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No PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X? These game consoles take you back to the future

With the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X still elusive, less expensive console alternatives can provide access to thousands of videogames at home or on the go. However, many have at least some ties to nostalgia, and a few are still only available for preorder.

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1 of 10 Atari

Atari VCS

Social media buzzed with excitement in 2018 when the sleek profile of a console evoking the Atari 2600 made the rounds. Several years and an Indiegogo campaign later, the console is a reality. Powered by an AMD processor, the Atari VCS ("Video Computer System" was the other name for the original Atari 2600) taps into nostalgia that goes beyond the console itself, including a wireless joystick that strongly resembles the original. Atari also makes a more modern wireless controller available.

The software library has been a work in progress for the reboot, including 100 bundled classics, access to the Antstream retro gaming subscription service, some indie developer titles, and the promise of more emulation and ROM compatibility. But, until the picture fills in a bit more, you can use the VCS in "PC mode." With support for USB keyboards and mice, it includes the Chrome browser, which, Atari confirms, enables it to tap into virtually any cloud-based streaming game service. Installing Windows 10 is also an option. And if that doesn't seem like a far-flung enough slate, Atari is also promoting a cryptocurrency -- the Atari token -- that it hopes to offer as stakes for competitive gaming.

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2 of 10 Analogue

Analogue

For those whose love of classic consoles dictates reverence, Analogue's game consoles combine exterior design that approaches that of modern smartphone masters while claiming the best compatibility in the business. Like the Evercade system, Analogue's products use cartridges. Unlike that product, though, it uses the original cartridges from systems such as the NES, SNES, Genesis, Neo-Geo, and Turbo Grafx 16. Indeed, outside of Nintendo's own NES and SNES mini-consoles, it's one of the few ways to legitimately play Nintendo classics without having access to the original hardware.

In addition to its devices' modern exteriors, Analogue has ensured compatibility with a broad array of classic titles by developing its own Field-Programmable Gate Arrays. This enables its systems to play classic cartridges without relying on emulation like many of the "Flashback" systems. It offers TV-based consoles for playing SNES and Sega Genesis games at $189 each, as well as a $200 Pocket device that can handle Game Boy cartridges as well as Game Gear, Atari Lynx and Neo-Geo Pocket games, each via $30 adapters. Alas, as is too often the case for Analogue's products, the Pocket is currently sold out.

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3 of 10 Apple

Apple TV

The Apple platform product has evolved since it debuted as a standard-definition device rocking a hard drive for storing and playing back downloaded TV shows and movies purchased via iTunes. These days, Apple's TV includes a version supporting 4K content and Dolby Vision and can serve as a gateway for a wide range of streaming programming options, including Apple's own Apple TV+.

Beyond Ted Lasso, those who can lasso up an Xbox or PlayStation controller and Apple TV can tap into a wide range of games surpassing those on rival streaming boxes from Roku and Amazon. These include those of Apple Arcade, Apple's $5/month subscription service that offers over 200 downloadable games free of ads and the warped dynamics driving in-app purchases.

These won't impress anyone looking for PlayStation 5-level graphics, but there's no shortage of popular classic and mobile franchises, including Angry Birds, Pac-Man, Tetris, and The Oregon Trail. That said, those with their heart set on playing Fortnite should pass, as the popular multiplayer game is a pawn in a battle of Epic proportions.

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4 of 10 Blaze Evercade

Evercade

For those who feel unwrapping a package is integral to the classic gaming experience, the Blaze Evercade offers a 100% internet-free gaming system that relies on cartridges -- more than 25 of them -- for their content. To cut down a bit on the clutter, the British company bundles together collections from developers such as Atari, Namco, Interplay, Jaleco, Data East, and Codemasters. There are also editions dedicated to specific consoles, including the Atari Lynx and, most recently, Intellivision.

Evercade cartridges work with both the company's handheld device, which offers a 4:3 display and promises four to five hours of battery life, and its "Vs." home console, which supports up to two cartridges at a time as well as four controllers via standard USB. The latter is available for pre-order now and is expected to ship next month.

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5 of 10 Intellivision

intellivision-amico

In contrast to the Atari VCS' knit-together software selection, the brand's one-time rival Intellivision is going a more traditional route by building a developer base of games from scratch. That said, its catalog will include familiar names from Intellivision's past (Astrosmash, Night Stalker, and Shark, Shark) and the arcade (Missile Command, Moon Patrol) but with graphics and audio in line with modern gameplay expectations.

Rather than take on Sony and Microsoft, with their $500(+) consoles and up to $70 games, the company's new console, Amico, is focused on what it calls SAFE (Simple Affordable Family Entertainment). Many games cost less than $10 and are free of gore, nudity, and foul language, which is to say you won't be finding Cyberpunk 2077 on the console any time... ever. Per its slogan, Together Again, it's seeking to recreate the fun of playing games side-by-side in the living room. (The Amico is the first in a long time to include two controllers in the box, and it also includes a free app that turns smartphones into additional controllers.) It's lined up retail support from Walmart, Best Buy, and Gamestop.

At every turn, the Intellivision team has balanced retro homage with modern functionality. Take the controllers, which resemble the coiled originals but are thicker and more ergonomic, make the obvious substitution of an LCD display (and speakers) for the plastic overlays, include the kinds of sensors we now take for granted in smartphones, and make them work in landscape as well as portrait mode. They communicate with the console wirelessly and can even be charged wirelessly via pogo pins in a well on the trapezoidal console's top.

With its product's development derailed by the pandemic, both the cost of the console and the games have crept up a bit since the revival effort was announced. The company turning to equity crowdfunding to attract investors. After missing several shipping dates, the latest indications is that Intellivision will finally deliver the Amico -- including a woodgrain-and-gold edition honoring the original Intellivision's color scheme -- in the first quarter of 2022.

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6 of 10 Nintendo

Nintendo Switch

Whether due to its big head start on the latest console generation or avoiding direct comparison with Sony and Microsoft by making the Nintendo Switch a more affordable hybrid home/portable console out of the gate, Nintendo has had a monster hit on its hand with the Switch. They've sold more than 90 million units, eclipsing the lifetime sales of the PlayStation 3. Part of that impressive total was due to it being one of the best diversions broadly available to kids during the COVID-19 pandemic
As has long been the case for Nintendo, much of the console's appeal has come from its latest franchise offerings. That includes the top seven best-selling titles, which play off Mario, Zelda, Animal Crossing, and Pokemon. Nintendo also publishes or co-publishes 18 of the top 20 Switch titles.

The company has returned to its playbook by iterating the hardware since the first Switch, including the lower-priced Switch Lite, which removes the ability to detach the original's Joy-Con game controllers, and a just-released model with an OLED display (but the same resolution). Regardless of what flavor you choose, though, and despite the product's success, many Switch owners have encountered controller drifting, the subject of several class-action suits against the venerable console maker.

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7 of 10 Nvidia

Nvidia Shield TV

Nvidia's Shield product family once included a gaming-focused tablet and an Android-infused game controller with an integrated display. While there are other ways to get Google TV onto your TV screen today, including the TiVo Stream and Google's own Chromecast with Google TV, Shield TV remains the enthusiast's choice and the Android world's closest competition to Apple TV. Available in a $150 standard edition or $200 pro edition that includes Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and the Plex media server, the Shield TV devices are the most powerful Google TV products on the market.

Unlike Apple, which confines Apple TV app store content to games, Google TV makes virtually all of Google Play available to Google TV devices. That includes clients for popular streaming game services, including Nvidia's own GeForce Now, making the Shield TV home to one of the broadest game title selections.

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8 of 10 Panic

Playdate

The original Game Boy may have endeared a generation with its simple graphics and gameplay, but the forthcoming pinnacle of handheld gaming minimalism is Playdate. The tiny, monochrome console is the brainchild of Panic, a publisher of wares that include a developer tool, SSH client, and a game about nettlesome geese. In addition to two buttons and a D-pad, its hardware, developed by pocket synth masters Teenage Engineering, includes a crank control that's used in some of the games.

Playdate's software distribution method is as unique as its hardware. The first purchasers will receive a subscription to "Season 1" of game releases--24 games released over the course of a year--with the philosophy that the collection will include a little something for everyone. Playdate is available for rolling pre-orders for $179; Panic says it's committed to avoiding the prolonged out-of-stock scenarios that have plagued other niche devices. And even though the handheld hasn't shipped yet, that hasn't stopped it from announcing its first accessory, a charging dock that includes a speaker and pen well.

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9 of 10 AtGames

Legends Arcade

Long before the appearance of the reborn Atari VCS or the Blade Evercade, those wanting to relive the Atari VCS' glory days could turn to the 10 iterations of AtGames' Atari Flashback, a plug-and-play bundle that included scores of games and which paved the way for "mini" revival consoles aimed at recapturing the spirit of devices such as the NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, Sony PlayStation, and Commodore 64.

AtGames still offers Flashback products in its Blast line, which consists of small HDMI sticks and a bundled wireless controller. For those looking for a higher-quality arcade experience, though, it has its line of Legends Arcade devices. Options include a $70 dish-like console (Legends Core), a $250 arcade-like game controller deck (Legends Gamer Pro), and both a mini and $600 full-sized arcade cabinet (Legends Ultimate),

The platforms come bundled with 100 to 300 licensed arcade titles, with more available via streaming from the company's ArcadeNet service. ArcadeNet offers a limited free tier that provides access to 10 games and a $20/month subscription ($10 if prepaid for six months) that provides access to 80 titles. For those who want to order off the menu, though, AtGames also offers a BYOG (Bring Your Own Game) plan that allows streaming of PC titles from a Windows PC for free or a cloud-based option with the same subscription fee as the paid ArcadeNet offering.

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10 of 10 Oculus

Oculus Quest 2

Augmented reality may win as the digital reality in which we spend the most time. While virtual reality may not offer as many use cases as its overlay-based cousin, though, one domain in which it has the clear lead is games. And, while there are headsets from HP, Samsung, HTC, and Valve that offer higher quality, none offer the affordability and PC-free integrated design of the $299 Oculus Quest 2.

As a result, it's no surprise that the Oculus store has over 200 games and apps available. While some are free, they all include the price of having to have a Facebook account. Still, particularly with Sony straddling generations of its PS VR headset, the Quest 2 is clearly the best consumer VR option -- portable or otherwise -- and the most immersive game experience one can have in a limited amount of space.

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