Just over a year ago I received one of the most unusual presents I’d received in some time. My ex at the time handed me a plain brown box a few days before my birthday and told me to set it up. Literally labelled as a ‘Game Station’, I couldn’t help but feel slightly intrigued by what retro consoles were.
Having plugged the console in, I was met with a splash screen that said Retro Orange Pie and the sound of the PS1 booting up. After a short loading screen, I stared at a menu that had the option of over 17,083 games across different generations of retro consoles. To say choice overwhelmed me would honestly be an understatement.
The aptly named Gaming Station isn’t unique though. Amazon is filled with homemade retro gaming machines built from Raspberry Pi boards. Each one boasts thousands of games nestled within its memory, all only a few button presses away.
As someone who grew up in the 90s, these little consoles offer a convenient way to play a number of retro games without the necessity of bulky and rare hardware. There’s a questionable legality to the consoles of course, as there is with any homebrew console. However, many of the games are so old now that it's unlikely the original developers would ever make money from them.
Types of Retro Consoles
There are a few different retro consoles available on Amazon. Each type fits a different need and could require additional hardware in order to run. Let’s break the different types of machines down.
Hand-Held Retro Gaming
The best place for anyone who wants to try out the retro gaming consoles on Amazon is probably with the handheld devices. They are the cheapest, easiest to use and typically feature smaller gaming libraries. Each device makes up for this by being portable, acting like a Game Boy. However, this is a Game Boy which lets you run everything from Sega Mega Drive through to the Atari.
I've got one of these myself, and it's the perfect companion for any bus or train journey. Fitting in your pocket our bag with ease and featuring all the games you could eber need to play, they really are ace little machines. The handheld retro console offers the perfect alternative to using your mobile phone as an emulator while on the go.
Miniature Arcade Machines
There are lots of miniature arcade machines available on Amazon. These all-in-one console are shaped like arcade cabinets, and come with joysticks. They range in price and size, with larger cabinets costing more. The cabinets are reasonably priced and take up very little space, making them another great starting point.
Retro arcade machines aren't for everyone. Their tiny size would make them pretty much unplayable for anyone with large hands. However, they would make the perfect game for a young child that you are looking to introduce to gaming.
The first retro machine on this list without a screen, Pandora’s Box consoles are an all in one console featuring both the controller and the motherboard. The console requires a TV with a HDMI input, but the upside is that the older retro games look fantastic on a big screen.
For any fighting game fans out there, Pandora's Box consoles provide the perfect multiplayer gaming experience. Simply plug it in, sit side-by-side with a friend and play your way through the best fighting games of the last 50 years.
Last but not least, there are the little retro arcade boxes like my Game Station. You can hook these little boxes up to a TV and use the provided controllers or one of your own. They often come with an abundance of games to pick from, ranging between the 70s, 80s, 90s and the early 2000s. If you are really into your retro gaming and don’t mind investing a little more, these little boxes are really worth it.
The Gaming Station's small size makes it a great travel coimpanion as well. If you're looking for something to take with you for a hotel stay or while stopping at an Airbnb, this little console should keep you more than entertained for a few days. I'd recommend using a slightly better controller though, the controller pictured above isn't great.
What makes these retro gaming consoles so impressive is just how accessible they are. Playing old gaming hardware is notoriously difficult to run on modern displays. Whether it's finding the right display port to match the output or finding a TV that can match the resolution of the console itself. Playing retro games is not an easy feat, but these retro machines completely bypass that.
Utilising the power of emulation, you can run 30 years worth of video games through any TV or Display that has a HDMI cable. The retro consoles also allow for a certain amount of customisation, enabling resolution changes, rendering options and numerous other settings. You can play whatever games you want, how you want to. This would prove costly and difficult if you were to try to replicate such a thing using native hardware.
That customisation goes one step further because it’s incredibly easy to add games to these retro consoles. Games added to consoles should come from legitimate sources, so we never recommend doing anything dubious. However, each one of these consoles all run from a MicroSD card or a similar variant. It’s incredibly easy to upgrade your storage or add new games should you want to.
Emulation is key to archiving
However you feel about emulation, there’s one area it is vitally important in and that is the act of archiving video games. Numerous video games have been lost to the annals of time because of carelessness. Therefore, ensuring older games remain in the public forum is key to making sure they remain playable and documented. Amazon’s library of retro consoles is an important part of this effort, ensuring even more copies of video games are sent across the world.
The Netflix of retro consoles
What makes these little consoles so impressive is the sheer wealth of gaming history on them. With a few button presses, you can play a rare Japanese beat ‘em up that never released globally. In some ways, these little machines feel like the Netflix of retro gaming. You load them up, pick a random game and start playing. Many of them even allow players to choose games at random.
While these little machines might be morally ambiguous, I’d argue they do no harm to developers and publishers of game’s from over 30 years ago. The positives also massively outweigh the benefits, providing players with accessible and portable methods of experiencing gaming’s most important and vibrant moments.
Now excuse me while I go back to playing niche retro titles that I had no clue existed until a few moments ago.