Are you looking for the best retro gaming handhelds on the market today? We’ve got you covered!
Following the release of the Steam Deck, we’ve seen a slew of companies release handheld offerings to compete with Valve. One feature these handhelds offer is the ability to play retro games. This is either done natively through a game port or emulation. People might do this to relive their original experience when they played the game years ago or to play a critically-acclaimed game for the first time.
If you want to play retro games, you don’t necessarily need to break the bank to play them on a Steam Deck. Several handhelds can play retro games just as well at a fraction of the cost.
You’ll find that the handheld retro gaming communities across the Internet are deeply passionate about finding the right handheld and fine-tuning its settings to create the best retro gaming experience. In addition, these communities are welcoming to newbies who aren’t sure how to approach the space.
Here’s Boss Level Gamer’s list of the best retro gaming handhelds you can buy right now. If anything changes or something else comes up, we’ll be sure to update the list!
The Retroid Pocket 3+ Offers Value With a Premium Feel
Price: $150 on Goretroid
The Retroid Pocket 3+ is one of the most affordable handhelds on the market for what it offers. Offering slightly more processing power than its predecessor, Retroid Pocket 3, the 3+ will easily play anything up through PlayStation 1. In addition, with tweaks to settings, a large amount of the PlayStation 2 and GameCube libraries will also run on this handheld.
Out of the box, the Retroid Pocket 3+ runs Android 11. This will enable users to download retro games and emulation apps on the Google Play Store. They can also download apps to stream games from their Xbox, PlayStation, or Steam libraries.
It features a 4.7-inch touchscreen with a 16:9 aspect ratio. That screen is in the middle of a rectangular shell similar in shape to the Nintendo Switch Lite, and it comes in various colors. In addition, its stereo speakers are unique for handhelds at this price range.
It’s common for handhelds to have a toy-like feel at this price point. However, the Retroid Pocket 3+ boasts a premium-feeling shell that would come close to rivaling a Nintendo handheld.
Other unique features of the 3+ are its touch screen and sleep function.
The RG353V Is One of the Best Retro Gaming Handhelds for a Vertical Experience
Price: $150 on Amazon
Anbernic is one of the more established companies in the retro gaming handheld market. They’re known for reusing the same internals but in different form factors.
Handhelds that don’t use Android or Windows often run a different firmware that may not be as user-friendly. However, because many handhelds come with microSD card slots, users can place their preferred firmware on them via download from the Internet. In addition, the RG353V will come with the ability to boot either Linux or Android 11. It will also come with RetroArch pre-installed, a popular emulation app that can emulate various retro gaming systems.
Its build is reminiscent of the original Game Boy with a mono speaker and a screen at the top of the device. But this iteration comes with many more buttons and analog sticks to allow users to expand the number of games they can play on it. In addition, the shoulder buttons on the back provide a comfortable place to put your fingers while playing.
The Ayn Odin Can Boot Android or Windows
Price: $200-$330 at Ayn
When the Chinese company AYN Technologies unveiled the Odin on Indiegogo, it understandably received a lot of hype from the retro gaming community. It promised to be a dedicated retro gaming handheld for playing titles up through PlayStation 2 smoothly and a streaming device for apps like Xbox Game Pass or PS Remote Play. Depending on the model purchased, it can run only Android or both Android and Windows. The internals and power of the device will also depend on the model.
At first glance, it has a similar button layout, build, and size to the Nintendo Switch Lite. It comes in various colors that pay homage to old Nintendo consoles like the SNES and translucent N64. A dock can be purchased separately to play games on an external display. That dock features ports that allow hundreds of retro multiplayer games to be played from the catalog of the Google Play Store, Steam, and emulation software. A 5000mAh battery (or more, depending on the model), one of the best on the market at this price point, ensures you’ll have hours of uninterrupted retro gaming.
The Backbone Attachment Can Turn Your Phone Into the Best Retro Gaming Handheld
Price: $100 on Amazon
If you play games on your smartphone, retro gaming may be an untapped game genre for you. However, smartphones have much more impressive screens than other handhelds, which can help retro games shine. In addition, products like the Backbone can turn your phone into a gamepad that will work with any app that supports that control type. This would allow the user to play an endless library of games through emulation or game streaming.
The Backbone comes in versions for either Android or iPhone. Other products similar to the Backbone include the Razer Kishi and Gamesir’s line of smartphone gamepad attachments. You can also find clips to attach your phone to a console controller.
Even without these attachments and with the use of touch controls, smartphones are a great way to dip your toes into the retro gaming genre due to their accessibility. You probably already have one and wouldn’t need to purchase one of the other handhelds on this list to get started. Although, some may enjoy having separate dedicated devices for retro gaming. It all comes down to preference.
The Miyoo Mini Is Tiny Yet Versatile
$67 at Keep Retro
The novelty of the Game Boy Micro was its size. The Miyoo Mini has the same thing going for it, and can play the same games. With a build that barely fits a 2.8-inch IPS screen, it will surely fit in most peoples’ pockets or bag compartments. In addition, this game square can play titles up to PS1 without an issue. The tiny frame and screen pair well with a battery that allows five to six hours of gaming.
Much like the RG353V, the Miyoo Mini will come with the RetroArch app to emulate multiple generations of retro games. It may even come with some preloaded retro games.
Its active community has released updates to make the software more customizable and the hardware run more efficiently.
The Nintendo 3DS Can Have a Second Life as One of the Best Gaming Retro Handhelds
Remember the 3DS? It seemed to have a slow descent into its grave after the release of the Nintendo Switch in 2017. However, the 3DS eShop was once home to dozens of retro classics in a portable format. So if you’re still holding onto yours, it may still have life as a means to play those same retro games and more. Thanks to a dedicated community, Internet users could figure out how to insert software via SD card onto the handheld to let it play games from all types of handhelds up to the 3DS.
Because there’s a workaround to make this possible, there will be more of a time commitment to set this up than other retro gaming handhelds. However, once you do, the portability of the 3DS will make it worthwhile when you can take these retro games with you more easily in that unique clamshell design.
The Analogue Pocket Can Run Games Natively or Through Emulation
$220 on Analogue
The Analogue Pocket aimed to recreate the Gameboy experience in a more modern shell. It has a nearly identical shape to the Gameboy and features a beautiful 1600×1440 resolution LCD screen. The backlit screen can show off the vibrant colors of some retro games in an entirely new way. Those games can be played natively through a slot in the back of the handheld, and adapters expand the number of platforms that can be played.
The Analogue Pocket community has also found its own ways to download retro games onto the handheld through emulation. This makes the retro library more accessible to those who may not have the original game cartridge.
The AYANEO Air is like a smaller Steam Deck
$550 at AYANEO
AYANEO is a Hong Kong-based company that manufactures more premium handhelds. If you have the money to spend, the AYANEO Air can do pretty much everything the Steam Deck can with an AMD Ryzen 5 5560U processor but in a much smaller package. Compared to the 1.65lb Steam Deck, the Air is 14 ounces.
The handheld PC has the same shape and button layout as the Switch. Its 5.5-inch OLED screen is the perfect size to play thousands of retro games with the ability to upscale them to a 16:9 ratio.
Finding the Right Handheld for You
The retro gaming handhelds in this list are only a handful of what’s out there. Whichever one is best for you will depend on what you’re looking to get out of it. Do you only want to go back and play all the classic JRPGs from the SNES era? Or do you want to experience all the fanmade Pokemon ROM hacks made for the GBA? There’s a handheld out there that will fit your needs.