My Ranking of Consoles and Handhelds

This list is exactly as it sounds: my personal ranking of every console and handheld I’ve ever owned. We all have different levels of fondness for different gaming machines, and I’ve owned more than my share of them over the years, so I thought it would be fun to sit down and think through which ones have meant the most to me. That said, ranking consoles and handhelds is a somewhat more complicated task than ranking games within a single franchise. There are a lot of variables involved spanning many years, hardware and design trends, changing landscapes, and my own personal anecdotes and gaming preferences. So before we get to the list, a few additional important clarifications and caveats.

First, I am omitting the PC; it’s simply too different to rank against consoles and handhelds. Second, I am omitting any console or handheld which has not reached the end of its lifespan yet. Currently, the main example here is the Switch; I will wait until all is said and done before adding platforms (which I will do over time). Third, I am omitting any console or handheld that I did not physically own, even if I played their games. The Atari 2600, NES, TurboGrafx-16, and PlayStation Portable are all systems I have played plenty of games from in some way, but never owned the hardware. Thus I feel I can’t fully speak to every part of their experience, and have chosen to exclude them from this list. Finally, and most importantly, there is no scientific method to this ranking. I did consider many factors when comparing consoles and handhelds, such as the games I liked on them, the controller and design, how reliable/powerful the hardware was, etc. But the final determination is based on my personal, subjective preferences alone, driven primarily by the games I liked on each system and my gaming tastes. And with that, I hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading!

Last updated on February 22, 2021

See my other rankings of: Metroids | Marios | Zeldas | Final Fantasies | 2D Castlevanias | Fire Emblems | Gaming Years | Consoles and Handhelds

List items

  • There’s likely some nostalgia in play here: the SNES was the first console my brother and I had to ourselves as kids, and I was at the perfect age for it. As such, it holds a lot of fond memories for me. But I also don’t think anyone would argue that the SNES didn’t have a killer library of games, in both quantity and quality, especially by the standards of the time. It had at least a dozen exclusives that I greatly enjoyed, led by a quartet of all-time favorites that no other system has been able to match for me: Super Metroid, Super Mario World, A Link to the Past, and Final Fantasy VI. It also had a deep library of third party and multiplatform games to back up those exclusives, and it turns out when you combine Nintendo’s stellar first party titles -- which are as good on the SNES as anywhere -- with a level of third party support that Nintendo has rarely enjoyed since, you end up with a pretty magical combination. Toss in reliable and powerful hardware by the standards of the time, and a controller that set the standards of the time, and you have a system I struggle to find much fault with; it’s a well-rounded machine that also housed many of my favorite games. Nostalgia or not, that makes the SNES a pretty clear pick for my favorite console or handheld to date. It will be hard to top.

  • The GameCube seems to be a love it or hate it console, and I for one am clearly much more in the “love it” camp. Quite bluntly, the GameCube had a whole lot of games I really liked, many of which were exclusives, led by (but not limited to) classics such as Smash Bros. Melee, Metroid Prime, The Wind Waker, Resident Evil 4, and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. But the Gamecube also received a surprising number of multiplatform games that ran just as well on Nintendo’s purple box as they did on the competition, making it one of the few Nintendo consoles post-SNES that achieved some level of parity with PlayStation and Xbox. Its main drawback was that not all multiplatform games came to the Cube. But enough good ones did, and when combined with its strong slate of exclusives, the GameCube’s library remains one of my favorites to date. It was also a sturdy and reliable machine, and surprisingly powerful compared to the generation-leading PlayStation 2; in fact, it was more powerful in some ways. And for as much crap as people give the GameCube controller, I thought it was perfectly comfortable and functional, and in many cases its button layout made a lot of sense. There was a lot to love about the GameCube, and it remains a console I hold dear.

  • The Xbox 360 was, by far, the console that caused me the most internal turmoil in these rankings. One the one hand, it is very likely the gaming system I have spent the most raw time playing; it had a lengthy lifespan, and came during a period where I was playing very few multiplatform games anywhere else, PC included. It helped that many of the best games of the era were multiplatform ones, including a ton of personal favorites, and they often ran better on the 360 than they did on the competition. Toss in standards-setting online capabilities, the wonderful Xbox Live Arcade, and a truly fantastic controller, and the 360 was a central machine in my life for years. On the other hand, the Xbox 360 had two glaring caveats that are impossible for me to ignore. First, the hardware was infamously prone to failure. I have only had three consoles or handhelds I’ve owned fail on me, and two of them were Xbox 360s. Quite frankly, that sucks, and I almost gave up on the console entirely after the second one died. Second, while its third party library was virtually unrivaled, its first party exclusives could have been stronger for my tastes. But the positives far outweigh the negatives here, as even with its frustrations, the Xbox 360 was undoubtedly a hugely important console for me.

  • It’s hard to remember now, but the Nintendo DS’ iconic two-screen, clamshell, and touchscreen design wasn’t received well initially. Lo and behold it went on to become one of the best-selling gaming devices to date, and that’s at least partly due to the success of that very design. The clamshell form allowed for an easy and effective rest mode, making it among the first major consoles or handhelds to have such a feature, and it proved to be amazingly useful on the go. The touchscreen opened up a whole new way of playing games, and the second screen greatly enhanced both traditional games and experimental ones alike. What followed was an extremely deep and extremely varied library of games, ranging from touchscreen gems like Elite Beat Agents to traditional powerhouses like Pokemon and Castlevania. In fact, it might be the DS’ variety that I remember most fondly; that such different games as Phoenix Wright, Advance Wars, Kirby Canvas Curse, The World Ends With You, Mario Kart, and many more could all thrive on the same device was pretty remarkable. The DS simply had a large library of great games of all kinds, and its later revisions, the Lite and DSi, remain among the most comfortable and reliable handhelds ever made.

  • Despite being one of the best-selling consoles in history, it took me a few years to warm up to the PlayStation 2. That’s mainly because I was not into a lot of PlayStation-focused franchises early on; things like Metal Gear Solid, Gran Turismo, and Devil May Cry never clicked with me. But as the PS2’s library continued to grow and diversify, I started finding more to love: Katamari Damacy, God of War, Shadow of the Colossus, Okami, and Personas 3 and 4 were among the exclusives in the back half of the PS2’s life that I greatly enjoyed. Yet more than that, as is often the case with PlayStation consoles, its multiplatform representation is what really made the PS2 the overwhelming success it was, and I enjoyed many of those games as well. That it came at a great price point with a great controller, and also sported backwards compatibility with PS1 games (a rare feature in those days) only helped the PS2’s case as one of the all-time greats. One anecdotal caveat: the PS2 is the only system I’ve ever had fail on me other than the Xbox 360. So perhaps not the most reliable hardware, which hurts it a little on this list.

  • The Nintendo 64 was such an inconsistent console. Between Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time, it saw some of the most important games in history, and set many standards for 3D gaming that are still followed today. It also introduced, or at least popularized, multiple lasting features: its otherwise clunky controller implemented both an analog control stick and a rumble pack, and the console itself had four controller ports to allow up to four player local multiplayer (which, when combined with games like Mario Kart 64, GoldenEye 007, and Super Smash Bros., made the N64 the ideal party console). And yet, for all those positive features, the N64 suffered from an undeniable and striking lack of games, more so than most on this list. Not all of Nintendo’s first party franchises made a successful jump to 3D, and the N64 is among Nintendo’s worst showings for third party support. If you weren’t into the handful of good games the console did have, there simply wasn’t a lot here for you. Fortunately for me, I truly loved enough of those games to earn the N64 its high place on this list.

  • My appreciation for the original PlayStation might be driven by nostalgia and personal taste more than any other console on this list. While the PlayStation was the market leader during its generation, and undoubtedly had a large library of notable games, not many of them clicked with me personally; Metal Gear Solid, Crash Bandicoot, Tekken, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, and Gran Turismo are among the hugely popular franchises that I didn’t get into at all during the PS1 era. Instead, the PS1 was, for me, almost exclusively a JRPG machine; but boy howdy was it a good machine for that. Between multiple strong Final Fantasy games and plenty other Square and Enix hits -- including personal favorites Chrono Cross and Star Ocean: The Second Story -- I played and replayed PS1 JRPGs for hundreds and hundreds of hours. It helped that I was the perfect age for the genre at the time, and that they were still new to me in the mid-90s, but the PS1 will always hold a special place in my heart for that. The console itself was reliable and important, as it helped lead the charge on both 3D console gaming and disc formats.

  • The Nintendo 3DS had a lot to live up to following the original DS, and while it struggled a little out of the gate (no thanks to a higher price), and perhaps never reached those same astronomical heights, it was still a great handheld. Hardware-wise, it was more or less a beefed up DS; the “3D” that was its namesake was pretty worthless to me, but otherwise it sported all the same noteworthy design touches with more power under the hood. Backwards compatibility was also great, and it was Nintendo’s first handheld with a robust online store; there was something nice about having a variety of indie, Game Boy, and NES games all on the same portable machine, in addition to full-sized 3DS games. Yet none of that would have mattered if the 3DS’ own library didn’t deliver, but it did. Not only was Nintendo’s first party lineup pretty strong, but the 3DS benefitted from plenty of third party exclusives too, especially in the JRPG space. It may not have been as deep and as varied of a library as the DS had, but it was more than good enough for me to sink a crapton of time into this little machine.

  • Part of me is torn on the PlayStation 4. On the one hand, it was the clear market leader in its generation for some good reasons: it had great third party support from both AAA studios and indies (including plenty of third party exclusives), some generally solid first party exclusives, a great controller that was a big step up from the PlayStation 3’s, slick UI (especially compared to the competition), more than adequate online features, and launched at a great price. In other words, the PS4 did pretty much everything well. On the other hand, it was part of a console generation that, across the board, wasn’t very impressive hardware-wise. It wasn’t a big jump from its predecessor, and felt underpowered for its time, which only became more apparent as the cycle went on... those load times. A mid-cycle hardware revision kept it going a little longer, but I still felt ready to move on well before the PS4 finally did. Better hardware would have made a big difference for me here, and its exclusives weren’t always my favorites either. But still, the PS4 was a worthy console that I played a whole lot.

  • It was a bit of a different time, but whenever I think about the Game Boy Advance, I am surprised all over again at just how many cool, top notch games it put out in such a short timespan; practically all of them exclusives too. Advance Wars, Mario & Luigi, Aria of Sorrow, Metroid Fusion, Fire Emblem, Astro Boy: Omega Factor, and The Minish Cap are but a sampling of the GBA games I thoroughly enjoyed, and they all came out in the short window between its release and when the DS took over. In fact, due to its slightly shorter lifespan, I didn’t play a ton of GBA games relative to the other systems near the top of this list, but what stands out is that I liked almost all of the ones I played. If the GBA had any faults, it’s that it could have used a few more third party bangers, and its original hardware design wasn’t all that strong, especially its lack of a backlight. But later revisions were a big step up, as the Game Boy Advance SP remains one of the best handhelds to date, and paved the way for the DS’ design. Also, it was super rad to be able to play SNES quality games on the go at that time.

  • A lot of the PlayStation 3’s sins originated from its launch blunders: it was infamously overpriced, the Sixaxis controller was not great, and the hardware was notoriously difficult to develop for, which led to many multiplatform games having issues on the PS3 that they didn’t have elsewhere. It felt like it took years for Sony to turn things around, and that period will forever be a stain on the PS3’s legacy. Fortunately, however, the PS3 morphed into a meaningful and worthwhile machine by the time it reached the end of its lifespan. In particular, it bore out a number of exclusives I really liked, especially when compared to its chief competitors of the era, including Uncharted 2, Valkyria Chronicles, Infamous, Demon’s Souls, Journey, and The Last of Us. In time, Sony also released a slightly improved controller, improved their online infrastructure a bit, attained better parity with multiplatform games, and through services like PlayStation Plus began offering some nice benefits. It was a messier ride than most of the consoles above it on this list, but the PS3 ultimately turned out quite well.

  • Microsoft’s first foray into the console market initially felt like a third wheel to me; given as much as I ended up liking both the GameCube and the PlayStation 2, it didn’t feel like there was much room for another. Yet the original Xbox was a perfectly solid console, and managed to carve out its own space despite the stiff competition. Even as someone who has always been indifferent (at best) towards Halo as the Xbox’s flagship game and franchise, I still found a handful of unique games to love, such as Knights of the Old Republic, Ninja Gaiden, and Top Spin. The Xbox also got plenty of third party support, and a lot of those multiplatform games ran just as well, if not better, on the Xbox than its competition. It was a strong generation across the board, but the Xbox does place last among its contemporaries for me, and that’s primarily because it didn’t have nearly as many exclusives that I liked. Looking back, I just didn’t play that many games on the Xbox, and its controller wasn’t my favorite either. If I had gotten more into Halo and/or Xbox Live, that could have made a big difference.

  • Man, what a weird console. The Wii sold like hotcakes during its few few years, and then all but fell off a cliff soon after. It seemed to create a zeitgeist more than it endeared itself to anyone long-term, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have some good games in the way that Nintendo systems always have some good games, such as Mario Galaxy, Twilight Princess, Metroid Prime 3, Smash Bros. Brawl, and Rhythm Heaven Fever. Yet it was a free pack-in that probably best encapsulated the Wii, as Wii Sports showed right out of the gate both the strengths and the limits of the Wii Remote. I feel like many developers spent the lifespan of the console trying to chase the motion control dream, and never really did more than that initial effort. Most of my favorite Wii games ended up leveraging traditional button controls instead, while motion controls dragged down a lot of otherwise good games. As a result, my appreciation of the Wii is mostly limited to its handful of good first party games (third party support was poor), and by that measure the Wii can only do so much on this list.

  • The original Game Boy had an incredibly long life span, and had a whole lot of games to its name. Yet it’s not one I have a lot of fond memories of, and there’s probably a number of reasons for that. First and foremost is my age, and feeling like the GB was simply too old-looking (read: black and white) and primitive for the types of games I wanted to play. Second is that I don’t remember being in a position to actually play games on the go back then, and if I was at home, I was almost always going to choose a console to play instead. Third, I simply don’t think the GB had a lot of games that clicked with me personally. Still, it was undoubtedly an important machine as one of the first viable handheld gaming devices, and I certainly did have fun with it over time. Games like Tetris, Super Mario Land, and Balloon Kid were enjoyable on trips, but the GB’s clear breadwinners for me were the original Pokemon games. My brother and I played through Red and Blue multiple times each, and combined to collect every Pokemon. Those are good, magical memories that really help the GB’s cause here.

  • The Wii U remains Nintendo’s least successful console to date, and by a good margin. Yet I see a lot of Wii U defenders who claim it had great games, and that it could have succeeded if only more people gave it a chance. I… partially agree with that, at best. Yes, the Wii U did have some good games, as all systems do. And yes, plenty of people who skipped the Wii U would have likely enjoyed some of them. But the Wii U’s output was undeniably limited, and its games were not so amazing as to counteract that fact; I’m not sure I truly loved any Wii U games other than Super Mario Maker. The hardware itself also left a lot to be desired: the UI was clunky and slow, the gamepad never found a great use case outside of Mario Maker, and its storage size and battery life were limited. So, yes, it makes sense that the Wii U didn’t sell well, and I’m not convinced that all it needed was for more people to give it a shot. As someone who generally likes Nintendo’s games, I enjoyed my time with my Wii U and its games just enough to earn it a few places here. But it’s easily Nintendo’s worst console yet.

  • Given how beloved this console is, and its low-ish placement on this list, I want to be clear: I hold no ill will towards Sega or the Genesis. But for my tastes, and my history, I would be lying to myself if I placed it any higher. Quite frankly, I got into very few games or franchises on the Genesis, especially not at the time. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Aladdin were OK, and I enjoyed Streets of Rage 2 and Castlevania: Bloodlines pretty well when I played them decades later. And I probably would have enjoyed some others -- especially JRPGs like Phantasy Star -- had I played them in their day as well. But much of my memory of the Genesis is playing a slew of middling-at-best platformers and action games. And not to restart any console wars, but having a SNES at the same time did not help the Genesis’ cause at all: I practically never wanted to play the Genesis over the SNES. It’s a solid machine that was likely great if you were a fan of Sega’s output (and it had good third party support too). But for my personal tastes, it didn’t do much past a few choice games.

  • I initially thought the Game Boy Color would place much higher for me on this list, but the more I looked at it, the more I struggled to justify doing so. That caused some internal turmoil, as I do have fond memories of the GBC. But really… it just had too short of a lifespan and too few games to truly compete; I played less than 10 original GBC games total. On top of that, many of its most celebrated games were re-releases of existing ones, such as Tetris DX, Link’s Awakening DX, or Super Mario Bros. Deluxe. It had scant few worthwhile original games of its own -- from what I played, only Oracle of Ages/Season and Pokemon Gold/Silver stand out -- which was a shame, as the hardware was solid. In fact, perhaps the best aspect of the GBC, and probably what I remember it most for, was that it was backwards compatible with the original Game Boy with the ability to play some of those games in color. That was genuinely cool at the time, and I was happy to have a GBC, even if looking back now its library was undeniably too slim to do well on a list such as this.

  • The Xbox One wasn’t so much a bad console as it was… pointless for me. It ran perfectly fine, had all the same third party and multiplatform games as its chief contemporaries, and Xbox Live continued to be a good, reliable service. But it didn’t do much more than that, which made it feel unnecessary in relation to the competition. The main drawback was a true lack of worthwhile exclusives; unless you were a diehard fan of a few long-in-the-tooth Xbox franchises, there simply wasn’t much here that you couldn’t get elsewhere. I owned a Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and a capable PC at the same time, and I almost never played my Xbox One for that reason, and ended up selling it after a couple years. It was the first and thus far only gaming system I’ve ever abandoned mid-cycle, and as someone who tends to own every console every generation, that stood out. It certainly didn’t help that the dashboard UI was clunky and unintuitive, and that its rollout was a confusing mess. The best part of the Xbox One was Xbox Game Pass, but it came too late in the cycle to make a difference.

  • Despite placing last on this list, I enjoyed my PlayStation Vita and have no regrets buying it. That is largely anecdotal, however, due to the fact that I never owned a PlayStation Portable, and most PSP games were playable digitally on a Vita. So I spent a fair amount of time catching up on those games, and I also enjoyed playing some PS One Classics and indie games on the go as well; it didn’t hurt that the hardware was super nice. But as I looked over this list, I simply couldn’t deny the Vita’s numerous problems. First, it was very expensive for a handheld, especially if you wanted to, you know, actually download games, as its proprietary memory cards presented a stupidly high additional cost that was hard to get around. Second, it got very few exclusives, and kind of not many games in general; it’s telling that its best game, by far, was a remake of a PlayStation 2 classic. Third, Sony more or less gave up supporting it after a couple of years, once the writing was on the wall. It was undeniably a troubled machine, and while I was happy to have one, it’s pretty hard to justify anything other than last place.