Through my years of working within the gaming industry, being born in the 90’s and exploring hundreds of the world’s best retro handhelds, it’s fair to say that I’ve played on a lot of consoles, but having to list the best retro games consoles one by one, is one of the hardest things I’ve had to produce for Retro Dodo.
In this list i am going to take you through a personal time capsule of my personal favourites, and although it does feature “retro” games consoles, I always want to feature newer consoles and handhelds that can emulation your retro games flawlessly.
This for a number of reasons, firstly, getting hold of retro consoles that work can be an incredibly hard and expensive thing to do, because let’s face it, not a lot of us can afford over $150 on a SNES.
Secondly, it’s not just the consoles that are expensive, it’s the games too! The demand for retro games are ever increasing, not only because the demand is higher than ever, but because many of these games are being used in collections and sold on for profit, meaning they’re nothing but display pieces.
And finally, exploring new devices that make playing retro games affordable and accessible to the world allows us to do our part in preserving video games instead of these large corporate companies removing games from our library and then forcing new remakes down our throat for profit.
So, I hope this article shows you some of my personal favourites from the last 50 years and gives you an insight into some newer consoles that you can help you explore the world of emulation without destroying your savings.
Table of Contents
You’re probably wondering why I have listed the Mega Drive instead of the Genesis, and that’s because I am from the UK, and it was the first home console I ever owned (I was a SEGA kid growing up).
The SEGA Mega Drive sold over 45 million units worldwide (including the Genesis), and it directly competed with Nintendo’s flagship console which was the SNES at the time.
SEGA’s Mega Drive lineup was incredible featuring popular games such as Sonic The Hedgehog, Earthworm Jim and Ecco The Dolphin. It had far chunkier controllers compared to its competitors making it even more comfortable for gamers to play on.
Now many years on SEGA are still hanging onto the video game market, especially with Sonic The Hedgehog and the release of its movies, even if they have no games consoles or arcades anymore.
But how much is a Mega Drive worth these days? Approximately $150, and that’s without games! Expensive I know, but playing the best SEGA Mega Drive games in its natural form is mandatory for SEGA enthusiasts.
They did also release a SEGA Genesis Mini and a SEGA Mega Drive Mini back in 2019, which could be a cheaper approach for those wanting an authentic experience.
Huh, what’s that? I hear you ask. Well, I would like to introduce to you the RG351V, a handheld emulator designed to feel like the modern day Gameboy, if it actually existed…
The RG351V was designed by a Chinese company called ANBERNIC, they are renowned for building incredible handheld emulators, that pack a lot of power, so much power in-fact that the RG351V here can play all consoles up to and including the best Playstation 1 games.
It has a 1.5GHZ Quad-Core processor build in, alongside a simple user interface already pre-loaded with lots of old classic games from your childhood.
It features four shoulder buttons, a crispy 3.5″ IPS display, an analogue stick and enough memory to save your games while you’re on the go.
Handheld emulators may be new to you, but over the last few years they have been exploding in popularity, for good reason! The “correct” way to play retro games is becoming more and more expensive by the day, so these handhelds make it easy to access at an affordable price, even if does seem like the “wrong” way.
You can even load up your own ROMs, from games you already own, or you can even install the best Pokemon fan games (via ROMs) if that’s your jam? The possibilities are endless and this is one of my personal favourite “vertical” handheld emulators, and it costs under $100.
8. Nintendo Entertainment System
It wouldn’t be a best retro games consoles list without the Nintendo Entertainment System, it’s one of the most popular retro consoles of all time selling over 61 million units worldwide (including the famicom) and featured some of the the world’s most loved video game characters.
After the video game crash in 1983 the NES took gaming to a whole other level, it took the controls from the infamous Game & Watch, with cartridges to collect and two controller ports to allow for gaming with friends, which helped moving gaming into a couch co-op resolution for many years.
Many say this was the console that moved Nintendo into higher places, eventually taking on SEGA and Microsoft and providing Nintendo fans with impressive home consoles for the family.
But what made the NES great was the impressive library of video games. From platformers, to puzzle games, to games that took you to space. Even now, we may say the graphics look terrible, but back in the day it was an incredible evolution and it blew everyones minds, and the best NES games helped with that.
Many gamers loved it, so much so that Nintendo released a NES Classic Edition in 2016 to allow those that never played it to experience it on HD TV’s.
It is truly, one of the best retro games consoles of all time.
7. Nintendo 64
The Nintendo 64 was launched in 1996 and sold over 33,000,000 units worldwide, making it one of the most popular home consoles Nintendo has ever made.
The Nintendo 64 took couch gaming to the next level, with four controller ports, a library of incredible games and “next gen” graphics which completely immersed gamers as soon as they touched the oddly designed controller.
The Nintendo 64 put multiplayer at its forefront, and this is why many gamers still love the N64 because it brings back memories of playing with friends and family.
Many of the best N64 games still go on to receive awards many years on, for example Mario Kart 64 was deemed on of the best racing games of all time, and the console created many incredible experiences with Nintendo characters such as Donkey Kong, Kirby and more.
I would go as far as saying that the Nintendo 64 was one of the most impactful consoles of all times. It shaped story driven games and showed the world how popular multiplayer games can be, and for that reason it has to be on this best retro games console list.
Growing up I was a SEGA kid, and I remember very vividly owning a Dreamcast and exploring the many game that it had to offer, more specifically falling in love with Sonic The Hedgehog and using the VMU as an addition to the games.
The Dreamcast was SEGA’s attack at the Playstation 1 and the Nintendo 64. It was release in 1998 and sold over 9,000,000 units, which may not sound like a lot, but it’s massive numbers for SEGA, but as we all know it was SEGA’s last ever home console.
The Dreamcast took SEGA to incredible heights, with some of the best Dreamcast games solidifying incredible character relationships alongside awesome visuals.
Much like the N64 the Dreamcast wanted to be a home console for family and friends, featuring four controller ports and the ability to go online.
Putting it so high on this list is a personal opinion, as it somewhat shaped my childhood, I remember playing Sonic Adventure, Crazy Taxi, Shenmue and more on this thing, and even though some deem it as a failure, I think it was SEGA’s best console.
5. AYN Odin
The AYN Odin is an android based handheld games console, and can emulate a wide number of consoles up to and including the best Gamecube games. Typically this kind of power would only be possible in high-end gaming PC’s, but the AYN team have crafted an impressive handheld to make playing the best retro games on the go a reality.
This handheld was successfully backed on Indiegogo in 2022, it smashed its goal and received over $2,500,000 in backing, making it one of the most successful video game console launches on Indiegogo for many years.
What made the handheld so successful is the fact that it cost under $200, making it one of the most powerful “mid-range” handhelds on the market. Gamecube has always been hard to emulate, but this allows you to do that on the go, as well as a handful of the best PS2 games too!
For $200 that is impressive. But it doesn’t stop there, the build quality is also impressive, with LED lights across the handheld to make it feel more modern, and high quality buttons/triggers to immerse you in the gaming experience.
This is one of our favourite handhelds of the year, and is by far one of the best retro consoles out there for those that want a modern way of playing your games on the go through emulation.
4. Playstation 2
I remember the Playstation 2 being my first glimpse into online multiplayer. My father saved up for a dongle (which wasn’t cheap back then) and came back from work with Tony Hawk’s Underground for me.
I was overwhelmed and after many hours of setting up, I managed to get online, skating with other kids from around the world, it felt incredible, and it actually felt like magic.
In my personal opinion the PS2 is one of the greatest retro games consoles of all time because of this exact reason and its aggressive take on “next gen” graphics that made it feel like you were literally in the game.
Sony really went all out on the Playstation 2, and some would say it was the moment Sony over took Nintendo and Microsoft in terms of bang for your buck video game consoles.
It had a huge lineup of games to choose from, for example Ratchet And Clank, God of War, Metal Gear Solid and Burnout, these games alone made the console highly sought after.
Sony launched the PS2 in 2000 and sold over 155,000,000 units worldwide making it one of the best selling consoles of all time. That has to say something, and it does, it revolutionised the gaming industry forever and make single player and multiplayer games available to the masses.
3. Analogue Pocket
The Analogue Pocket has been teased for many years, but finally towards the tail end of December is was released to the first handful of people that pre-ordered it back in 1992… sorry 2019.
The Analogue Pocket is a brand new handheld that resembles the original Gameboy due to the fact that its biggest selling point is the fact that it can play your original Gameboy cartridges, both original, Color and the best Gameboy Advance games.
It uses FPGA technology, which put simply is basically tech that replicates the original hardware as much as possible, it is technically a form of emulation but many say it isn’t, this allows the Analogue Pocket to play these cartridges so perfectly that it feels like you’re playing on a buffed up Gameboy, and that’s exactly what it is.
It features a stunning, super bright 3.5″ display that can change themes allowing you to keep the old nostalgic dot matrix green screen, or pixel perfect dimensions or even the upscaled, modern crisp version which we highly reccomend.
The battery life matched with the incredible build quality makes it an outstanding handheld for Gameboy enthusiasts, but it doesn’t end there.
Analogue has also added the possibility of inserting adapters into the cartridge slot opening up other cartridges from handhelds such as the Neo Geo Pocket and the Game Gear, making the device a multi-games console that uses retro cartridges to play games.
It’s hands down on of the best retro games consoles of all time, and this is just the start of what we will see from companies in terms of FPGA technology.
The Xbox in my personal opinion was under appreciated. It did many things right and it took gaming seriously, bringing in incredible competition within the industry that sparked cheaper choices for customers and welcomed the world to a whole new choice of incredible games.
With Microsoft jumping on-board the video game console train we would have a very boring selection of games, quite simply because competition causes creativity and affordability.
The Microsoft Xbox was launched in 2001 and sold over 24,000,000 units during its time. Like many consoles in the early 2000’s it dabbled on multiplayer games alongside the push for online gaming and a paid monthly membership to do so.
Microsoft launched the Xbox with some mighty titles for example, they kicked off with the only and only Master Chief from Halo, Fable and Project Gotham Racing. Some of the best original Xbox games are still going strong to this day, with Halo being one of the most popular gaming franchises of all time.
For me, moving from the Playstation 1 to the original Xbox it felt as if the tables had turned, it felt like Sony was left in the dust. This console felt as if it put gamers first and took gaming incredibly seriously, and it made playing online incredibly fluid, like it was normal.
I still have my original Xbox to this day, and I love the way it was designed, it’s just a great overall console that never failed to amaze me. Microsoft entered the arena with a round one knockout.
1. Nintendo Gameboy
Hands down, the best retro games console of all time has to be the Gameboy. I’m so in love with the Gameboy that I had to list them all as the top spot in this article, each one deserves the golden medal as they have single handedly changed gaming forever.
Gameboys opened gaming to millions of consumers across the globe, and each iteration added more and more, making gamers wanting to upgrade every few years.
Gameboy cartridges felt like trading cards, collecting the ones you liked and trading the ones you didn’t and the life span of them lasted many years, allowing you to play them on old and new hardware, taking your beloved save files with you through many generations.
It was the console that change school playgrounds, it was the console that got kids outside, and it was the console that made them understand the benefits and disadvantages of trading a Charizard for a Weedle.
Nintendo sold over 200,000,000 Gameboys (all generations), allowing anyone to game anywhere they wanted. The games that came with it were also some of the best games ever, for example the Pokemon franchise boomed with this device, and so did Mario, it also opened up gaming development to lots of new people allowing more gaming companies to open and create awesome new games.
The choice, the gaming collection and the build quality of these devices is what made this the greats video games console of all time. The Gameboy still inspires many new consoles to this day, and many gamers are still playing on theres to get that nostalgic thrill. Oh, and there’s also new games being released for the Gameboy to this day!
It truly is the best games console ever.
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A 29 year old fella that’s had a Gameboy addiction ever since he was a child. Brandon is the founder of RetroDodo and created a YouTube channel with 240,000 subscribers dedicated to retro gaming products. He now wants to create the No.1 site to showcase the latest retro products from around the globe.