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The Best Retro Gaming Handhelds

Some games age like fine wine, which is why retro gaming is so popular. In fact, if you want to play games that are 10, 20, or even 30 years old, there are plenty of options on PC and console. If you want to play them on the go, however, those options significantly narrow.

It’s practically impossible to talk about classic gaming without talking about emulation, and that’s the case here. Half of these gaming handhelds are “legitimate,” in that they have commercial software ecosystems and use video game cards, cartridges, or official downloads to function. They’re still technically emulation-based; in many cases, they use older game roms and emulators that mimic those games’ native systems to run on modern hardware (though there are some cases of classic games being completely ported).

The other featured gaming handhelds are open, emulation-based devices. That means you’re on your own to find retro games to play. Roms are a legal gray area, so we can’t point you in a direction to find them besides “back up your purchased physical games, if you have the hardware to do so.”

Commercial gaming handhelds with their own ecosystems are pretty rare, and will probably remain so as long as Nintendo dominates the portable game console market and Microsoft and Sony focus entirely on home hardware (though it would be nice to see a Vita 2 some day).

Completely open, emulation-based handhelds are another story. You can find dozens of different Linux- and Android-based gaming handhelds, most of which originate in China, on sites like AliExpress. The two on this list are just a sampling of the many retro gaming handhelds that you can buy, but they’re among the most well-made in the category.

If you prefer to play classic games on your PC, check out our guide to the best emulators. And if you want to play old-school games on your TV, read up on the best retro gaming consoles.

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