Retro games are back in a big way thanks to the NES Classic Edition, SNES Classic, PlayStation Cl…Sega Genesis Mini and more retro mini consoles. Beyond Nintendo and Sony making their own mini-consoles in-house, other manufacturers are getting into the game by licensing out their hardware design and software likenesses out to third-parties.
All of these retro consoles have worked to varying degrees of success, but we’ve tested them all to help you find the very best ones. For new consoles just about to release we’ve got the full scoop on where to preorder and which retailers have them in stock, including Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart. We’ve also compiled the full games lists for every classic mini console, including the recently-announced Sega Genesis Mini lineup.
For a quick nostalgia hit, playing retro games on a TV with an old-school gamepad, versus a PC emulator and a gaming keyboard, is hard to beat. These micro-consoles make doing just that inexpensive, and most importantly, fun. So which retro console is right for you? Read on for our list of the best retro mini consoles.
TL;DR – These are the Best Retro Gaming Consoles:
1. NES Classic Edition
NES Classic Edition
Nintendo shocked the world when it announced the NES Classic Edition (read our review) in 2016. It also famously underestimated demand. It’s easy to see why. The cute console evokes instant nostalgia for a huge swath of gamers with its design alone, but what’s inside is just as important. Within the console’s diminutive plastic walls are 30 preloaded games, spanning multiple genres and acting as a well-curated greatest hits of an entire console generation (see full list below). It also set peoples’ expectations of what a mini retro console should have. A charming interface, an affordable price, and a decent roster of games makes the NES Classic the first mini console to really get it right.
Everyone will have a cherished game sadly not on the list, but favorites like Excitebike, multiple Zeldas, Ninja Gaiden, and of course several Mario games should make everyone happy. The days of hitting F5 in hopes of snatching one up online are thankfully over, but Nintendo won’t make these forever. Eventually, the new (much larger) supply will run out, and that will be the end. Other than that, the micro-console’s only real shortcoming is its woefully short 2.5-foot controller cables. Thankfully, there are third-party options like the 8Bitdo N30 Wireless Gamepad or a two-pack of cable extenders that fix that.
NES Classic Edition full game list: Ballon Fight, Bubble Bobble, Castlevania, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Double Dragon II: The Revenge, Dr. Mario, Excitebike, Final Fantasy, Galaga, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Gradius, Ice Climber, Kid Icarus, Kirby’s Adventures, Mario Bros., Mega Man 2, Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, Pac-Man, Punch Out, StarTropics, Super Contra, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, Tecmo Bowl, The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
2. Super NES Classic Edition
Super NES Classic Edition
Like the NES Classic Edition before it, Nintendo struck a chord with the SNES Classic Edition (read our review). Except, somehow, the company managed to make an even cuter miniature version of its vintage hardware with the followup. A smart selection of games including a previously unreleased Star Fox sequel are the main attraction, though, including plenty of local multiplayer games (see below for a full list).
If the NES Classic set the stage for what a good mini retro console should be, the SNES Classic perfected it. With 2 controllers packed into the box, an unreleased game seeing an officially sanctioned release in Star Fox 2, and an even more charming interface than its predecessor, the SNES Classic set the high-water mark for retro mini consoles.
The SNES Classic is also a good way to surprise yourself at how well Super Metroid’s moody intro holds up 24 years later. Same goes for Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past too. Thankfully, Nintendo learned its lesson with the NES Classic and over a year later, you can still buy one of the HDMI-based micro-consoles new-in-box from Amazon. And like its predecessor, wireless controllers are available as well to remedy the latest Classic’s still too-short controller cables.
Super NES Classic Edition full game list: Contra III: The Alien Wars, Donkey Kong Country, Kirby Super Star, Kirby’s Dream Course, Secret of Mana, Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, Super Mario Kart, Super Mario World, Final Fantasy III, Super Castlevania IV, EarthBound, F-ZERO, Mega Man X, Star Fox, Star Fox 2, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Super Metroid, Super Punch-Out!!, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Yoshi’s Island.
3. Sega Genesis Mini
Sega Genesis Mini
Sega’s getting back into the console game (sort of ) to do what Nintendo-n’t again. To this end Sega has teamed up with the emulation hardware experts at M2 to create a miniature Genesis packed with 42 games including classics like Sonic the Hedgehog, Earthworm Jim, and Gunstar Heroes. The Genesis Mini is also finally importing the Japanese version of Tetris and Monster World IV, two titles that never came over stateside.
The console is a nearly perfect replica of the original 16-bit console as is the batarang-shaped controller. Unfortunately, if you want a six button controller, you’ll have to either order a Japanese Mega Drive Mini or Retro-Bit’s officially licensed 6-button Sega Genesis controller.
Castlevania: Bloodlines, Comix Zone, Gunstar Heroes, Madou Monogatari I, Powerball, Puyo Puyo Tsu, Rent-A-Hero, Shining Force, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Space Harrier 2, Thunder Force III, Super Fantasy Zone, Musha
World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, Streets of Rage 2, The Hybrid Front, Landstalker, Contra: Hard Corps, Dyna Brothers 2, Game no Kanzume Otokuyou, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition
Mega Man: The Wily Wars, Golden Axe, The Revenge of Shinobi, Phantasy Star IV, Beyond Oasis (The Story of Thor: A Successor of The Light), Puzzle & Action: Tant-R, Party Quiz Mega Q, Yu Yu Hakusho: Makyou Touitsusen, Tetris
Darius, Virtua Fighter 2, Alisia Dragoon, Monster World IV, Kid Chameleon, Road Rash II, Eternal Champions, Columns, Dynamite Headdy, Strider, Light Crusader
4. NEOGEO Mini International
NEO GEO Mini International
Classic gaming is cool, but the NEOGEO Mini (read our review) is bringing the arcade experience into your home. Unlike other consoles of its era, however, there was no effective difference between the NEO GEO you had in your ultra-swanky 1990s living room and the one down at the local arcade. It was a pricey console, listing for $799 even back then, but it was the ultimate home arcade experience for a long time.
There are lots of great NEO GEO games living on this mini console, and it can be played stand-alone or plugged into a TV with HDMI out. It’s not quite as lovingly put together as the Nintendo mini consoles, and a lot of the draw of a NEO GEO throwback device is how it brings the system into an affordable package.
The NEO GEO Mini version comes with 40 classics included (see full list below), but it remains true to its source by being the most expensive console among its peers. It has HDMI out, and it comes in a mini little arcade cabinet, if you want to stay true to its roots, but in mini form.
NEOGEO Mini International full games list: 3 Count Bout, Art of Fighting, Blazing Star, Blue’s Journey, Crossed Swords, Fatal Fury Special, Foot Ball Frenzy, Garou: Mark of the Wolves, Ghost Pilots, King of the Monsters, King of the Monsters 2,Kizuna, Encounter: Super Tag Battle, Last Resort, Magician Lord, Metal Slug, Metal Slug 2, Metal Slug 3, Metal Slug 4, Metal Slug 5, Metal Slug X, Mutation Nation, Ninja Master’s: Haou Ninpou Chou, Puzzled, Real Bout: Fatal Fury, Robo Army, Samurai Shodown II, Samurai Shodown IV: Amakusa’s Revenge, Samurai Shodown V Special, Sengoku 3, Shock Troopers, Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad, Super Sidekicks, The King of Fighters ’95, The King of Fighters ’97, The King of Fighters ’98, The King of Fighters 2000, The King of Fighters 2002, The Last Blade 2, Top Player’s Golf, World Heroes Perfect.
5. C64 Mini
The C64 was a revolutionary home computing device, bringing low-cost, multi-function PCs to homes the world over. Most people look back on it and remember it not for being an introduction to BASIC programming, or organizing your recipes, but for its many games. The C64 Mini (read our review) comes with 64 games built in (see full game list below), and while the old monitor was nice for its time, these games look a lot cooler with an HDMI connection. What’s perhaps its coolest feature is its ability to use modern, USB keyboards.
This is way more niche than any of the other mini consoles, in spite of C64’s enormous worldwide success. There’s just not a lot of people longing to revisit Chip’s Challenge, even compared to something like Kid Icarus. Still, it’s a slick little machine and a great way to play games you might kinda-sorta remember, in addition to any old C64 favorites included.
You can take the keyboard from your PC right now, plug it in, and play games or program BASIC the way it was meant to be done. Or you can use the controller included in the box, it’s entirely up to you.
C64 Mini full games list: AlleyKat, Anarchy, The Arc Of Yesod, Armalyte: Competition Edition, Avenger, Battle Valley, Bounder, California Games, Chip’s Challenge, Confuzion, Summer Games II, Spindizzy, Slayer, Star Paws, Super Cycle, Cosmic Causeway: Trailblazer II, Creatures, Cyberdyne Warrior, Cybernoid II: The Revenge, Cybernoid: The Fighting Machine, Deflektor, Everyone’s a Wally. Firelord, Gribbly’s Day Out, Hawkeye, Street Sports Baseball, Speedball, Temple of Apshai, Trilogy, Thing Bounces Back, Thing on a Spring, Heartland, Herobotix, Highway Encounter, Hunter’s Moon, Hysteria, Impossible Mission, Impossible Mission II, Insects In Space, Zynaps, Mega-Apocalypse, Stormlord, Speedball II: Brutal Deluxe, Trailblazer, Uchi Mata, Uridium, Mission A.D, Monty Mole, Monty on the Run, Nebulus, Netherworld, Nobby the Aardvark, Nodes Of Yesod, Paradroid, Pitstop II, Rana Rama, Steel, Snare, Who Dares Wins II, Winter Games, World Games, Robin of the Wood, Rubicon, Skate Crazy, Skool Daze
6. Sega Genesis Classic Game Console
Sega Genesis Classic Game Console
Not to be outdone, Sega has licensed a retro mini-console of its own, boasting more packed-in games than both of Nintendo’s offerings combined with a whopping 80 titles. The Sega Genesis Classic also has a pair of wired controllers in the box, and even uses the original controller ports if you want to use your own six-button controllers. Unfortunately, unlike Nintendo’s offerings, this doesn’t have an HDMI connection.
Emulation isn’t up to the standards of the other consoles. This is a licensed piece of equipment, not something Sega built in-house. If you want to relive your favorite Genesis classics, you’re better off with, well, Sega Genesis Classics on your modern console (and even that has a few emulation problems).
The games list is pretty exhaustive, however. Eternal Champions and the Mortal Kombat trilogy should keep fighting game fans busy, while Comix Zone, a raft of Sonic selections, Balls and Altered Beast are available for the single-player crowd. Those don’t tickle your fancy either? No worries: You can play original Genesis cartridges with the micro-console, too. See the full list of games right here.
7. PlayStation Classic
On Best Buy
Well it’s come to this: the PlayStation Classic (read our review). It’s impossible to deny the incredible impact the original PlayStation had on the video game industry. The story behind the console is filled with intrigue and betrayal, and some of the most popular and well-known franchises of all time got their start or found their footing on Sony’s first console.
Which is why it’s such a shame the homage to that period of gaming history is so half-assed. Sony held off on releasing the full list of games, and with good reason: a lot of them are lame. There are some treasures here, but even still, many suffer from the bizarre decision to not include analog controllers. Emulation is bad and some of the games use ROMs based on the PAL versions, so they don’t run at the proper framerate.
Consider this only if you’re a diehard collector of mini consoles. Otherwise, you’re better off buying a used PS3 and getting the games through the official PlayStation Store.
Playstation Classic game list: Battle Arena Toshinden, Cool Boarders 2, Destruction Derby, Final Fantasy VII, Grand Theft Auto, Intelligent Qube, Jumping Flash, Metal Gear Solid, Mr Driller, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, Rayman, Resident Evil Director’s Cut, Revelations: Persona, Ridge Racer Type 4, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Syphon Filter, Tekken 3, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, Twisted Metal, Wild Arms
Timothy J. Seppala is a Detroit-based freelance reporter who has crammed a 5.1 surround system into every place he’s lived, regardless of bedroom size. His first console was an NES PowerPad Bundle that was later destroyed by cat pee. He still misses it dearly.