25 Best Video Game Consoles of All Time

Of the many thousands of culture-shaking inventions of the 20th century, few have shaped entertainment as we know it as the dawning of the video game console. Released in 1972, the Magnavox Odyssey (with the kind of name that gave gaming a nerdy reputation for decades) is often heralded as the very first video game console, allowing players to swap around game cards to change up the gameplay from Table Tennis to Submarine. Compare those graphics to today’s games and it’s clear just how far we’ve come in the intervening years of this still remarkably young industry.

It’s not always been smooth sailing for playing games from the comfort of your living room in the west, however. Arcades were simply better places to play your games for many years before an absolute tidal wave of junk flooded the console market in the early 1980s and threatened to bring it all to its knees. Seeing an opportunity in the market, Nintendo stepped in to try their hand at the home console market, effectively creating a blueprint for everyone else to follow — Sega and other rivals weren’t too far behind. It wouldn’t be long until playing habits started to shift from the arcade to the home in the 90s, and then a certain Sony came along to give gaming its cooler edge by putting a marsupial in jorts.

While Sega would sadly depart the console scene shortly after the new millennium, it left room for PC giants Microsoft to dip their toes into the crowded pool, spawning the Xbox brand. Across the 2000s, 2010s, and now 2020s, there’s been no shortage of options for players across the world, the kind of healthy competition that somehow results in slurs getting slung around on Twitter because a brand did or didn’t do something.

With us now deep into the ninth generation and the future of the home console as we know it seemingly changing in ways few could predict with the rise of cloud gaming and gradual death of physical media, it’s time to look back on the best video game consoles of all time across many years and far too many words.

 

25. Atari 7800

Atari 7800
Atari 7800
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
Atari 7800AtariMay 1986 (US)1.4 million (estimated)

Many people’s first thoughts (or collection of numbers) when it comes all things Atari is likely to be “2600,” as it’s the console often cited with changing everything we know about gaming. However, the 7800 does everything the 2600 can, but better. Not only can the 7800 play the large majority of 2600 games (in a feat of backwards compatibility that was an absolutely massive, important deal back in 1987), it also has a raft of its own great games, including Joust and Pole Position 2.

The Atari 7800 was also revolutionary for including a little something called “quality control,” meaning that the market would become less and less flooded with the aftermarket slop that almost drowned the 2600. The 7800 may not have been much of a competitor to the NES in the grand scheme of things (thanks to Jack Tramiel’s refusal to release it for two whole years), but for being arguably the last time when Atari was truly great, and for tightening up the absolute wild west of 80s gaming, the 7800 has a far greater legacy than people give it credit for.

 

24. PlayStation Vita

PS Vit
PS Vita
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
PlayStation VitaSonyDecember 17, 2011 (JP)15-16 million (estimated)

Speaking of legacy, it’s hard not to dream of what kind of legacy the PlayStation Vita could have left behind had Sony been just a little bit braver with it. While the Vita is a fantastic piece of hardware, one that feels massively influential for the current state of handheld gaming, Sony were guilty of easing off the gas a little too soon with its first-party games quickly drying up. The underwhelming sales (not helped by that expensive proprietary storage) probably didn’t help them to commit more to the handheld.

However, while Vita didn’t burn bright for long, it burned very bright indeed. First-party titles like Gravity Rush, Tearaway, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and Killzone: Mercenary made people rethink what handhelds were capable of, while JRPG franchises like Persona positive flourished — it may not be the powerhouse it is now without its Vita stint. A wealth of indie games and visual novels also found a natural home on Sony’s little marvel, and Sony’s cross-buy initiative was a player-first move that the company seem to have few of these days. The OLED screen can still look absolutely stunning today, and it really just strikes a perfect balance of weight and comfort that even Nintendo haven’t quite managed with the Switch. Pick up a Vita today and you might struggle to put it down.

It often feels like being in a cult to be a Vita fan, but sign us up if it means we get to dive into televisions and also become a benevolent sun.

 

23. Master System

Master System
Master System
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
Master SystemSegaOctober 20, 1985 (JP)20 million (estimated)

The Master System may have pretty soundly lost to the NES when it came to their battle in the mid-80s, but for providing a strong jumping-off point for Sega as a whole into the western console space, it’s hard to overlook its importance.

The 8-bit system was actually technically stronger under the hood than Nintendo’s culture-shifting box, and it had some games to showcase just that. Phantasy Star became a phenomenon thanks to the Master System, Alex Kidd tortured poor children across the world, and Wonder Boy filled many homes with wonder after being ported from arcades — a tradition that Sega would lean on a lot with their consoles. The Master System also had a couple of miracle ports too, with Sonic the Hedgehog able to go moderately fast in the generation prior to his natural home on the Genesis.

For offering a serious alternative to the NES, utilising the kind of customisable D-pad that bespoke controller makers now charge wild money for, and surviving well into the 90s, the Master System is a system that deserves its flowers. There’s a reason why it’s still being played and manufactured in Brazil to this day.

 

22. 3DS

Nintendo 3DS
Nintendo 3DS
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
3DSNintendoFebruary 26, 2011 (JP)75.94 million

Though the 3DS was competition for the Vita, it’s difficult not to wish that Sony had learned some lessons from Nintendo on how to turn a failing handheld around. The 3DS released to a pretty cold reception, with the handheld struggling to shift units. Following some revisions (including one that eventually removed the polarising 3D effect) and some heavy price cuts, the 3DS went on to be yet another smash hit for Nintendo.

The 3DS took everything that worked about the DS (the dual-screen, party tricks, and great first-party support) and brought it more in line with modern expectations, while also adding a 3D slider that caused a whole bunch of nausea. It was a neat gimmick that worked remarkably well in terms of giving its games added visual depth, but the handheld’s 3D slider was only ever in one setting for most people.

The 3DS was no slouch in terms of games, either, offering excellent updates to franchises like Fire Emblem, The Legend of Zelda, and, of course, Mario. While New Horizons is Animal Crossing at its most culturally relevant, New Leaf is seen as the series high-point by many of its fans, and the raft of fantastic ports of classic Nintendo games offered a solid spine for the handheld’s entire library to work from.

The 3DS may not have managed to completely flourish in the battle against the rise of mobile gaming, but it gave Nintendo themselves a whole new dimension.

 

21. Saturn

Sega Saturn
Sega Saturn
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
SaturnSegaNovember 22, 1994 (JP)9.26 million

If Sega had simply taken a breath to figure out their strategy better, or perhaps even if its release had been slightly more tactically timed, there’s no telling where the Saturn might have landed on any list of the best video game consoles of all time.

Beating the original PlayStation and Nintendo 64 to market, the Saturn offered players a first glimpse at what the future of gaming would look like in glorious 3D. It’s often documented how much developers struggled to adapt to the 32 and 64-bit generation’s many challenges, and a lot of that can be seen on the Saturn, though many of gaming’s greatest ever games found a welcome home on the Saturn too.

Burning Rangers, Panzer Dragoon Saga, and NiGHTS Into Dreams all belong in the video game pantheon, while the Saturn also boasts games that proudly flew the 2D flag like Magic Knight Rayearth, Guardian Heroes, and Dragon Force. The Saturn has no shortage of fantastic games — if you have the pockets deep enough to pick them up physically, that is — but the lack of a “proper” Sonic game certainly hurt its appeal.

The real downfall of the Saturn? The newcomers Sony and the old foe Nintendo — and a little bit of Sega themselves. The Saturn’s surprise drop meant that suppliers were ill-equipped to push Sega’s penultimate console, and once the Nintendo 64 released, what market share Sega had with the Saturn was quickly swallowed up. Sega had done a little too much in too short a space of time, and the Saturn was perhaps guilty of shooting for the stars with a twitchy aim, as it wouldn’t be long before Sega moved on to their final console.

 

20. Xbox Series X & S

Xbox Series X and S
Xbox Series X and S
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
Xbox Series X & SMicrosoftNovember 10, 2020 (WW)21+ million (June 2023)

While the Xbox Series line may not have truly reached its potential just yet, it’s already started to make up for the disappointment of the Xbox One, a console that you won’t be finding on this list of the best game consoles ever.

With the Series X, which may well be Xbox’s final ever disc-based console, Microsoft has provided power, versatility, and accessibility in one sleek, fridge-like package. The memes were aplenty when the Series X was first revealed, but its simple design just works for those who might’ve been put off by the PS5’s futuristic chic.

As for the Series S, it’s a very solid, very discreet starting point in the current generation for those who only ever play titles through Game Pass, with the price point to match. The Series S is a very capable device, but the lack of a disc drive and raw power that may become a millstone as the generation carries on could end up becoming a real hindrance.

Quick Resume is also quite possibly the best invention of the entire ninth generation, as it means that players basically never have to quit their games. It’s not perfect, but being able to resume a game that you paused weeks ago while also playing other games is frankly wild.

Though the future of the Series S may be up in the air, it seems like Xbox has finally started to deliver what its fans want: games. The Xbox ecosystem has no shortage of exclusives on the horizon, and has arguably already delivered more than what the previous generation ever did. There’s no telling where the duo could end up on this list in a few year’s time.

 

19. Wii

Nintendo Wii
Nintendo Wii
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
WiiNintendoNovember 19, 2006 (NA)101.63 million

The Wii was truly the shot in the arm that Nintendo needed after the struggles of the N64 and GameCube. While nowhere near as powerful as the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, the seventh generation saw Nintendo switching streams to focus more on gameplay over fidelity, a move that they’ve found great success in ever since (if we just ignore the Wii U, that is).

Utilising motion controls that would soon be emulated by pretty much everyone else, the Wii was heavily marketed towards casual players who lapped up the ability to get fit and play more bowling than a certain Serbian Grand Theft Auto character. Though the Wii did certainly first and foremost focus on winning over everyone’s parents, Nintendo also catered towards the “hardcore” with new entries in the Zelda series, a duo of Super Mario Galaxy games (often revered as the best 3D Mario games ever), and a bunch of fantastic ports. Backwards compatibility with the GameCube also sweetened the deal considerably.

Where the Wii really falls down is in how far apart those massive games were, and also the overwhelming glut of shovelware that almost suffocated its release pipeline. The Wii is certainly a fantastic console that offered a welcome alternative to the grey and brown warzones often seen in the seventh gen, but unless you were very young or very unfit, it’s a little harder to appreciate how much it changed the game.

 

18. DS

Nintendo DS
Nintendo DS
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
DSNintendoNovember 21, 2004 (NA)154.02 million

Just like in the console space, Nintendo also decided to innovate more in mechanics than in graphics when it came to their handhelds. While the PSP succeeded at basically bringing the PS2 into the palm of your hands, the DS went in a different direction.

Utilising dual-screens (hence the name) with touchscreen controls at a time when that was pretty revolutionary, the DS was Nintendo at their most playful and unique in a few years. Many first-party games made smart use of both perspectives, with some allowing you to use the second screen as a map, inventory, and much more, while they were also a cavalcade of innovative, family friendly experiences. Mario made a welcome return to 2D, Pokémon arguably had its best stretch since its very earliest days, and franchises like Fire Emblem and WarioWare had fantastically fun outings that utilised all of the DS’ wackiest gimmicks.

However, much like the Wii, what sinks the DS down the list slightly is just how much shovelware seemed to come out every other week — everybody’s brains were trained like Megamind’s by the end of its run. Similarly, the third-party experiences that weren’t visual novels did seem to dry up at some point, with the DS arguably guilty of hanging around for too long and having perhaps one too many confusing revisions.

Still, for offering many smaller series a chance to succeed and for simply trying to be something a little silly at a time when everyone was being very serious, the DS managed to rack up 150 million units sold for a very good reason — and not just because of Active Health with Carol Vorderman.

 

17. PlayStation 5

PS5 console
PS5 console
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
PlayStation 5SonyNovember 12, 2020 50+ million (December 2023)

When it came to developing their next console, it’s easy to imagine that Sony simply looked at the PlayStation 4 and went: “Again, but better.” The PlayStation 5 isn’t a transformative leap from the previous generation, offering more convenience and iteration than the mind-blowing leaps seen in previous generations, but it’s already shaping up to be yet another massive winner.

The SSD makes loading times a thing of the past, while 60fps is more of a common thing than it has been since HD game development began, though it is a pity it’s still always with some kind of caveat. Switch over to performance mode in some of the higher budget games and you will get some truly gorgeous visuals that you’d have to pay a premium for if you wanted them on your PC.

Then there’s the controller, which really may well be the best one Sony have ever made. Not only is it perhaps the perfect balance of weight and grip-feel, but the DualSense’s haptics and adaptive triggers only deepen the immersion across Sony’s rich line-up of cinematic games. Speaking of, while the first-party console exclusives have only just started firing properly due to how tightly the PS5 in general has been tied to the previous generation, we’ve still seen some PlayStation all-timers like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, and Demon’s Souls hit the console.

The next few years will ultimately determine what kind of legacy the PlayStation 5 leaves behind, but if they keep at it like this, Sony may just have yet another 100+ million seller console on their hands.

 

16. Game Boy & Game Boy Color

Game Boy and Game Boy Color
Game Boy and Game Boy Color
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
Game BoyNintendoApril 21, 1989 (JP)118.69 million (inc GBC)
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
Game Boy ColorNintendoOctober 21, 1998 (JP)118.69 million (inc GB)

While we separated the two on our Nintendo console ranking, we’ve decided to combine the Game Boy and Game Boy Color here to allow for a bit more variety. Whether together or on their own, these two handhelds changed the face of gaming as we know it, with even Steam Decks nowadays no doubt still being called “Game Boys” by parents the world over.

It’s difficult to quantify just how important the Game Boy was when it first released in 1989. While clearly a lot more condensed, being able to play handheld versions of some NES and even arcade games felt like an act of magic. Tetris also wouldn’t be the industry pillar it is without the Game Boy, though you could also make the argument that vice versa is also true.

And then there was the Game Boy Color, which may just be the most obvious upgrade in video game history. Offering players the chance to actually see the colours of whichever version of Pokémon they bought, the Game Boy Color gave the Game Boy line a shot in the arm for the next few years, with plenty of first-party licenses also flourishing on the handheld. Those pining for more classic Zelda were catered for with the sublime Oracle duology, while the likes of Donkey Kong, Wario, and Kirby all got a chance to shine.

While going back to unmodded versions of these handhelds is tough in current times, it’s impossible to take away from the kind of wonder you could experience from a clutch of AA batteries and a good light source back in each Game Boy’s pomp. Without them, who knows what handheld gaming would look like today?

 

15. Nintendo 64

N64
N64
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
N64NintendoJune 23, 1996 (JP)32.93 million

Few consoles have a first-party hit rate quite like the Nintendo 64. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, F-Zero, Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, Perfect Dark, Goldeneye, Star Fox 64, Paper Mario, F-Zero X — all games that have a right to belong on any list of the best games of all time. Many of them managed to avoid the pitfalls of early 3D game development to offer an absolutely tantalising window into the future of gaming, the kind of generational leap that will never be seen again. Both Zelda games and Super Mario 64 in particular felt like travelling in a Delorean for those who’d been playing the SNES for the last 5 years.

The only real issue with placing the N64 much higher in this list is that, thanks to the console’s pricey cartridge costs and the complexities of early 3D, we really didn’t get enough of that quality spread across the whole of the N64’s relatively small library. At less than 400 games released in total, the N64 never quite managed to crank out hit after hit like the original PlayStation could. Also, while the console boasted more RAM than the PS1, its GPU suffered from constant bottlenecking, meaning that performance issues were pretty common for third-party games.

However, if it’s just iconic Nintendo games you’re after, the Nintendo 64 is hard to beat. Chuck in four of those creatively designed controllers (there’s an alternate timeline where the single-stick, Z button layout still lives) for some Goldeneye, Mario Party, or Smash with your friends, and you have perhaps the absolute peak of split-screen gaming. Many friendships were forged for life in Goldeneye’s Egyptian corridors, or swiftly broken when somebody picked Oddjob.

 

14. PlayStation 3

PS3 console
PS3 console
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
PlayStation 3SonyNovember 11, 200687.4 million

There aren’t many late bloomers across the history of consoles quite like the PlayStation 3. While an impressive bit of tech that tried to do a little bit of everything when it was revealed, what didn’t impress people was its price. The PS3 sold slowly, especially compared to the PS2 boom, and it would take a revision before it really started to hit its stride — and then never really let up from there.

The PlayStation 3 boasts the genesis of The Last of Us and Uncharted series (two of the brand’s pillars today), while sadly now abandoned IPs like InFamous, Resistance, and LittleBigPlanet also sold in their millions. The PS3 even saw established names like Metal Gear Solid, God of War, and Ratchet & Clank reach new highs, with Demon’s Souls kickstarting the Soulsborne craze as we know it. Without the PlayStation 3, a lot more controllers would still be alive.

However, while the PS3 had some fantastic games, it might not have been the best place to play those games. Performance issues were pretty common and the massive wedge was a massive pain to program games for, with many games (particularly those from third-party developers) running at framerates that would be Twitter troll trough feed if they were to happen now.

Despite that and the rather rough early period of its life, the PlayStation 3’s open nature (if you catch our drift), free online play, and raft of fantastic exclusives make it a flawed, ambitious gem.

 

13. Xbox

OG Xbox
OG Xbox
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
XboxMicrosoftNovember 15, 200124+ million

The original Xbox hasn’t received the retrospective glow that the likes of the GameCube or even the Saturn have, but if there’s any console that’s going to become the hipster’s pick for the next decade, it’s probably The Rock and Bill Gates’ giant baby boy.

While ultimately left behind in the PlayStation 2’s dust in terms of sales (and that’s putting it lightly), everything that was under the hood of the OG Xbox was quite a step up from Sony’s portal into the “Third Place.” The internal hard drive removed the need for memory cards, while players could also rip their audio CDs directly to it to then use as soundtracks for the games. As for those, most third-party releases looked and felt far better on the massive rectangle.

Oh yeah, and the console also had a little series called Halo that would come to define the first-person shooter genre as we know it. The Xbox also boasted giant console exclusives like Knights of the Old Republic, Fable, Jade Empire, and Morrowind. Then there’s just how experimental Microsoft was with what exactly they licensed for the platform — even if you’re an Xbox fan, you’ll probably hear about a weird, barmy game released on the OG that you didn’t even know existed every week.

While that initial controller was a rather oversized mishit, the original Xbox brought convenient online gaming into the home for millions of console players and birthed the start of a rivalry that’s kept pushing the industry forward. It also has Blinx. Little more needs to be said.

 

12. Game Boy Advance

Game Boy Advance
Game Boy Advance
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
Game Boy AdvanceNintendoMarch 21, 2001 (JP)81.51 million

The Game Boy Advance (and more specifically its SP revision) did a lot to immortalise the whole Game Boy range thanks to one simple change: the ability to clearly see what you’re doing. The GBA’s brighter screen and the fact that it plays previous Game Boy generations means that it’s the best way to play those classics within the illustrious line.

But the Game Boy Advance didn’t spend all of its time looking back. While the rise of handheld 3D gaming wasn’t too far away, the GBA managed to make the most of all of its 32-bits to provide arguably the hottest streak of 2D games in the palm of your hand, ever.

Not only did we see the customary catalogue of all-time classics from the likes of Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and Pokémon, but we also saw some of Nintendo’s less popular names get a chance in the spotlight. Fire Emblem, along with Path of Radiance on the GameCube, really started to cement the strength of the IP, while Advance Wars and Golden Sun managed to cultivate a very dedicated following.

Chuck in the ability to recharge batteries with the SP (or only use two AAs with the base model), an absolute whipper of a Castlevania title, and the, uh, ability to watch a forsaken, bit-crushed episode of SpongeBob, and you have Nintendo’s best ever handheld. It didn’t live for long, but other handhelds could only dream of what the GBA achieved.

 

11. Dreamcast

Sega Dreamcast
Sega Dreamcast
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
DreamcastSegaNovember 27, 1998 (JP)9.13 million

The Dreamcast‘s failure really just feels kind of unfair. Not since the Genesis had Sega managed to make a console with such a hit rate when it came to games, but none of them were ever unfortunately going to be enough to dislodge the kind of market share that Sony and Nintendo had swallowed up by the late 90s.

Everywhere you look, the Dreamcast had a little bit of something for everyone, the kind of variety and rapid-fire release schedule that had arguably evaded the Saturn. It’s worth just reeling off a list of the exclusives as a reminder of the kind of ballistics Sega brought to their final battle in the console war.

Crazy Taxi, Jet Set Radio, Shenmue, Space Channel 5, Sonic Adventure, House of the Dead, Virtua Fighter 3TB, Power Stone, Skies of Arcadia, Rez, Soulcalibur, Ikaruga, Grandia II, Resident Evil – Code: Veronica, Phantasy Star Online — all games and franchises that have hallowed status in the annals.

And then there’s the almost immediate influence the Dreamcast had on the industry at large. Online gaming would soon become commonplace on Xbox and less so the PlayStation 2, but the Dreamcast beat them to it by a few years, while also offering downloadable content in another first for consoles. Though ultimately a gimmick, that VMU also helped the Dreamcast to have one of the biggest personalities of any console too.

We can only dream of the future that was robbed from us in which everyone trades their Chao Points for rotisserie chickens on the Sega Network, but it sure is nice to let your mind wander over what could have been.

 

10. NES

NES
NES
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
NESNintendoOctober 18, 1985 (JP)61.91 million

Few consoles feel as important to the industry as we know it as the Nintendo Entertainment System, with the console basically acting as the sheriff for the wild west of the video game industry at the time. Granted, the NES still had its swathes of landfill fodder, but the console’s stricter quality control and more uniform strategy was simply in another league compared to Atari.

Though likely harder to appreciate today for younger players, the 8-bit NES did also feel several leaps above the rest of its competition graphically when it launched in the west back in 1985 after starting off as the Famicom in Japan. Pitched as more of an all-round system than something just for video games with parental hysteria around the hobby at an all-time high, the NES flew off shelves in toy stores and was a solid seller right up until 1995 when it was finally discontinued in America, Europe, and Australia.

The NES was also the foundation for some of the greatest video game franchises of all time. Mario and Zelda both got their start on the console, with the pair now being multimedia giants that frequently cross into the mainstream. Without the NES, we wouldn’t have Chris Pratt doing a vaguely Italian-American accent and that frankly just doesn’t bear thinking about.

It wasn’t just the plumber and frequently misgendered warrior who broke out on the NES, though. Samus surprised everyone in her Metroid bow, Contra and Battletoads tested the strength of plastic everywhere, and Mega Man and Castlevania became established franchises.

It really is impossible to imagine what the gaming industry would look like today had the Nintendo Entertainment System not released, and while the games themselves may have aged, the NES itself will always remain immortal.

 

9. GameCube

GameCube
GameCube
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
GameCubeNintendoSeptember 14, 2001 (JP)21.74 million

The GameCube was Nintendo’s last real attempt at going toe-to-toe with their rivals in terms of power, and while the GameCube might have taken the bronze medal when going up against the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, its game library could just about be the best range of exclusives Nintendo has ever put out.

Much like the Dreamcast, the GameCube’s array of fantastic games is worth reeling off to appreciate simply just how impressive its hit rate truly was. The Wind Waker, Metroid Prime, Pikmin, Resident Evil 4, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Eternal Darkness, Super Mario Sunshine, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Luigi’s Mansion, F-Zero GX, Mario Kart: Double Dash and Animal Crossing all remain some of the absolute best games of the 2000s and hold up remarkably well, arguably more so than most of the games on the console’s two rivals at the time.

The GameCube also featured innovative Game Boy Advance integration, with the ability to play your Game Boy titles on the big screen feeling like black magic at the time for anyone who hadn’t seen Nintendo repeat the trick earlier on the SNES. And while nobody (apart from apparently Paris Hilton) was carrying their GameCubes around as a fashion accessory perhaps as Nintendo had hoped with that handle, the console remains arguably the most distinctly designed of its rivals.

What sinks the GameCube on this list, as well as what sunk it at the time in the market, is that it lacked the modern trimmings that gamers would soon come to expect. Not only was online play a barely supported hassle, but the lack of a DVD player meant it really struggled to win over the casual crowd. The increasingly sparse release schedule also didn’t help matters.

The GameCube receives the kind of love today that you almost wish it had seen back in the day. If only Geist was truly appreciated in its time.

 

8. PlayStation 1

PS1 console
PS1 console
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
PlayStationSonyDecember 3rd, 1994 (JP)102.49 million

The original PlayStation changed the game as we know it forever. Showing everyone else exactly how to do 3D gaming on CD while also designing a controller that is basically the de facto blueprint for every other platform now, the original PlayStation felt like the new millennium had dawned early back in the mid-90s.

Conceived after a deal with Nintendo fell apart when the House of Mario went behind Sony’s back to negotiate with Phillips instead, the PlayStation is proof that spite is one heck of a muse. The PS1 comfortably outsold the Nintendo 64 and effectively shut Sega out of the “console war” for good. It’s easy to see how, too.

The PlayStation converted non-gamers like few systems before it, with the built-in CD player effectively being a gateway into taking on planet-hating corporations and jumping on turtles. It also appealed to an older crowd than was typical in the market, with teenagers and young adults happy to embrace a pastime that was quickly becoming “cool” to enjoy thanks to the console’s edgier nature.

But those players wouldn’t have stuck around beyond the baffling adverts if the console didn’t have the kind of games that would become household names. Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Gran Turismo, Tekken, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater all broke out on Sony’s grey box, while Metal Gear and Final Fantasy both reached new heights.

Really, the only thing holding the PlayStation back from climbing much higher on this list is the passage of time. Some crazy loading times and warped, wobbly textures age the console more than games from generations prior, yet never forget just how mind-boggling this all was back in its explosive, revolutionary pomp.

 

7. PlayStation Portable

PSP console
PSP console
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
PlayStation PortableSonyDecember 12, 2004 (JP)82 million

The PlayStation Portable being the highest-placed handheld on this list (and also being higher than the PS1) is no doubt going to raise some eyebrows. However, when you look at everything that this little marvel was capable of in the era in which it was released, it’s absolutely wild to realise what exactly Sony cooked up back in the mid-2000s.

Take everything you know about the modern smartphone, remove the annoying spam calls, and you basically have the PlayStation Portable. What Sony achieved was to shrink down the PS2 and place it into the palm of your hands while also adding the ability to listen to music, watch movies, and even record footage. Add in online capabilities that were far smoother than what was on the handheld’s bigger brother and you have a handheld that was so much more advanced than the DS that it felt like Sony had fast-forwarded a generation.

Of course, no video game system will succeed without quality games, but the PSP had those in abundance. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty and Vice City Stories, Persona 3, Final Fantasy Tactics, Monster Hunter, Crisis Core, Peace Walker, and Ghost of Sparta were just a few of the big budget games that had no right to be portable. The handheld also had a tonne of fantastic, less mainstream titles like Lumines, Patapon, and LocoRoco, not to mention backwards compatibility with the PS1 thanks to digital downloads — another way in which the handheld was way ahead of the curve.

Yes, the single stick movement may have been a bit of a nuisance for some games and the later revisions of it were beyond goofy, but in every way that matters, the PlayStation Portable was just about the pinnacle of handheld devices before the explosion of smartphones. Sony reportedly expected it to sell better, but even in 2024 the PlayStation Portable is a pretty easy sell if you want the best of PlayStation while you’re on the toilet.

 

6. Xbox 360

Xbox 360 console
Xbox 360 console
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
Xbox 360MicrosoftNovember 22, 2005 (US)84 million

The Xbox 360 was Microsoft going in extremely hard to come out on top in the seventh generation of consoles — arguably too hard. While the 360’s earlier release and better price than the PS3 helped it to quite the impressive early lead, it also meant that the console was almost fatally rushed out of the door, with the Red Ring of Death going down in video game infamy.

However, once the earliest model was revised, the Xbox 360 kept up its lead over the PlayStation 3 until right in the dying days of the generation and just kept putting out hit after hit.

While Halo was smashing records constantly, the 360 also spawned new pillar IPs for the Xbox brand like Gears of War and Crackdown, while franchises like Fable and Forza were solidified as huge names. Third-party support was also superb across the entire generation, with the 360 often being the best place to play games on console. Microsoft even continued to basically leap into a brick wall with a slew of RPGs to try and break the Japanese market, but that was just never going to happen.

However, above all else, what the 360 will most likely be remembered for is when online gaming was truly brought into the living room with very few asterisks. It had never been easier to place curses on strangers for spawn-camping thanks to Xbox Live, with the era probably being multiplayer gaming at its most frenzied, least sweaty best before the rise of streaming platforms made everyone eat eSports supplements for breakfast. It was a purer time.

The Kinect? No, we don’t need to talk about the Kinect.

 

5. Genesis

Sega Genesis
Sega Genesis
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
GenesisSegaOctober 29, 1988 (JP)30.75 million

Sega’s most successful ever console (and by a wide margin too), the Genesis was everything a competitor to the SNES could ever need to be. It had the attitude that the SNES’ squeaky clean image didn’t, its very own mascot of equally murky origin, and a broad selection of games that still hold up remarkably well today.

When you say “Sega,” the first thing most people will think of (after they re-enact that start up sound, of course) is Sonic the Hedgehog, who had his major breakout on the Genesis and was then sent down into the content mines for the next 30 years. But the Genesis also boasted other massively influential names like Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, Shining Force, Beyond Oasis, Shinobi, Gunstar and Phantasy Star that would proudly support the spine of any console for years.

Of course, it also helps the Genesis (or Mega Drive, if you’re feeling Not American) that it was the first console with a 16-bit processor and proudly showcased a vivid array of colours that still take the eye today. There’s something to the Genesis aesthetic that will feel forever timeless, no matter how eerily realistic modern visual fidelity may become. Then there’s the music, which feels akin to playing a radio station that exclusively plays sounds of the 90s arcade, 24/7. For those who lived in that era, they’re the sounds of better, simpler times.

Sega may have struggled to make much of a dent on the industry after its success, but for starting many of gaming’s most hallowed franchises and for briefly doing what Nintendidn’t, the Genesis will live longer in the memory than a gorilla with a set of drumsticks.

 

4. PlayStation 4

PS4 console
PS4 console
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
PlayStation 4SonyNovember 15, 2013117.2 million

The PlayStation 4 is the result of Sony’s singular vision after a generation in which everyone was obsessed with gimmicks: make good games and sell them. It’s probably the most fuss-free console of all time, a system that did what it did well and was rewarded for it time and time again.

While it didn’t launch with many essential games and it had a slow start overall, once the PlayStation 4 got going with quality exclusives, it felt like they never really stopped. Bloodborne and Uncharted 4 laid down the groundwork for the kind of epic experiences players could expect on Sony’s newest big box, with the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Death Stranding, The Last of Us Part 2 and Ghost of Tsushima not far behind.

Sony also wasn’t averse to taking some creative risks on the fourth PlayStation, though, as the likes of Concrete Genie, Dreams, and Gravity Rush 2 offered something different away from the cinematic norm. Then there’s PlayStation VR, which while an absolute headache of cables to sort out, worked surprisingly well despite the youth of the field versus the relative age of the PlayStation 4 itself.

The PlayStation 4 is remarkably incident-free on reasons to place it lower when compiling any list of the best video game consoles ever released. Maybe its mid-life upgrade stretched the generation on slightly too long, and then there’s the fact that PlayStation Network was no longer free after its debut on PS3 (though the rise of free-to-play games made this less of an issue as the eighth generation wore on). And while the lack of any kind of new Ape Escape game should be a crime, at least we saw the rather unexpected return of Medievil (which nobody played; can’t win them all).

However, if it’s the best visuals and stories on console you’re looking for, the PlayStation 4 was the place to be over the last decade for a very good reason.

 

3. Switch

Switch
Switch
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
SwitchNintendoMarch 3, 2017 (WW)132.46 million (September 2023)

Nintendo didn’t exactly need saving as such after the disappointment of the Wii U, but the Switch took the company back to a level that they hadn’t been at since the early 90s — and all while basically being a generation behind in terms of power.

Nobody does a unique selling point quite like Nintendo, and few systems are as easy a sell as a home console that you can take with you on the go. With the handheld market shrinking due to the rise of mobile gaming, Nintendo looked to quite literally switch things up and completely re-energise their brand with a huge gamble, one that many didn’t expect they’d pull off.

Being able to explore the open world of Hyrule in vivid 3D and uncomfortably gaze at Mario next to real people from the comfort of your bed was enough to convince people that Nintendo were onto something with the Switch early on, and while it certainly took them a minute to get cooking on other essential experiences, the system has been boiling ever since. Metroid, Fire Emblem, Smash Bros, Kirby, Xenoblade, Pikmin, Animal Crossing, and even Advance Wars found the limelight on Switch, and the hybrid also became the place to play indies like Hades, Stardew Valley, Hollow Knight, and Celeste.

The Switch’s influence can already be felt on handhelds like the Steam Deck, and while the sheen is coming off the experience the more years tick by without any performance revisions, the Switch just keeps on selling and selling. It may just go on to beat a console we’ll get to soon as the best-selling console of all time, proving once and for all that the cutting edge isn’t always the sharpest route to take.

Yep, sometimes you just need to milk cows with your friends.

 

 

2. SNES

SNES
SNES
ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
SNESNintendoNovember 21, 1990 (JP)49.10 million

If the NES saved the industry from the wild west of the 80s, then the SNES shaped its future. Millions upon millions of players still view the SNES as the platonic ideal of video games at their purest, most joyful form, and unless you’re playing Rise of the Robots, they may just be right.

The SNES lived up to its name by basically super-powering everything that players already loved about the NES. The jump from 8-bit to 16-bit was a significant one, allowing the kind of colourful, vivid imagery that Nintendo has made its name on. Nintendo’s iconic line-up of characters really started to develop actual character on the SNES, with the games themselves almost all holding up incredibly well today — perhaps even better than those on the N64 in the following generation.

The SNES line-up has a right to be considered as the best 16-bit library in history, to the point where you run out of breath listing them all. Super Mario World(s), Donkey Kong Country 1 & 2, Super Castlevania IV, Super Mario RPG, Super Metroid (getting tired of writing “Super” at this point), Chrono Trigger, A Link to the Past, Earthbound, Mega Man X, F-Zero, and Secret of Mana can all lay a claim to being the absolute pinnacles of their genre.

And the SNES can also claim to have a little bit of everything for people of all tastes. NBA Jam is possibly the highest peak arcade sports games have ever reached, Killer Instinct and Street Fighter II represented the fighting genre at its most pixel perfect, and even Sim City’s miracle SNES port made sure simulation fans were covered.

With the SNES, the arcade came home, and then some. It’s the perfect distillation of the 90s, a bright, boisterous console that always put fun first. But it doesn’t have Ape Escape, so the only clear, objective winner has to be:

 

1. PlayStation 2

ConsoleManufacturerRelease DateSales
PlayStation 2SonyMarch 4, 2000155 million

If the original PlayStation made gaming cool, the PlayStation 2 made it put on a pair of sunglasses and dodge bullets in slow motion. The PS2 released at a time when the millennium bug had bitten everybody, with pop culture taking on a whole new edge. It was simply a different time to be alive.

The PS2, much like the PS4, set its stall out early on and simply asked people to buy in, with its first year on the market being maybe the best debut any console has ever seen. While it was nowhere near the cutting edge of technology by the time the generation concluded, the PlayStation 2 entered the sixth gen with a bang, showcasing the kinds of animations and facial features that were jaw-dropping then and still offer plenty to be charmed by today. The likes of Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3, Shadow of the Colossus, and Dragon Quest 8 still pack quite the punch, to name just a few of the console’s games that have lasted the distance — and may still do for a few decades longer.

Once you start listing off the best games on the PlayStation 2, you might as well settle in for the long haul.

The Jak trilogy, which proved you can teach a Naughty Dog new tricks. The transformative Silent Hill 2 and its two lesser-appreciated-but-still-essential sequels. Kratos at his most vein-poppingly peeved off in the first two God of War games. Kingdom Hearts at its most logical with the debut and sophomore entries. Final Fantasy X boasting the most sensational CG visuals ever committed to a video game up to that point, also Final Fantasy XII came out on the console. Devil May Cry proving to be one of the best missteps ever. Monster Hunter basically setting up an entire genre 10 years before anyone else was ready to copy it. And who could ever discredit the five Grand Theft Auto games released in six years, which is even more remarkable when you consider Rockstar has recently released one in ten years.

Away from the games, it’s also worth highlighting just how vital the console’s built-in DVD player was to the home video market too, with the format now somehow still being supported over a quarter of a century on. And while it was hardly the smoothest, most user-friendly experience (especially before the broad adoption of broadband), those who took the action online via PS2 Network Play with the likes of Resident Evil Outbreak, Final Fantasy XI (which is somehow still going on PC) and SOCOM must have felt like they belonged to a special club who could see into the future.

For the games, the records smashed, and so much more, the best video game console of all time simply has to be the PlayStation 2.

READ NEXT: Ranking Every Sega Console From Worst to Best

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