. The 2600 was bundled with two joystick controllers, a conjoined pair of paddle controllers, and a game cartridge: initially Combat, and later Pac-Man.
The Atari VCS launched with nine simple, low-resolution games in 2 KiB cartridges. The system found its killer app with its version of Taito’s Space Invaders in 1980 and became widely successful, leading to the creation of Activision and other third-party game developers as well as competition from home console manufacturers Mattel and Coleco.
By the end of its primary lifecycle in 1983–84, games for the 2600 were using more than four times the ROM of the launch titles with significantly more advanced visuals and gameplay than the system was designed for, such as Pitfall! and its scrolling sequel Pitfall II: Lost Caverns.
Atari invested heavily in two games for the 2600, Pac-Man and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, that became commercial failures and contributed to the video game crash of 1983. The 2600 diminished as the industry recovered as led by Nintendo, and Warner sold off the home console division of Atari to Commodore CEO Jack Tramiel. In 1986, the new Atari Corporation under Tramiel released a lower-cost version of the 2600 and the backwards-compatible Atari 7800. Atari finally ended production of the Atari 2600 on January 1, 1992. Across the system’s lifetime, an estimated 30 million units were sold.
9. Game Boy Advance
The Game Boy Advance, commonly abbreviated as GBA, is a 32-bit handheld video game console developed, manufactured and marketed by Nintendo as the successor to the Game Boy Color. It was released in Japan on March 21, 2001, in North America on June 11, 2001, in Australia and Europe on June 22, 2001, and in mainland China on June 8, 2004 as iQue Game Boy Advance.
The GBA was part of the sixth generation. The original model did not have an illuminated screen; Nintendo addressed that with the release of a redesigned model with a frontlit screen, the Game Boy Advance SP, in 2003. Another redesign, the Game Boy Micro, was released in 2005.
As of June 30, 2010, the Game Boy Advance series has sold 81.51 million units worldwide. Its successor, the Nintendo DS, was released in November 2004 and is also compatible with Game Boy Advance software.
10. Game Boy
The Game Boy is an 8-bit handheld game console developed and manufactured by Nintendo. The first handheld in the Game Boy family, it was first released in Japan on April 21, 1989, then North America, three months later, and lastly in Europe, nearly a year after. It was designed by the same team that developed the Game & Watch and several Nintendo Entertainment System games: Satoru Okada, Gunpei Yokoi, and Nintendo Research & Development 1.
Nintendo’s second handheld game console, the Game Boy combines features from both the NES home system and Game & Watch hardware. The console features a dull green dot-matrix screen with adjustable contrast dial, five control buttons (a directional pad, two game buttons, and start and select), a single speaker with adjustable volume dial, and, like its rivals, uses cartridges as physical media for games.
The color scheme is made from two tones of grey with accents of black, blue, and dark magenta. All the corners of the portrait-oriented rectangular unit are softly rounded, save for the bottom right, which is curved. At launch, it was sold either as a standalone unit, or bundled with one of several games: Super Mario Land or Tetris among them. Several accessories were also developed, including a carrying pouch and printer.
Despite being technically inferior to its fourth-generation competitors (Sega’s Game Gear, Atari’s Lynx, and NEC’s TurboExpress), the Game Boy received praise for its battery life and durability in its construction. It quickly outsold the competition, selling one million units in the United States within a few weeks. The Game Boy and its successor, the Game Boy Color, have sold an estimated 118 million units worldwide.
It is one of the most recognizable devices from the 1980s, becoming a cultural icon in the years following its release. Several redesigns were released during the console’s lifetime, including the Game Boy Pocket(1996) and the Game Boy Light (1998; Japan only). Production of the Game Boy continued into the early 2000s, and eventually stopped after release of its successor, the Game Boy Advance, in 2001.