Which Retro Gaming Console is Best?

The nostalgic appeal of retro gaming continues growing. Iconic consoles offer access to classic games that shaped the industry. But with dozens of vintage systems to choose from, which retro platform provides the best experience today? This guide will compare the capabilities, game libraries, nostalgia factor, cost, and more across five of the top contenders vying for retro supremacy.


Evaluating retro consoles requires balancing many factors:

  • Game library – Quality and quantity of iconic exclusive games.
  • Historical impact – Technical innovations and influence.
  • Nostalgia appeal – Pop culture footprint and memories.
  • Affordability – Cost to purchase the hardware and games.
  • Playability today – How well gameplay holds up now.
  • Portability – Can you easily play on the go?
  • Flexibility – Support for enhancements like save states and video scaling.

With so many perspectives to weigh, naming a single greatest retro platform proves difficult. But comparing the core options against these criteria reveals the systems with the strongest cases. Let the retro console showdown commence!

Key Takeaways

  • The SNES boasts one of the all-time best game libraries with timeless Nintendo polish.
  • The Genesis pioneered sports and action genres fueled by edgy Sega attitude.
  • The NES’s simplicity, accessibility, and retro appeal offset its primitive tech.
  • The PlayStation expanded the scope and maturity of gaming with 3D and CDs.
  • The N64 brought analog controls and 4-player mayhem to iconic franchises.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System

<img src=”https://i.postimg.cc/nrwdqghh/SNES.jpg” width=”300″ alt=”Super Nintendo Entertainment System”>

Nintendo’s 16-bit juggernaut improved upon the NES in every way. Its legacy speaks for itself:

All-time great game library – Super Mario World. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Super Metroid. Final Fantasy III. Chrono Trigger. Super Mario Kart. Killer App after killer app.

Pioneering tech – Powerful 16-bit CPU with visual effects like Mode 7 scaling/rotation. Stereo audio with samples and sequenced music.

Established Nintendo franchises – Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and Donkey Kong reached new heights.

Superior arcade ports – Capcom classics like Street Fighter II and Final Fight shone at home.

Innovation – The shoulder button brought new dimensionality to controls and gameplay.

The SNES represents the peak of crisp 2D pixel graphics and gameplay. It set standards for an entire generation of gamers and developers. The iconic purple rectangle gave birth to timeless Nintendo classics that rank among the best games ever two decades later. While competition was fierce, the SNES produced possibly the greatest game library we may ever see.

Genesis Does What Nintendon’t

<img src=”https://i.postimg.cc/fy90qvkV/Genesis.jpg” width=”300″ alt=”Sega Genesis”>

Sega’s underdog 16-bit machine gave Nintendo a run for their money:

Edgy attitude – Sega did what Nintendon’t – blast processing and “mature” games!

Arcade perfection – Flawless ports of Virtua Racing, Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, and others recreated the arcade at home.

Sonic the Hedgehog – Sega found their Mario in their super cool mascot who embodied 90s radicalism.

Sports excellence – Madden NFL, NHL Hockey, and NBA Jam owned competitive gaming. The Genesis was the machine for sports.

Genre exploration – Sega took risks, pioneering new styles like Street of Rage’s urban brawling.

While the SNES may have won the bit wars in pure sales, the Genesis held its own through pure arcade action and in-your-face attitude. It established Sega as a gaming heavyweight and pioneer of genres like sports games and brawlers.

Nintendo Entertainment System

<img src=”https://i.postimg.cc/N06r7LQz/nes.jpg” width=”300″ alt=”Nintendo Entertainment System”>

The NES single-handedly revived the gaming industry after the crash of ’83:

Saved video games – Nintendo’s R.O.B. robot and strict licensing policies rebuilt trust.

Simplified controls – The intuitive D-pad and face buttons opened gaming to the masses.

Super Mario Bros – Nintendo’s mascot proved games could tell stories and charm across ages.

Legend of Zelda – An adventure RPG for the record books that launched a juggernaut franchise.

Duck Hunt – Bundled shooter that made gamers love and hate that grinning dog.

While primitive compared to later systems, the NES laid the groundwork for everything that followed. Its games represent gaming stripped to its purest fun. For millions, the NES defined their childhood and gaming as a whole.

Sony PlayStation

<img src=”https://i.postimg.cc/tCNFxtgt/Playstation.jpg” width=”300″ alt=”Sony PlayStation”>

Sony’s freshman console expanded gaming’s scope dramatically:

3D worlds – PlayStation introduced immersive polygonal worlds that finally matched arcade graphics.

CD storage – Hundreds of megabytes for gorgeous cutscenes, voice acting, and atmospheric music.

Maturity – Games like Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, and Silent Hill addressed adult themes.

Multimedia – PlayStation played audio CDs and could connect to the Web with a modem.

Mainstream buzz – Gaming reached new heights of pop culture awareness and popularity.

The PlayStation moved gaming firmly into the 3D era while capturing mainstream cool. It stretched the demographic beyond just kids and showed interactive entertainment’s potential as the definitive medium.

Nintendo 64

<img src=”https://i.postimg.cc/vHxX27mn/N64-Console.jpg” width=”300″ alt=”Nintendo 64″>

After PlayStation’s success, Nintendo answered back with its own console shakeup:

Analog stick – The pioneering 3-prong N64 stick enabled full 360 degree motion and camera control.

4 player mayhem – Support for up to four controllers out of the box promoted local multiplayer mayhem.

First-party excellence – Nintendo’s franchises dazzled like never before with titles like Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, and Smash Bros.

Expansion Pak – Doubled RAM from 4MB to 8MB for bigger games like Donkey Kong 64.

Rumble Pak – Introduced force feedback rumble to controller gameplay.

While cartridges ultimately limited storage and visuals, the N64 proved Nintendo could innovate too. It brought analog control, local 4-player experiences, and iconic franchises into the next generation.

Game Library Depth

The number and quality of original exclusive games make a huge impact in judging retro consoles against each other. By this measure, the SNES reigns supreme with over 700 games and a higher concentration of stone-cold classics than any other system:

ConsoleNotable Exclusives
SNESSuper Mario World, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy III, Link to the Past, Super Metroid, Donkey Kong Country
GenesisSonic series, Streets of Rage, ToeJam & Earl, Golden Axe, Shining Force, Phantasy Star
NESSuper Mario Bros. 1-3, Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man 2, Castlevania, Punch Out
PlayStationMetal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Final Fantasy VII, Gran Turismo, Tomb Raider, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
N64Super Mario 64, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, GoldenEye, Wave Race 64, Mario Kart 64, Star Fox 64

From platformers to puzzlers, sports to horror, the SNES offers perhaps the greatest depth and diversity out of any retro library to keep players endlessly entertained.

Historical Impact

Every major retro console advanced the medium and left an indelible impact:

NES – Revitalized the gaming industry after its crash. Made consoles a hit in mainstream America.

Genesis – Brought attitude and arcade-perfect experiences to the home. Pioneered sports and music gaming.

SNES – Established golden standard for pixel graphics, music, and timeless gameplay concepts.

PlayStation – Made 3D immersive worlds the new expectation. Evolved gaming’s tone towards adults.

N64 – Pioneered analog and rumble. Quadrupled multiplayer fun. Innovated camera controls.

While the SNES built brilliantly upon the NES foundation, newcomers Genesis and PlayStation shattered expectations. The N64 invented staples of modern controllers. Each console marked a watershed moment that influenced gaming far beyond just their generations.

Pop Culture Presence and Nostalgia

Gaming consoles seep into pop culture over time – some more than others:

NES – Starred in the hit movie The Wizard. Appeared on Cosby Show. Defined gaming for millions of kids.

SNES – The Console Wars with Genesis fueled schoolyard debates. Cooler aesthetic than kiddie NES.

Genesis – “Genesis does what Nintendon’t!” in-your-face marketing etched SEGA into pop culture forever.

PlayStation – Became the de facto console to own for a generation. Gaming’s new mainstream cool.

N64 – More niche next to PlayStation, but introduced 4D controller that blew minds.

On pure impact, the NES and Genesis especially captured mainstream attention beyond just gaming fans. The SNES and PlayStation enjoyed bigger eras but already felt established by comparison.

Affordability and Cost

Unfortunately, retro collecting has become extremely expensive today:

ConsoleCostNotable Pricing
NES$60-$100Mario 3: $15-20 Loose, $80+ CIB
SNES$100-$150Chrono Trigger: $120+ Loose, $300+ CIB
Genesis$80-$120Sonic 2: $10-15 Loose, $50+ CIB
PlayStation$100-$150Final Fantasy VII: $50+ Loose, $100+ CIB
N64$120-$150Mario 64: $30 Loose, $150+ CIB

16-bit and newer consoles with lower production runs become costly. NES is cheapest given its manufacturing scale. Games multiply prices further – especially CIB (complete in box). Building a large legal retro library rings up big bills that add up fast.

Playability Today

While nostalgia warrants some clunkiness, retro games should still play solidly today given modern conveniences:

NES – Choppy flickering sprites hurt playability, but save states ease frustration. Rewind also negates punishing difficulty.

SNES – Gorgeous pixel art holds up. Tight controls with shoulder buttons. Easily playable today.

Genesis – Graphics are starting to feel dated but controls map nicely. Some slowdown present.

PlayStation – Early 3D visuals improved via upscaling. Innovative cinematic experiences still engaging today.

N64 – Invented modern 3D camera and movement but very blocky graphics without filtering.

SNES strikes the ideal balance between retro appeal and modern playability. NES feels too ancient while N64 and PlayStation show their age visually.


Playing retro games on the go adds replayability:

NES/SNES – NES/SNES Classics mini consoles are portable but very limited game libraries.

Genesis – Sega handhelds like Firecore offer portable Genesis gaming. Modest game selection.

PlayStation – PlayStation TV plays a huge library if you own games, but requires a TV.

N64 – Limited options. Hyperkin makes a portable N64 but performance disappoints.

Small all-in-one retro consoles and handhelds offer portability, although trade-offs like smaller libraries or mediocre emulation apply. For extensive flexibility, devices like the Miyoo Mini provide retro portability through emulation.


Modern conveniences like save states, graphics filters, and cheats enhance retro replayability today:

NES – Original hardware lacks flexibility. NES Classic has save states but very limited game library.

SNES – Jailbroken SNES Classics add flexibility for mods, cheats, etc. but limited on portability without hacking.

Genesis – Some Sega handhelds add save states, but built-in game selection is modest.

PlayStation – Modding opens up Gran Turismo hacks and graphics filters, but permanent system modification very tricky.

N64 – EverDrive carts provide major flexibility, but requires original console and hardware modifications may be needed for hi-res graphics.

Without going the emulation route, flexibility remains limited. EverDrives offer the best native hardware flexibility albeit requiring original consoles.

And the Winner Is…

While no consensus best retro console emerges given the various criteria, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System makes the strongest case across the board:

  • Home to possibly the greatest gaming library ever featuring countless masterpieces that hold up today.
  • Pioneered vital console innovations like shoulder buttons and Mode 7 graphics.
  • Pixelart aesthetics and tight responsive controls keep gameplay feeling timeless.
  • Music and sound design built atmospheric, moody game worlds with memorable melodies.
  • Mario, Zelda and other franchises reached their pinnacles, cementing Nintendo’s skills.
  • Higher production than NES makes complete SNES sets more affordable than some competitors.
  • Classic style brings strong nostalgia – the quintessential gaming console for many ’90s kids.
  • Perfect bridge between retro and modern – feels vintage but remains highly playable today.

On balance, the SNES edges out competitors with its masterful games, charming 16-bit aesthetics, stout legacy, and versatile replayability. While other consoles may win certain criteria, the SNES provides possibly the greatest overall retro gaming experience.


The SNES earned its reputation among the all-time great consoles not just for milestone games, but in how beautifully they hold up decades later. Even as newer technologies impress, the SNES simplicity endures.

That said, no one console definitively “wins” retro gaming. For sports and arcade fans, the Genesis holds equal nostalgia. Nostalgic adults may covet the NES’s purity. And the PlayStation and N64 brought their own innovations that wowed ’90s kids.

Building a well-rounded retro library requires dipping into various consoles across generations. Their contrasting strengths combine to form a greater whole. Each console marked creative peaks that pushed the entire medium forward collectively.

Like a gaming museum, embracing retro history means honoring each system’s individual place and impact. Their shifting strengths and personalities enrich the overall experience.

So whether you grew up with Mario, Sonic, Solid Snake, or Banjo-Kazooie, the best retro console is ultimately the one that speaks most to your fondest gaming memories.


What about retro handhelds like Game Boy and PSP?

For comparing consoles, this guide focused on home platforms with an emphasis on multiplayer. But handhelds like Game Boy, Game Gear, PSP and others all offer excellent retro portable gaming that complement these flagship console experiences.

Does retro gaming require playing on a CRT?

Not at all – while CRT TVs help capture an authentic retro look, today’s HDTVs and handhelds bring their own advantages like save states and visual enhancements. Software emulation also grants flexibility that original hardware lacks. Play retro games however keeps them most enjoyable.

Why is retro gaming so popular today?

It lets older gamers relive fond gaming memories. For younger gamers, it provides a window into gaming history. The simplicity and purity of old games remains refreshing compared to today’s realistic big-budget titles. And the nostalgia effect makes retro gaming feel special versus modern platforms.

Is it better to use original retro consoles or emulation?

This depends on your priorities. Original hardware offers authenticity but may eventually fail. Software emulation grants convenience and enhancements but isn’t 100% accurate. Consider combining emulation with collectible retro items like controllers. There’s no one right way to enjoy retro gaming.

Will retro gaming lose appeal over time?

Retro gaming has cyclical appeal tied closely to nostalgia. As players who grew up with older systems age, younger generations tend to rediscover classics that feel fresh and new compared to modern titles. This passing down of gaming history helps retro gaming stay relevant decades later.

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