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IDK if you've noticed, but retro mini-consoles are kind of a big deal in gaming, these days. They all look like itsy-bitsy versions of the original hardware. You buy 'em, and they're pre-loaded with an assortment of titles from said console's library - usually with an emphasis on the hits over more cult-level concerns. Some folk even hack their mini-consoles, putting even more games onto them via freely found ROM files - but, naturally, we couldn't possibly condone such actions.
But with so many mini-consoles available right now, what's the best one for you? Well, we sort of answered that question already, in 2019, and pretty comprehensively too. But it's 2020, new mini-consoles are available, and it's time for a recount. Keeping things simple, here's our pick of the top five mini-consoles that you can spend your money on, right now.
I know what you're thinking: there was no Capcom console, back when, so what the heck is this? And why is it so huge? Fair enough, friend. And this is a bit of a cheat, isn't it? But it's my list and I'll list what I want to. The Capcom Home Arcade is a chunky, two-player unit made using high-quality parts to really deliver that arcade-at-home experience (the clue's in the name, huh?). Included on it are 16 games, ranging from the awesome beat 'em up Alien Vs Predator to the all-timer that is Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, via other mostly excellent brawlers, shooters, sports games and puzzlers. It's not cheap, but the Capcom Home Arcade is well worth bringing home if coin-ops were your thing, growing up. (Full review, here.)
This one's going to be controversial, too - but I make no apologies for picking it instead of the Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System, aka the NES Mini. While Nintendo's brilliant little box of 8-bit delights really got this whole mini-console craze going (yes, other options were available before it, but few of such quality), the games on it are largely available elsewhere, not least of all via the Switch Online Service. The same can't be said for what's on the NEOGEO Mini, which collects 40 SNK games (the King of Fighters, Metal Slug and Samurai Shodown series are represented) on a wonderful-looking little arcade-styled cab, with a built-in 3.5-inch screen.
These are games that cost a fortune back in the day, so having 40 of them on one mini-console that retails for the cost of a new AAA game? I'll take it. The controllers you can get for it, for TV play via HDMI, are a little on the cheap-feeling side and lose points for not having the satisfying joystick click of NEOGEO hardware past. But if you can overcome this particular mini's quirks, or if you're checking out these games for the first time, you're in for a lot of fun.
Speaking of playing old games for the first time, here's a mini that's almost completely dedicated to discovering older games - at least if you grew up in Europe, where the PC Engine never really made a dent on the successes of SEGA and Nintendo. Promoted as the world's first 16-bit console, but not actually the world's first 16-bit console (you liars, NEC), the PC Engine nevertheless pushed beyond what the NES and Master System could achieve, visually and sonically, and some of its best titles are contained on this rather tasty piece of kit. The CD-ROM games in particular look incredibly good, still.
Some of these 57 games - okay, a lot of them - are in Japanese, though, which makes the text-heavy likes of Snatcher wholly unplayable. The more immediate, arcade-gameplay ones - like Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Bonk's Adventure - are fine; as, of course, are all the English-language TurboGrafx (the US name for the PC Engine) selections, which include Alien Crush, Space Harrier, R-Type, Splatterhouse and New Adventure Island. With a wealth of genres represented, the Konami-made PC Engine Mini (its name varies by territory) really does have a lil something new for everyone, whatever their age, tastes and prior gaming experience. (Full review, here.)
We have a giveaway running for three PC Engine CoreGrafx consoles from July 3rd to July 10th 2020, with prizes provided by Konami - check out the GAMINGbible Instagram and Twitter accounts for details.
If the last three picks were all peculiar to you - never played those games, not interested, or whatever - then fret no longer, friend, as I've got you for the final two. The Mega Drive Mini is a perfect, shrunken-down take on SEGA's iconic 16-bit console - the system that brought us Sonic, Streets of Rage, Shinobi and so much more - and with two pads boxed as standard (albeit just the three-button versions in the UK) and 42 games included, this one represents some serious bang for your buck.
While not all of the Mega Drive classics are here, the MD Mini sure packs plenty of essentials inside its tiny frame. There's 1991's OG Sonic the Hedgehog and its sequel; the king of side-scrolling beat 'em ups, Streets of Rage 2, and the funky weirdness of ToeJam & Earl; and the knuckles-bleeding racing of Road Rash II and the epic role-playing of Story of Thor. It's a great mix - it's just a shame that Street Fighter II and Eternal Champions are such pigs to play without a six-button pad. (Full review, here.)
It had to be. When it comes to 16-bit console games, few have aged so gracefully as those of the Super Nintendo, especially the console's very best first-party releases. And the best of the best is here, indeed: F-Zero, Super Metroid, Super Mario World, Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Castlevania IV, Final Fantasy VI (or III, if you're American), Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario Kart, Street Fighter II, EarthBound, Secret of Mana... These aren't just great retro games, they're great games. They mostly stand up remarkably well today. Star Fox 2, perhaps not so much - but still, Star Fox 2! It's a game that exists on this mini-console, and it never existed before. And that is cool as heck. (Okay so it's also on Switch now, too, but it was still special.)
The SNES Mini isn't easy to come by at the moment - the official Nintendo store is sold out of them, Amazon prices are off their heads, and ebay isn't much better. But sometimes to get the best, you have to pay the cost - and if you can find this beautiful thing for under 80 quid, for goodness sake, get it. And yes, some of these games are, like those NES ones, available on Switch Online. But do they feel as good, played with something other than a classic SNES pad? No, friend, they do not.
Featured Image Credit: SEGA, Nintendo
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