Technology

The Best Modern Retro Consoles of 2024

Whether you’re nostalgic for a bygone era or want to experience a period of gaming that’s older than you are, playing retro games on modern hardware is easier than ever. Best of all, there’s a platform to suit every taste, budget, and form factor.


UPDATE: 01/12/2024

We’ve updated our picks for the best pocket emulator and the best retro gaming handheld. Take a look!

The State of Retro Gaming in 2024

You’re spoiled for choice when looking to play retro video games. There’s no need to purchase dedicated hardware since you can use a PC, Android smartphone, Mac (especially the new Apple Silicon models), or your Raspberry Pi to scratch the nostalgic itch.

But buying (or building) something purpose-built for gaming has its benefits. This is especially true if you want to go the handheld route, with pocket emulators and handheld gaming systems hitting their stride since the launch of the Nintendo Switch in 2017.

You may also be able to repurpose some of your existing gaming hardware for retro purposes. This gives you a choice between playing the latest releases and dipping into old favorites, all on a single piece of hardware. That way, you’ve always got one main device to play on, whether it’s portable or connected to the TV in your living room.

There are also options for collectors who value owning games in their original format, whether that’s a cartridge or CD. Generally speaking, these mediums outlast the original hardware on which they were designed to be played. The sands of time are not kind to old silicon, and repairs can be costly and beyond the scope of many owners.

Hardware emulation is one area that purists may want to explore. If you crave an authentic experience that mirrors the original hardware to the point where software emulation simply isn’t good enough, there are DIY and ready-built projects designed just for you. Budget, stock availability, and your ability to take on a DIY project are the only limitations standing in your way.

Finally, let’s not forget about the various officially licensed “mini” consoles released by Nintendo, SEGA, and Commodore (among others). These shouldn’t be discounted if you’re after a plug-and-play gaming experience, but they generally offer little in the way of customization and fall short of what the platforms above are capable of.

Not all of the platforms below can play ROMs, and many make use of original or re-issued media that has been officially licensed. If you are looking at a solution that depends on ROMs, make sure you understand the legal implications of dumped software and know that downloading copyrighted material could land you in hot water.

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PlayMagi Polymega console
PlayMagi

Pros

Cons

✓ A modular emulation system that supports a large number of systems

✗ An expensive way to get started with emulation

✓ Play CD-based titles out of the box

✗ Not compatible with standard ROMs

✓ Store your games on internal or removable storage

✗ Only appeals to those with a physical game collection

✓ Active development means new modules and software updates to come

The PlayMaji Polymega takes the crown as the best overall retro console—no other retro system offers functionality quite like it. It’s a modular multi-system retro gaming box of tricks that offers support for the PlayStation, Sega Saturn, Sega Mega CD, Sega 32X, Neo Geo CD, TurboGrafx CD, and PC-Engine CD out of the box, for a starting price of $449.

From there you can buy additional modules for $79 each to add support for the original Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis family, and NEC TurboGrafx-16 family consoles. Support for the Nintendo 64 will be added in an upcoming module, as well.

PlayMaji’s console allows you to dump your original media to the internal 32GB SSD or removable media (in a file format only the Polymega uses) so that you don’t have to get your cartridges out all of the time. However, the Polymega doesn’t work with standard ROMs, so if you don’t have the physical game, you won’t be able to dump the files and use it with the console.

Emulation is solid, with the console powered by an Intel Coffee Lake processor with 2GB of DDR4 RAM. It’s a PC, but a purpose-built modular one that aims for plug-and-play ease of use.

The Polymega is an undoubtedly expensive way of playing retro titles, and once you’ve shelled out for additional modules and controllers, you can easily spend over $1000. But it’s a one-of-a-kind project that celebrates both original media and software convenience, with solid emulation and upscaling abilities.

If you like the idea of physical game collections but are looking for a cheaper route, consider the Evercade VS. This retro machine also relies on software emulation but uses proprietary physical game cartridges with officially licensed game collections from Team 17, Atari, Namco, and more. The console supports four players and mostly targets emulating retro arcade games and early home console classics.

polymega

PlayMaji Polymega

Best Retro Console Overall

Play original CD and cartridge games with the PlayMaji Polymega, a modular software-based emulator. Swap out modules to expand compatibility and save your games to internal or removable storage while reaping the benefits of software emulation including save states and custom rendering options.

Retroid Pocket 3 Plus
Retroid Pocket

Pros

Cons

✓ Supports a huge number of platforms for emulation

✗ Requires a fair bit of setup to get started

✓ Improved processing power compared to Retorid Pocket 3

✗ No user guide included

✓ Larger 4.7-inch IPS display

With support for an incredible number of retro emulators, the Retroid Pocket 3 Plus is the go-to handheld to get your fix of nostalgic gaming feels. With support for everything from the N64 and GameCube, to the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast, and even the PS1 and PS2, it’s a gamer’s delight for playing whatever retro game you’d like.

The Retroid Pocket 3 Plus runs on the Android 11 OS and has full support for the Google Play Store, giving you even more game choices. Lightweight and portable, this handheld is slightly smaller than the Nintendo Switch Lite, and makes the portable the most convenient way to enjoy retro gaming on the go.

Retroid offers additional improvements over the Retroid Pocket 3 thanks to its Unisoc Tiger T618 processor, which provides a much improved all-round performance. Boasting a 50% improvement in performance over its predecessor, you can expect a buttery smooth experience with your favorite retro games. Internal storage has been upgraded too, with this upgraded version providing 4GB of RAM plus 128GB of storage for your library.

It features a larger 4.7-inch touchscreen IPS display and comes in three cool color tones. It provides 16 hours of battery life on a full charge and is equipped with clickable analog sticks and a rumble function for tactile and immersive gameplay.

Offering endless possibilities for retro gaming emulation, and with a very reasonable price tag to boot, the Retroid Pocket 3 Plus is the best pocket emulator on the market right now.

Retroid Pocket 3 Plus Tag

Retroid Pocket 3 Plus

Best Pocket Emulator

$160 $180 Save $20

With a larger screen display, upgraded processing power, and improved internal storage, the Retroid Pocket 3 Plus is the best pocket emulator on the market and is ideal for enjoying retro gaming on the go.

Steam Deck OLED
Valve

Pros

Cons

✓ Larger 4.7-inch OLED display

✗ Expensive

✓ Improved processing power

✗ Some availability issues are possible

✓ Quieter operation

✓ Tons of emulators available for retro gaming

Valve’s Steam Deck was already an excellent handheld for retro gaming, but with the Steam Deck OLED version, it’s even better than ever. The larger 7.4-inch OLED display not only looks incredible but also has a 90Hz refresh rate, compared to the original Steam Deck’s 60Hz refresh rate, so you know your eyes are in for a real treat here.

Featuring a host of improvements across the board, it offers a faster, smoother performance, an improved battery life, and quieter operation than its LCD counterpart. This is not simply a reskin with a fancy OLED coating.

Support for retro emulators is as impressive here as it was with the original Steam Deck, with a metric ton of them available for your gaming pleasure. Many of these can be downloaded via the Discover app that comes pre-installed with the console (such as EmuDeck) and serves as a relatively fuss-free way to unlock your favorite retro gaming platforms, such as the N64, SNES, Wii, and PlayStation 2, to name but a few.

The cheapest version of the Steam Deck OLED comes with 512GB of storage, while the premium version has 1TB, and includes all the trimmings, such as the Valve-branded carrying case. You’ll have to shell out either way, but chances are, if you’re considering upgrading your existing Steam Deck or buying one for the first time, you probably won’t be using it exclusively for retro gaming.

Nevertheless, the Steam Deck OLED is a great place to enjoy retro and AAA titles alike. With its incredible OLED display, upgraded performance, a more robust battery life, and comparatively silent running, it manages to erase most of the niggles we had with the OG Steam Deck while continuing to mold itself into a veritable handheld powerhouse.

Steam Deck OLED Tag

Steam Deck OLED

Best Retro Gaming Handheld

The Steam Deck OLED takes everything that you love about the original Steam Deck and improves upon it. Featuring an incredible OLED display and improved processing power, Valve’s latest handheld is a great way to enjoy your favorite retro classics.

Xbox Series X
Corbin Davenport / How-To GeekCorbin Davenport / Review GeekCorbin Davenport / LifeSavvy

Pros

Cons

✓ Play brand new releases and emulate older systems

✗ $19 fee required to enable Developer Mode

✓ Access the Game Pass library with a membership

✗ You’ll need to do some work to get things set up

✓ Excellent controller included in the box

✗ Series S has limited space and lacks optical drive

✓ Choose between a powerful 4K console or less expensive 1080p option

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could use a current-generation games console as an emulator machine, so all that power doesn’t go to waste? That’s exactly what you can do with an Xbox Series X or Series S console. Not only are these powerful gaming machines for playing Microsoft exclusives like Halo: Infinite and the Game Pass library, you can even use them to run retro emulators too.

This is possible thanks to a Developer Mode tweak that allows you to install the RetroArch multiple-system emulator on your console. Once you’ve loaded up on emulator cores and ROMs you can play almost everything up to and including Nintendo 64, PlayStation, and even PlayStation 2 games.

Which of Microsoft’s consoles you opt for largely depends on what you’re looking for from your machine. If you want a console that targets 4K and has an optical disc drive—handy for playing those older Xbox 360 and original Xbox titles—then the Series X is the better buy. It also has double the storage, costing only $200 more at $499.

The Series S is a great buy for anyone looking for a console that primarily targets 1080p, with some 1440p applications. It lacks a disc drive and isn’t as powerful as the Series X, plus it only has a 512GB SSD. It’s arguably one of the most cost-effective pre-boxed systems you can use to play games from various generations.

It’s also worth shouting out the Nintendo Switch as a boxed and ready-to-go console for playing both new and retro games. With a Nintendo Switch Online membership, you can play NES and SNES titles, or opt for the Switch Online Expansion Pass and get access to N64 and Sega Genesis titles as well.

xbox series x

Xbox Series X

Best Retro Gaming Home Console

$470 $500 Save $30

Play retro games on your Xbox Series X by installing RetroArch in Developer Mode. You can then restart your console in retail mode and still play the latest releases and Game Pass titles.

What About Official “Mini” Consoles?

There is a full range of officially licensed “mini” consoles available, and these are viable options if you’re in the mood for some plug-and-play fun. While emulation quality can differ between them, they all generally hit the “good enough” barrier, considering the main draw here is ease of use.

Most of these systems are comparable in terms of overall pros and cons. They have a limited selection of games available, which could mean some of your favorite titles aren’t present. Some, like the discontinued SNES Classic Mini, can be “hacked” to play more games or even entirely different systems using multi-system emulators like RetroArch.

Out of the box, they provide a decent retro gaming experience with no need to mess with software, upload ROMs, or bring cartridges. They all come with period-appropriate controllers, though these are generally wired. Perhaps worst is the supply issue, with many now only available through resellers at inflated prices.

Nintendo fans might want to start with the NES Mini Classic with 30 games including Super Mario Bros., Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda. There’s also the SNES Classic with 21 games including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, ideal for using the two included controllers.

SEGA kids might prefer the SEGA Genesis Mini for playing classic titles like Sonic the Hedgehog, Virtual Fighter 2, Space Harrier 2, and Ecco the Dolphin. In better supply than most of these is Sony’s PlayStation Classic, with epics like Final Fantasy VII, Tekken 3, and Ridge Racer Type 4 pre-loaded.

If you were a retro home computer fan, you might find the C64 Mini more to your tastes. It outputs at 720p, features a classic joystick, and lets you play old classics like Speedball, California Games, and Impossible Mission (plus its sequel) in one tidy package. Unfortunately, the keys on the keyboard are non-functional and just for show.

Perhaps one of the best examples of its kind is the A500 Mini, an Amiga clone that includes both Amiga 500 and Amiga 1200 emulation abilities. The console includes the ability to side-load your own Amiga ROMs and comes with titles like Worms, Simon the Sorcerer, and Zool in the box.

Perhaps none of these “mini” consoles are more compelling than Capcom Home Arcade, a pricey yet stunning 16-in-one system housed in a pair of “competition class” arcade controllers in the shape of the Capcom logo. Play classics like Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Alien vs. Predator and Final Fight using the built-in CPS 1 and CPS 2 emulator.

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