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Stave off the boredom with the best gaming consoles you can buy in 2021
Gaming can be an intimidating hobby to get into, and consoles can be even harder to find right now. The sheer variety of platforms and games can be overwhelming to a newcomer, but a gaming console is never a wrong choice. They are straightforward to use and offer many other perks. Finding the right console mainly depends on what you prioritize — whether you want stellar graphics, a great library of exclusives, or portability, there is a console that’s right for you. We are here to help you with your choice by presenting you with our top picks for the best gaming consoles you can currently buy.
The best gaming consoles:
- PlayStation 5
- Xbox Series X/Series S
- Nintendo Switch
- Nintendo Switch Lite
- NES/SNES Mini
- Sega Genesis Mini
Editor’s note: We will update this list regularly as new consoles launch.
1. PlayStation 5
Sony has had its ups and downs through the years, but the console wars are well and truly alive with the launch of the PlayStation 5. It’s large, in charge, and styled for the future.
Consoles live and die on their libraries of exclusives, and it’s hard to beat the PlayStation 5 in this department. You can choose from the version with a physical disc drive or go all-digital, with no shortage of triple-A titles to choose from. We’re still waiting for an update to PlayStation VR, but that’s far from a drawback when it comes to the latest generation.
Learn more: Sony PlayStation 5 review
Sony also fully redesigned its controller, dropping the DualShock name in favor of DualSense. It packs incredible haptics and feels great in hand, and you’ll have to five into ASTRO’s Playroom to get the full controller tour. The haptics are hard to put into words, but we hope that developers continue to use them to their fullest potential.
The PlayStation 5 is one of the best consoles you can buy, thanks in no small part to the custom SSD. It packs 825GB of storage, though you won’t get access to the full tank. However, the custom design means that loading times have been almost nonexistent in our experience. Just remember that titles just keep getting bigger, so you may have to invest in external storage before too long.
2. Xbox Series X/Series S
Now, we’ll head to the other major player in the console wars. Microsoft hit back at Sony with its pair of flagship launches in the form of the Xbox Series X and Series S. Like their PS5 rivals, the Xbox Series X and Series S come with a critical difference — the disc drive. You’ll find one on the larger, more expensive Series X, while the Series S is slimmed down for all-digital fun.
It’s a little easier to find space to store a new Xbox, but that’s not what the console wars are all about. The Xbox Series X supports native 4K content, while the Series S stops at Quad HD. You’ll also get slightly more peak power from the premium Series X with a 3.8GHz peak CPU instead of a 3.6GHz peak. Like Sony, Microsoft adopted a custom SSD for its latest Xbox launch, which means that load times are faster than ever.
The Xbox Series X tops the PS5 with 1TB of onboard storage, and you can access 802GB of that sum. However, the Series S is far behind, with 512GB of onboard storage and 364GB of accessible space. Luckily, Microsoft is more accepting of external SSDs.
When it comes down to how you want to spend your money, you just have to be ready for the $200 price difference. The Xbox Series X comes in at $499 for its disc drive and extra storage, while you can grab the Series S for just $299.
3. Nintendo Switch
After the lackluster Wii U, Nintendo finally hit the nail in the head with the Nintendo Switch. Instead of directly competing with its powerful rivals, this console carved out its own gaming niche.
The Nintendo Switch is a hybrid that works both as a portable and as a home console, and that’s what makes it stand out from the crowd. You can play games in the comfort of your living room, but you are not tethered to your TV. Thanks to the two detachable controllers, Joy-cons, you can enjoy games with friends even when you are on the go. But the Nintendo Switch offers much more than convenience. It has one of the most versatile game libraries, including exclusives, triple-A games, indies, and retro games.
Indeed, the Switch doesn’t have the graphical fidelity of the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 — 4K 60fps is out of the question. However, the hybrid console’s custom NVIDIA Tegra chip can handle plenty of demanding games, including everyone’s favorite Witcher 3. Additionally, we can’t forget the draw that Nintendo exclusives have. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Animal Crossing alone make the Nintendo Switch a console worth buying. You will also find plenty of great indies such as Stardew Valley, Night in the Woods, and many more.
If you enjoy indies and retro games, the Switch is the right console for you.
Where the Switch falls shorts is its online capabilities. Its online subscription service costs less than the competition, but it also offers less. However, for $3.99 a month, it gives you access to over 60 old-school Nintendo games, which will appeal to any retro gamer.
The Nintendo Switch has one final advantage over the competition. Nintendo CEO Shuntaro Furukawa has confirmed it won’t be replaced with a newer gen Switch this year. That means you won’t have to worry about backward compatibility or spending cash on a console that will be quickly outdated.
4. Nintendo Switch Lite
If you are not sure you want to commit to a home or hybrid console, the Nintendo Switch Lite is your best choice. It is the best truly portable game console you can currently buy.
The first question in many people’s minds about the Nintendo Switch Lite is the differences between it and the regular Switch. Both consoles sport the same NVIDIA Tegra custom chip, but most similarities end there. The Switch Lite is true to its name. It is smaller and lighter than the original, weighing 9.8 ounces to the Switch’s 14.1 ounces. This makes it more portable and easier to take with you on the go. However, the screen is also smaller. The Nintendo Switch Lite has a 5.5-inch HD display, which is smaller than most current smartphones. Nevertheless, its battery life is almost the same as the original Switch, hitting the 7-hour mark depending on usage.
But the most important thing is the games catalog. The Switch Lite offers all Switch titles that support handheld mode, i.e., games don’t require the original Switch to be docked. This means you still have access to the vast majority of exclusives and non-exclusives, including favorites like The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.
Nintendo hasn't made too many compromises with the Switch Lite.
One downside of the Switch Lite is that it doesn’t have detachable Joy-Cons. However, if you buy a pair of Joy-Cons or a Pro controller, you can still pair them to your portable console and enjoy games with friends. Considering that, on average, the Switch Lite costs $100 less than its predecessor, it’s not a steep price to pay.
So, who is the Nintendo Switch Lite best for? It’s the best gaming console for the gamer on the go. It’s also the best choice for casual players who want to spend less.
5. NES and SNES Mini
They don’t make them like they used to! Now, they are much smaller and come with built-in games. Of course, we are talking about the NES and SNES Mini consoles from Nintendo. Based on the iconic Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System, these minis are godsent for any retro game enthusiast.
Both consoles are plug-and-play and come with the best games of yesteryear preinstalled. The NES Mini or NES Classic Edition comes with 30 timeless classics, including Super Mario Bros., the original Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Final Fantasy, and Donkey Kong. All of them play great on modern flatscreens, so you don’t have to drag your old CRT TV up from the basement. The NES Mini has one major downside, however. It comes without a second controller and an AC adapter in some regions. The controller cables are pretty short, too, so extenders may be required. Buying all these extras adds up, raising the full NES Mini package price significantly.
The SNES Classic Edition has rectified most of these mistakes. Everything you need can be found in the box. However, this mini console has fewer games on offer — 21 to be precise. All of the nostalgic classics are here, including Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, and Earthbound. Better yet, the SNES Mini features the never-before-released Star Fox 2 game. To top it all off, the Super Nintendo has some great new features like Rewind, saving at any point of the game, and cool frames. There isn’t much more you can ask for.
Unfortunately, Nintendo stopped manufacturing the NES and SNES Classic editions in 2019. This means prices will keep climbing. It’s still cheaper to buy the mini consoles than to hunt for the originals and their cartridges, but we recommend buying soon if you don’t want to miss out. The NES and SNES Mini are two of the best gaming consoles you can currently get.
6. Sega Genesis Mini
Sega does what Nintendon’t? It’s quite the opposite nowadays. Following in the footsteps of the Nintendo Minis comes the Sega Genesis Mini. Also known as the Sega Mega Drive Mini in other regions, this tiny console packs a ton of nostalgic games in all of their 16-bit glory.
The Sega Genesis Mini is almost a perfect miniaturized replica of the original console — down to the inclusion of the cartridge slot even if the mini version can’t use them. Instead, you will find 42 preinstalled nostalgic games: a larger selection than both the NES and SNES Mini. The Sonic classics are there, plus other unforgettable games like Street Fighter II, Castlevania: Bloodlines, Tetris, and Earthworm Jim. However, there are some easy-to-spot omissions. Sega had many great licensed titles back in the day, including Mortal Combat with its infamous blood code, which can’t be found on the Genesis Mini.
Nevertheless, all available games play really well on any TV, even if there is no blast processing involved. Both controllers can be found in the box, but they are the early 3-button versions instead of the later 6-button controllers. They also use USB ports, which depending on your preferences, can be quite beneficial. The Save Anywhere feature is also present, so veterans can easily play with less experienced players.
Overall, this miniature is among the best game consoles on the market. The Sega Genesis Mini might have a slightly higher retail price than the competition, but with Nintendo mini consoles quickly disappearing off shelves, that won’t be the case for long.