Compare retro game consoles

What to consider when collecting retro games and systems

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System Year of release Number of controller ports Notable titles Where to Buy
Atari 2600 1977 2 Pitfall!, Space Invaders, Ms Pac-Man eBay
Game & Watch 1980 N/A Donkey Kong, Mario’s Cement Factory, Octopus eBay
Vectrex 1982 2 Space Wars, Spike, Scramble eBay
Colecovision 1982 2 Donkey Kong Jr, Jumpman Jr, Wargames eBay
Nintendo Famicom/Nintendo Entertainment System 1983 2 Super Mario Bros 3, The Legend Of Zelda, Castlevania eBay
Sega Master System 1986 2 Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, Fantasy Zone, Bubble Bobble eBay
NEC PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 1987 1 Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, Devil’s Crush, Bomberman ‘93 eBay
Sega Megadrive/Genesis 1988 2 Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Streets Of Rage 2, Disney’s Aladdin eBay
Nintendo GameBoy 1989 N/A Tetris, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, Pokemon Red/Blue eBay
Atari Lynx 1989 N/A Todd’s Adventures In Slime World, Xenophobe, Lemmings eBay
Super Nintendo Entertainment System/Super Famicom 1990 2 Super Metroid, Super Mario World, Chrono Trigger eBay
Neo Geo 1990 2 Metal Slug 3, Garou: Mark Of The Wolves, Samurai Showdown eBay
Sega Game Gear 1990 N/A Sonic Chaos, GG Shinobi II: The Silent Fury, Bubble Bobble eBay
Atari Jaguar 1993 2 Tempest 2000, Alien Vs Predator, Rayman eBay
3DO 1993 1 The Need For Speed, Star Control 2, Wing Commander 3 eBay
Sega Saturn 1994 2 Nights Into Dreams, Panzer Dragoon Saga, Radiant Silvergun eBay
Sony PlayStation 1994 2 Bushido Blade, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, Final Fantasy VII eBay
Nintendo 64 1996 4 WWF No Mercy, Super Mario 64, The Legend Of Zelda: The Ocarina Of Time eBay
Sega Dreamcast 1998 4 Shenmue, Jet Set Radio, Soul Calibur eBay
Sony PlayStation 2 2000 2 Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Burnout 3: Takedown, Final Fantasy XII eBay
Nintendo GameBoy Advance 2001 N/A Advance Wars, Castlevania: Aria Of Sorrow, Boktai: The Sun Is In Your Hand eBay
Nintendo GameCube 2001 4 The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker, F-Zero GX, Super Monkey Ball eBay
Microsoft Xbox 2001 4 Halo: Combat Evolved, Crimson Skies, Fable eBay
Nintendo DS 2004 N/A Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, New Super Mario Bros, Advance Wars: Dual Strike eBay
Sony PlayStation Portable 2004 N/A God Of War: Chains Of Olympus, Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars, Lumines eBay
Microsoft Xbox 360 2005 4 GTA V, Mass Effect 2, Red Dead Redemption eBay
Sony PlayStation 3 2006 7 The Last Of Us, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Red Dead Redemption eBay
Nintendo Wii 2006 4 Super Mario Galaxy 2, Xenoblade Chronicles, Super Smash Bros Brawl eBay
Sony PlayStation Vita 2011 N/A Persona 4 Golden, Gravity Rush, Metal Gear Solid HD Collection eBay

Are you collecting to play or collecting to display?

vintage computer game console

There's a rather substantial split in the retro gaming community between folks who are collecting games in order to play them on consoles, and those whose primary consideration is more collecting games as display items and/or as an investment prospect. Naturally, it's also quite feasible to sit somewhere in-between those categories, as plenty of retro game collectors also enjoy playing games, and plenty of players enjoy having an effective way to show off their collections.

However, what you'll be looking for and how much you'll have to spend will vary quite a lot, whether you're talking consoles or actual games. Those who collect to play are generally (but not exclusively) less fussed about pristine cases, instructions or actual game hardware/cartridges/discs, which means that they'll typically be able to secure those titles for less.

In the "collecting" space, however, condition and completeness are everything. There's entire communities built around collecting exclusively shrink-wrapped games at high prices, simply because they've (in theory) never been owned.

Which console do you want to collect for?

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Name a console system, and there's a collecting community out there for it somewhere, although actual interest and costs will vary quite a lot.

Nintendo, for example has a wide community of interested collectors for just about every console and portable system it's ever released – even failed systems such as the ill-fated Virtual Boy – whereas Atari systems, while they have their stalwart fans, have a less keen community and therefore most prices for common and semi-rare games and systems tend to be a little lower.

Again, this comes down to that mix of nostalgia if you're collecting to play those games you remember from your childhood, your affordable budget and expectations if you're buying to invest for future value

Connectivity options

Old HD TV

If you are looking to play games on the retro systems you're collecting for, you need to consider what kind of display you're going to use. (For portables that's essentially taken care of, because they have their own screens.)

As we've progressed through screen technologies and connection types, you may find that hooking up your older console systems is a little trickier on a new 4K TV – and when you do, the results might not be that pleasing. That's because many of those older systems were designed to display on older CRT style television sets.

It's still possible to get a second-hand CRT if you want to go the whole hog, although keeping one in good working order is a challenge in itself. There's also a wide range of upscaling devices that can take the output from a classic retro console and both make it compatible with modern (largely HDMI) connection standards in a pleasing way.

Here you very much do get what you pay for, with super-cheap options technically working but rarely in a visually pleasing way, while more complex upscalers deliver great quality results, but at a much higher asking price.

The PAL vs NTSC divide

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Modern consoles output via HDMI to displays that essentially don't care about old school TV standards, but classic retro systems – essentially anything produced pre-2000 that could hook up via an old school antenna cable as a rough guide – most definitely did. That meant that worldwide, there were essentially two main TV standards they had to output to.

In much of Europe and Australia, the PAL (Phase Alternating Line) 50Hz standard was used (outside France and its own wacky SECAM sub-standard), while in the USA and Japan, NTSC (National Standards Television Committee) 60Hz standard was used. Without diving too deeply into the technical weeds here, the frequency standards of the two TV types meant that NTSC games ran technically 'faster' than PAL ones, unless they were specifically written for PAL or optimised in very specific ways.

PAL has better colour and resolution than NTSC, but the practical reality is that the vast majority of development studios for console systems tended to code for NTSC first, and then release a slower or lesser PAL version down the track.

Often for PAL systems, you ended up with a slower game – technically up to 17% slower, depending on the developers – and often with onscreen borders too. That's largely because PAL had technical advantages over NTSC, including higher resolution, but if you only have programs written for a lower resolution, you've got to do something with that extra pixel space. All too often, it ended up as a black border and nothing else.

There's a couple of important realities for modern retro game collectors in all of this. It is possible to modify (or "mod") retro consoles to work across both 50Hz and 60Hz display rates if you're keen (or pay someone to do so), and consoles that are pre-modded often attract a slightly higher price point.

The PAL/NTSC divide also means that some games and systems are seen as more desirable or valuable in different territories due to scarcity; to throw up just two examples the PAL version of SNES classic RPG The Secret of Mana typically attracts a higher price than its NTSC counterpart, while the very rare NTSC versions of the Sega Master System version of Sonic The Hedgehog – a very common PAL game – is similarly prized by retro collectors purely for its rarity.

If you're only collecting to play, it's generally preferable for most titles to opt for the NTSC version of a game or console, although there are some drawbacks there, like the fact that the US redesign of the NES and SNES are considerably less aesthetically pleasing than their Japanese counterparts.

Of course, if you grew up with PAL games and aren't fussed by the speed issues, that's perfectly fine too, and can in fact be quite a bit cheaper for some games as their less-optimised status is seen as less desirable by some collectors.

Imported or local?

Nintendo Famicon and SNES

Technically every single console of note that you'd buy is imported, because Australia has never had a local tech manufacturing industry for consoles, but what we're really getting at here is where you choose to buy your systems from, and the original market they were intended for. This again largely falls across PAL and NTSC lines, but instead of video resolution here, we're largely talking power. Systems designed for most European countries (and Australia) should work fine with their existing power supplies, and the most you might need would be a simple plug adaptor to get up and running.

The same is not in any way true at all for NTSC systems designed for the US and Japanese markets. The power output you'd get from an Australian wall socket rates between 220-240V typically, and consoles built for this market (and again, much of Europe and the UK) are rated to work in those power ranges safely. The US/Japanese markets (and some other locations) use power at 100-127V.

Use a plug converter on one of those, and your console won't just run fast… it'll most likely fry itself, and could start a full on house fire or electrocute you.

In other words, NEVER PLUG IN A US OR JAPANESE CONSOLE DIRECTLY TO AN AUSTRALIAN SOCKET.

What you need for those systems is a step-down transformer that can take the 220-240V from your wall socket and scale it down to the 100-127V the console expects. They're not particularly expensive, and most models sold assume that you're plugging in a US/Japan style plug, so you may not even need a plug adaptor while using them.

Is it a good investment?

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Every once in a while, retro gaming will hit the headlines because a single given game sells for hundreds or thousands of dollars standalone, and this has led to something of a speculative market around retro gaming simply for those looking to collect them for their potential future value.

This is, frankly, a risky play, because while there are titles that do attract top dollar from a dedicated core of gamers, they're very few and far between, with the vast majority of a console system's library depreciating pretty sharply over time, rather than appreciating in value in any real way. That's also quite likely to be the case for "newer" retro systems, because the shift to digital distribution means that many games may never go "out" of print in terms of availability, and there's little to sell there in any case.

It is possible to turn a profit buying and selling retro games, but there's considerable risk there as well, and it's most worthwhile if you're also interested in the hobby and the games themselves.

Are you sufficiently insured?

This might not seem like the most obvious topic, but it's an important one if you're planning on collecting, or already own a large retro games collection with some value. Many insurers will insist on having any collection of significant value itemised on your home insurance if they're going to cover it at all in the event of disaster.

It's well worth checking with your insurer and your policy to make sure you don't fall foul of a lack of coverage in the event of a fire, flood or burglary taking your retro games away from you. You can compare Australia's major home insurance providers here.

What games should you buy?

Naturally, the answer to that question entirely depends on the system you've purchased and your favourite types of games. Most retro consoles have at least one of two classics in every genre, be it sports, racing, platformers, puzzle games or shooters. To help you get started, we've gathered what we consider to be the very best games for 9 popular retro consoles.

To read all about our choices, click on the links below.

Read more on this topic

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