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The 10 Best Video Game Consoles Of All Time

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Yes, we know - it's an argument fit for the playground or the pub. It's a pointless, futile exercise that puts gamer's backs up and inevitably upsets someone. But you're still here to see what we've included, aren't you?

With the latest generation of consoles settling into their new homes under televisions, we felt it was an appropriate moment to reminisce; which were the greatest games machines to ever occupy the space now filled by your PlayStation 4/Xbox One/Wii U?

Have we given our selection a ranking order? No, that would just cause fights - we've listed the consoles chronologically. Do handhelds count? You bet - with the exception of modern quirks like the iPhone, which sells more "video games" than any other platform. 

Based on technical achievements and significance on advancing the gaming industry, these are the ten greatest video games consoles of all time. Please feel free to disagree in the comments below. 


Odyssey

Magnavox Odyssey

Year of release: 1972

Units sold: 350,000

Notable games: Table Tennis, Shooting Gallery, Interplanetary Voyage

The grandfather of all video game consoles, the Magnavox Odyssey was where home gaming all started. While the potential of video games had been demonstrated on vast PCs since the 1950s, it was the Odyssey that brought the experience into people's living rooms. Costing $100 ($564/£375 in today's money), it deserves a place in our list as it was the first machine to allow two friends to sit side-by-side and bond over a pixelated experience. It even boasted the first ever "light-gun", starting the gaming obsession with pointing at blocky shape and pulling a trigger. From sports simulators to space adventures, modern gaming can find its DNA in this grey box.

 


Atari

Atari VCS/2600

Year of release: 1977

Units sold: 30 million

Best-selling game: Pac-Man (7 million)

If the Odyssey started the home console movement, the Atari VCS (renamed the 2600 in 1982 once Atari released its successor, the 5200) popularised the experience. It was among the first consoles to run games on cartridges, opening the door to third-party groups creating titles for a variety of hardware formats. Arcade hits like Space Invaders and Pac-Man gained console ports, transforming the video game industry from a one-time fad into a billion-dollar industry (Atari raked in over $2 billion in 1980). The 2600 was a crucial leap forward for the video game industry, both in terms of its tech and in convincing kids to pester their parents for a new cartridge. 


Mega drive

Sega Genesis/Mega Drive

Year of release: 1988

Units sold: 40 million

Best-selling game: Sonic the Hedgehog (15 million)

In the early 90s, UK gamers sat on two sides of a tense divide: you were either a Nintendo fan, eagerly waiting to get your thumbs on the coloured buttons of the SNES, or you splashed out on one of these. The Mega Drive (known as the Genesis in the US) is the most successful system Sega ever launched, but the reason it's gained our favour isn't due to its technical prowess or commercial success. The Mega Drive was important in that it was the first console to actively court an adult market. Yes, there had been adult titles before the Mega Drive, but Sega's 16-bit console looked to separate itself from Nintendo's offerings with a collection of blood-soaked, mature titles like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap, and graphically superior sports simulators, like NHL '94, Sensible Soccer and John Madden Football '92. Slick, fast titles like Sonic and Echo the Dolphin even gave a new edge to the platforming genre. The Mega Drive proved that gaming wasn't just for kids. 


SNES

Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

Year of release: 1990

Units sold: 49 million

Best-selling game: Super Mario World (20 million)

No, we haven't included the NES. Yes, it was fundamental to rebuilding the industry after the gaming crash of the late 70s, yes, it brought colour to gaming - but it was the SNES that perfected everything the NES set out to do, making it for want of a better word, Super. It was the system that saw video games move from scrolling, jumping classics to life-consuming adventures - complex worlds like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Chrono Trigger still set a bar for modern titles. Yes, the NES was important, but its the volume of legendary, technically impressive titles (Star Fox, Mario Kart, Mega Man X, Super Metroid, Final Fantasy IV, Donkey Kong Country) squeezed into its cartridges that makes the SNES one of the best video game consoles of all time. 


PlayStation

PlayStation

Year of release: 1994

Units sold: 102.5 million

Best-selling game: Gran Turismo (10.85 million)

The dawn of the Sony era didn't start with a bang or a whimper, but with a glorious whir. Going head-to-head with Sega's CD-wielding Saturn, the fight was a short one: Sega eventually conceded defeat in 1998, binning their grey/black box after losing out to the PlayStation in the all-important US market. Every aspect of the PlayStation was a triumph, from the continued improvement of its controller design to the quality of its 3D graphics, the faster loading times to its quality first and third-party games. It was the first console to top the 100 million mark, a number which saw Sony continue to make games for this little grey box until as late as 2006 - a staggering 11 years after it was first launched. 


Dreamcast

Sega Dreamcast

Year of release: 1998

Units sold: 10 million

Best-selling game: Sonic Adventure (2.5 million)

Bad timing. Stiff competition. Poor games. CDs over DVDs - there are plenty of excuses as to why Sega's final console failed. Launching way ahead of its rivals (it arrived two years before the PlayStation 2, three ahead of the Xbox and GameCube), the bells and whistles of the Dreamcast weren't enough to prise gamers away from their relatively-new Nintendo 64s and PlayStations. So why is it one of the best consoles ever made? Because it was the first to successfully demonstrate the potential of online gaming in the living room. It was a gamble that didn't pay off. It was different, it was bold, and amongst its games were some of the most interesting titles of recent years (if you've never experienced Shenmue - shame on you). It's the console you should have owned. 


playstation

PlayStation 2

Year of release: 2000

Units sold: 155 million

Best-selling game: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Forget online connectivity. Forget entertainment tricks. The PlayStation 2 had both of these (it was the first DVD player many gamers owned) , but the reason Sony's second console deserves a spot in any console list is that staggering number indicated above. No, not the year. The popularity of this console ensured that gaming remained a lucrative market, capable of seeing games studios make more money than the movie business. While rival consoles established new technical legacies, the PS2 produced more classic titles than any other machine in our list - developers just loved making games for it, a process Sony only stopped as recently as 2013. We're willing to bet every gamer reading this has a memory associated with the PS2 - whether it was the excitement of unboxing it in the millennial year or avoiding a deadline to play just one more game of Fifa. This will be the console you'll dig out of the attic to show your grandchildren what you wasted your youth on. 

 


360

Xbox 360

Year of release: 2005

Units sold: 84 million

Best-selling game: Kinect Adventures (18 million)

Sony's PlayStation 2 embarrassed the Xbox 360. If this was a list based on numbers, the PS2 would be top of the pile, outselling Microsoft's rival system almost two-to-one. But where Sony delivered more of the same, Microsoft risked everything by putting online at the heart of its console vision - and it worked. A PC in disguise, the 360 championed the now-standard digital media distribution and online multiplayer experience. Even the subtle addition of its game achievement award system breathed new life into titles, giving gamers a new incentive to replay their games. The controller was a palm-hugging marvel, while the Kinect is still the fastest-selling 'electronics device' in history. In all, a more important, more influential console than the better-selling PlayStation 2. 


Wii

Nintendo Wii

Year of release: 2006

Units sold: 101 million

Best-selling game: Wii Sports (82.5 million, thanks to being included in a console bundle)

If Microsoft's Xbox 360 was influential in shaping the online future of consoles, Nintendo's Wii was equally important for proving that gaming didn't have to be about guns and muscles. Having failed to outsell competition with its N64 and Gamecube, Nintendo went back to the drawing board for its "seventh generation" console entry. Its unique take on interacting with a game environment was almost its undoing, baffling third-party game developers who had predicted the quirky console would ultimately fail. While Microsoft and Sony looked to attract gamers with their shiny graphics, Nintendo went after the "casual" crowd - and it worked. The Wii is one of the best games consoles ever made simply because it managed to gather old and young alike around a TV to flap at golf balls. It made gamers out of people with no interest in gaming. 


3DS

Nintendo 3DS

Year of release: 2011

Units sold: 45 million

Best-selling game: Pokémon X and Y (12 million)

Remember the argument we went with for why the SNES was better than the NES? Good - it's the same one we're using for why the 3DS is better than the DS and the original Game Boy. While 3D was something of a fad for the TV and cinema industry, Nintendo has finally given a technology it fell in love with back in the 1980s a fitting home in its 3DS. With online gaming and streaming services bundled in, an array of innovative game titles and an evolving design (the new model is set to clean up when it arrives next month), the 3DS is the most complete handheld experience in console history. 

(Images: Wiki Commons)

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