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.
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.
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.
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-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.
More Tech Picks From GameSpot
- Best Computer Speakers For Gaming
- Best 4K TVs For Gaming
- Best Monitor For PS5, Xbox Series X
- Best Gaming Chairs In 2023
- Best Cheap Gaming Monitors In 2022
- Best PC Headsets In 2023
- The Best Nintendo Switch Controllers You Can Buy
- The Best VR Headsets In 2020
- The Best Webcam For 2021: Top Picks For Streaming On Twitch And YouTube
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.