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Best retro games consoles 2021: the top nostalgic gaming revivals

Best retro games console
The Sony PlayStation Classic, Sega Genesis and SNES Classic (Image credit: Sony, Nintendo, Sega)

2020 was a terrible year, but we got some great retro gaming news back in October. The next retro games console could well be a Sega Dreamcast Mini, and if it means we can spend more time revisiting classic titles from the past, we're all for it. 

Our heart skips a beat just hearing the name "Dreamcast", but Sega also made one of the best retro games consoles to date in the Sega Genesis Mini. Hopes are high, then, that we may soon go misty-eyed over Jet Set Radio and Crazy Taxi all over again. 

But the Sega Dreamcast Mini is just a rumor for now. Today, we're most interested in the best retro games console you can buy today. 

Unless you're one of the youngest millennials of part of gen-z, your childhood gaming dreams are probably already catered for.  

Just plug a SNES Classic Mini or Sega Genesis Mini into your TV, pass the second controller to a friend and you can teleport back to the mid-90s when the world made sense. 

We've not ranked these revivals, like we do in some of our guides, because nostalgia is a key part but we will talk you through the pros and cons of each. Below are our top picks of the best retro console revivals that you can play right now.

SNES Classic Mini

(Image credit: Future)

SNES Classic Mini

One of the greatest, reimagined

Specifications
How many games?: 21
Reasons to buy
+Cute design+Star Fox 2!
Reasons to avoid
-Limited games-Short controller cords

Following the massive success of the NES Classic Mini, Nintendo returned to the 90s in a more compact form with the SNES Classic Mini.

The box plugs into your TV via HDMI and comes with 21 pre-loaded games (one of which is the unreleased Star Fox 2!) as well as two mini controllers that will allow you to take advantage of multiplayer. 

The drawback of Nintendo's retro consoles is that once you've exhausted the fairly limited library you won't be able to play anything else. The console doesn't accept the original cartridges, nor does it let you download more content.

That said, it'll take you a little while to get through all of the titles included on the SNES Classic Mini allowing you to get your nostalgia hit. 

Read our full review: SNES Classic Mini review

Sega Genesis Mini

(Image credit: Future)

Sega Genesis Mini

The value for money choice

Specifications
How many games?: 80
Reasons to buy
+Great value+Huge selection of games
Reasons to avoid
-Controllers are light-Doesn't feel premium

Everyone remembers the Sega Genesis (or the Mega Drive as it was known outside North America) acting as a competitor to Nintendo's SNES. The console was home to such classics as Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Earthworm Jim.

It works much like the resurrection of its old rival the SNES. All 42 classic games come preinstalled. And while there's a cute moving cartridge flap, it won't take any of your old carts. It'd need to be twice the size. 

Some of our favourites on this retro console include Gunstar Heroes, Dynamite Headdy and the punishing Ghouls 'n Ghosts. The first two Sonic the Hedgehog games are on there too, of course. 

Also unlike the original Mega Drive, the console supports wireless controllers so you don't have to worry about the mess of controller cables that used to plague console gamers.

Read our full review: Sega Genesis Mini review

NES Classic Mini

(Image credit: Future)

NES Classic Mini

More games than the SNES

Specifications
How many games?: 30
Reasons to buy
+Iconic look+Classic games
Reasons to avoid
-Short controller cables-Can't add more games

If you want an even more retro hit, the NES Classic Edition was the first rereleased console from Nintendo and it came with 30 games onboard. Those games included The Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros and Castlevania.

The bad news is that once you've exhausted that library you won't be able to play anything else - the console doesn't accept the original cartridges, nor does it let you download more content.

You may struggle to now be able to find the NES Classic Edition. At the time of writing, it was difficult to find the retro console brand new from any major retailers in the US or UK.

That said, you may still be able to pick it up second hand and try out the retro experience for yourself.

Read our full review: NES Classic Mini review

SNK Neo Geo Mini

The ultimate retro gaming ornament?

Reasons to buy
+Looks fantastic+Good screen+Great games collection
Reasons to avoid
-Poor TV-out quality

Most retro games consoles ultimately end up as ornaments in your house, to be taken down and played a couple of times a year. The SNK Neo Geo Mini is the best of the lot for that job. It's a micro arcade cabinet, and the baked-in controls are perfect for super quick-fire play. 

We also can't help but reminisce about how much these games use to cost — $200-$300 a pop. Now we get 40 for under $100. 

Faves include King of Monsters 2, Metal Slug and the entire King of Fighters series. Sure, they feel a bit fiddly on a 3.5-inch screen playing with a miniature joystick and buttons. But most of us don't buy a retro games console to play through these oldie titles for hours at a time. 

The SNK Neo Geo Mini isn't great for that job either. While you can plug in a larger controller and hook up your TV, the image over HDMI is muddy compared to that of the SNES Classic Mini. 

Read our full review: SNK Neo Geo Mini

PlayStation Classic

(Image credit: Sony)

PlayStation Classic

A big name, but not the best reboot

Specifications
How many games?: 20
Reasons to buy
+Two controllers+Built-in memory cards
Reasons to avoid
-Limited game selection-Misses key titles

The PlayStation Classic console is certainly fun, but it missed a trick. Sony could have followed in Nintendo’s footsteps by releasing a populist's retro console, one that had the undisputed best games of the era like Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy 8 and 9 or Tomb Raider. But that's not the PlayStation Classic. 

It doesn’t include the majority of the console’s greatest hits and instead opts for some cult classics like Persona and Jumping Flash among a few well-received titles. Using Sony’s retro console is therefore a lot less like walking down memory lane, an experience we had with the SNES Classic and NES Classic Mini, and a lot more like a sample platter of what the PlayStation had to offer 20-some-odd years ago. 

Of course, some people might develop a real attachment to games like Destruction Derby, Ridge Racer Type 4 and Intelligent Qube - and if that's you, the PlayStation Classic is going to be everything you've ever wanted in a retro console. 

If not, however, then you'll be disappointed with the game selection, unimpressed by the lackluster interface and forced to watch, often in horror, as late '90s FMVs are brought to life like Frankenstein's Monster on your 4K or 1080p TV.

Read our full review: PlayStation Classic review

ZX Spectrum Vega

(Image credit: Retro Computers)

ZX Spectrum Vega

A thousand games to play

Specifications
How many games?: 1000
Reasons to buy
+Over a thousand games+Properly retro
Reasons to avoid
-Difficult to find

The ZX Spectrum was one of the first mainstream home computers to come out when it was released in the UK in 1982. It was to the UK what the Commodore 64 was in the US, a trojan horse for getting computers into homes, and a device that would inspire a generation of coders.

Yes, its keyboard was a bit of a mushy rubber mess, but with a software library that contained classics such as the original Elite, Football Manager, and Manic Miner, you can't exactly fault the little console that could.

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega looks nothing like the original console. Rather than having a full QWERTY keyboard, the console is instead packed completely into a controller which has 1,000 games built-in.

The device was available for £99.99 (around $130), but it's not quite difficult to find so you may struggle more to pick this up than other consoles in this list.