Retro gaming is about as popular as it has ever been right now. (Well, at least since the games themselves were first released.)
Kanye recently revealed he wants to name his next album after obscure late ’80s games console the Turbografx 16, a new secret Mortal Kombat menu has just been discovered – 20 years after the game was released – and all-in-one game emulator OpenEmu recently unlocked the vaults of nostalgia with support for no less than 16 of the best classic consoles.
Elsewhere, there are new retro gaming festivals and expos popping up across the U.S. and Europe, while retro gaming channels such as YoVideogames and RetroLiberty have amassed tens of millions of views in the last few years.
The simplistic side-scrolling allure of classic 8- and 16-bit games is a phenomenon that just won’t disappear. For older gamers it’s total nostalgia; for younger gamers it’s history, whimsy and a cool insight into how rapidly games have developed since first emerging in the early 1980s.
Whichever side of that divide you fall on, most can agree that retro gaming is reminder of just how addictive a simple, well-executed idea can be. These days there are many ways to re-live the experience — or indeed live it for the very first time — without having to seek out a 25-year-old cathode ray television to plug the console into.
If you’re keen to dig through the annals of video gaming history yourself, or you’ve got a perverse desire for carpel tunnel syndrome, check out these 10 awesome retro gaming machines available right now.
They start as cheap as $35…
Rewind: it’s the ’90s and kids are at war. The Xbox One vs. PS4 battle ain’t nothing on the Sega Master System vs. NES, Genesis vs. SNES and Game Gear vs. Gameboy skirmishes that schoolyards saw during the tail end of the 20th century. Blood was shed, cheat codes were whispered and cartridges were furiously blown into in an attempt to prove whose console was stronger.
Had you told us that, in 20 years time, there would be a machine that would play all of these games and cost half the price by today’s standards, we would have called you a liar and hadoukened your ass out of town. Oh how wrong we would have been…
Okay, so the Retron 5 doesn’t play Sega Game Gear carts, and it needs an adaptor to play Master System games, but that really is splitting hairs. All regions of all NES, SNES, Mega Drive, Gameboy (original, Advance and Color) cartridges can be played on the Retron 5 via a HDMI output, with upscaled 720 resolution on wireless controllers. This really would have blown minds 20 years ago.
Super Retro Trio
Similar to the Retron 5, but with no Gameboy functionality, Innex’s Super Retro Trio is yet another wonder machine that could have solved all console war issues 20 years ago.
Playing NES, SNES and Genesis games at under half the price of its beefy competitor, the main difference is that there’s no HDMI connectivity, just A/V and S-Video. This means no upscaled resolution, but the authentic retro gamers might argue that’s a good thing.
Its controllers are pretty much identical to those of the original SNES and there’s a region switch on the machine meaning cartridges from all over the world are compatible, including the cheaper Famicom carts and European Mega Drive.
Not bad for under $70…All you need to do is start collecting the cartridges.
Sega Master System & Game Gear Portable
While the Retron 5 caters for serious vintage game heads, AtGames’ range of portables quenches a much more whimsical retro thirst. Especially those with a penchant for Sega’s older models.
Game Gears never really had a chance against the Gameboy (a limited amount of games and a higher price saw to that) and Master Systems (even though they were higher spec) couldn’t match the clout of the Nintendo franchise.
Still, they had some really great games; Alex Kidd may have seemed like struggle Mario, but his side-scrolling challenges were just as addictive, and Nintendo didn’t have a dolphin’s-point-of-view game like Ecco. By the time Sonic came along in 1991, Sega fans really felt like they were winning at life.
And now they can win again, with 30 of the Game Gear and Master System’s most popular games pre-loaded onto one device that can also be fed through A/V cables to your television. From Sonic to Shinobi by way of Golden Axe, for the price this is portable retro gaming gold.
Sega Genesis Classic Console
If the Master System/Game Gear games are a little too retro, then the Genesis is a meatier 16-bit alternative. Another Atgames retro adventure, Sega’s most popular console has been revisited with 80 pre-loaded games and a slot for vintage cartridges.
The slot is pretty handy if you want to take this console seriously. While the pre-loaded games (only 40 of which are actual Sega games, the other 40 are snake-level time-passers) include a strong selection of iconic ’90s classics including the full Streets Of Rage, Golden Axe, Shinobi and Sonic the Hedgehog series.
While there is a distinct absence of the sporting titles that really gave the Genesis (or Mega Drive, for anyone living outside the U.S.) its strong-armed status — games such as PGA Tour Golf and the original FIFA — fortunately the cartridges are still readily available and compatible with this machine.
From the same manufacturer that gave us the multi-console beast that is the Retron 5 (that’s Hyperkin) comes the Supaboy.
No pre-loaded games here; instead, this is a SNES you can fit in your pocket. With its D-pad, face buttons and shoulder bumpers it’s authentically styled like an original SNES controller, albeit with an added 3.5” LCD screen in the middle. It also comes with two original SNES controller ports and a V/A out, so you can play on your television and, most importantly, re-live the hours millions of us wasted in the ’90s on Super Mario Kart.
It’s also fully compatible with the Japanese Super Famicom cartridges. This is cool for two reasons; Famicom cartridges are cheaper and there are several games that never saw release outside of Japan, including the infamous Mario & Wario. Also, Street Fighter II Turbo. Shoryuken!
Neo Geo X
Back in the ’90s, while most of us were scrapping over Nintendo and Sega, the really lucky (read: rich) kids had a Neo Geo. Made by SNK, the same team behind some of the best coin-op games of the time, having a Neo Geo meant you lived in an arcade. While that doesn’t seem particularly pleasant now, for a young teenager in the early ’90s it was a dream location.
The Ferrari of consoles, when they entered the market in 1990 a Neo Geo would set you back $650. Sound pricey? That’s over $1,000 by today’s inflationary standards…Making the recently revitalized Neo Geo X console’s $199 price seem relatively reasonable (although it’s still pretty steep).
What’s interesting is that the Neo Geo X comes as two machines: you have the handheld portable device with 20 of the console’s most popular games, but it also comes with a docking station and those classic chunky arcade joysticks that the original machines came with for full TV gameplay.
Gamepacks are also available. But they won’t be forever…There’s been all manner of legal licensing beef behind the Neo Geo reissue, and current manufacturers Tommo have discontinued them as of this year. Either grab one now or wait another 20 years for a retro-retro gaming experience.
Something a little more contemporary and versatile: the JXD S7800 is an Android tablet that’s fully optimized for gaming both internally, with its quad core, 2GB RAM processing unit, and externally, with its gyro-controls, dual joysticks, D-pad and face button configuration. It even has a dedicated button mapping function to ensure all games are completely playable.
While contemporary gaming will all come through the app store, retro gaming on the JXD S7800 is all about the emulators. So, if you’re cool with the legally grey area and the slightly less authentic gameplay, then the options are immense. From BBC Micro to Coleco to Dreamcast, the vintage gaming world is your oyster…And you can check your emails between levels.
Coming on strong like a mutant beefed-up PS2 controller with a 5” HD screen on its chest, the G5A is pretty similar to the JXD S7800: it’s an Android tablet with quad core processing that’s optimized for gaming with its dual joysticks and button mapping. It sells itself, almost exclusively, on emulator functionality. Not all console emulators work smoothly on the G5A, but there’s enough versatility and options to keep even the most hungry vintage gamer happy.
The G5A is one of many devices from Chinese company Game Pad Digital (GPD) who have just succeeded in raising funds for what could be their most exciting project to date. Check their Indiegogo page for details on the GPD Win, a 5.5” handheld PC that runs on Windows 10 and fits snuggly in your pocket!
Recreated XZ Spectrum
This one’s for the UK heads: While the Commodore 64 ruled the rest of the wet-eared gaming world in the ’80s, the Brits were salivating over the iconic rubber-keyed 48k Sinclair XZ Spectrum and its 128k predecessors.
There was plenty of time to salivate too; games such as the legendary Horace series, Jet Set Willy, the Dizzy puzzle odysseys and the outright classic Chuckie Egg would take upwards of 10 minutes to load by tape and would frequently crash last minute.
Last year, two retro models were introduced to the market and one was a very clear winner. The Sinclair Vega is a joystick-based unit packed with 1,000 games, but fell short off the mark due its connectivity issues; the USB port wasn’t consistently powering the unit enough for slick gameplay (well, as slick as these games got), so users to had to resort to the old CRT aerial-cable connections — which was a little too retro.
Elite Systems’ Recreated XZ Spectrum, however, is much more appealing, due to its smart compatibility and Bluetooth connectivity. The keyboard, which is identical to the one used by our ’80s gaming ancestors, links up to your tablet and TV, and allows for much more realistic gameplay. Many of the Spectrum’s original games are available and the catalog is regularly updated on Elite Systems’ website.
Speccy fanboys have something else to drool over later this year, too: the handheld Sinclair Vega+ has maxed its Indiegogo campaign by almost 300 percent and is expected to launch this fall.
Neo Legend Arcade Cocktail Table
While the rest of the options on this list all weigh in under $200, if you want to do the retro game thing with real authenticity then you need a few hundred more.
There are a few companies making old school gaming tables (Arcade Classics are the most active in the U.S.) but it’s French company Neo Legend who remind us how to do things in real style with their range of cocktail tables.
Loaded with 60 classic arcade games and dual face-to-face control, the cocktail table boasts sleek trims, chrome feet and a fully customizable color scheme. The stuff all ’80s kid’s dreams were made of, you have to admit this would look a lot cooler in your house than a collection of consoles stacked up under the television.
For more gaming content, check out The 10 Best Star Wars Video Games Ever.
- Words: Dave Jenkins