The 8 Best Retro Gaming Consoles to Buy in 2018

It's cool to go old school

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

The Rundown

  • Best Retro Console of the 16-bit Era: Super Nintendo at Amazon, “For anyone wanting to relive the definitive early 90s gaming experience, it wins hands down.”
  • Runner-Up, Best Retro Console of the 16-bit Era: Sega Genesis at Amazon, “One of the best controllers ever made, and a wide array of superior sports games.”
  • Most Popular Retro Console: PlayStation 2 at Amazon, “The best-selling console of all time.”
  • Best Retro Console for Multiplayer/Best for Millennials: Nintendo 64 at Amazon, “Perfect for those millennial parties yearning for nostalgia and simple offline multiplayer fun.”
  • Best Retro Console From the 1980s: Nintendo Entertainment System at Amazon, “It includes one of the largest gaming libraries of over 714 known licensed titles.”
  • Best Handheld: Game Boy at Amazon, “It would face and beat multiple contenders in the mobile gaming market.”
  • Best for Gen Xers: Atari 2600 at Amazon, “If you’re a historian or want to see where it all started, get the Atari 2600.”
  • Best for Sega Loyalists: Sega Dreamcast at Amazon, “Considered one of the most innovative consoles of its time.”

Our Top Picks

Best Retro Console of the 16-bit Era: Super Nintendo

The Super Nintendo (SNES) of 1991 is by far the best retro gaming console of the 16-bit era. The SNES faced a number of rising contenders, like the Sega Genesis, but managed to stay on top with is triple-A titles (read: Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World), affordable pricing and superb hardware with stereo sound.

With over 725 games in its library, the SNES was one of the best consoles that came into the market with third-party support. Due to its previous promising history and savvy business deals, Nintendo got an early public relations advantage with third-party developer Capcom, giving them the first console port of Street Fighter II. Nintendo went above and beyond with the SNES by developing the Super FX chip, allowing 3D capabilities with titles like Starfox and Doom without adding on any unnecessary hardware. For anyone wanting to relive the definitive early 90s gaming experience, the SNES wins hands down. 

Runner Up, Best Retro Console of the 16-bit Era: Sega Genesis

Once upon a time, Sonic The Hedgehog, the mascot of the Sega Genesis, was more popular than Nintendo’s Mario. Sega Genesis came out before the Super Nintendo in 1989 and had a head start with introducing to the world a true 16-bit home entertainment video game console boasting one of the best controllers ever made and a wide array of superior sports games.

If you ever wondered why we have ESRB ratings, you can blame the Sega Genesis. The console was marketed more towards the big boys and can be seen in the subtle differences in cross platform games; Mortal Kombat for Genesis has blood compared to the SNES. Sega’s games carried a different tonality to the market, too – Sonic The Hedgehog brought faster game play; Streets of Rage gave players nitty-gritty beat ‘em ups; and multiple sports games series with leagues like the NHL, NFL, NBA and FIFA. Sega would later introduce the well-received six-button control pad that’d replicate the arcade button scheme joysticks for gaming familiarity.

Most Popular Retro Console: PlayStation 2

The PlayStation 2 (PS2) is the best-selling console of all time, with a total of roughly 155 million units sold to date. When Sony first introduced itself with its CD-reading original PlayStation, it changed the video game industry forever, and it’s fair to say the PS2 would later define it: The PS2’s backward- compatibility with original PlayStation games, DVD playback and developer-friendly kits made it the most successful console in existence.

Sony decided that its PS2 console was going to be an entertainment system, but not just for video games. DVDs were huge in the early 2000s, and PlayStation 2 brought to the foray a multimedia system that doubled as a DVD player. The data format allowed for bigger games, too, making humungous series that looked like cinematic masterpieces, including Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3, God of War, Shadow of the Colossus and Grand Theft Auto III.

Best Retro Console for Multiplayer/Best for Millennials: Nintendo 64

Ask any 90s kid what the best retro multiplayer game console is and they’ll say the Nintendo 64. Before online multiplayer separated people from long distances, games like Mario Party, Golden Eye: 007 and Mario Kart 64 required you and your friends to physically sit next to one another and bond. Every Friday night, kids all around America would invite their friends over for some pepperoni pizza and game for hours on end with their N64.

Though Sony’s PlayStation overshadowed it in sales, the Nintendo 64 had a stable fan base from its previous generational consoles. The Nintendo 64 was one of the first consoles that not only allowed up to four controllers for multiplayer but also introduced the world to rumble control capability with its Rumble Pak functionality. Even to this day, debatably, the Nintendo 64 is one of the most accessible multiplayer systems around, perfect for those millennial parties yearning for nostalgia and simple offline multiplayer fun.

Best Retro Console From the 1980s: Nintendo Entertainment System

At one point in the 1980s the video game industry was dying from over saturation until Nintendo took a chance with its first console: the Nintendo Entertainment System. Nintendo set its sights on making sure that third-party developers were licensed and abided by strict rules like releasing two games a year to prevent “shovelware” and prohibiting those games on other consoles. It worked.

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) includes one of the largest gaming libraries of over 714 known licensed titles. The economic boom of mid-1980s led to more investments in the arts and entertainment that further compounded the market. Not only could you find countless titles like Mega Man, Contra, Final Fantasy, Tetris and Super Mario Bros, but also some of the most diverse genres with games like Duck Hunt, Wall Street Kid and tarot card simulator, Taboo. 

Best Handheld: Game Boy

In 1989, Game Boy took the world by storm and sold 118.69 million units worldwide. The Game Boy was the pioneer of mobile gaming, which was, at one point, just as popular (if not more so) than it is today. The mere thought of being able to play Tetris on an airplane in the palm of your hands with stereo sound was exhilarating.

During its lifetime, Game Boy would face and beat multiple contenders in the mobile gaming market like Sega’s Game Gear and the Atari Lynx. Its launch included hit titles like Super Mario Land, Baseball and Tetris. Players could even buy a cable link to play multiplayer games. Along the way, the chubby grey console got a smaller model called the Game Boy Pocket and a colored iteration called the Game Boy Color. If you’ve ever wondered why games are on smartphones, just look to the Game Boy. 

Best for Gen Xers: Atari 2600

We’re going way back to 1977, where the Atari entered a new market with read-only memory (ROM) cartridges and a microprocessor-based hardware system called the Atari 2600. The launch of the Atari 2600 brought with it a new industry, releasing popular arcade video games like Pac-Man and Pong for consumers to play in their own living room.

Before Mario, before Sonic, arcades around America were making the waves with hits like Space Invaders, Frogger and Pitfall! People were excited about a new technology where they could control little 2D worlds in front of them and play games. Atari saw this as an opportunity and lead the way to a consumer market that allowed video games to be played at home with its Atari 2600 gaming console. The gaming industry got so big it became an unregulated beast, with dozens of games and peripherals that wound up saturating the market and creating the infamous video game crash of 1983. If you’re a historian or want to see where it all started, get the Atari 2600.

Best for Sega Loyalists: Sega Dreamcast

The death of the Sega Dreamcast was one of the biggest heartbreaks in gaming history and the end of the Sega era. The promising console had a huge marketing campaign and was released on 09/09/99, but slowly died due to its massive price cuts and competition with Sony’s PS2. Still, it left behind some great games and memories that will never be forgotten.

The Sega Dreamcast was considered one of the most innovative consoles of its time. It was the first gaming system with a built-in modem for online play and Internet support. Creative games like the fast-paced Crazy Taxi and Jet Set Radio (along with the cinematic experience of Shenmue) opened a new world of gaming innovation. Before the XBOX entered the fray, Microsoft offered support to the system, and HALO was originally planned for it. Sadly, on January 31, 2001, Sega announced the discontinuation of the Dreamcast. There is still a dedicated fan base for the Sega Dreamcast where a small handful of independent developers are still making homebrew games for the system.