We all remember our first videogame console — the moment we brought it home, the first time we powered it on, and the instant we first played a game that radiated our screen with beautiful graphic goodness. If you’re anything like us, your first console was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and what began as a one-system household quickly evolved into a gamer’s Mecca with consoles littering your living room. In the spirit of our healthy gaming obsession, we have forged a list of the Top Videogame Consoles, where we have selected and ranked the most influential systems in the history of gaming.
Each console on the list ahead was selected for its influence on the industry and the gaming culture as a whole, with special consideration for their benchmark titles, peripherals, monetary success, and total hardware sold. But beyond sales figures and critical reception, one of the biggest contributing factors in our ranking process was our lasting impressions of each console, and how it contributed to our love for gaming and inspired us to become involved in the industry.
The original PlayStation didn’t do anything particularly innovative (CD-based game systems had existed before its 1995 debut), but what Sony brought to the table with its first console was a level of maturity not seen in previous systems. Not only was it physically designed as a more living room-worthy entertainment component, but the games themselves saw more adult storytelling and darker themes. With the Sony PlayStation, gaming had finally grown up.
Launched in 1989, the Nintendo GameBoy was, on paper, a handheld doomed to failure. It was bulky. The screen was a hideous shade of pea-soup green. It required four AA batteries. But the little-handheld-that-could managed to best technologically superior rivals (Atari Lynx, Sega Game Gear) due to a sweet price point ($89) and several killer apps: Tetris, Super Mario Land, and Pokémon. The GameBoy was the genesis of Nintendo’s handheld video game dominance, which lasts to this day.
Sega rebounded from its lackluster 8-bit Master System with the Genesis, a console that ran neck-and-neck with the Super NES during the 16-bit wars. Fueled by excellent ports of arcade hits (Afterburner, Altered Beast, Outrun, Strider), a number of excellent sports games (Madden series, Sports Talk series), and a Mario-killer (Sonic the Hedgehog), it managed to stay competitive despite being graphically and sonically inferior to its rivals. Plus, Sega allowed a bloody, violent Mortal Kombat to be released on its platform at a time when the video game violence debate was in full rage—thereby earning the system, and Sega, massive cool points.
If Microsoft’s Xbox 360 was influential in shaping the online future of consoles, Nintendo’s Wii was equally important for proving that gaming didn’t have to be about guns and muscles. Having failed to outsell competition with its N64 and Gamecube, Nintendo went back to the drawing board for its “seventh generation” console entry. Its unique take on interacting with a game environment was almost its undoing, baffling third-party game developers who had predicted the quirky console would ultimately fail. While Microsoft and Sony looked to attract gamers with their shiny graphics, Nintendo went after the “casual” crowd – and it worked. The Wii is one of the best games consoles ever made simply because it managed to gather old and young alike around a TV to flap at golf balls. It made gamers out of people with no interest in gaming.
Forget online connectivity. Forget entertainment tricks. The PlayStation 2 had both of these (it was the first DVD player many gamers owned) , but the reason Sony’s second console deserves a spot in any console list is that staggering number indicated above. No, not the year. The popularity of this console ensured that gaming remained a lucrative market, capable of seeing games studios make more money than the movie business. While rival consoles established new technical legacies, the PS2 produced more classic titles than any other machine in our list – developers just loved making games for it, a process Sony only stopped as recently as 2013. We’re willing to bet every gamer reading this has a memory associated with the PS2 – whether it was the excitement of unboxing it in the millennial year or avoiding a deadline to play just one more game of Fifa. This will be the console you’ll dig out of the attic to show your grandchildren what you wasted your youth on.
Sony’s PlayStation 2 embarrassed the Xbox 360. If this was a list based on numbers, the PS2 would be top of the pile, outselling Microsoft’s rival system almost two-to-one. But where Sony delivered more of the same, Microsoft risked everything by putting online at the heart of its console vision – and it worked. A PC in disguise, the 360 championed the now-standard digital media distribution and online multiplayer experience. Even the subtle addition of its game achievement award system breathed new life into titles, giving gamers a new incentive to replay their games. The controller was a palm-hugging marvel, while the Kinect is still the fastest-selling ‘electronics device’ in history. In all, a more important, more influential console than the better-selling PlayStation 2.
The Dreamcast represented the height of Sega’s creative output; games like Chu Chu Rocket, Jet Grind Radio, Space Channel 5, Shenmue, and dozens more formed a collection of creative, fun, and quirky games that you’d be hard-pressed to find in such abundance on any other platform. Seriously, where else can you find a title like Seaman that lets you interact with an odd man-fish hybrid using just a microphone and your voice?
Shooters were well represented in Gigawing, Mars Matrix, and other tough-as-nails shmups; the much beloved NFL 2K series began a short (but brilliant) run as it chased Madden; and, outside of the Neo Geo, you’ll be hard pressed to find another system with a rich library of hardcore fighters such as Capcom vs. SNK 2, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Sega pulled the plug on the Dreamcast a year and a half after its debut, due to financial difficulties and gamer interest in the coming PlayStation 2, but, in its brief run, it was great video game console.