This week I have chosen a special Top 5 to go with our special podcast guest because this is not only an often controversial topic, but one I’d personally love to hear the thoughts from our guest on.
I’ve decided I’m going with my Top 5 favourite video game consoles of all time.
Now, I need to preface this list with a caveat of sorts. That is, that what I look for in a console isn’t always traditionally what most gamers would. Or at least I should say what most gamers prioritise when choosing a console – the games, isn’t necessarily at the top of my list of priorities in what I’ve looked for in choosing my “main” platform or favourite consoles.
So with that, let’s get on with it.
5. Xbox One/S/X
Yeah yeah I get it, an Xbox based website picking the Xbox One as one of their favourite consoles of all time. How cliché right? But hear me out. I’ve always loved consoles that give “value” (for want of a better word). I like a console that gives bang for your buck and I also happen to like anything in my life that makes it more convenient.
If that anything happens to also be a video game console, then it stands to reason that that device will hold a special place with me. It also helps that 2 games that released on this console – one of them an exclusive and one of them not, also happened to make their way into my Top 10 games of all time. I speak of Titanfall and Rocket League.
But more so than the games, of which (despite what you may have heard) it actually has a lot of, I love all it’s media functionality. I love the HDMI in, I love that it wants to be “the only box I need”. The media functionality has made my TV watching experience super convenient. It’s great that Microsoft were thoughtful enough to include IR to allow my universal remote to work with Xbox One. The apps you can get for it simply add to that convenience. Air Server turns my Xbox One into an Apple TV, Google Chromecast or Miracast device. I can Skype with it, I can watch 4K Blu-rays, it supports damn near every streaming app out there.
The fact that it has a genuinely great library of games is simply a bonus for me as someone who buys all consoles regardless.
Let’s not forget that it also happens to have the best controller ever made, whether that is the standard or the incredible (if somewhat poorly built) Elite controller.
4. Mega Drive
Sorry my US and Canadian readers it’s a Mega Drive. Mega Drive sounds cooler and it used that name in more countries around the world.
As someone who was born in 1980, I was the perfect fanboy age for the legendary 16-bit console war and boy what a Sega fanboy I was. I grew up in the arcades and no one ruled the arcades in the 80s and 90s like Sega did. Altered Beast, Golden Axe, Shinobi, Wonder Boy, Hang On, Space Harrier, Outrun and then the transition to 3D with the Virtua series, Daytona USA and the plethora of light gun classics. As a young boy the only logical conclusion when it came to choosing a home console was Sega. Where else was I supposed to be able to play my arcade favourites at home?
But then my mind was blown. Sega didn’t just make classic arcade games. They made unbelievable dedicated console games too! Sonic The Hedgehog was a formative game for me. It was the game that made me realise video game were going to be the hobby I adored above all others for life. The hobby that would become a part of who I am. But then I was treated to classics like the Streets of Rage series and Castle of Illusion. But not only that, the Megadrive was home to best versions of effectively all 3rd party multiplatform titles, particularly EA’s sports games. FIFA was born on the Mega Drive. Aladdin, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were all superior on the Mega Drive.
This was Sega’s most successful home console and for good reason.
3. Nintendo 64
Do you hear that? It’s the collective groan of basically every member of the XboxEra Discord server.
Much like the Megadrive, the Nintendo 64 had a massive impact on me as a gamer. As I mentioned earlier I grew up a Sega fanboy. My only exposure to Nintendo consoles was through my best friend and to be frank, nothing about the NES or SNES made me think I was missing out on much. Yeah, Donkey Kong Country was incredible and Super Punch Out! is one of the most under-appreciated games in history, but nothing that made a young child take the risk of angering his mother trying to convince her to spend many hundreds of dollars on to own.
But then something changed in 1996. My best friend had a sleep over to show all of his friends his new Nintendo 64. It was life changing for me. The experience of 4 of us playing Goldeneye and Mario Kart 64 on that 68cm CRT TV, each of us with our own little tiny piece of screen real estate was simply incredible. Having 4 controller ports was a game changer back then. Nintendo was telling you…”Play our games on this console with all your friends, it doesn’t just have to be you anymore”.
It was after that night I knew I could no longer be a one platform gamer. The Nintendo 64 is the console that made me the multi-console buyer I am today. I realised then that I was restricting myself from too many amazing games by only sticking to Sega. The Nintendo 64 library was the first video game library to really epitomise the quality over quantity ethos. It didn’t have a library the size of it’s competition, but boy what it had was special. Mario 64, Zelda Ocarina of Time, Mario Kart 64, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Banjo Kazooie, Mario Party, Smash Bros., Mario Tennis….the list goes on. So many of Nintendo’s premier franchises were either born, had their best version or rose to stardom on the Nintendo 64. To this day, it also has the best wrestling games of all time.
I will defend the majesty of the Nintendo 64 to the end.
2. Xbox 360
The 360. What a console. What an impact Microsoft made on the industry with this piece of hardware. An impact that is still felt to this day. The Xbox 360 was the gamer’s console. It was such an incredible package. It packed a punch for a reasonable price, it had the best versions of 3rd party games, it introduced console gamers to digital distribution, gave independent developers a stage they had yet to experience elsewhere, gave us the best controller that had been seen on a console to date and turned online gaming into an industry standard that forced the competition to play catch up.
It also happened to play host to one of the most diverse and high quality game libraries ever seen. There almost literally wasn’t a genre in existence the Xbox 360 didn’t cover and cover with quality. Whether that was by a first or third party title. It had everything. Incredible racing games, Japanese RPGs, Western Action RPGs, platformers, shooters (of both the first and third person variety) and even quirkier niche genres like shmups were well accounted for.
The 360 was the console not only built for gamers, but most importantly it was built for developers. Microsoft made it their mission to provide developers a platform that made game development as hassle free as possible. A move that even Sony was to eventually apply to their creation of the hugely successful PlayStation 4.
Voice and party chat became an accepted industry standard thanks to the 360. A fully featured console operating system became an expectation after the 360. Achievements were adopted across the industry – even in the PC space, because of the 360.
But even more so, it was the fact that the 360 was the first platform to truly evolve that made it special for me. The OS kept changing, adding features and improving itself. Microsoft kept the platform agile to move with the market and became a fantastic media player. Microsoft took inspiration from Nintendo and put their own spin on casual motion gaming with Kinect and had massive success of their own with it. Even if it was to the detriment of first party output in the console’s later years.
It’s undeniable the impact the Xbox 360 had on the industry and it had a similar impact on me too.
Anyone who has come this far on my list probably should have seen this coming. The Dreamcast embodies basically everything I love about a video game console as well as being from the manufacturer/publisher that had the biggest impact on my life as a gamer.
The Dreamcast was Sega firing on all cylinders and taking their final shot at home console success. There wasn’t anything the Dreamcast didn’t do first or do better than the competition (at the time). The Dreamcast properly introduced us to online gaming. It gave us the first truly playable motion gaming experiences long before the Wii was even a concept at Nintendo headquarters and most importantly at the time, was the first time we saw home console hardware surpass or match the arcades. Which for me was huge.
I will never forget my first experience with the Dreamcast. I managed to get myself into a preview event at an EB Games store back in 99 where they had a bunch of Dreamcasts set up running all the launch titles for us to try.
Seeing the Sonic Adventure orca run for the first time was another one of those life changing moments for me. This was it…nothing had come close to looking like this on a home console to this point. The leap in visual quality from the Saturn/PSOne/Nintendo 64 was enormous. As a 19 year old seeing all my favourite arcade games faithfully recreated at home was something I simply had only dreamt of at that point. I couldn’t believe they had squeezed Sega’s Naomi arcade hardware into this tiny (albeit very loud) white case. Seeing SoulCalibur for the first time was jaw dropping. It looked significantly better than what Namco could muster on their own arcade hardware.
But the Dreamcast was also the first console to create a platform that made game development much less of a headache for developers. Something that would cause both Microsoft and Sony to follow suit with future hardware. It meant developers could get incredible results from the hardware right from launch day. It took the PS2 a long time to have a game look as good or better than SoulCalibur despite it’s superior hardware. A testament to how important an easier development platform is.
But that wasn’t all the Dreamcast had to offer. It had other little innovations, many of which were never iterated on in the future or lived up to their full potential. Like it’s incredibly versatile memory card solution the VMU (Visual Memory Unit). A memory card that could effectively act as a tiny portable console on its own. It allowed for the easy transfer of save files between users and it was the progenitor of the second screen experience we still have in gaming even today. Like Microsoft would do with the 360, Sega evolved the Dreamcast as platform. Although they did it without the finesse afforded to Microsoft thanks to in built storage and the broadband internet standard. Sega evolved the platform with software on disc and hardware expansions. They gave us our first taste of a “media player” with the VCD Player, gave high end users an option for enhanced visuals with the VGA Adaptor and even allowed us to upgrade our online experience with a broadband adaptor.
All of the above and I didn’t even scratch the surface of the spectacular library of games that like the Nintendo 64 before it, focused on quality over quantity. But also like the Megadrive, gave us a perfect blend of Sega’s arcade legacy titles as well as amazing console exclusives from both first and third parties. Capcom in particular, experienced arguably their best ever output on the Dreamcast.
It seems no matter how many years go by and no matter how much gaming improves, I always fall back to the Dreamcast as my favourite console and it’s really difficult for me to articulate appropriately absolutely everything I loved it about it as much as I’ve tried here. It’s a tragedy how quickly the console died and I still yearn for Sega to give us one last shining moment in the Dreamcast’s glow with a Classic/mini console.