The 10 Greatest Home Consoles Of All TimePlatforms: All | Sony PlayStation 4 | Microsoft Xbox | Microsoft Xbox 360 | Nintendo Switch | Nintendo Wii | Sony PlayStation | Sony PlayStation 2 | Sony PlayStation 3 | Retro
With the launch dates for the Xbox Series X/S and PS5 all set, the next generation is coming and coming soon. So, with that in mind, let’s look back at the consoles of yesteryear and work out which consoles made the list for The 10 Greatest Consoles Of All Time.
The criteria followed when making this list was multi-layered. So let’s break down some of the factors taken into consideration.
Unit sales. Being a best-seller is certainly one example of a system being a major player, additional consideration given to systems with a long shelf-life. Staying power matters.
The size of the games library. A robust selection of games naturally makes a huge difference in the overall value of a games console, additional consideration given to those with a healthy percentage of titles scoring a positive Metacritic rating (where possible) and the sales figures for the top titles on the system.
Cultural impact is another major factor. Some games systems may not carry the sort of sales figures that modern consoles can boast, as the home console’s proliferation into mainstream entertainment was not as complete in their heyday, but some consoles simply mattered more culturally than others so any system that changed the way games are seen deserve special consideration.
This is not an exact science as figures for older systems are not precise but they did help steer choices. For the record, and to avoid any suggestion that this list is biased in any personal way, I think the Super Nintendo is the greatest console of all time and I assure you that I wrote every entry following the SNES with bloodshot teeth and foaming eyeballs.
So settle in and follow us as we break down The 10 Greatest Consoles of All Time.
Microsoft’s debut into the gaming world was an enormous gamble for the tech giant, particularly in the financial sense as the company was selling the system at a loss to the tune of several billion dollars in order to keep their prices competitive. While this did not help the Xbox in Japan, it sold respectably in the West, moving 24 million units.
The system lasted 8 years and in that time amassed over 1000 games, with 329 of them netting a positive Metacritic score, an impressive ratio for a complete newcomer. Its highest-selling game was Halo 2, moving a proportionately impressive 8.46 million copies.
There were certainly better-performing systems out there (9 to be precise) but the Xbox still beat several much bigger selling consoles to make it to the Top Ten thanks to some great innovations that helped change the landscape of console gaming forever. Firstly, having Halo: Combat Evolved as a launch title. The console had been desperately trying to capture the magic of the FPS that PC owners had been enjoying ever since Doom arrived but nothing could touch it. Goldeneye on the N64 got close but it still wasn’t the same. Halo changed all that. Suddenly the first-person shooter was a viable genre for console gamers. Everyone currently enjoying Call of Duty: Warzone on their PS4 or Xbox One has this Xbox launch title to thank for that.
And, furthermore, they have the Xbox to thank for the mere fact they can play their favourite games online at all. Microsoft revolutionised online gaming for console owners with the creation of Xbox Live. We now had a functional, easy to use means of accessing multiplayer gaming on a console, another PC gaming mainstay that the Xbox repurposed for the console market. For many of the consoles on this list that followed in the wake of Microsoft’s Xbox, they owe a lot of their success to this system’s trailblazing concepts.
9. PlayStation 3
It is almost laughable that the PlayStation 3 stands as one of Sony’s biggest perceived failures and it’s STILL considered one of the greatest of all time. That’s how incredibly successful the company have been since they entered the console market in the mid-90s.
The biggest fault of the PS3 was a slow-burn launch due to an over-inflated price point that severely impacted their sales at first. On top of some notable issues with the PS3 architecture that made developing for it a veritable pain in the arse, which led to cross-platform titles often looking and playing much better on the PS3’s big rival.
Sony, thankfully, had a major comeback over the course of the PS3’s five-year lifespan with a steady improvement in game quality as devs got to grips with the system architecture and a host of brilliant exclusives like the Uncharted trilogy, Infamous, and The Last of Us. Its biggest seller would be GTA V, at the tail end of the generation with an estimate of 21 million copies sold. The game library is in the 2000s, when including digital-only titles, with an impressive 559 titles with a positive Metacritic rating.
The system would go on to sell 87.4 million units, actually managing to narrowly outsell its Xbox competitor. Not bad for a letdown, right?
8. Nintendo Switch
The baby of the list. Nintendo’s Switch has only been on the market a scant three years and yet it is an undisputed GOAT contender. The system has sold a staggering 61.44 million copies, already making it the 8th best selling console of all time, a position that is sure to rise as the hardware has a relatively healthy shelf life ahead of it with rumours of a 4K enhanced edition coming next year.
Despite only launching in 2017, the Switch already has an incredible games library of around 2000 titles and arguably the best selection of indie titles this side of PC gaming. The Switch library has a Metacritic standing of over 658 games with positive ratings. Its best-selling title is currently Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, with a remarkable 26.74 million copies sold. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the second-highest seller in this specific category although it is only a matter of time before Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes for that crown.
The Switch pioneered the crossover potential of the home console and the handheld console, making for an incredibly innovative and original piece of kit.
It’s still early days for the Switch, new editions and some truly peerless first and second-party support ensure this machine could go the distance and its placement on any future iterations of this list is sure to be even higher.
7. Super Nintendo Entertainment System
As I stated earlier, this is my absolute all-time favourite console. My fondest gaming memories are tied to this system and some of the best games of all time came under the SNES banner. The Super Nintendo was the supreme ruler of the 16-bit era, it came along a whole two years after the Sega Mega Drive but managed to handily outsell Sega’s system with 49.1 million units sold to Sega’s 35 million.
The Mega Drive had a larger library but the Super Nintendo had a stronger one, particularly their exclusives which contain some of the greatest games of all time from some of the biggest gaming franchises. The Super Nintendo’s library also contained a more diverse array of genres, particularly catering to the booming JRPG scene, opening western players up to a whole new way of experiencing stories in games. The SNES also pioneered 3D gaming going forward with titles like Pilot Wings and, eventually, Star Fox blowing the entire video game scene away by redefining what a video game could graphically achieve.
The Super Nintendo’s biggest seller was in Street Fighter 2, with 6.3 million copies sold and the system ran from 1991 to 1998 (although it survived long into the early 2000s in Japan), a relatively short shelf life but one filled with a lot of great titles and a lot of innovation that would be built on for the next generation of console. Without the SNES changing the game for 3D graphics, we may never have seen the N64 or the Sony PlayStation.
6. Nintendo Entertainment System
The NES was a monumental moment in gaming when it arrived in 1983. The 8-bit technology was blowing away everything that came before it.
It boasted roughly 715 titles, give or take, and while a Metacritic data is unknown it is undeniable that the NES carried some of the most enduring retro classics of all time and is responsible for creating some of the greatest gaming franchises of time, including Super Mario Bros, Legend Of Zelda, Metroid, and Final Fantasy. It sold an astonishing (for the time) 61.91 million units over the span of its lifespan (10 years in western markets but it was still in circulation in Japan up until 2003) eclipsing the sales of its successor comfortably.
The biggest selling title on the system, outside of pack-in titles like Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt, was Super Mario Bros 2 with 7.46 million sold, outselling the best selling titles of the following generation.
Everyone reading this entry right now owes the NES a debt of gratitude for giving them an entire hobby. Without Nintendo’s big breakout into the home console market, the video game industry may have never recovered from the massive market crash of the early 1980s. Too many games, an epidemic of low standards, and capped off with the monumentally terrible video game adaptation of ET: The Terrestrial had all but cast video games to the scrap heap. Literally. Games were being landfilled. It was all but done and then came along the Nintendo Entertainment System. They saved gaming so that we could enjoy the spoils today. Thank you, NES.
5. Nintendo Wii
Everyone who remembers 2006 will remember what it felt like when the Wii hit. It was a phenomenon. The game sold an insane amount of units, Nintendo simply could not meet demand and there were honest to god waiting lists just to order a console. In all my days of gaming fandom (Note: I remember the NES still being a big thing in my early childhood), I had never seen a game console take off like this. There were plenty of consoles that got me excited, but I was an obsessive. I kept up with every scrap of news, I had pie in the sky dreams of owning a Neo Geo one day. The Wii was something everyone was talking about. Your parents who feigned interest in your ramblings about Mario Kart some 14 years ago were desperate to play Wii Sports. People who hadn’t owned a console since their youth wanted one. People who never owned a console at all wanted one. It was a bona fide crossover hit, the likes of which most gaming manufacturers could only ever dream about.
How big was the Wii? It sold 101.63 million units, more than the Super Nintendo and the Nintendo 64’s sales COMBINED. And not by a narrow margin. By over 19 million units.
The Wii boasted a mammoth library of over 1500 games, although roughly only 200 or so would rate a positive on Metacritic which is a pretty low ratio. Quality was not the greatest hallmark for the system, which was somewhat undermined by developers forcing unnatural motion mechanics into games that did not need them. The system exclusives were reliably brilliant, however, with some fantastic Zelda and Mario titles among others. The biggest selling title for the system, excluding pack-ins like Wii Sports, was Mario Kart Wii with a stunning 37.32 million copies moved. The largest-selling title in this category. Remember the second biggest title earlier? Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. People just really like Mario Kart.
4. PlayStation 4
After the disappointment of the PS3 (relative to Sony’s record of success, at any rate), the PS4 proved itself to be a massive return to form for the console giants. Since its release in 2013, the PS4 has sold a massive 110.4 million units, making it the second-highest selling home system of all time.
The PlayStation 4 game library boasts an impressive line-up of roughly 2100 titles with over 769 of them hitting a positive review aggregate on Metacritic. The sheer depth of gaming choices and the high level of quality on offer made the PlayStation 4 the gamer’s first choice this generation. The PS4’s line of first-party titles is among the finest in the PlayStation’s lineage. From Infamous: Second Son dropping in the launch window to this year’s parting offerings of Final Fantasy VII Remake, The Last of Us Part II, and Ghost of Tsushima, the PS4 has over 30 console exclusives with a positive rating on Metacritic. There is little arguing that the PlayStation 4 has one of the best exclusive runs of all time.
The PS4 also helped find innovations in how gamers connect and share with each other, revolutionising screen and video sharing, and making entry-level streaming accessible to more people than ever. With their range of amazing games and user-friendly sharing tools, this generation has been one of the absolute best for letting players express their favourite pastime in the easiest way possible.
Sony came out of the gate swinging with the PlayStation, proving to be the most essential and important home gaming breakout by a company since Atari or Nintendo. A company that had zero real estate within the industry became the new giants overnight.
The PlayStation sold 102.49 million units, becoming the first home console to sell over 100 million. This places it in an exclusive club shared only by the PS2, PS4, and the Nintendo Wii. Sony’s maiden launch had a formidable shelf life, lasting from 1994 to 2006 thanks to a relaunched, rebranded “PSOne” to supplement the release of the PS2.
The PlayStation established Sony as the new top dog of gaming and started a domino effect that would subsequently lead to the demise of Sega as a console manufacturer after the PlayStation murdered the Sega Saturn in full view of everyone at E3 1995 with just one number.
The PlayStation boasted a library of upwards of 3790 titles, and introduced players worldwide to some of the most iconic gaming franchises of all time including Tomb Raider, Silent Hill, Crash Bandicoot, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Tekken, and bringing mainstream attention to the Final Fantasy series with the game-changing Final Fantasy VII. In all the ways Nintendo changed the face of gaming in the 80s, Sony did in the mid-90s. It was a level of success that would be hard to match and yet they did it two more times.
2. Xbox 360
The original Xbox was a modest success for Microsoft, it struggled to make an impact in the market when faced against its big competitor, but it brought enough new ideas to the table that gamers would have a keen eye on whatever they did next. The Xbox 360 was Microsoft’s coronation as a legitimate threat to Sony and Nintendo’s market dominance, selling 86 million units total only narrowly edged out by the PS3, which generally sold better in Japan than Microsoft.
Supported for a truly impressive, near unprecedented, 11 years, the system boasted 2083 games with an impressive 698 titles hitting a positive Metacritic score. The library would introduce some major fan-favourites like Gears of War, Mass Effect, Crackdown, Alan Wake, as well as a booming indie market via Xbox Live Arcade. Without Xbox 360 bringing indie games to a widespread audience, the indie scene may have never found its major boom in the mid-00s.
The 360’s more developer friendly architecture allowed cross platform titles to look and play better on the Microsoft system compared to Sony’s PlayStation 3, meaning many consumers with both platforms would choose the 360 version.
Furthermore, the Xbox 360 continued to pioneer the original Xbox’s innovations, bringing Xbox Live to new heights that would establish itself as the standard bearer of online gaming for console owners. The 360 also began to establish the system as a multimedia unit, offering players access to movies, TV shows, and music within the same beautifully intuitive user interface. The Xbox 360 made games consoles a one-stop shop for all your entertainment needs. Something every system that followed would try to emulate but no one could do better.
But it is worth mentioning the red circle of death; a design flaw as a result of rushing the system to launch to get a head-start on Sony. It killed many systems and likely led to a lot of Xbox owners buying more than one unit during the 360’s lifespan. But the PlayStation 3 had its own design issues and bricking was a common issue across that generation, they were just not quite as meme worthy as the red circle, and even this could not keep the Xbox 360 out of contention for the greatest console of all time. Only one system really had it beat and, honestly, it was not a close contest.
1. PlayStation 2
No other home console in history has come close to the level of success of the PlayStation 2. One handheld console did but we will get to that another day.
In the home console market, no one can touch Sony’s sophomore system with an almost outrageous 155 million units sold over a full 13 years of support. The system had 4490 games in its library, the largest on this list, with 516 games scoring a positive Metacritic aggregate.
The PlayStation 2 ruled the industry for an entire generation. It seems unlikely that any console will ever reach the sales achieved here, or the sort of comprehensive library available to players.
And, perhaps most critically, the PS2 landed the killer blow on Sega’s status as a console manufacturer by destroying the Dreamcast. Additionally, in a shock upset, the PS2 seriously hurt Nintendo in sales to the point where their viability as a console manufacturer was also being brought into question. Nintendo had a chance to mount a comeback, Sega were not so fortunate. No other system on this list killed an entire competitor, such was the PS2’s dominance.
The PlayStation 2 was a once in a lifetime moment in gaming and it is highly unlikely that either the PS5 or Xbox Series X will be able to match it.