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The best retro consoles of all time

Some things are classics for a reason. Sure, it might be convenient to download old favorites from the Virtual Console or PlayStation Store, but it’s never quite the same as playing on the systems they were designed for. Luckily, there are always eBay-savvy gamers willing to part with their old-school consoles (for a price), meaning it’s not too late to own these beloved machines.  

On the other hand, if you’ve got some retro gaming hardware lying around and need to clear some clutter, you can be the one selling your wares on eBay. How much can you expect to get for those old systems? Read on!

Everyone knows the sad story of Sega’s last console. In some ways, it was ahead of its time, with lofty dreams of online gaming and a varied library of games that spawned several cult classics. Launching in 1999 as Sony was gearing up to reveal its juggernaut PlayStation 2 did it no favors, though, and it was discontinued less than two years after launch. Despite the small sales window, Dreamcast consoles are readily available to buy, and the prices are pretty reasonable. If you want one sealed in the box so you can pretend it’s 9/9/99 all over again, you might have to drop a few hundred dollars. Opened Dreamcasts go for far less, even bundled with games. 

Speaking of the PlayStation 2, there’s a reason it was so popular that it aided in Sega’s exodus from the console market. Riding on the success of the PS1, the second PlayStation ended up selling 155 million systems—making it the best-selling console ever—and had a massive library of games. With titles like Final Fantasy X, Dragon Quest VIII, and Kingdom Hearts, the PS2 was an RPG lover’s dream. It was available at retail for an incredible thirteen years, which means they’re still pretty easy to find today. You can find a used console with a stack of games for under $100, so it’s not too late to discover what made this system so beloved.

Where to even begin with Nintendo’s second console? The Super NES remains adored more than two decades later for a variety of reasons. The controller is one of the best ever; the graphics were, at the time, excellent; and it had games like Super Mario World (arguably the best Mario platformer of all time) and the Donkey Kong Country series. New-in-box SNES systems sell for upwards of $700 today, meaning if you’ve got a sealed Super Nintendo in your closet, you might be in for a payday. And if you’re looking for one of your own, there are plenty of non-mint systems to be found, many bundled with games for under $100.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System wasn’t the only heavy-hitter during the 16-bit era. Sega’s Genesis console introduced us to Sonic the Hedgehog and was the go-to system for those who wanted violence in their games, since Nintendo tended to cut out blood and gore from titles like Mortal Kombat. The Genesis also housed the definitive version of Aladdin at a time when movie tie-in games were actually pretty fun. The six-button controller is either fantastic or awful, depending on whom you ask, but one thing’s for sure: it’s a classic. It’s also reasonably priced for the collectors’ market, so you can relive the 90s console wars without breaking the bank.

Nintendo has found a lot of success with handheld systems, but there’s something really special about the Game Boy Advance SP. The second iteration of the GBA fixed the lighting problem of the first model while also upgrading the design and making it even more portable. Sure, it didn’t have a touch screen or fancy 3D graphics or online functionality, but it did have a solid line-up, including re-released classics from the original NES—a novelty in the days before the Virtual Console. Even now, you can pick one up for around $50, and even if you just use it as a pocket-sized Pokemon and retro game machine, it’s worth every penny. Of course, if you want one of those special edition Classic NES designs new in the box, it’s going to cost quite a bit more.

But maybe you don’t want a handheld NES emulator; maybe you want the real thing. For many children of the 1980s, Nintendo’s first console was where it all began, and having one in your house was a status symbol. Kids swapped tales of how to find warp whistles on the schoolyard and played the first three Super Mario Bros. games well into the night at slumber parties. Yes, we may have nostalgia goggles on, but there’s something satisfying about jiggling the game cartridge just right to avoid the blinking gray screen on start-up. Modern systems like the Retron consoles play the cartridges, but if you want the real thing, it’s not hard to find for under $100. Just remember: do not blow directly into the cartridge.

Forget the 80s; let’s go back to the 70s. The Atari 2600 introduced the novel concept of being able to play a variety of games that could be switched in and out, rather than just a limited library of built-in titles. It used joysticks and paddle controllers instead of the D-pad-and-face-button contraptions we’ve been used to since the NES days, and those input devices were perfect for games like Pac-Man and Combat. Also, nothing says old-school like a sweet wood grain design. Nearly 40 years later, the Atari 2600 is a piece of history, which you would think makes it hard to find. Quite the opposite, in fact; you can add the 2600 to your collection for anywhere between $40 and $200 dollars, depending on how many games and controllers you want with it.

Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX. Crash Bandicoot. Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. The original PlayStation, affectionately abbreviated as PSX in its heyday and now often referred to as PS1, was a treasure trove of some of the best games of all time, all released within a five-year period. Sony’s first console made waves with its reasonable launch price and disc-based software, but after the initial hype died down, the games spoke for themselves. And since you can get a standalone PS1 for around ten bucks or a bundle with extra games and controllers for under $100.

Ah, the adorable GameCube. It didn’t perform as well as the other sixth-gen consoles, the PS2 and Xbox, but it had a special kind of charm. There was the compact cube-shaped design, complete with carrying handle, and the oddly shaped but wonderful controller. Throw in games like Animal Crossing and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and you’ll begin to see the reasons GameCube owners were a devoted bunch. Not too devoted to part with their precious systems, though—which is good news for collectors. It’s available in a variety of colors, and a complete system with enough controllers and games to get started will only cost you around $125.

The one that started it all. The Magnavox Odyssey is primitive by today’s standards (or even the standards of 20 years ago), but as the first home video game console, it garners serious collector cred. Unfortunately, being nearly 45 years old, original Odyssey systems are hard to find—it’s definitely a seller’s market. You can, however, find the second-gen Odyssey 2 and subsequent Odyssey systems ranging from $50 to $300. Then you can experience thrilling games like Table Tennis and Simon Says for yourself!

Did we miss your favorite console? Be sure to let us know in the comments and tell us about your own collections of retro systems! 

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