These are nostalgia-soaked times we’re living in, where every other hit TV show and movie seems to riff on our rose-tinted memories of the past.
The trend for all things retro has been long-established in the world of video games, of course. Most recently, there’s been a huge rise in the popularity of mini consoles.
A whole generation of 20 and 30-somethings is lapping up these cheap self-contained consoles, which play emulated versions of the biggest games of the ’80s and ’90s. The potential to plug and play these long lost games on our modern flatscreen TVs is proving irresistible for many.
What’s interesting is that this increasingly congested field used to be the sole preserve of third parties, but is now being joined by original manufacturers like Nintendo, Sega, and Sony.
Here, then, are eight of the best mini consoles on the market. Upvote for the best retro revival of the lot.
Related: Best retro games of all time, ranked
Best retro consoles
1. SNES Classic Mini
For the SNES Classic Mini, Nintendo essentially took the NES Classic Mini hardware and loaded it with a bunch of its 16-bit era games. But it was impossible to get too cynical about such a move when there were 21 brilliant games to fall in love with all over again.
From Super Metroid to Yoshi’s Island to A Link to the Past, these are some of the finest games of all time. The clincher is that Nintendo also included the unreleased Star Fox 2. How many other mini consoles can boast a brand new classic game?
2. NES Classic Mini
The launch and subsequent success of the NES Classic Mini in 2016 kickstarted the whole mini console craze - not least because it was initially so hard to get hold of. But the big news here was Nintendo itself hopping aboard the mini console train.
The NES Classic Mini comes preloaded with 30 games, including the peerless Super Mario Bros. 3, Excitebike, and the very first The Legend of Zelda game. Nintendo being Nintendo, they’re all tied together with a wonderfully tidy UI.
3. Sega Mega Drive Mini
The Sega Mega Drive Mini isn’t out yet, but it is available for pre-order ahead of a September release. Given that Sega has been re-releasing its old games for years now, the quality of the conversions is likely to be on point.
We’re liking what we’re hearing so far. 42 games is exactly double that of its big rival, which probably isn’t a coincidence. The roster itself includes Ecco the Dolphin, Streets of Rage 2, Sonic 2, World of Illusion, a brand new port of Darius, and an ultra-rare version of Tetris. Take that, Ninty.
4. C64 Mini
The Commodore 64 - or C64 to its friends - was a superstar of the 1980s home computer era. A key driver for that popularity was its roster of cheap and colourful (for the time) games. This homespun appeal has been captured in mini console form.
You get 64 games in this package (do you see what they did there?), including all-time classics like California Games, Uridium and Paradroid. Also bundled in is a single waggly joystick. Note that the keyboard is just for show, although you can plug in a USB keyboard and run old school BASIC commands.
5. Atari Flashback 8 Gold Deluxe
The Atari 2600 was one of the most influential games consoles in history, popularising the whole interchangeable game cartridge system as far back as 1977. The Atari Flashback 8 Gold Deluxe is a comprehensive way to celebrate this console grandee.
It features a staggering 120 built-in games, covering the iconic likes of Pitfall, Space Invaders, Frogger and Adventure. You get two wireless joysticks bundled in (and a pair of paddles with the Deluxe edition), which is a particularly classy touch. 720p HDMI output is also included, as is the handy ability to ‘rewind’ gameplay a few seconds.
6. Nintendo Famicom Mini
The Nintendo Famicom Mini is essentially the same device as the NES Classic Mini we kicked this list off with, though you wouldn’t know it to look at it. That’s because it’s based on the original Japanese version of Nintendo’s popular ’80s home console.
With that quirky alternative design comes a different and arguably superior roster of games, which includes River City Ransom and Mario Open Golf. With the potential to grab one of these modern classics online here in the West, it’s an undeniably cool addition to any gamer’s collection.
7. Neo Geo Mini
SNK’s Neo Geo Mini is certainly the most unique mini console on this list. It’s shaped like a tiny arcade machine, complete with a miniature joystick and a built-in 3.5-inch LCD screen.
That shape is a reference to the original Neo Geo’s heritage as a hardcore home arcade experience, capable of the kind of 2D graphics that blew its early-’90s console rivals away. A generous selection of 40 games include such classics as King of Fighters, Metal Slug, Fatal Fury and Samurai Showdown, while you can also hook it up to your TV with optional gamepads.
8. Sony PlayStation Classic
So far we’ve been dealing with mini consoles that capture the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. The Sony PlayStation Classic makes the massive technological leap into the 32-bit era with its rich 3D worlds.
To be honest, the PlayStation Classic is a teensy bit disappointing. It’s not that its roster of 20 games doesn’t include its share of gems - Final Fantasy VII, Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid and Ridge Racer Type 4 see to that - but it’s far from a comprehensive list, and the emulation isn’t particularly amazing. There’s still plenty of that PlayStation magic here, though.