We purchased the The 6 Best Retro and Classic Consoles so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full products reviews.
Retro console reissues aren’t exactly a new phenomenon. Atari and other manufacturers began capitalizing on CPU technology in the early 2000s and developing plug-and-play versions of their classic consoles. However, beginning around 2016, when Nintendo released a limited edition of their NES classic system, there was an explosion of “classics” released in the years that followed.
All-in-one options for people who want to relive their glory days of gaming include the Sega Genesis, which is currently available at B&H, and the supremely affordable PlayStation Classic, which is currently available at GameStop. Because these systems straddle the line between functionality and collectability, you’ll need to consider how much money you want to spend on them. The less expensive consoles do have their share of bugs, but the more expensive consoles are usually more expensive due to an artificial scarcity of supply. Continue reading for a list of the best retro releases available right now.
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Best Overall: Nintendo Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros.
Nintendo’s first handheld game system was the Game & Watch (Check latest price on Amazon), which was released in the 1980s. And, of course, when Super Mario turned 35 in 2020, Nintendo wanted to commemorate the occasion in a variety of ways. The full Mario Bros. original adventure is now displayed on a larger LCD that shows the game in bright, vibrant detail on the Nintendo Game & Watch re-release. Nintendo has even included the ultra-squishy rubbery A/B buttons and the plastic-y d-pad in the enclosure, which is so similar to the original.
Nintendo has also included the second Mario Bros. game (dubbed “The Lost Levels”) as well as a novelty Mario Juggling game because the modernized version of the classic handheld system has more power and storage. To pay homage to the classic Mario aesthetic, there is a clock mode that cycles through 35 classic animations. While the system performs admirably, the small console and authentic-to-the-original buttons don’t make for a particularly pleasurable gaming experience. But that isn’t the point of this discussion. This is a one-of-a-kind item that’s meant to be as much a part of your gaming collection as it is a working device. So, while the price feels a bit high for the functionality, it might be worth it for the true Mario fans out there.
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Best SNES: Nintendo SNES Classic Mini
Despite the fact that it was not Nintendo’s first console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System is one of the company’s most popular. While the original NES broke new ground, the SNES redefined it with its graphics and gameplay. The SNES Classic Mini (Check latest price on Amazon) is a welcome introduction because it brings all of the system’s fond memories in a much smaller package. Plus, because 21 classic games are preloaded onto the hard drive, you can play many of your favorites without having to dig through our attic for your bulky cartridges.
The majority of the classic games are included, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II (arguably the best in the series). Super Mario World, Zelda: A Link to the Past, and the first Star Fox are among the first-party titles available. Technically, there are only 20 original games because Nintendo included Star Fox 2 — a never-released sequel to the classic space flight adventure. The system comes with two traditional wired controllers and uses HDMI to connect to your TV.
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Best Genesis: SEGA Genesis Mini
With a rerelease of arguably their most successful console of all time, Sega got in on the miniaturized classic console trend. Because of first-party characters like Sonic the Hedgehog and Ecco the Dolphin, the Sega Genesis was once the only real viable competitor to Nintendo’s success. Those two classic games come pre-installed on the Genesis Mini (Check latest price on Amazon). Classics like Contra, Gunstar Heroes, Earthworm Jim, and Streets of Rage 2 are among the forty games included. Sega has included two USB-connected controllers with the well-known 3-button Sega controls to support the library’s two-player options.
While we appreciate Sega’s efforts with the game selection interface, it can be a bit glitchy at times. Even though it isn’t that different from the original console, the plastic-y build lacks a bit in the premium category, which is a problem considering the system will set you back almost $100. However, for Sega fans, this is a fair price given the collectability.
Best NES: Nintendo NES Classic Edition
The classic game companies really hit on something special when the classic consoles started coming out every few months in the mid-2010s. The plug-and-play consoles, which capitalized on older generations’ nostalgia, flew off the shelves so quickly that they became rare collectibles in and of themselves. One major disadvantage is that these devices’ prices are still astronomically high. Because it has to be special ordered from backordered stock, mostly from overseas, the NES Classic (Check latest price on Amazon) can be had for around $200 on sites like Amazon, just like the SNES Classic.
If you can stomach the price and the original NES experience is important to you, this classic console will provide you with everything you need. All of the greatest hits are included, including the original Super Mario Bros, the arcade classic Donkey Kong, the first Legend of Zelda, PAC-MAN, Final Fantasy, Mega Man, and more. In other words, you won’t be lacking in this department, which is good because the device’s locked hard drive prevents you from adding additional ROMs without hacking it. For each game, you can save up to four game saves, but the system only comes with one controller.
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Best C64: Retrogames C64 Mini
While most retro consoles emulate the top dogs in console history, there is also a Commodore 64 option for the world’s Commodore 64 fans. The THEC64 package (Check latest price on Amazon) includes a cute miniaturized version of the keyboard PC’s namesake, as well as a full-sized version of the original joystick. Indeed, the hardware included with this pack is the most well-thought-out and satisfying version of the console re-release aesthetic yet. The hardware capabilities are also quite impressive, allowing for 720p output via HDMI cable as well as the use of the system as a computer by plugging in an external keyboard via USB.
There are 64 titles included, which is a nice nod to the 64KB of RAM, but while that number is great to see, it does feel like Retrogames has stretched to include a large number of titles rather than focusing on quality. Obviously, this will depend on your personal gaming preferences, but Impossible Mission, Speedball, and Street Sports Baseball are a few of our favorites. The whole thing costs around $40 on Amazon most of the time, which is a good deal if you’re a true Commodore fan.
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Best Atari: Atari Flashback 8 Gold
You almost certainly don’t need us to tell you that the Atari 2600 is a trailblazing system with a satisfying pool of game titles to choose from if you’re a gaming fan. For fans of the groundbreaking Atari Flashback 8 system, the Atari Flashback 8 Gold (Check latest price on Amazon)is an impressive package. The hard drive contains 120 games, which is significantly more than other retro consoles, owing to the lower processing power required by first-generation Atari games. Missile Command, Asteroids, Centipede, and Frogger are just a few of the classic games available.
The smaller version of the console features the same visual and physical elements that made the console famous, such as the massive faceplate buttons and wood paneling strips. Two Atari joysticks with the classic, clicky red button are included. That aspect is great for the nostalgia factor, but the gaming experience isn’t completely modern due to the stiff and unresponsive joysticks. The price is a little high at around $75, but given the number of titles and the attention to detail in the design, it may be acceptable for gamers who remember the good old days.
The Final Word
The Game & Watch novelty handheld that Nintendo released for Mario’s 35th anniversary is perhaps the most interesting take on the modernized retro console. It’s not the most comfortable game to play (the controls are tiny), but it’s a nice collectible. The SNES Classic, on the other hand, is a fully featured (and much more expensive) system that includes multiple controllers and a slew of the generation’s best games. However, as with most things in gaming, this is a completely subjective decision, and your choice will most likely be based on how nostalgic you are for one game manufacturer over another.