Mini Consoles
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Plug-and-play video game consoles have been a part of gaming for years, but 2016's NES Classic Edition triggered an entirely new era for these products.

Swiftly followed by micro-consoles based on the Neo Geo, SNES, Mega Drive and PC Engine, this 'mini' boom shows no signs of slowing down, with the likes of the Commodore Amiga and Taito Egret II joining the ranks more recently.

If you've yet to take the plunge, you might be wondering which of these mini marvels is worth your hard-earned cash, so we've compiled this handy guide to take the hard work out of making a purchase.

Sega Game Gear Micro

While Sega's efforts with its other 'classic' systems have been most agreeable, the Game Gear Micro was a rare misstep for the firm.

Exclusive to Japan, the system is absolutely tiny – so small, in fact, you can't use it for more than a few minutes before cramp sets in. It's powered by batteries (no option to recharge here, sadly) and is available in multiple colours – a cute touch, until you realise that you have to buy all of them to get access to all of the available games, as Sega has split the library across each SKU (four games are included on each one).

It's a cool collectable and looks great on a shelf, but the Game Gear Micro isn't the essential purchase it could have been.

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Family Computer / Famicom Classic Mini

The NES Classic Edition was released in Japan in a different case design, and was named the Family Computer (Famicom) Mini to reflect its Japanese name.

The Famicom Classic Mini has a different selection of games when compared to the NES Classic Edition – a handful of which will be unplayable unless you can read Japanese. Add in the fact that the controllers are smaller (and hard-wired into the console), and you've got a system which is only likely to be of interest to hardcore Nintendo fans.

Neo Geo Mini

SNK's legendary Neo Geo system is the birthplace of Fatal Fury, Metal Slug and The King of Fighters, so any micro-console based on it is obviously going to be of interest.

The Neo Geo Mini is unique in that it was one of the first of these systems to come with its own built-in screen, which means you can use it away from the television (you'll still need to plug it into power, though – there's no internal battery). The screen is fantastic, but sadly the joystick is quite flimsy and doesn't feature microswitches.

When played on the TV via HDMI, the image quality is quite poor – and the optional USB controllers aren't brilliant, either. While it looks great and has some amazing games, it feels like the Neo Geo Mini is something of a missed opportunity, despite offering an impressive roster of 40 games.

PlayStation Classic

PlayStation Classic
Image: Sony Computer Entertainment

Released a year after the SNES Classic Edition, the PlayStation Classic is pre-loaded with 20 32-bit classics and comes complete with two faithful replicas of the groundbreaking PlayStation controller. In purely cosmetic terms, it's gorgeous – just like the original console, in fact.

However, the software side of things leaves much to be desired. Not only are some key PlayStation titles absent (Castlevania: SotN, Final Fantasy Tactics, Crash Bandicoot, Gran Turismo and Tomb Raider, to name a few), but the emulation isn't as solid as it perhaps could have been.

Even so, this is a nice enough package for PlayStation lovers, even if we'd liked to have seen a few more games make the cut.

Sega Astro City Mini V

A new variant of the Astro City Mini with a vertically-oriented screen (hence the 'V' in the name), this is home to some incredible titles – including Out Zone, Dogyūn and the utterly sublime Armed Police Batrider – making it the shmup's dream come true.

Sadly, it's plagued by some particularly bad input latency which the hardcore crowd will notice almost instantly. Still worth a look, but don't expect tight controls with this one.

Neo Geo Arcade Stick Pro

After releasing the Neo Geo Mini, SNK added this oddity to the mix. It's basically an arcade stick controller, not entirely unlike the ones that shipped with the original Neo Geo AES home console, but it comes pre-loaded with games.

Oddly, SNK decided to drip-feed the games, with only 20 available at launch. Updates allowed users to unlock more games – a very unusual strategy, and one which we're not sure made much sense.

Other issues include a below-average HDMI image quality and poor UI design, but on the upside, it's possible to use the Arcade Stick Pro as a controller with the Neo Geo Mini.

Capcom Home Arcade

The Capcom Home Arcade is perhaps pushing the definition of what is a 'micro-console', but it's one of the more remarkable entries on this list.

While the number of games is small – just 16 – they're all thoroughbred Capcom classics, including the likes of Final Fight, Street Fighter 2, Strider, Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Captain Commando and – for the first time on any home system – Alien vs Predator and Progear.

There are two sets of controls, so you can rope in a second player if you so wish. Emulation niggles sour the experience a little but firmware updates have mitigated this since launch.

The biggest stumbling block with the Capcom Home Arcade is the price; at £200, this is the most expensive of all of the options on this page.

Sega Astro City Mini

Perhaps taking notes from SNK's Neo Geo Mini, Sega decided to get in on the act with its own arcade-focused micro-system.

The Astro City Mini is based on the iconic cabinet of the same name, capable of housing a wide range of different arcade boards. Sega has pre-loaded this one with some of its most notable coin-op hits, such as Golden Axe: Revenge of Death Adder, Alien Storm and Virtua Fighter – the latter of which is perhaps the best home port of the game ever seen.

Some of the other selections are somewhat left-field, but the unit has a wonderful screen and solid controls, making it a desirable item for hardcore gamers.

NES Classic Edition / NES Classic Mini

Released in 2016, when Nintendo was still struggling to sell Wii U consoles, the NES Classic Edition was a breath of fresh air for the company.

Packing 30 games, a cool design and authentic controllers, it provided a vital link to Nintendo's past – and sold by the truckload as a result. The emulation is solid, the selection of games is excellent and modern-day comforts like save states help when it comes to beating some of the trickier titles.

On the downside, the controller lead is really short, and you only get a single pad in the box, so you'll need to buy another if you fancy some two-player action.

You could argue that the NES Classic Edition is less vital now that many of the games are available on Nintendo Switch Online, but it's still a brilliant little device to have underneath your TV – provided you can find one at a reasonable price, as the unit has since been discontinued by Nintendo.

A500 Mini

While there are plenty of options when it comes to plug-and-play systems based on home consoles, the world of home computers isn't represented quite as well.

Leading the charge is this excellent scaled-down version of Commodore's iconic Amiga 500. It comes complete with a mouse and comes pre-loaded with 25 games – some of which are more essential than others.

That's not an issue, however, as it's easy to side-load Amiga games from a USB drive, which effectively means you can access almost the entire Amiga library with this device. The downside is that the bundled joypad is terrible.

Taito Egret II Mini

Like the Astro City Mini, the Taito Egret II Mini is based on an actual arcade cabinet that did the rounds in amusement centres back in the day (and still be found all over the world, even now).

This particular system is very similar to Sega's, with two notable exceptions; firstly, the screen can be rotated 90 degrees so you can play both portrait (TATE) and landscape games, and there's an SD card slot which allows you to load up more games.

Taito's amazing coin-op titles make this worth a look, especially if you frequented the arcades back in the day.

Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2

Released in 2022, the Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2 is based on the case design of the original Genesis / Mega Drive 2 from the early '90s – a measure by Sega to bring down the production cost of its 16-bit platform.

A staggering 60 titles are included this time around, with Mega / Sega CD titles making the cut for the first time – and some of the included games have even been improved over the originals, proving that M2 really does go above and beyond the call of duty.

Negatives include some rather odd software picks (OutRunners, Gain Ground and Sewer Shark should have been left in the past, in all honesty), and the price is higher than the original Mega Drive Mini 2 – but on the whole, this is another must-have device from Sega.

PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 Mini

A huge success in its native Japan, the PC Engine is less well known in the west due to the fact that it was rebranded as the TurboGrafx-16, which didn't perform that well in the face of stiff competition from Sega and Nintendo.

Nonetheless, this little box of tricks is home to some amazing games, including Konami's legendary Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, Irem's R-Type, Namco's Splatterhouse and the legendary shmup Lords of Thunder.

M2 – which also worked on Sega's two 'classic' edition consoles – is doing the heavy lifting here, which means emulation is spot-on. They even managed to include support for NEC's ill-fated SuperGrafx console, which is home to one of the best ports of Ghouls 'n Ghosts money can buy.

While the PC Engine doesn't have the same iconic series as Sonic, Zelda and Mario to fall back on, this is still a solid purchase for those of you who want to explore gaming's history a little more diligently. Sadly, it's really hard to find brand-new these days, so you'll have to rely on the secondary market.

SNES Classic Edition / SNES Classic Mini

2017's follow-up to the NES Classic is arguably even more essential; the SNES is home to some of the greatest video games ever made, and many of them are included here.

Given how much some of these games cost in their original physical form, this system represents outstanding value for money – and it even comes with the previously-unreleased Star Fox 2, making it of intense interest to hardcore Nintendo fans.

Another plus is that there are two controllers included, rather than the one that shipped with the NES Classic. However, there's still no way to expand the library (well, not officially, at least), and with 21 titles on board, the SNES Classic Edition actually has fewer games than its predecessor.

Mega Drive / Genesis Mini

Sega was actually in the 'micro console' market long before Nintendo showed up, but it merely licenced its property to AtGames, which produced some less-than-brilliant devices plagued by emulation problems and build quality issues.

2019's Mega Drive / Genesis Mini was the first serious effort from the Japanese firm to leverage its history in a plug-and-play micro-console, and it spared no expense, enlisting emulation expert M2 to handle the software side of things and commissioning the legendary Yuzo Koshiro to create new music for the console's user interface.

To make things even more appealing, Sega included Tetris (which was pulled from retail in Japan back in the day) and a new version of Taito's Darius (oh, and the Tower of Power made a comeback, too, but it was purely cosmetic).

The six-button pads it ships with are fantastic, and overall, this is a wonderful piece of kit – and, with 42 games included, it has a lot more content than the SNES Classic Edition (although few would argue that titles like Altered Beast, Virtua Fighter 2 and Space Harrier II are truly essential picks today).

Note that the western version of the machine comes with a three-button pad, while the Japanese version ships with a superior six-button controller. The games on each variant are slightly different, too.