The best retro gaming consoles give new players a chance to experience a slice of history, and to play some of the foundational games whose legacies lead to the smash hits of the modern day. These are modern consoles that have been designed for playing retro games, rather than historical consoles.
While the best gaming consoles of our time give us several ways to appreciate classic games (you’ll see a lot of them on our Game Pass games list), retro consoles like the ones in this list go to greater lengths to create an experience that’s closer to what it would have been like to play older games when they were originally released, rather than just putting old games on new consoles. They’re must-buys for collectors and anyone with an interest in gaming history.
The best retro gaming consoles in 2023 are:
- Super NES Classic Edition – best overall
- Evercade VS – best for cartridge collectors
- Sega Mega Drive Mini – best for Sega fans
- Sony PlayStation Classic Console – best for Sony fans
- Capcom Home Arcade – best for arcade lovers
- NES Mini Classic – most retro experience
- Steam Deck – most versatile option
1. Super NES Classic Edition
The best retro games console.
Super NES Classic Edition specs:
- Great selection of 21 games
- Two bundled controllers for multiplayer
- Added save states
- Certain iconic games missing
- Save states could be better implemented
The SNES Mini Classic provides simple plug-and-play fun. It comes with two controllers for you and a friend to enjoy a selection 0f 21 classic SNES games and save states add modern accessibility and a swanky new central menu. It’s a great little console, even if the save states have been a bit awkwardly implemented.
The games available include Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country, which are just as fun and accessible now as they were in the ‘90s. JRPGs like EarthBound and Final Fantasy VI give you hours and hours of solo gameplay, while if you want to play with friends or family, there’s Super Mario Kart, Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, and Contra III: The Alien Wars.
As a Donkey Kong fan, I was also disappointed by the lack of Donkey Kong Country 2 – it’s a beloved game that’s generally considered as one of the greatest platformers of all time. Why was it left out? I’d swap Kirby’s Dream Course for it and I like Kirby’s Dream Course. Chrono Trigger is another classic that’s conspicuous by its absence – and since Square was on board for other games, it doesn’t seem like it should have been a problem. Still, when you look at what is there (including the previously unreleased Star Fox 2), it’s very hard to complain – but very easy to praise.
Read our Super NES Classic Edition review.
2. Sega Genesis Mini
The best retro console for Sega fans.
Sega Genesis Mini specs:
|Pre-loaded games||40 (SGM1), 53 (SGM2)|
|Bundled controllers||1 or 2|
|Screen toggle||4:3, 16:9|
|Emulator||M2 emulation software|
- Huge games library
- Save states
- Adjustable presentation
- Sometimes only bundled with one controller
- Filters could be better
The Sega Genesis Mini is another plug-and-play retro console with a truly expansive selection of games and added display settings. There are actually two Sega Genesis Mini consoles (with the second one called the Sega Genesis Mini 2) which differ in the amount of games they offer.
The Sega Genesis Mini includes classics like Sonic the Hedgehog (1 and 2, Toejam & Earl, Castlevania: Bloodlines, Street Fighter 2, and Castle of Illusion, while the Mini 2 offers Bonanza Bros., Sonic CD, Shin Megami Tensei, and Ristar.
You might wonder why this is positioned beneath the Super NES Classic Edition when it has more games and more features. There’s definitely an argument for the Sega Genesis Mini taking the top spot, but I think the SNES library of games has aged better and is more appealing to modern gamers: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario RPG, and Kirby Super Star have had a much stronger legacy than the likes of Eternal Champion, Road Rash II, and Thunder Force III, for example. The IPs just haven’t had the same staying power.
If you’re a lifelong Sega fan, that’s not going to make a difference. For many gamers, this will be a chance to rediscover the games of their childhood and uncover all those classics they always wanted to try. Sega deserves a lot of respect for the effort that’s gone into this fantastic miniature console.
3. Evercade VS
The best retro console for cartridge collectors.
Evercade VS specs:
|CPU||Quad Core 1.5 GHz|
|Connectivity||HDMI, WiFi, third-party controllers (via USB)|
- Perfect for those who want to collect cartridges
- Full 1080p output
- Third-party controller support
- No online multiplayer
- Evercade VS official controllers aren’t great
Introduced in late 2021, the Evercade VS brings the classic feeling of slotting in an old-style cartridge into an NES-inspired console. Blaze Entertainment, the creators behind the Evercade consoles has been spearheading bringing retro games into contemporary devices for a few years now, and the hard work is shown in the Evercade VS.
Unlike many of the other consoles on our list, you need to purchase and insert Evercade cartridges into the console, offering that retro feel. Even the cartridge slot, which is covered by a thin flap, is inspired by the NES. Better yet, many of the existing Evercade cartridges work on the VS, except for Namco Museum Collection 1 & 2. The VS also delivers a great 1080p display, enhancing classic games into a modern resolution, but the console also offers various aspect ratios and screen options for you to use.
However, not everything is perfect here. The overall quality of the Evercade VS doesn’t extend to the included controllers, which have a poor D-pad, as well as feeling light and cheaply made. Fortunately, you can use third-party controllers via a USB cable or a USB wireless dongle. If you can get past the controllers or use a different one entirely, the Evercade VS is a solid console to add to your setup.
4. PlayStation Classic
The best retro games console for Sony fans.
PlayStation Classic specs:
- Selection of 20 games to play
- Bundled with two controllers
- Several iconic games missing
- No analog stick on controllers
If the PS1 was the console of your childhood, you’re going to get a kick out of the PlayStation Classic, which is a plug-and-play library of 20 games. One of the most appealing parts of the collection is the addition of Final Fantasy VII, which remains a stone-cold classic that’s still worth playing even after the release of the remake. On top of that, there’s also Metal Gear Solid, the game that put Metal Gear on the map, and it’s filled to the brim with charm and ideas that, at the time, were revolutionary.
However, while there’s no denying that there are some good games on this console, there are quite a lot of them that are absent. For example, none of the Spyro or Crash Bandicoot games are included. That’d be like a collection of classic Nintendo games that missed out on Mario and Zelda. There are also no Tony Hawks games, and even Gran Turismo, the best-selling game to be released on PS1, is absent. It would have been cool if Final Fantasy VII could have been joined by its sibling games, VII and IX as well.
As with the Super NES Classic Edition, the PS1 comes bundled with two controllers, which is a nice touch that enables you to enjoy classic multiplayer modes. You do however get the very first PS1 controller, rather than the DualShock model from later in its life. The dual sticks make a big difference to games and their absence is frustrating. If you’re a diehard fan, you’ll be able to overlook this.
5. NES Classic Mini
The most retro gaming console experience.
Super NES Classic Edition specs:
- Decent library of 30 games
- Added save state functionality
- Bundled with just one controller
- Some games haven’t aged so well
If you’re a child of the 80s you’ll be delighted by the NES Classic Edition, which is a plug-and-play console with 30 pre-loaded titles. Some of the games in this collection are showing their ages, and younger gamers may find them a little inaccessible, but anybody with a fondness for vintage games will have a lot of fun.
However, even those who aren’t so acclimatized to older games should be able to enjoy the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Kirby’s Adventure. These games were late in the console’s life and have aged spectacularly. It also includes the timeless classics Pac-Man and Dr. Mario – while they might be smaller experiences than some of the others in the collection, they’re still super fun and just as addictive now as they were back then. Meanwhile, those with an acquired taste may enjoy The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, the original Super Maro Bros., and many other classics.
It’s also worth noting that, as much as it’s pretty cool that there are 30 games in this collection, they’re not all full-sized adventures. Games like Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Balloon Fight, and Excitebike all offer much smaller, arcade-like experiences and you aren’t the kind of things you can sit down and play for hours – and I say that as somebody who likes these games. There are probably more hours of gameplay in the 21 games in the Super NES Classic Edition, but this is still worth getting as a retro curiosity.
6. Steam Deck
The most versatile retro games console.
Steam Deck specs:
|CPU||AMD Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz (up to 448 GFlops FP32)|
|GPU||AMD RDNA 2 CUs, 1.0-1.6GHz (up to 1.6 TFlops FP32)|
|Display||7-inch 1280×800 60Hz IPS LCD (400 nits typical brightness)|
|Battery||40Whr battery (2-8 hours of gameplay)|
|Memory||16 GB LPDDR5 on-board RAM|
|Storage||64 GB eMMC / 256 GB NVMe SSD / 512 GB high-speed NVMe SSD|
- Capacity to play practically anything
- Powerful handheld gaming PC
- Can be played docked or handheld
- Not specifically designed for retro gaming
The Steam Deck, while not designed with retro gaming in mind, is nonetheless a fantastic piece of hardware that gives you a gaming PC to use on the go. The selection of retro games available to purchase on Steam is much larger than the selection of games on all of the other consoles on this list put together – but there are notable exceptions (like Nintendo games) that will never be available on the platform via legitimate means.
Steam offers a huge selection of retro games from the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, Fall Out, Doom, Castlevania, Mega Man, and many other beloved franchises. Alongside games available in their original forms, you’ve also got enhanced remakes, and modern-day indie games (like Blossom Tales, Shovel Knight, and Yooka-Laylee) specifically designed to capture the feeling of retro games in a brand-new way.
That’s just what you can buy too. The Steam Deck can emulate practically any retro console, giving you the chance to have all your favorite classics, from all your favorite consoles, together in one place. Of course, we can’t endorse downloading ROMs of games you don’t own, but it is perfectly legal to put ROMs of games you already have onto your Steam Deck, giving you a chance to play your expansive retro games collection on the go, and without having to set up aging hardware every time. It may not be the most authentic experience, but it’s a great way to play loads of stuff on a single platform.
How we chose the best retro gaming consoles
The selections for this list were made based on extensive hands-on experience, and a life-long expertise in the field of retro gaming. I understand that retro gaming fans are going to want different things – for some gamers, the most important thing of all is finding something that offers a truly authentic experience. For other games, it’s about whichever platform has the most games on it, without much concern about how closely the experiences match the original.
Of course, there’s also the fact that everyone has a slightly different taste in retro games. It was important to me to cover Nintendo, Sega, and Sony on this list to ensure that gamers of all different backgrounds could find something that reflects their interests. While it is undeniable that some games have continued to be relevant, while others have faded to obscurity (I don’t see any triple-A continuations to the Intelligent Qube series), for most gamers, the biggest deciding factor is going to be which games they feel the most fondness for.
I also think that save states is an absolute must. Not everyone will agree, but if I’m looking for a way to play retro games, especially ones from the 80s, I don’t want to have to deal with games that don’t save and have to be completed in a single sitting. That’s fun (and possible) when you’re a child, but not so much when you’re a working adult (even if your job is to write about games).
If you want to get into retro gaming for the first time, the Super NES Classic Edition gets the top recommendation for featuring the most recognizable characters and a selection of games that are still fun even by modern standards, but I totally appreciate that other gamers will feel more strongly for other consoles on this list. Read our how we test page to find out more about how we put lists like this together, and if you have any other questions, read the FAQs below.
What gaming consoles are retro?
There’s no solid definition of what makes a console retro, but in this instance, we’ve decided to focus on modern pieces of hardware that you can use to access libraries of classic games. Though there is a lot of value to be had in collecting historic consoles, consoles like the ones in this list present a much easier way for newer players to experience the games of ages past.
Are retro gaming consoles legal?
Yes. Every console on this list is legal, and it’s always going to be legal to track down original pieces of hardware too. It’s even legal to mod these consoles and use them to play other games that aren’t included in the official collections – but that comes with a huge caveat. It’s not legal to download and play ROMs of games you downloaded off the internet, but it is legal to emulate and play ROMs of classic games that you already own.
Are retro consoles worth it?
Everybody is going to have a different answer to this question, but for my money: absolutely. In the same way that people continue to enjoy classic novels and movies from long ago, so too is there a lot of value to be had in playing vintage video games. It can be fascinating to see the seeds from which the modern classics grew, and many of these games continue to be fun in their own right.
What is the best console for retro gaming?
The best console for the retro feel is the Super NES Classic, which delivers some superb pack-in titles and iconic controllers without you needing to track down and purchase an expensive retro console and games.
However, for those who don’t mind emulation, the Steam Deck allows you to play hundreds of retro games, from various generations all on one platform. That’s impressive alone, as well as the fact that Valve’s premium handheld also offers hundreds of triple-A games too.
For more recommendations, read our list of the best games on consoles. It’s filled with all the best modern classics, which future gamers will be clamoring to play on the next generation of retro consoles.