Each generation brings new consoles to the market. The gaming industry has finally entered console generation 9 (or is it 8.5?). We have survived some amazing flops (Sega 32X *ahem*) and seen some greatness. But which consoles rank as the best ever?
Before we dive in, we need some criteria. On a basic level, the console needs to be functional. No mass recalls or painfully failure rates. Secondly, the system needs to have been solid sales-wise, sorry Sega Saturn and TurboGrafx-16. Finally, and most importantly, the system needs to offer some great gaming experiences and memories. With that, let’s dive in and see where they rank.
#5 Nintendo 64
The N64 was a drastically underrated system. It sold well, outclassing the GameCube and Xbox, but never cracked the upper echelon of market dominance like the rest of our list does. Part of its legacy will always be wrapped up with Sony, as Nintendo rejected CDs to continue with game carts.
While the system may not have sold as well as others, its gaming experiences are hard to beat. Mario 64 opened the 3D platform game beautifully. It eloquently introduced players to a castle to explore, challenging levels, and legendary secrets. Mario Kart brought together diverse groups to battle on the race tracks. Smash Brothers addicted all with a hilarious brawler like we had never seen. GoldenEye taught us how to hunt friends down in crazy deathmatches. The N64 truly was a party system that was front and center when friends came over. Other important games included Perfect Dark, Pokemon Stadium and Snap, Wave Race, Mario Party, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day.
The crowning glory for the N64 is that it is home to the game often cited as the greatest of all time: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This game brings it all together: story, gameplay, and memorable experiences all into one complete package. Having played this game several console generations later, it still holds up and draws players in.
In gaming lore, this is the system that should not exist. Nintendo created a horrible contract with Sony that would have given Sony the rights to every game created in a CD system. When it realized its error, Nintendo left Sony at the altar. Like a lover scorned, Sony went for the rebound with Sega but they did not want to be sloppy seconds. Sony got its groove back and went on to dominate the next two generations as it pushed the boundaries of gaming and targeted a unique market, adolescents and adults.
The PlayStation was the first system to break the 100 million units shipped milestone. The PS was not the most powerful console, but stood out to many reviewers in its GPU and sound. Using CDs and the ability to produce a huge amount of color, the PlayStation was able to add cut scenes that are now regular components of video games. None impressed quite as much as those from Squaresoft, particularly their classic Final Fantasy games.
When it comes to gaming experiences one of the first games to come to mind is Final Fantasy VII. It is the game credited with bringing Role Playing Games to the masses with 10 million copies sold. FFVII was not the only incredible RPG on PlayStation, Final Fantasy VIII and IX were also hits. Xenogears made a strong showing. Chrono Cross boasts a huge playable cast and an incredible story. These exclusive RPGs had a huge part in the system’s success.
As Sony prioritized the older gamers, mature content began inundating the system. This produced a new influx of creative new concepts in gaming. One genre that exploded was survival-horror. The PS got one of the best series in Resident Evil. Silent Hill also had a strong start on the PS. Tomb Raider also found an audience on the system and spawned several sequels.
When remembering the PlayStation, four games epitomize the system. Tony Hawk Pro Skater was an addictive skating game with tricks and challenges. Master the levels and tricks and players could do continuous runs. Several sequels added funny playable characters, tricks, and maps. The second game is Gran Turismo. These racing games brought the excitement from arcades home with beautiful graphics. It also happens to be the best selling game on the PS. Metal Gear Solid also became synonymous with PlayStation consoles. The stealth mode and intricate stories have lured fans back for years. Twisted Metal brought destruction and mayhem the way only Truck-a-saurus on a Sunday night could. These four games served as pillars that built up the systems extensive library.
#3 Super Nintendo Entertainment System
This is the system that put the super in Super Nintendo. While the SNES came out later than the Genesis, it did not pull any punches. It did not sell quite as well as the NES, but still held on to the market lead. The system ended up the best-seller of the era with almost 62 million consoles sold worldwide.
Overall, the SNES was a rock of a system. Drop it from a building and it will probably still work. The controllers added a four button configuration that would be copied by virtually every controller since. One innovation that the SNES used was a chip enhancement system to render pseudo 3D graphics. This addition helped the Super Nintendo last into the 32-bit era even though it could not technically create 32-bit graphics.
What really sold the system though were some of the best games ever created. The system launched with an incredible game, Super Mario World. In classic Mario style, the game held secrets galore. This game sold a shocking 20.6 million copies! Only Pokemon, Super Mario Bros. and Tetris sold more copies before 2006. The game still holds its popularity through speed runs, remixes, and remade levels.
Using the pseudo-3D, Nintendo launched a new series called Mario Kart. Many have attempted to copy the style of game but failed to compete with Nintendo’s premier karting experience. Nintendo also used 3D for flight games such as Pilotwings and Star Fox.
The system really took off when it released Donkey Kong Country. The challenging levels and multitude of secrets and paths addicted gamers. By the end of the SNES, Donkey Kong Country became the second best-selling game on the platform.
The SNES was also home to two classic sequels in Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Super Metroid. Each game improved upon the established formula and built a foundation for all future entries to follow. As companies look back to retro games for inspiration, these two gems often provide the foundation.
Other quality games on the SNES include Street Fighter, NBA Jam, Aladdin, SimCity, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and one of my personal favorites, Mega Man X. The X series revived a Mega Man series that was beginning to feel stale and forced. It added improved graphics, great game play, and incredible power ups, all while keeping the foundation intact. All of these great gaming experiences help, but it is not what earns the SNES the #3 spot.
There is one genre that epitomizes the SNES, the RPG. The SNES houses one of the best collections of RPGs of all time. It has quality entries in Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy IV and Secret of Mana. Two of the greatest RPGs of all time were birthed on the SNES, Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. Crosstix explored how impactful and legendary Chrono Trigger is 20 years later. Final Fantasy VI plays fantastic and has one of the best villains of all time in Kefka. Fourteen playable characters with intriguing stories and unique finishing moves help also don’t hurt. The beautiful revolutionary RPGs are what earn the SNES its position as our #3.
#2 Playstation 2
The undisputed sales champion. Amazingly the PS2 sold consoles well into the next generation. PS2 first went on sale on March 4 2000. It remained in production until January 4 2013, 13 years later! It spanned 3 generations of consoles. Sony has confirmed that the console sold over 150 million units. For comparison, the PS2 outsold all of the consoles sold in the previous generation (PS, N64 and Saturn combined!).
Two keys for the success of the PS2 were a DVD player and backwards compatibility. The PlayStation boasted a robust library of quality games. Adding these games to the PS2 on day one gave it the largest launch library ever. DVDs were also just hitting the scene. Most players cost an arm and a leg. Here you could get an adequate DVD player, all the PS games, and a brand new console in one! No wonder it took off like a rocket.
The PS2 was home to many incredible gaming experiences. The Metal Gear Solid series grew to new heights. Gran Turismo 3 and 4 graphically wowed players as you ratcheted up your speed. God of War and Devil May Cry oozed style with ultra gory moments and beautiful combos. ICO turned games into a true art form for future developers and gamers alike. Platformers Ratchet & Clank and Jak and Daxter were solid additions. Max Payne brought in deeper story telling to games. Kids got some fun Lego Star Wars games. Madden continued its NFL dominance. Call of Duty helped kick the console FPS games up a notch. Guitar Hero turned gamers into super stars.
PlayStation was once again the home to the RPGs with Dragon Quest VIII, Xenosaga (best music ever!), Star Ocean: Til the End of Time, Tales of the Abyss, Suikoden III, Grandia II, and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. Final Fantasy X entranced players as Yuna danced and your summons devastated enemies. Kingdom Hearts shocked the world by enjoyably combining Square’s Final Fantasy with Disney worlds.
There was one game series that stood above all others and dominated, Grand Theft Auto. Rockstar North struck gold with the open world concept in Grand Theft Auto III. The game broke ground in not only gaming, but culturally and politically. To explore and engage with the world however they saw fit brought exciting new possibilities. Nothing will ever compare with the first car you stole or the first time you built up multiple stars (and likely were killed by police).
The PS2 really should be 1B, but for now earns our number 2 spot with its historical run and incredible gameplay experiences.
There were several systems that were tempting to put on the list, none more so than the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, the Red Ring of Death canceled out the amazing leaps in online gaming that the 360 brought.
The Wii was also considered for its use of motion controls and bringing gaming to the masses like had never been done before. Wii Sports was an addictive experience that sold the system well. Mario Galaxy was another masterpiece that demands to be played. In the end, the shear amount of shovelware overwhelmed the couple of incredible gaming experiences.
Sega Genesis also deserved strong consideration as it challenged the SNES for market dominance. Sonic broke out on the system with speed and style, but Sonic alone could not carry the system. In the end, while there are lots of good games on the system, there was not enough unique and lasting gameplay experiences to keep it in the top 5.
#1 Nintendo Entertainment System
The NES was a pioneer for all of gaming. While many consoles had come before it, none had broken into the mainstream like the NES accomplished. The accomplishment is all the more astounding because consumer confidence was at an all-time low for the gaming industry.
Gaming on the NES was nirvana. The shear amount of classic gaming experiences on one system is unparalleled. The system saw several of our gaming franchises born like: Metal Gear, Ninja Gaiden, Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, Contra, Mega Man, Metroid, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, and Castlevania. There was fantastic beat ‘em ups like Double Dragon, Battletoads, and TMNT 3. Other great games included Gun Nac, Blaster Master, Punch Out, Marble Madness, Q*Bert, Bubble Bobble, Balloon Fight, Rampage, Spy vs. Spy, Super Off Road, Tecmo Super Bowl, Baseball Stars, Excitebike, Duck Hunt, and Tetris. Tons of lesser known and rare games delivered superb gaming.
The king, with over 40 million games sold, is Super Mario Bros. Mario 2 failed to come to the states and instead repackaged an already existing Japan release called Doki Doki Panic. Mario 3 created one of the best games ever. All three games hold a special place in history for gaming. They inspire speed runs and still entertain us almost 30 years later. We owe a great deal to Mario, and the system that brought him to us. For that the NES is our #1 console of all time.
Disagree with this list? Want to praise my prefect list? Let me know in the comments below what your list would look like.