Retro Gaming: 12 Great Ways to Feed Your Old Gaming Habit

Remember 1993’s Super Mario Bros movie?  I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d tried to forget it.  Apparently Tom Hanks was originally cast as Luigi, the (perhaps) lesser known of the two Italian plumbers.  I’m not even sure Mr Hanks formidable acting skills could have saved that steaming pile of pasta!  To be fair, it wasn’t that bad – as far as game to film conversions go – let’s face it, there have been some absolute stinkers.

Whatever the reason, great games often lose their sheen when transferring to moving pictures; less silver, more of a dull grey screen.  Just as well then we can still enjoy the old classics in their original interactive form, rather than having to watch watered down movies about them.

Of course, I’m talking more specifically about retro gaming, or classic or old school gaming as it’s also known.  Some enthusiasts may still have the original equipment, for that true vintage experience.  Most of us, though, have to find a way to play old games on modern hardware.

Before digging in, let’s list the key areas we’re going to cover (click on one to skip ahead).

So, let’s get to it.

Timeline

A trip down Memory Lane

The image above shows the most popular gaming machines from the latter part of the Twentieth Century.  These home computers and consoles filled many a household and entertained millions of youngsters (some not so young).  Though not in the picture, let’s not forget the humble Desktop PC.  Powered primarily by Microsoft operating systems, and also bringing oodles of gaming goodness, these beige boxes came pre-loaded with MS-DOS (1981), Windows 3.0 (1990), and Windows 95 (1995).

Terminology

So, how do we play old school games on new technology?

To answer this question, let’s briefly look at three key pieces of technology.  I’ll try and make each description as painless as possible.

Emulator

Software (or hardware) that let’s one computer act like a different computer.  No, it doesn’t have split personalities.  In the case of retro gaming, it simply allows new(er) hardware (your current PC or laptop), to run old(er) software (the games of yesteryear).

ROM

Lots of gaming consoles used to store each game inside a cartridge on a Read-Only Memory chip (hence the name, ROM).  A Gaming ROM is an image (or file) which has been created by extracting the data from one of these chips.  The term has become more widely used to describe any file containing an old game; even if, technically, it didn’t originate on a cartridge (games also used to be loaded from CD, floppy disk, or even cassette tape, for example).

BIOS

The Basic Input Output System (or BIOS, for short) is the part of a computer (or games console) responsible for checking the hardware and getting the system going when you press the power button.  Some emulators require a BIOS file in order to run.

Disclaimer. Depending on the ROM(s) or BIOS in question, it can be ILLEGAL to download them.  I’m not a lawyer, but I believe it’s generally considered acceptable to obtain the appropriate ROM(s) or BIOS files so long as you already own the original game(s) or computer/console(s).  Plenty of websites have them available – as with anything you download from the internet, make sure the source is reputable (and it never hurts to scan it with your antivirus software, too).  If you’re not certain whether it’s okay to download a file or not, it’s best to err on the side of caution (different countries have varying regulations in respect to the legality of downloading/running these files).

Okay, with the bad stuff out of the way, let’s look at how we can enjoy the golden age of gaming.

Twelve Great Ways to Feed Your Old Gaming Habit

The first two can be described as general purpose emulators – by that I mean each can emulate several different devices.

1. RetroArch

As the website states, RetroArch is a frontend for emulators, game engines and media players”.  In other words, the software bundles lots of useful tools together to make the job of running old games all the easier.

Download it for free here.

www.retroarch.com

Once downloaded, install and open the software. Select “Load Core” and go to “Download a Core”. Scroll down the list to find the computer or games console you want to emulate and click on it. Once it has downloaded and extracted, go back to the main menu.

Tone’s Tip. Use your left mount button to select an option, or your right mouse button to go back.

Next, click “Load Content” and select “Start Directory”.  Navigate to the folder containing your gaming ROMs (you’ll need to obtain these first).  Click on the game’s ROM and it should open in a new window and start loading.

Tone’s Tip. Press the spacebar on your keyboard to Fast forward and speed the game up while it’s loading.  Also, press the “F” key on your keyboard to go full screen – tap it again to return to windowed mode.

RetroArch has wide platform support, and is available for Windows, Mac, Linux (including the Raspberry Pi), Android, iOS… it even has versions for Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo consoles.  Alternatively, you can play games through your web browser using the RetroArch web player.

2. RetroPie

This is a favourite of mine. Yes, you guessed it, it’s built for the Raspberry Pi – at least that’s how it started.  Now it runs on Debian and Ubuntu Linux, as well as Ubuntu on ODROID.

ODROID is another company making Single Board Computers (SBC).  Like all SBCs – including the Raspberry Pi – these are tiny computers.  The XU4 is a particularly popular model, being considerably more powerful than a Pi (but also more expensive).

RetroPie builds upon Raspbian, EmulationStation, RetroArch and many other projects.  It emulates arcade machines, consoles and classic (MS-DOS based) PCs.

Download it for free by clicking on the following link.

https://retropie.org.uk/

When you first start RetroPie it will ask you to configure your games controller, so make sure it’s plugged in.  From the home screen if you select “RetroPie CONFIGURATION” (it’s the only item that appears until you start adding some ROMs), this will take you to the menu (shown in the screenshot) where you can explore the settings.

Transferring ROMs

To add your ROMs to RetroPie, do the following.

* Plug a USB memory stick to your computer/laptop
* Format it as FAT32
* Create a folder called retropie on the USB stick
* Connect it to your Pi (don’t unplug it until the light stops blinking)
* Reconnect it to your computer
* Open the retropie folder and then the roms subfolder on the USB stick
* Add your ROMs to their respective folders (these will have been automatically created by the Raspberry Pi)
* Plug the USB stick back into your Raspberry Pi – again wait for the light to stop flashing
* Unplug the USB stick and reboot RetroPie (your Raspberry Pi)
* The extra games consoles/computers should now show up on the RetroPie home screen

The third way to get your gaming groove on caters specifically for classic point-and-click adventure games.  So let’s take a look at it…

3. ScummVM

Not the nicest sounding of names, ScummVM stands for Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion Virtual Machine.  Technically then, it’s not an emulator at all, but a Virtual Machine (VM).

I don’t want to get bogged down in the differences between emulators and virtual machines (entire articles have been written on the subject).  Put VERY simply, an “emulator” translates just the necessary instructions from one architecture (a games console, for example) to another (such as your desktop computer or laptop); a virtual machine, on the other hand, implements a whole separate system inside another (think of it as running a second computer inside your main computer).

I hope that hasn’t confused you too much (it is quite a mind-bending concept the first time you encounter it).  Anyway, on with the gaming.  As the name suggests, the SCUMM scripting language was first used for the game, Maniac Mansion (and many others published by LucasArts, including the popular Monkey Island series).  Over the years, ScummVM has grown to support many adventure games; now including titles from other brands such as Activision and Sierra.

Setting up ScummVM

To get started with this free software, download it here.

https://www.scummvm.org/

After installing the emulator, go back to the website to the “Game downloads page”.  There are several you can download (also for free).  It’s a good idea at this point to make a new folder on your computer (you could call it AdventureGames, for example) and save the games to this folder.  If a game is compressed (e.g. a zip file), you should extract it.

Now open ScummVM and click “Add Game…”  Navigate to the AdventureGames folder (or whatever you called yours) and view the games folders you’ve put in there.  Select the game you’d like to play and click “Choose”.  On the screen that opens, pick a Language if you want to, or keep it as default.  Leave Platform on default and click “OK”.  The game should have been added to the ScummVM screen.  Make sure it’s selected and click “Start” to launch it.

The great news with ScummVM is that everything you need to get started (including several freeware games) can be found on the official website.  The software also has extensive cross-platform support, being available for Windows, Mac, Linux (including the Raspberry Pi), Android, and even some games consoles.

The next five ways to sate your appetite for vintage games each use an emulator.  Unlike what has gone before, though, each of these only emulates a single system; be it a games console or home computer.

4. DOSBox

Let’s start with a classic.  Never mind the games, MS-DOS (MicroSoft Disk Operating System) itself is about as retro as it gets when it comes to Operating Systems (OS).  Hardly a surprise given its name, DOSBox is an emulator of the DOS operating system, which came pre-installed on x86-based (x86 is the type of processor) IBM compatible PCs – with MS-DOS, in particular, dominating this market between 1981 and 1995.

To this day, home computers remain a key component of the gaming industry, with many gamers still preferring this route over console-based systems, and it all started (at least in terms of significant numbers) with MS-DOS.  Previously considered business machines, computers had been out of the (financial) reach of the average home user.  As PC prices declined in the mid-1980s due to inexpensive IBM PC clones, DOS computers began pouring into people’s homes.  Naturally it didn’t take long for a substantial collection of games to follow – they even began outselling Commodore 64 games!

While DOSBox can be used to breathe life back into most DOS programs, it is primarily used by gamers seeking a, sometimes quite literal, blast from the past as they fire up some shooter or other.  So whether you’ve got an old copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator lying around, or you just want to see how Lotus 1-2-3 compares to the modern office suite, DOSBox can assist.

Getting up and running with DOSBox

Right, let’s get to it. Download and install DOSBox (for free) from the website.

https://www.dosbox.com

When you run the emulator, you’ll be dumped at the command prompt with a flashing cursor (weren’t the old days great!).  If you type “intro” (without the quotes) and press the Enter key on your keyboard, you’ll be furnished with some handy instructions about how the program works.  Alternatively, read on and I’ll guide you on how to get some retro gaming action.

Unfortunately, even if we have a collection of games ready to go, things aren’t quite that straight forward (this is DOS, after all, not some flashy mobile touchscreen OS).  By default, DOSBox has created a virtual Z:\ drive.  You can check out the contents by typing “dir” (without the quotes), which stands for directory, and pressing Enter.  Those who actually remember DOS from the first time around (now we’re showing our age!) will recall that the operating system usually resides on the C:\ drive – even if you don’t remember DOS, you’ve probably realised that Microsoft still defaults to the C:\ drive all these years later in Windows 10.

Tone’s Tip. After entering any command in DOS, press the Enter key on your keyboard to execute it.

To keep things orderly, first create a folder on your computer in which to store your games.  I’m going with DOS, which I’ll create on the root of the C:\ drive.  Now copy any of your old DOS games into this folder.  Back in DOSBox, type the following command “mount C C:\DOS” (without the quotes).  We’ve now made our C:\DOS folder into DOSBox’s C:\ drive – we just have to navigate to it.  Type “C:\” (again, without the quotes) to move to the C:\ drive (which is actually the C:\DOS folder on our computer; the one containing all our DOS games).

Do you remember what we typed to list the contents of a folder?

Yes, that’s right, “dir” (minus the quotes).  So do it now.  You may need to close and reopen DOSBox for your game folders to appear.  Navigate into one of them, e.g. type “cd pacman” (also minus the quotes) to go into a folder called pacman.  All that’s left to do in order to run the game is to type in the name of the executable file that starts it.  Type the dir command again and look for filenames that end with “.exe”. In this example, it could be pacman.exe; so you would type “pacman.exe” (leaving out the quotes) and press enter to run the game.  Note. Some games may need to be installed first, in which case, type in the name of the install file (e.g. setup.exe or install.exe).

Tone’s Tip. Pressing the up arrow key will bring back the last thing you typed.  This can save time if you need to type the same command more than once.  If you want to move up a directory (to the one you were in previously), type “cd ..” (as always, without the quotes).

Great so you’ve got your old game running, but going through this laborious procedure every time you want to play one of your vintage titles would quickly become tedious.  So, let’s automate the process, shall we?

To do this, we need to locate the dosbox.conf configuration file.  On Windows, you should find this in C:\Users\yourusename\AppData\Local\DOSBox\Note. AppData is a hidden folder.  In order to see it, on the View tab in File explorer, check the box to show Hidden items (don’t forget to uncheck it when you’re done).

Double-click the dosbox.conf file to open it (note, it will also have the version number in the file name, e.g. dosbox-0.74-2.conf).  Windows will most likely ask you how you want to open the file.  Click “More apps”, then select “Notepad” and click “OK”.  Now scroll down to the section that starts [autoexec].

Tone’s Tip. You can use “Find…” from Notepad’s “Edit” menu to locate it more quickly.

Underneath [autoexec], make a new line and add the following two lines;

mount C C:\DOS
C:\

Save and exit the file to finish.  When you next launch DOSBox, your C:\DOS folder will be automatically mounted (loaded) to DOSBox’s C:\ drive, and your flashing cursor will be waiting at the C:\ prompt ready to access your games.

DOSBox is available for Windows, Mac and Linux, so there’s no excuse not to enjoy your old favourites.

5. ZX Spectrum

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum needs perhaps needs no introduction, as one of the most successful home computers of the 1980s.  Released in 1982, this little 48k marvel certainly brought many a happy gaming hour into the lives of children growing up in that particular decade.

To relive those glory days (minus the rubber keys), let’s download and install the free and open source Fuse emulator.

http://fuse-emulator.sourceforge.net

Now run the program.

Tone’s Tip. Fuse opens in a small window (this is because games of this period were very low resolution).  To make them more playable on today’s screens, go to the “Options” dropdown menu and select “Filter”.  In the window that opens, choose “Double size” (or even “Triple size”) and click “OK”.

To launch a game, click “File”, and then “Open”.  Navigate to the location of your game ROM, select it and click “Open” again.

Fuse is cross-platform, being available for Windows, Mac and Linux, as well as Android – and even some games consoles.  So there’s no shortage of platforms on which to enjoy those Speccy classics!

6. Commodore 64 (C64)

The other gaming phenomenon of 8 bit 1980s home computing (which coincidentally also launched in the same year as the ZX Spectrum) was the Commodore 64.  With better graphics and superior sound to its rival, and boasting a whole 64k of RAM (Random Access memory), this is perhaps why it went on to outsell the Spectrum.

In order to travel back in time and savour this old beige beauty (though without the pale brown case), let’s download VICE (VersatIle Commodore Emulator).

http://vice-emu.sourceforge.net

Note. You may need to extract the software after downloading it.  Inside the VICE folder (which was actually called GTK3VICE-3.3-win32-r35872 when I extracted it in Windows 10), double-click the “x64” (Application) file to run the emulator.

Now click “File”, and, from the dropdown menu, select “Smart attach disk/tape…”  This will open a window for you to navigate to your C64 ROM (game) file.  To run the game, click “Autostart” and enjoy the emulated VIC-II chip, which ‘featured’ a palette of 16 colours! (yep, that was your lot back then – still, that was eight more than the Spectrum).

VICE is free and open source software, available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and several older platforms.

7. Amiga

Moving forwards a little – to 1985, to be precise – brought us Commodore’s successor to the C64, the Amiga; though it wasn’t until the release of the Amiga 500 in 1987 that the model really took off.  This was a platform that delivered a palette of 4096 colours (though in reality it could usually only display 32 of them on screen at any one time).  The Amiga went through a range of models, each incrementally improving on the last, though the inexpensive 500 remained the most popular.

In the end, it was most likely a combination of Microsoft Windows and Sega Mega Drive/Nintendo Super NES consoles that finally killed off the Amiga (and with it the Commodore brand) – that and the fact that Commodore had basically kept with the same core hardware and OS for years.  Sad to say, but the Amiga (and its Atari ST rival) were really the last of the serious gaming computers outside of Microsoft.  From this point on, most gamers either went with Windows or turned to console-based gaming (or both).  These days, mobile gaming has entered the fray as well.

Emulating the Amiga

In order to play our old Amiga games, we’ll use the FS-UAE Amiga Emulator.  Download it here.

https://fs-uae.net

Go for the Recommended download (the installer with FS-UAE, FS-UAE Launcher & FS-UAE Arcade).  After installing, open the software.  Depending on the game, click either the “Floppy Drives” or the “CD-ROM Drives” tab.  You can now click the “Browse for File” button(s) and locate your game’s ROM(s) – there may be a few in the case of floppy disks.  After selecting a ROM, click “Open”.  To launch the game (when all the ROMS are loaded), click the “Start” button.

Tone’s Tip. If a game won’t run, try changing the Amiga Model.  “A1200” is suggested for best compatibility.

FS-UAE is free and open source and works on Windows Mac and Linux.

8. PlayStation (PS1/PSX)

Sony’s (original) PlayStation was perhaps the first of what we might still refer to as the contemporary games console.  Launched all the way back in 1994, it was a, quite literal, game changer for Sony, being their first venture into the video game industry – and what a way to start!  It quickly became the best selling console of its time, and though rivals introduced their own successful products – like Nintendo’s N64, and Microsoft’s first Xbox (although this wasn’t until 2001) – none have, so far, managed to topple Sony’s crown.

The PlayStation has since spurred several of its own direct descendants, leading right the way up to the forthcoming – and hotly anticipated – PlayStation 5. Indeed, the PlayStation 2 (released in 2000) remains the best selling console (of all time) to this day!

Replaying the PlayStation

To get started with our old PlayStation games we first need to download the free ePSXe (Enhanced PSX Emulator).

www.epsxe.com

Once you have it, extract the contents of the zipped file.  To run the software, double-click “ePSXe”.  On the first run, you should click the “Config>>” button to configure the emulator.  The first thing it does is to check for a PSX BIOS.  You can either;

Follow the on-screen instructions on how to obtain this (bear in mind, you can only use this file LEGALLY when you own a REAL PlayStation).
Or
Click “OK” to continue without one and use the “HLE Bios” included with the program (note, this is less compatible with certain games than a genuine BIOS).

Continue through the configuration wizard.  On the Configuring the Video screen, read the instructions and select the best option for your computer’s graphics card/chipset (if you’d like to further configure the graphics settings, click the “Config” button).  On the Configuring the Sound screen, unless you’re very choosy with your audio, it’s probably best to leave it on the default setting.  Again, on the Configuring the Cdrom screen, its fine to go with the default.

To get the best experience out of the emulator, it’s a good idea to setup a couple of games controllers to use with it.  These can be set up on the Configuring the Pads screen by clicking “Controller 1” and “Controller 2” in turn (this enables you to map the correct controller buttons to the software).  Finally, click “Done” to exit the configuration wizard.

Note. By retro gaming standards, PlayStation titles (which were originally released on CD) can be quite large; therefore the ROMs can also be pretty hefty in size.

To load your games into ePSXe, click “File” and, from the dropdown menu, select “Open Gamelist”.

Tone’s Tip. It’s easiest if all of your gaming ROMs are in a single folder, so, if they’re not already, it would make sense to do this first.

Next click “Folders”.  You can enter the locations of up to five folders (that contain your ROMs) by clicking the “…” (browse) button for each one.  Since, hopefully, yours are all in a single folder, you’ll only need to do this once.  When you’ve selected its location, click “OK”.  Now click the “Refresh” button to show your games in the ePSXe Gamelist.

To start one of the them, select it from the list and click “OK”.  The game should begin to load.  Enjoy!

ePSXe is available for Windows, Mac and Linux.  It’s also in Google’s Play store, but the Android version is not free.

The next way to get some retro gaming action shows that you don’t have to install an emulator (or virtual machine) at all.  In the following section we’ll actually look at three different approaches for enjoying some old classics.

9. Other retro gaming options

You can use other platforms to take care of the technical stuff (no messing about with emulators, a BIOS or ROMs), allowing you to get on with the important stuff, namely old school gaming.  Though not the focus of these three sites, each of them has a decent selection of older titles.

Steam

Probably better known for it’s Triple-A titles, Steam is not short of a retro game or two.  Check them out here (note, most of these are paid for products and you will need to create a free account, as well as download and install the Steam client).

https://store.steampowered.com/

GOG.com

As with Steam, it’s doubtful retro gaming is the first thing that springs to mind when you think of GOG.com (formerly Good Old Games).  It’s DRM-free (Digital Rights Management) games that have been at the heart of this company’s mission from the outset.  Nevertheless, you shouldn’t write off their back catalogue as a source for your old school gaming (as with Steam, most titles are chargeable; that said, the classic Shadow Warrior was available for free at the time of writing – again, you’ll need to create a free account.  Optionally, you can use GOG Galaxya client which, according to the website, “makes downloading and installing games as convenient as possible”).

https://www.gog.com/

Internet Archive

Okay, this is an interesting one.  How about having access to a huge archive of completely free old games, not only accessible from your web browser, but many of them playable within your browser as well!  Welcome then to the Internet Archive.  Visit the site by clicking the following link to get started.

https://archive.org/

From the homepage, click the “Software” tab.  This is teaming with classics for all kinds of gaming machines.  Everything from arcade to home computer to console.  There are numerous collections (as the Internet Archive calls them) for you to choose from – MS-DOS Games and ZX Spectrum being just two examples – or you can search for something specific.

Once you click on a game, such as the one I chose (Manic Miner), if you see a big power button (like the one pictured in the screenshot) it means the game is playable.  Click on it to start.  After the game has loaded into the on-screen emulator it should start playing.

Tone’s Tip. Notice the volume icon and four outward-facing arrows at the top right.  These allow you to toggle the sound on or off, and to make the game go full screen (or back into windowed mode).

If you’d like to read all about the ENORMOUS resource that is the Internet Archive (of which gaming is only a small part), click here to open the Internet Archive: A Treasure Trove of (Virtual) Content feature.

The next way to satisfy that classic gaming urge is just a single game, and it’s called…

10. Pingus

A small confession up front, although retro (being initially released in 1998) and arguably a classic in its own right, Pingus is actually made in the style of an immensely popular puzzle-platformer that dates all the way back to 1991 and goes by the name of… you guessed it, Lemmings.

Download the game here.

https://pingus.seul.org

In this version we see penguins instead of Lemmings, hence the name (though it bears no relation to the children’s TV series, Pingu).  Although it may have started as a clone of the original game, to call it such now would be to do it a disservice.  Pingus has developed ideas of its own (although it may have ‘borrowed’ some of these from others games – see if you can spot which ones).

Pingus is free and open source, and available for the Holy Trinity of Windows, Mac and Linux.  Being open source, it’s probably no surprise that the main characters are penguins (Tux, the Linux mascot, is a penguin, after all).

So set your flightless birds digging, floating and jumping (and all the other kinds of completely natural actions that penguins do!) as you try and get them safely home.

The penultimate way to get your retro gaming fix isn’t exactly gaming at all – read on to find out more.

11. Give your hardware a retro look

Raspberry Pi Retro Gaming Station Case

Already got a little Raspberry Pi running your vintage games collection?  Isn’t it about time you showed it some love – why not spruce it up with a fancy new enclosure?  Several retro cases are available, specifically styled to resemble popular gaming consoles from the past.  Obviously, as the Pi is so small, the cases will also be much smaller than the products they’re modelled on.

So what’s available, I hear you ask?

We’ll look at two of them here.

NESPi Case

First up is the NESPi case.  As you can see in the picture (and probably guess from the name), this has been designed to replicate the Nintendo NES console.  You can even get kits that include game controllers, too.

SNESPi Case

Second, we have the SNESPi case.  As with the consoles themselves, this one – based on the Nintendo Super NES (did you guess this, too?) – looks a little more refined than the NES that preceded it.  Again, kits are available that also include controllers.

What if portable gaming is more your bag?

Raspberry Pi Game HAT

As an added bonus, let’s take a quick look at a handheld Raspberry Pi gaming console in the vein of a Nintendo DS.  If you fancy giving this a go you could try the Raspberry Pi Game HAT.

You can buy the kit here.

https://www.amazon.com/Waveshare-Game-HAT-Resolution-Experience

Remember, you’ll also need a Pi to connect to it.  If you’d like to read more about the Raspberry Pi and what HATs are, click here to read the article Fancy a Slice of Raspberry Pi.

The final way (at least as far as this feature is concerned) to enjoy retro gaming is most certainly the route the games companies would like you to take…

12. Retro gaming consoles

With old school gaming continuing to garner so much attention, it was inevitable that the very manufacturer’s (those that are still going, at any rate) who brought us these consoles the first time around would like another bite out of such a lucrative pie.  Luckily for us, it’s not simply a case of money for old rope as these new (or should that be old) consoles are modern versions of the classics, complete with such technological witchcraft as USB and HDMI.

So what can we expect from 8 and 16 bit computing in the 21st Century?

Let’s take a peek at what’s on offer.

The C64 Mini

Okay, so technically, this one’s not actually a console, but the Commodore 64 was still one of the best gaming platforms of its day, and was the best-selling personal computer of all time, shifting over 17 million units worldwide.  It now returns to us in the form of The C64 Mini.  Since Commodore went bankrupt back in 1994, this modern take on a classic has been brought to us by Retro Games Ltd.

So what do we get in this new, smaller, package?

Fortunately, the tape deck of old is gone – can you imagine the long wait (usually several minutes) while each game loaded?  Even if you’re old enough, I think most people tend to forget this was the norm at the time.  For better or worse, we now live in a world when if something doesn’t open within a matter of seconds, people get impatient.  So it’s a relief then that The C64 Mini, which comes with its own joystick, hasn’t stuck rigidly in the past.

Over 35 years later, as you might expect, much has improved.  This 50% replica of the original now pushes out those pixels in high definition at 720p.  It has two USB ports so you can plug in a USB keyboard (more on that later) or a second joystick for some two player action.  The mini computer comes with – you guessed it – 64 built-in games (I wonder where that number could have come from?), including such repetitive strain injury (RSI) inducing classics as California Games and Summer Games II.

Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System

Same look as the original, but, like an old pair of jeans left too long in the wash, the Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System has also reduced in size; the only thing not to have shrunk is the name – what a mouthful that is!

It comes with 30 games built-in, including some absolute classics like Super Mario Bros and Ghosts ‘n Goblins; the latter of which was one of my favourites growing up – though I was never quite sure about the knight running around in his underpants!

You get a single controller, though you can buy an additional one for two-player titles.  As an added bonus, the controller also works with NES Virtual Console games, if you happen to already have a Nintendo Wii U.

Nintendo Classic Mini SNES

It seems that Nintendo really like their retro games consoles.  Here’s another one, this time based on the Super NES.  According to the advertising blurb, it has the “same look and feel of the original system only smaller”.

Are you starting to notice a theme developing?

Yep, that’s right, each retro release so far has contained the word Mini in the title, reflecting the fact that they’re much smaller than their ancestors.  It seems that, in an age where everyone is telling us we’re obese, the games manufacturers, too, have taken this to heart.  Whatever the reason, these modern classics have certainly cut the flab.

This one’s no different; like it’s spent those last (almost) thirty years in the gym.  Unlike its older (Classic NES) sibling, this, usefully, comes with two controllers.  It also has 21 games pre-loaded immediately ready for your vintage gaming pleasure, including such titles as Super Mario Kart and Final Fantasy 3.

The models we look at from here might not state that they’re mini (not in their name, at least), but every modern version of its ageing forebear has been on the same strict diet as the rest.

PlayStation Classic

Okay, it’s Sony’s turn now with their PlayStation Classic.  Look at those diminutive dimensions – the controller’s almost bigger than the console! Yes, it’s another pint-sized entry, small enough to place on the palm of your hand – 45% smaller than the original, in fact.  This also comes with two controllers, as well as 20 pre-loaded games.  You’ll find titles like Grand Theft Auto and Metal Gear Solid right there, ready to go.

Sega Mega Drive Classic Game Console

Sega’s Mega Drive (or Genesis, as it was known in the US) is another classic console to get a new makeover.  The Sega Mega Drive Classic Game Console is supplied with two games controllers.  There are 81 titles built-in (which include Mortal Kombat I, II and III) to bring retro gaming to your fingertips.

Despite being a modern update of the original, this small console does NOT have HDMI connectivity, meaning you’ll need to use the supplied RCA connectors (Red, White and Yellow) to connect it to your TV – I think that might be taking the retro concept a bit too far!

ZX Spectrum Vega

As with the Commodore 64, the ZX Spectrum wasn’t actually a console, but a home computer.  Nevertheless, as with the C64, it was likewise a gaming classic of its time.  Although the Sinclair company no longer exists, the ZX Spectrum Vega (made by Retro Computers) has been endorsed by Sir Clive Sinclair.

This contemporary update comes jam packed with no fewer than 1000 games pre-loaded!  Even so, there’s no sign of Manic Miner (what were they thinking!).  Still, at least Jet Pack is present and correct.  You can also add more titles via a MicroSD card – perhaps they knew we’d all want to add Manic Miner after all!

Atari Flashback

Over the past few years, Atari have released a range of Atari Flashback consoles.  It’s fitting that they should enter the retro gaming ring, being the company who produced the first (commercially) successful video game, Pong, and brought console gaming into the home.  Now they’re aiming to bring retro gaming to a new generation.

Rather than using the ROM (Read-Only Memory) cartridges of old, (like the competition) Atari’s Flashback consoles have the games built-in.  You’ll find such old school numbers as Frogger and Space Invaders – it doesn’t get any more retro than that!

Atari Retro Handheld

If portable gaming is more your thing, there’s also the Atari “Retro” Handheld console, which is based on the iconic Atari 2600 (originally released as the Atari Video Computer System or Atari VCS).

As you can see, there’s quite a selection of gaming machines in this rebirth of older classics; and some quite impressive models among them.  Unfortunately, though, things aren’t all smelling of roses.

Small but not so perfectly formed

The advantage of having the games built-in (like never having to hunt for that elusive cartridge you’re sure you put next to the TV) can also be a retro console’s achilles heel.  Some of these mini ‘clones’ are the total sum of their parts.  In other words, you can’t insert a different disk/cassette/cartridge to load up another game; in which case, you’ll have to make do with the pre-loaded selection.

Also regrettably, weight isn’t the only thing some of these slimmed down devices have lost.  Even the original ZX Spectrum’s strange rubber keyboard may have been preferable to that found on the Vega.  You get just two numbered buttons (1 and 2), two letters (A and B) and the cursor (arrow) keys, plus a small number of tiny buttons.  This approach starts to make more sense when you realise that you actually hold (and use) the entire mini console like you would a games controller.  The C64 Mini’s keyboard is even worse, and here there’s really no excuse.  This one’s purely decorational and completely non-functioning.  That’s right, to do any typing you’re going to have to connect an external USB keyboard.

The final annoyance is that several of these mini consoles don’t even come with a power brick, just a (Micro USB) cable.  I remember a time (here in the UK) when most electrical items came without a plug (you were expected to fit your own).  Are the manufacturer’s hoping to return to such a time?  If you’re lucky, your TV may have a USB socket that can provide power, or perhaps you can find a suitable mobile charger lying around (assuming your phone manufacturer bothered to supply one).  Sure, the manufacturer will happily sell you a power adapter separately, but come on, even if these are retro devices, it’s not actually 1980 any more!  Well done Atari and Sega for including the complete power supply.

Not all retro consoles are created equal

Let’s finish this section on a high note (it doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom) by reminding ourselves why these retro consoles are a good thing.  First, not everyone wants to spend their time setting up and configuring computers – believe it or not, there are those who see no fun in any of that!  Better to just turn the thing on and get down to business.  For those people, retro consoles are ideal.

Another big plus (compared to the original devices) is being able to connect them directly to the latest TVs – no adapters or rewiring required.  A smaller footprint never hurts either – easier to hide under the TV!

And then there’s the price.  If you tot up what the console and all those games would have cost back in the day, most of these retro models begin to look like complete bargains.

Game over

That brings us to the end of this feature.  Whether its twisting and turning blocks in Tetris, fixing precarious plumbing as Mario, or role-playing Pikachu in Pokemon, I hope you’ve found plenty of possibilities to take your retro gaming to a whole new level.