We might be in the middle of a couple of new generations of consoles from the giants that are Sony and Microsoft, while Nintendo’s Switch plugs away as a quiet favourite, but the last couple of years have seen another parallel trend startup.
Retro consoles have come out of nowhere to become a fixture in the videogames market, with a range of companies revamping their old hardware, generally by shrinking it down and including games on its memory.
Whether you want to revisit the games of your childhood or play some classic titles for the first time ever, they offer amazing fun without complicated modern setups.
Still, though, you probably don’t fancy buying every miniature games console on the market – it might be helpful if we could narrow them down to just the very best options on the market. So, that’s what we’ve done! These are the top modern retro consoles for you to pick from.
SEGA Mega Drive Mini
1. Best overall
Superb from SEGA
A superbly-made mini console.
- Great form factor
- Retro controllers
- Modern convenience
Taking the top spot in our estimations goes without any doubt to the Mega Drive Mini from SEGA (or Genesis Mini if you’re not from our little part of the world). It’s got everything you’d want from a mini console, including a great little recreation of the original console itself, brilliant controllers, an easy setup and, all-importantly, a superb collection of games.
You get 42 games included, all of which load up super quickly, and in many cases you’re able to play different regional versions of the games if you’re a real connoisseur. Whether you’re there for SEGA’s mascot, Sonic, or other classics like Earthworm Jim and Streets of Rage II, you’ll find a classic to enjoy for sure.
Nintendo Game and Watch: Super Mario Bros
2. Runner Up
A great handheld
A brilliant little update of a venerable classic.
- Gorgeous design
- Classic games included
- Great size
- Not many games to choose from
If you prefer your retro gaming action handheld, Nintendo has a cute solution for you, in the form of its delightful little remake of the original Game & Watch, which comes with the addition of some Mario games for you to play through on its tiny screen.
It’s a brilliant little revamp that’s a joy to play on, and while you don’t have dozens of game to pick from, it’s nice and affordable, and its retro packaging is also sure to make any long-term Nintendo fan smile.
SNES Classic Mini
3. A Top Pick
Perfect for those who want to play some classic.
- Amazing games
- Fun design
- Controller cables are way too short
The SNES Classic Mini was Nintendo’s second go at a miniature console, and went down just as well in terms of numbers sold as the NES Classic Mini. It’s a great effort, too, with an iconic design shrunk to size and a selection of games that includes some all-time classics.
There are a couple of hiccoughs, though, including controller cables that are far too short, but including two controllers in the box makes for great multiplayer fun straight away to make up for it. This is a great little machine, especially if you grew up on Nintendo’s amazing games.
NES Classic Mini
4. Strong Contender
Where it all started
One of the most iconic consoles ever, now smaller.
- The original idea
- Great gaming classics
- No second controller
- Cables are too short
The NES Classic Mini felt like it really kicked off the craze of miniature retro consoles when it released back in 2016 to immediate sell-outs and stock shortages. It is still a great device, with a classic design and some stunning games on board.
That said, its ludicrously short controller cables are farcical to use in a living room, and it didn’t include some necessities in the box, from a power supply to a second controller. Still, if you can get it set up right, likely with your own extensions, it’s got a trove of 30 games to play, some of which are still influencing game design now.
5. Also Great
Get some tiny 3D gaming action.
- Retro 3D action
- Amazing classics
- Great controllers
Sony wasn’t going to be left out of the club, although it took a couple of years for it to catch up to Nintendo and release the Playstation Classic. It’s a solid member of the retro gang, too, bringing 3D graphics to the table as well.
Once again, this is a well-built bit of retro history, with great controllers and a main console that triggers our nostalgia. Sadly, while there are some classic games on board, like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid, there are also some big misses including early Tony Hawk games and the WipeOut series. Its limited selection of titles is what holds the Playstation Classic back a bit.
How to choose a retro games console
While the first retro games consoles of recent years opened up a new market niche there are now plenty to pick from. Here are some questions that should help you pick the right one.
Do you have a favourite older console?
The easiest place to start is to comb your own memory banks to work out whether there’s an old console you remember playing as a younger person, that you’d love to revisit. If you had a PlayStation or SNES as a kid, for example, that might be the perfect place to start, since the nostalgia it’ll bring with it will trump what console you don’t have experience with can offer.
Are you a fan of 2D games?
Most of the retro consoles on the market right now are from the era of 2D games, when 3D polygons weren’t really much of a thing – unless you opt for the PlayStation Classic. So, think about whether you’re fine to play a bunch of 2D games, because if not there isn’t much point picking one up.
Do you want to play co-op?
Some of the consoles on our list come with two controllers, so that you can immediately sit down and enjoy some retro co-op or versus action on classic games. That’s worth checking before you commit to a purchase, since you probably have a sense of whether you want to play with someone else or not.