Complete Guide To Retro Gaming In 2021: The Best Consoles, Controllers, And More
With all of the retro game consoles, controllers, and adapters out there today, there's never been a better time to play retro games.
Even though we just saw the release of the PS5 and Xbox Series X, there's never been a better time to look back on our past and visit the games of past generations. This year we'll see the release of an FPGA-based handheld, the Analogue Pocket, and with all of the other retro game consoles, arcade cabinets, and retro-style controllers out right now--not to mention gadgets that make it possible to play old consoles on modern TVs--it's never been easier to revisit our past.
Unfortunately, there can be some confusion when it comes to which products are worth your time because there are just so many of them. That's why we've tested and corralled a wide selection of great retro game consoles, gadgets, and more that you can feel confident in buying. And while there is a whole world of console modding that grows by the day, we've opted to keep this guide more accessible and selected the best retro consoles that are ready to play out of the box.
Note: The prices shown below indicate a product's standard list price and may not reflect any current discounts or other fluctuations.
Best retro game consoles
There's never been a better time to play old games, with the number of FPGA-based consoles, miniature consoles, home-friendly arcade cabinets, and excellent collections, all of which pay appropriate tribute to the classics.
The Analogue Pocket is the company's first FPGA-based handheld. It's compatible with Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance games as well as Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket Color, and more with cartridge adapters. It boasts a 3.5-inch display made of Gorilla Glass, featuring a resolution of 1600x1440. Unfortunately, preorders are sold out, so you'll have to wait for a restock to reserve yours. It releases May 2021.
Analogue Mega Sg
The Mega Sg is Analogue's FPGA-based Sega Genesis console, and it's quite the machine. FPGA boards allow Analogue to create a console that works exactly like the retro console it's trying to replicate--think of it as hardware emulation as opposed to software emulation. In this case, it's the Sega Genesis. It boasts zero lag, 1080p output, and compatibility with the entire Genesis, Mega Drive, and Master System library (it comes with an adapter that lets you play Sega Master System games). It's also compatible with all of the original console's controllers and accessories, including the Sega CD and 32X. You can learn more about the Mega Sg at Analogue. Analogue's consoles are regularly sold out, but you'll occasionally see new stock in the store. Just remember that you should snag an 8Bitdo M30 controller, as the Mega Sg doesn't include any.
Analogue Super Nt
Analogue's attempt at the SNES resulted in another fantastic FPGA-based console called the Super Nt. Like the Mega Sg, it features 1080p output with zero lag and compatibility with its original console's entire library and accessories. It comes in four different colours as well--SNES, Super Famicom, Black, and Transparent. If you're looking for the best way to play Super Nintendo games on a modern TV, then Analogue is the way to go. Also, be sure to pick up an 8Bitdo SN30 if you buy the Super Nt, as it doesn't come with any controllers.
Analogue's Nt Mini was an incredible FPGA-based console that replicated the NES, but unfortunately, the company finished its last run of the console in early 2020. Thankfully, RetroUSB's AVS is the next best thing, and it's significantly cheaper than the Nt Mini's $500 price tag. The AVS is another FPGA-based NES console that outputs at 720p via HDMI and features four NES controller ports, no accessory required. It also comes with ports for both NES games and Famicom titles and boasts compatibility with all licensed controllers and accessories as well as the Famicom Disk System. The AVS doesn't come with any controllers, so be sure to buy yourself an 8Bitdo N30 to play with it. You can learn more about the AVS at RetroUSB.
Sega Genesis Mini
The Sega Genesis Mini comes pre-loaded with 40 of the console's most beloved games (and two games that weren't released on Genesis), including Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage 2, and Shinobi III as well as Gunstar Heroes, Castlevania: Bloodlines, and Contra: Hard Corps. As far as microconsoles go, this one has the best library and is ready for two-player multiplayer out of the box, thanks to the two included game pads.
The TurboGrafx-16 Mini is a great microconsole with a huge library of games from both the console's North American and Japanese libraries. Not all of the games included are gems, and some are impossible for English-only speakers to play, but there are still a lot of excellent pre-loaded titles, including Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, Seirei Senshi Spriggan, and Bomberman '94. The 8-bit console is represented wonderfully, making this a must-buy for any retro gaming fan.
Neo Geo Arcade Stick Pro
Starts at $130
The Neo Geo Arcade Stick Pro comes with 20 classic SNK fighting games built-in, similar to how the Sega Genesis Mini and TurboGrafx-16 Mini operate. However, you use the actual arcade stick-console hybrid as a controller as well. You can also plug Neo Geo Mini controllers into the Arcade Stick Pro if you want to play multiplayer. And if you get the Arcade Stick Pro Controller Pack, you can use it with the Switch and PS4. The best part is that the console also boasts hidden games, which you can download from SNK's website and transfer to your Arcade Stick Pro.
Arcade1Up makes excellent 3/4-scale cabinets that attempt to replicate classic machines with a handful of pre-loaded games. They come with excellent-feeling controls and buttons that are appropriate for their included titles and make for a fun way to play classic arcade games.
How to play retro consoles on modern TVs
Modern TVs aren't the best for playing old video games, mostly due to the fact that they don't feature the right connections and normally don't support the low resolutions of the '90s and early 2000s. Thankfully, there are a number of ways to get around this and make even a 4K TV a great display for retro gaming.
GCHD Mk II
The EON GCHD Mk II is an incredible little device that you plug into the back of your GameCube to get a clean HDMI signal from the classic console. However, it doesn't work with all GameCubes. You need a model DOL-001 GameCube, which features both the digital and analog video outputs. Once the GCHD is plugged in, all you have to do is plug in an HDMI cable, and you're good to go.
The Super64 is EON's plug-and-play HDMI device for the N64, making for an equally easy setup and cleaner signal. Thankfully, it's compatible with all N64 models and is simple to use. All you do is plug it into the back of your N64 and then use an HDMI cable to connect it to your TV--just make sure your TV supports 480p. There's also a "Slick Mode" that applies a post-processing filter that smooths out edges.
HD Retrovision cables
HD Retrovision cables are specifically designed for classic consoles to work with your TV's component inputs--just make sure your TV supports 240p, 480p, or whichever other resolution your classic console outputs. The company's cables provide clean, crisp, and beautiful images for a variety of consoles, including the Genesis, Saturn, SNES, Dreamcast, PS1, PS2, PS3, Wii, and Wii U. The image is even better if your console is RGB-compatible or modded. Unfortunately, the cables are quite popular, so you may have a hard time finding them in stock.
The mClassic is a plug-and-play graphics processor that applies a layer of post-processing effects to whatever you're feeding through it via HDMI. It also scales content up to 4K. It's not going to change the experience radically, but what it does do is make consoles like the Nintendo Switch look sharper on a 4K TV. It works with any HDMI-connected device, including GameCubes with the GCHD adapter, any HDMI-compatible retro console, and even modern consoles.
It's hard to deny the fact that retro designs are still better for some games than most modern controllers, especially when it comes to playing ports or collections of those classic games. A lot of companies try to replicate old designs, but only a small few succeed in creating controllers that are worth your money.
8Bitdo is the best third-party controller company out there today. It makes quality products that not only emulate the classics but oftentimes improve them. The best part is that many of the controllers work on both modern and classic consoles. However, there are a number of other companies that have made some pretty great controllers, including clones of the GameCube controller and more.
Sega Genesis-style controllers
New controllers for retro consoles
Nowadays, there's an influx of new controllers designed for retro consoles. Of course, not all of them are quality--and even fewer stack up against the original pads. Thankfully, a handful of companies have created some great modern alternatives that replicate or even try to improve on the original designs.
8Bitdo controllers and retro receivers
Many of 8Bitdo's controllers replicate the pads of classic consoles, and thankfully, they also produce a number of 2.4GHz and Bluetooth wireless receivers that can be plugged straight into the controller port of a number of different consoles. My suggestion is to go with 2.4GHz as the connection is less prone to latency. However, the Bluetooth receiver gives you more options for which controller you can use--you can use almost any Bluetooth-enabled controller with the receivers, including a DualShock 4.
Controllers with retro wireless receivers
Retro Bluetooth receivers
RetroFighters Updated Retro Controllers
Retro Fighters StrikerDC Dreamcast controller
Let's be honest: the Dreamcast controller is not great. Unfortunately, Sega--a company that has made some of the best controllers ever--tried to innovate with its last controller, and it resulted in a pad that's not always comfortable or easy to use. And while Retro Fighters' new take on the Dreamcast controller isn't perfect, it does provide a more modern and comfortable feel. If you're looking for a new pad to play Dreamcast games with, the StrikerDC is worth a look.
Retro Fighters Brawler64 N64 controller
The Retro Fighters Brawler64 controller puts a modern spin on the classic console's pad. Turning the ergonomics into that of a modern controller, it also slides the Z button up to where a modern pad's triggers are located--yes, there are two Z buttons that do the exact same thing. The big winner here, however, is the analog stick. Improving drastically on the N64's analog stick, the Brawler64's feels like a mix between the GameCube's stick and a more modern controller's stick. It's a much-appreciated improvement that feels great to use in games like Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64.
Retro-Bit Sega controllers
Retro-Bit's Sega Saturn and Genesis controller are surprisingly great, and it's always awesome to have a wireless option. Both feel faithful to the original design and work great with their respective console's games. I've used the Sega Saturn controller a lot in X-Men vs Street Fighter, and I never feel like I'm at a disadvantage because I'm using the third-party controller. If you're looking for some new Sega pads, these are the ones to go with.
Sega Saturn controllers
Sega Genesis controllers
The best retro game collections
The great thing is that you don't even need a retro console to play its classic games these days. A lot of old favourites have made their way digitally to the PlayStation Store, Xbox Store, Steam, and other marketplaces. There have also been some excellent collections that compile the games of an entire series, developer, or theme. The ones we've selected below are all physical copies of these collections, but there are a number of great digital-only packages that compile the best games of our past. These include Castlevania Anniversary Collection and Contra Anniversary Collection, both of which are available on the PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
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The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors. GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.
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