In 2022, there are a ton of options for playing retro video games. Since you can satisfy your nostalgic desire using a PC, Android phone, Mac (especially the new Apple Silicon models), or Raspberry Pi, there is no need to buy specialized hardware.
However purchasing (or building) a product designed specifically for gaming offers advantages. This is especially true if you wish to play handheld games, as portable gaming consoles and pocket emulators have become more popular with the 2017 release of the Nintendo Switch.
Purists might want to explore hardware emulation as one option. There are ready-made projects and DIY options available if you’re craving an experience that closely resembles the original hardware to the point that software emulation is insufficient. The only obstacles in your way are your budget, the availability of stock, and your capacity to complete a DIY project.
Let’s not overlook the several legally authorized “mini” systems that were released by Nintendo, SEGA, and Commodore (among others). Even while they typically provide little in the way of customization and fall short of what the platforms mentioned above are capable of, these shouldn’t be ignored if you’re looking for a plug-and-play gaming experience.
You might be able to use some of your current game consoles in a retro way as well. With just one piece of hardware, you can play both the newest releases and some of your all-time favorites. That way, whether it’s portable or hooked up to the TV in your living room, you always have one primary gaming device available.
Collectors that value owning games in their original format, whether it be a cartridge or CD, also have options. In general, multimedia media outlive the initial technology that was intended to play them. Old silicon suffers from the ravages of time, and repairs can be expensive and beyond the means of many owners.
Some of the systems listed below do not support ROM playback, and many of them rely on officially licensed original or reissued media. Make sure you are aware of the legal ramifications of dumped software and that downloading copyrighted information could get you into trouble if you are considering a solution that relies on ROMs.
Read More: Best 10 Super Mario Games Of All Time
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1. PlayMaji Polymega
The PlayMaji Polymega is the best retro console overall since it has features that no other system does. For a starting price of $449, this modular retro gaming toolkit supports the PlayStation, Sega Saturn, Sega Mega CD, Sega 32X, Neo Geo CD, TurboGrafx CD, and PC-Engine CD right out of the box.
From there, you can purchase additional modules for $79 apiece to provide support for the NEC TurboGrafx-16 family, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis family, and original Nintendo Entertainment System consoles. In a future module, support for the Nintendo 64 will also be introduced.
To avoid constantly pulling out your cartridges, PlayMaji’s console lets you dump your original media to the inbuilt 32GB SSD or removable media (in a file type only the Polymega uses). If you don’t have the actual game, you won’t be able to dump the files and use them with the console because the Polymega doesn’t support normal ROMs.
Emulation performs well thanks to the console’s Intel Coffee Lake chipset and 2GB of DDR4 RAM. It is a PC, but it is a purpose-built modular PC with plug-and-play functionality.
Retro gameplay on the Polymega is undeniably pricey; after paying for more modules and controllers, you could easily spend over $1,000. But with strong emulation and upscaling capabilities, it’s a one-of-a-kind effort that honors both original material and software convenience.
Consider the Evercade VS if you enjoy the concept of tangible game collections but are searching for a less expensive option. This vintage console likewise uses software emulation, but it plays games from Team 17, Atari, Namco, and other companies on proprietary physical game cartridges. The four-player console primarily focuses on reproducing vintage arcade games and early home console classics.
2. Valve Steam Deck
The Valve Steam Deck is currently the best handheld gaming system money can buy, if you can get your hands on one. Demand for the Steam Deck is now out of control, and it hasn’t been fully released worldwide. However, Valve has confirmed that production is growing up as the world begins to recover from a global chip scarcity.
Because of Valve’s Proton compatibility layer, the Linux-powered Steam Deck can run a lot of the Steam titles you already own. Additionally, it creates a really strong retro handheld platform.
The Discover app that comes with the Steam Deck has emulators available for download, and projects like EmuDeck, RetroDeck, and RetroArch have made it simpler than ever to do so.
From 16- and 32-bit archaics like the SNES and PlayStation through the Wii, Xbox, PlayStation 2, and even the Nintendo Switch, the Steam Deck can imitate a wide range of platforms. These games can be conveniently added to your Steam library, complete with album art, using a program called Steam ROM Manager.
If the native Linux support isn’t solid enough, you can also install Windows on your Steam Deck, which offers a better experience when connecting your portable to an external monitor.
With prices starting at around $399, Valve has created a truly great all-in-one portable. Getting your hands on one might be your hardest challenge.
Give the Aya Neo Next (and the future Advance version) a look if Steam Deck availability is getting you down or if you’d prefer a more Windows-centric experience. It belongs to the most recent generation of Windows handhelds and outperforms the Steam Deck in terms of raw performance; as a result, it is also more expensive than Valve’s portable.
3. Retroid Pocket 2+
Playing retro games using software emulation in a compact, the portable format is the one thing a decent pocket emulator should excel at. For less than $100, the GoRetroid Retroid Pocket 2+ offers performance and form factors that are both satisfactory. Building on the success of the wildly successful Retroid Pocket 2, this emulator is new for 2022.
The portable can readily handle older consoles like the SNES, Sega Genesis, and Neo Geo, as well as more demanding ones like the Dreamcast and Sony PSP. Although the Pocket 2+ has PS2 and GameCube emulators, the system’s screen size and button configuration make it unsuitable for both systems.
You may also load up on mobile games thanks to Android 9. The screen isn’t ideal for a mobile phone game’s aspect ratio, and running Android can be a little slow, so this isn’t the best emulator for mobile games.
The 3.5-inch 480p display of the Retroid Pocket 2+ has a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is ideal for the vintage systems that it works best with. You won’t have to deal with unnecessary black bars on either side of the screen because these older games were made with 4:3 CRT televisions in mind.
Two analog “slider” style sticks, a directional pad, four face buttons, two bumpers, and two triggers make up the suitable control system. There includes a built-in rumble for emulators and games that support it, and the display is touch-enabled.
The Anbernic RG351MP is a good option if you’re looking for something a little more durable to play older games on the fly. For 16- and 32-bit emulation, which includes classics like the SNES and Sega Genesis as well as the original PlayStation, it is more than sufficient. It has an all-metal enclosure and is constructed like a tank. Linux is used instead of Android.
4. Xbox Series X or Series S
An Xbox Series X or Series S console allows you to do just that. These powerful gaming Systems are not only useful for running retro emulators and Microsoft exclusives like Halo: Infinite and the Game Pass library.
Due to a Developer Mode change, you may set up the RetroArch multi-system emulator on your console and accomplish this. Almost all games from the Nintendo 64, PlayStation, and even PlayStation 2 can be played once you’ve stocked up on emulator cores and ROMs.
What you want out of your machine will determine which Microsoft console you choose in significant part. The Series X is the best option if you want a console that supports 4K and has an optical disc drive, which is useful for playing older Xbox 360 and original Xbox games. It costs only $200 more at $499 and offers twice the storage.
Anyone seeking for a console that primarily targets 1080p, with some 1440p applications, should choose the Series S. It only has a 512GB SSD, is less powerful than the Series X, and lacks a disc drive. One of the most affordable pre-boxed systems available for playing games for several decades is undoubtedly this one.
It’s also important to highlight the Nintendo Switch as a packed and ready-to-use gaming system for both contemporary and classic titles. You may play NES and SNES games with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, or you can purchase the Switch Online Expansion Pass to gain access to N64 and Sega Genesis games as well.
5. MiSTer FPGA
MiSTer is an open-source project with the goal of hardware-emulating consoles and arcade boards. It accomplishes this utilizing an FPGA, or field programmable gate array, which is a chip that can be modified to function just like the original hardware. Thanks to the tenacious labor of enthusiasts who have been working on the project for years, playing on original hardware is no longer possible.
To use MiSTer, you’ll need to assemble a system with the Terasic DE10-Nano FPGA ($215; available here), a suitable USB hub, input devices like a keyboard and controller, a network connection, microSD cards, a way to cool your MiSTer, and a box to house it all in.
You can add modules for reading original cartridges and arcade boards or just use ROMs when building a MiSTer, which will run you upwards of $500. Although it isn’t the most affordable option to play retro games, this is the way to go if you want to create and customize your gaming experience.
The MiSTer project uses cores to hardware-emulate consoles, arcade cabinets, and home PCs. While others are actively being developed, several cores are nearly exact duplicates. To be informed about the most recent updates and perhaps participate yourself, you can join a community like the MiSTer FPGA Forum.
Take a look at the Analog Pocket if the accuracy of FPGA emulation intrigues you but creating a MiSTer sounds like a daunting task. You can use this system to play Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance original cartridges right out of the box. Additionally, you can purchase Game Gear and other system adapters, as well as one of Analog’s other FPGA-based products, such as the Mega Sg (Sega Genesis), Super Nt (SNES), Duo (NEC PC-Engine and comparable systems), and Nt small (NES).