Which Retro Handheld Game Console Should You Buy?

Published 20th November 2020

It’s no secret that video game nostalgia is as real as it gets these days. No longer the curiosity hobby of computer lovers and 80s kids, gaming at large is the single biggest entertainment medium in the world, moving around far more dollars and units than Hollywood could ever hope to match.

That said, there’s definitely a lot of appreciation for the good old days of games, when a handheld game console huddled under the duvet was all you needed to be the best like no-one ever was, to send that cheeky Robotnik packing, or to master Koholint Island’s deepest secrets.

Gameboy Pocket

While the world of gaming has evolved hugely since that time, with both the current and forthcoming consoles of our age redefining interactive entertainment, nobody ever really leaves behind the pixels, beeps and MIDI music of their best handheld game console memories behind!

If you’re thinking of indulging yourself in a handheld game console, which one do you intend to pick? Will you grab the same system as yesteryear and dive into the retro realm, or pick up one of the newer retro handheld game console models expressly designed to bring all those classics to your fingertips in a new era?

Which handheld game console is best?

Growing up in the 1990s especially, this was the question on everyone’s lips – from confused parents in the shops at Christmas to playground debates over who’d win out of Mario and Sonic. Of course, nowadays we can pit those two mascots against one another for ourselves, but back then it was a big part of deciding which was the best home or best handheld console out there!

Of course, no piece discussing a retro handheld game console would be complete without paying homage to the now-legendary Game Boy. Still popular today, this machine effortlessly crowned Nintendo the rightful champions of all things portable gaming – a legacy they have successfully defended to this day.

That said, Nintendo’s foray into the handheld game console market actually began somewhat earlier with their Game & Watch LCD games system range. Although not as well-known today, it’s a retro handheld game console that Nintendo’s paid plenty of homage to recently, thanks to the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. in 2020.

Yet it’d be remiss, if not downright criminal, to round out a discussion over the best handheld console of all time without mentioning the Sega Game Gear. As with many of Sega’s consoles, back when the software house still made machines as well, the Game Gear was absolutely ahead of its time – but often in ways that seriously turned heads in the handheld game console world!

Boasting a full colour screen, an accessory you could purchase to play Master System home console games literally decades before the Nintendo Switch made hybrid consoles mainstream, and even a TV aerial attachment you could get, the Sega Game Gear was a handheld game console that saw Sonic’s home turf at its creative best.

Game gear

In the end, Nintendo staved off the compelling sway of the Game Gear’s advanced colour screen and impressive power, by offering a huge library of affordable games, together with handheld game console innovations that were peppered little and often over the Game Boy’s evolution into the Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance.

Nevertheless, the Game Gear retains a solid fan-base today and is a favourite among collectors, with many still regarding it as the best handheld console ever conceived.

Indeed, that’s a sentiment echoed by those who adore Sony’s own forays into the handheld game console market, with both the PSP and the PS Vita.

While Nintendo got comfy on the throne of handheld game console success, Sony sought to give them a serious run for their money. Both the PSP and Vita were seriously powerful machines, often extending into realms like online connectivity and new forms of interactivity with the astonishingly popular PlayStation home console line, all in ways Nintendo couldn’t match.

PlayStation Vita

In fact, to this day, many believe that the PlayStation Vita especially could have become the best handheld console ever, had Sony not bowed out of the race as swiftly as it did. As Sony instead zeroed in on its own incredibly successful home console efforts, the handheld game console market has become more or less Nintendo’s alone today.

Yet those seeking a retro handheld game console, or looking to get stuck into the Vita’s surprisingly rich library of indie games and JRPGs, are still seeking out the machine to this day. While there are plenty of modern titles that more than make this handheld game console worthwhile, the chance to access a huge library of PSP and PS1 games for next to nothing on the Vita makes it the retro handheld game console of choice for many fans.

Modern twists on the retro handheld game console

Taking everything we’ve discussed so far in mind, it’s not surprising that a lot of technology experts these days are finding their own ways to give us the best handheld console experience around.

This includes handheld game console machines expressly designed for emulation, letting gamers play any title from any retro handheld game console on the platform – as well as more boutique handheld game console examples like the Panic Playdate.

However, there’s so much to delve into that getting into the retro handheld game console landscape can feel daunting. Emulation of retro portable games alone is a tricky, often legally thorny business with all kinds of files, downloads and websites to micromanage.

You might also feel cagey about buying an old retro handheld game console. These devices are decades old by this point, and while built to last, you’ll sadly never get that feeling of unboxing a fresh new machine for a Game Boy, Game Gear or PSP ever again.

Handheld gaming

Not to worry, though! The truth is that there are dozens of handheld game console options out there, many of which have some of the best handheld console games from the good old days ready to go – all built in!

Here are a few of our top choices for handheld game console devices sure to scratch that retro itch.

Retro Portable Mini Handheld Game Console 8-Bit 3.0 Inch Colour LCD

Retro Gameboy

The shape and profile of this retro handheld game console needs little introduction, although this machine also has plenty of titles built in too. In fact, with 400 games at your fingertips, this is a boredom buster for the ages!

Featuring puzzle games, action-adventure titles, platformers, sports games and all the classics in full colour, this handheld game console also boasts a great deal of versatility.

That’s because you’re able to connect it to your TV with an AV cable, bringing the retro fun home in a big way! The included controller essentially makes the retro handheld game console itself more like a retro home console in this setup, giving you all kinds of flexibility in how you play your old school video games!

Pac-Man Hits Handheld Gaming System

Pac-Man Hits Gaming

Pac-Man has been part of gaming since almost the very beginning, and even today, he’s starring in plenty of titles both with all new mechanics and feel-good old-school gameplay as he munches his way to victory!

Using either AAA batteries or a micro-USB cable to power his chomping antics, the Pac-Man Hits Handheld gives Namco’s mascot plenty of screen space to show off his retro chops.

Coloured the same classic yellow as Pac-Man himself, the machine has a 2.75-inch screen and a punchy little speaker, with support for standard headphones if you want to keep that timeless waka-waka-waka to yourself.

There are four of Pac-Man’s most definitive old-school games on this machine, together with responsive buttons and a D-pad that make it the best handheld console to get stuck into Pac-Man, Pac-Man 2, Pac-Mania and Pac-Panic. Time to set some new scores!

5 Inch 128 Bit Handheld Video Game Portable Console With 1000 Games

Video Game Portable Console With 1000 Games

Sharing the same iconic profile and layout as the Vita, this fantastic retro handheld game console backs up its good looks with some superb functionality. With 1000 games already pre-installed on the device, there’s eight gigabytes of storage capacity inside this machine, together with a crystal-clear five inch screen that offers an immersive look into the best handheld console games you’re able to play.

With a built-in recharging battery and the ability to run your games on your TV with a cable, this handheld game console also doubles as a music player, or even a way to read ebooks! Boasting the kind of multipurpose functionality that even most home consoles can only dream of, this handheld game console offers a lot of flexibility in how you get stuck into your downtime. Plus it even includes earphones!

Whatever kind of handheld console experience speaks to you – be it a handheld retro game console from yesteryear complete with authentic game cartridges, or the multiplatform high-performance capabilities offered by the best handheld console choices on the market today – there’s no denying that a world of possibilities awaits.

So reach for the Master Sword, strap on those Power Sneakers, ready your Poké Balls and get ready for adventures measured in pixels and kilobytes instead of ray-tracing and solid-state drives. The best handheld retro game console titles in the world can more than go toe to toe with the dazzling gaming experiences of today!

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