This article was originally published in 2021. It has been updated for 2022. The author stands by his rankings, though he has been playing more PS4 lately.
Beginning Friday, April 29, and running through Sunday, May 1, the Midwest Gaming Classic will take over three floors of Milwaukee’s downtown Wisconsin Center with hundreds of pinball, arcade, and console games on freeplay; tabletop gaming, tabletop RPGs, and trading card games; tournaments and competitions, cosplay contests, vendors and merch; celebrity panels; video game-themed bands and music; and much, much more. Get your tickets HERE.
Yes, the Midwest Gaming Classic has come a long way since a few friends decided to share their love for the Atari Jaguar in 2001. In honor of MGC 2022, I (Matt) decided to rank 20 random video game systems that I own, or random systems that are currently sitting in Milwaukee Record HQ. It’s a personal ranking (and remember: if I don’t personally own it, it won’t be on the list), so expect plenty of puzzling choices and maybe a little too much love for the Sega CD.
20. Virtual Boy (1995)
Lol. Nintendo’s infamous Virtual Boy was neither a virtual reality system nor the heir apparent to the Game Boy. Instead, it was a weird headset on stilts that you set up on a table, leaned into, and then strained your eyes to the point of blindness in order to enjoy some janky red-and-black 3D graphics. A true disaster through and through. The Virtual Boy was originally $180, but I picked mine up at a Toys “R” Us in 1996 for $25 or something. Strangely, I played it a lot. In my dorm room. In college. Wario Land was pretty good!
19. Micro Games of America: Star Wars (1995)
Gosh, the electronic handheld craze of the 1990s sure was…something. These games—many made by Tiger Electronics—were everywhere back in the day, occupying a strange space between video game systems and stocking stuffers. In the end, they were little more than glorified digital watches. Fun in a pinch, but kind of obtuse (manuals were a must) and kind of difficult to see. I’m not sure where this Star Wars handheld came from, but it occupies a permanent spot on my office desk. I like that it looks like Darth Vader is presenting the game.
18. Classic Football (2000)
This 2000 remake of Mattel’s classic 1977 handheld is even more primitive than the Star Wars game, but it gets extra points for its historical importance. It’s video game football the way it was meant to be played—via a series of red LED dashes and some ear-splitting BEEPS. They should re-release this thing every year with a star player on the front, like Madden. Oh yeah, extra extra points for the helpful “IF GAME MALFUNCTIONS, TRY FRESH BATTERIES” sticker on the back.
17. My laptop (2019)
When I absolutely must emulate games play legal ROMs of games I already own, my laptop—equipped with the multi-platform OpenEmu—is the way to go. To be honest, though, having access to so many emulated games legal ROMs of games I already own is kind of daunting, and it often leads to endless scrolling and little playing. (Think of it like Netflix.) Still, OpenEmu is pretty great, and using it to play the locally released Space Raft game is a gift that keeps on giving. (See? I own a physical copy!) (Also: I really need to clean my screen.)
16. Nintendo DS (2004)
First of all, I can’t seem to find my Nintendo DS (I know it’s here somewhere!), so apologies for the non-photo. Second of all, I feel like the DS is kind of a lost system, a solid handheld that was topped by a superior handheld (the 3DS). I remember playing a lot of those Professor Layton games on this thing, and the whole dual screen/stylus thing was pretty fun. I don’t know. Like I said, it’s kind of a lost system. (And in my case, literally lost.)
15. Arcade1Up: Final Fight (2019)
Arcade1Up specializes in 3/4-scale versions of classic stand-up arcade games, covering everything from Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga to NBA Jam and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The best part? You assemble the things yourself, kind of like IKEA furniture. It’s fun! (The not-so-great parts? They’re kind of pricey, and the bottom risers are sold separately.) This cabinet is probably the best of the earlier 1Up releases, containing not only the excellent Final Fight, but the excellent 1943, the excellent Strider, and the most awful/horrible/impossible game of all time, Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Cornhole set not included.
14. Super NES Classic Edition (2017)
Here’s where I admit that while I think the SNES is one of the best systems of all time, I don’t own a SNES. I’ve never owned a SNES. Why? I don’t know, it’s just one of those things! Happily, I DO own this recently released “mini” SNES, and it’s loaded with the hits: Super Mario World, Super Metroid, A Link To The Past, Star Fox, and more. True, a lot of those games can be found for “free” on the Switch’s online service, but does that service have Final Fantasy III (swoon) or Super Mario RPG (so weird!)? Reader, it does not. Friend of Milwaukee Record Rick Katschke picked up this particular mini for me, and I’m eternally grateful.
13. Master System (1986)
Like Betamax vs. VHS, Sega’s Master System was technically superior to the Nintendo Entertainment System, but it got smoked in the software department. It’s too bad: Games like the original Phantasy Star and the original Ys were excellent, and they were the kind of games that were rarely released on the NES. I loved that this thing played cartridges and those little cards. (In your face, TurboGrafx-16!) Plus, I remember playing ALF on the Master System, and it was delightfully weird. This particular console belongs to Milwaukee Record Director of Advertising Josh Hoppert, and is more or less a Columns machine.
12. Sega CD (1992)
Ah, the Sega CD, a pricey add-on that convinced us the future of gaming involved watching grainy, postage stamp-sized videos and occasionally pressing a button or two. Well, it convinced me. For all of its faults, I loved—and still love—the Sega CD. Night Trap wasn’t much of a game, but it was a fun interactive movie that was years ahead of the “let’s poke fun at ’80s slasher films” craze. Sewer Shark was a hoot, and hey! Listening to CDs—some of which had bonus graphics—on a video game console was weirdly thrilling back in the day. Plus, Lunar. This Genesis/Sega CD belongs to Josh. It’s a shame he doesn’t have that game where you make your own Kris Kross video.
11. PlayStation 4 (2013)
This is the most powerful system I own, and yet it’s one of my least-played. Seriously, I think I made it halfway through Horizon Zero Dawn and that’s it. Hate the player and not the game (system): I simply don’t have enough time these days to play 800-hour open-world games like Red Dead Redemption 2. I wish I did, but I don’t. Before Breath Of The Wild, the last open-world game I completed was GTA5. Anyway, the PS4 is obviously an incredible machine (I have the Pro model), and the on-demand PS Now service is clearly the way of the future. But this is a personal ranking, and because I don’t play my PS4 much, here it sits at number 11.
10. Game Boy Advance SP (2003)
Wow, this takes me back to when portable systems were really portable. Folded up, this little guy fits in the palm of my hand. Neat! It was backwards compatible with Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, and the actual Game Boy Advance games were always top-notch. Neater! I seriously adored this little thing, even if the backlight sucked the battery dry in about three minutes. I seriously need to find the charger and start rocking some Final Fantasy V.
9. GameCube (2001)
When I think of the GameCube (and I think of it often), I think of those pictures of Paris Hilton holding one like a purse. You know, because it had a handle for some reason. Does anything sum up the early ’00s more succinctly? Probably not. Thankfully the GameCube library has aged more gracefully: Wind Waker, Super Mario Sunshine, Metroid Prime, and the original Animal Crossing are all stone-cold classics (yes, even Sunshine). I’ll never forget buying my GameCube (along with Animal Crossing) at the Grand Avenue mall, and riding home on the bus with the thing in my lap, like a newborn baby. Years later, I still play my OG GameCube from time to time, and I apparently have 20,000 Tony Hawk games for it.
8. Wii (2006)
I could have sworn the Wii was the best-selling home console of all time, but Wikipedia tells me it’s the fourth. (The PS2 is number one? Huh.) Either way, the Wii was a ubiquitous casual-gaming juggernaut that proved solid games and a nifty motion control gimmick could trump raw power. It was incredibly hard to find a Wii at first; I remember driving to a Toys “R” Us at 5 a.m. just to get one. Years later, Wiis can still be found in the wild at family gatherings, just waiting for everyone to get in the mood for Wii Bowling. Hell, the Virtual Console alone (R.I.P.) is enough to place the Wii in the top 10.
7. Nintendo 3DS (2011)
Firing up my 3DS for the first time in 8,000 years, I was immediately struck by all the things it has that the Switch, for whatever reason, doesn’t. Backgrounds! Themes! What gives, Nintendo? Take my money and let me junk up my Switch home screen with Monster Hunter stuff. Anyway, I loved the 3DS, and I may be the only person on planet Earth who loved the 3D effect. I also loved that Nintendo pulled a classic Nintendo and took the one thing that made the 3DS unique (its 3D effect) and released a version that didn’t have that unique thing (the 2DS). History repeated itself eight years later with the release of the Switch Lite. But whatever, the 3DS was/is the best.
6. Xbox 360 (2005)
The Xbox 360 was beloved in its day, but I feel like its reputation will only grow over time. It was powerful. It was a workhorse. It was a solid and beefy machine that seemingly lived forever. (Wikipedia tells me its official lifespan was 2005-2016. Wow!) When I think of the Xbox 360, I think of Halo 4 and GTA 5, two of my favorite games of all time. I also think of how great it felt to have a truly online console for the first time, and how incredible it was to use it for a variety of multimedia purposes. (I still use it as a DVD player, ha.) I don’t know, maybe I loved/love it so much because I have a later model and I never had to deal with the Red Ring of Death. What’s up, fellow late adopters!
5. PlayStation (1995)
The original PlayStation hasn’t aged particularly well (try playing something like Resident Evil or Tomb Raider today), but it represented such a huuuuge leap in technology that I have to give it its due. Early stuff like Gran Turismo and Tekken 3 were game changers, and later stuff like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid were stunning in their scope. Plus, you had games like Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night and PaRappa The Rapper. Oh, and that Intelligent Qube game that just may have the best soundtrack of all time. I remember picking up my first PlayStation during my senior year of high school (and having to borrow money from a friend to get it), and just playing the demo disc for weeks. I miss demo discs!
4. Sega Genesis (1989)
Genesis does what Nintendon’t. Remember that? Good times. Anyway, not just any system could give the NES a run for its money in the late ’80s—it took an utterly fantastic system like the Genesis. Where to begin with Sega’s 16-bit powerhouse? The licensed sports games, like Madden and the NHL series? The spellbinding RPGs, like Phantasy Star 2, 3, and 4? The off-the-wall stuff, like Earthworm Jim and ToeJam & Earl? A little mascot called Sonic the Hedgehog? The Genesis was like Fleet Farm: if it didn’t have it, you didn’t need it. Sure, the whole “Blast Processing” thing was 100% marketing B.S., but the edgy ‘tude that the Genesis put forth was no joke—these games were faster, sassier, and just more grown-up than anything Nintendo was putting out. Plus, EA ported a lot of weird PC games like Starflight and Rings Of Power to the Genesis, and those were great.
3. Nintendo Entertainment System (1985)
I was stunned the first time I saw a NES in action. It was in my cousin’s wood-paneled, bean bag-filled basement (a perfect setting), and he was playing the first Super Mario Bros. Like I said, I was floored; I just couldn’t believe how big the game was, and how it was stuffed with so many obscure secrets like hidden blocks and warp zones. Before this, my frame of reference for home video games was the Atari 2600. But the NES? It was incredible. It was also world-dominating, taking over all aspects of pop culture. Hell, for a good number of years, the word “Nintendo” was a Xerox-like word that stood in for all video games. The NES was the first system I grew up with, and it’s still with me today. As you can see, I have a few of them lying around the house, and I have approximately 300 games stuffed in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy box that an old roommate found on the curb. I love you, Nintendo.
2. Nintendo Switch (2017)
The Nintendo Switch is the perfect modern-day gaming system. Well, it’s perfect for me: I can’t overstate how well the Switch slots into my middle-aged, business-running, kid-having 2022 lifestyle. If I’m in the mood to play a few random courses of Super Mario Maker 2 while sitting on my couch, I can do that. If I have a little more time and I want to rediscover the wonder that is Breath Of The Wild and see it on the big screen, I can do that, too. Seriously, how genius is it that this thing can, well, switch between being a handheld and a console, and do it with such ease? And then there’s the fact that you can play millions of indie games on the thing, too. Like I said, I love you, Nintendo.
1. Sega Dreamcast (1999)
Hate me if you want, but the Sega Dreamcast is the Cadillac of video game systems. Was it kind of a short-lived failure? Yes. Was it the final nail in the coffin for Sega’s home console business? Yes. Did it have incredible games like Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi, Shenmue, Sonic Adventure, and Phantasy Star Online? You bet it did. Oh, and it was the first home console that boasted out-of-the-box online connectivity, and the controllers—complete with those little VMU things—were awesome. I love the arcade-iness of the Dreamcast—something no console pulled off before, and something no console has pulled off since. It’s just a great, unique, and perfectly realized machine. It burned fast, but it burned bright. And I loved me some Sega Swirl.
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