Gaming can be fun, but requires specialized hardware. In this particular feature, I’ll go over your options for every budget. Remember though, the price tiers mentioned do take the following into account:
- This is the price for new devices: no pre-owned hardware.
- I’ve included the price for memory (SD cards or memory cards) and missing controllers if applicable into the tier. I’ve listed their pricing separately in the tier description.
- The price of games not included, since these vary depending on whether they are on sale or not, and that’s not taking into account future price drops. On average, I’d recommend to keep an additional 50 euros available to buy whatever game(s) you want to. Fifty euros should get you at least one great game (games that are in high demand physically will be more expensive).
- Any additional hardware costs (for a PC for example, the cost of the mouse, monitor etc.) are not included unless mentioned.
- Shipping costs not included.
- The prices presented are correct as of August 2016. Future price drops will make some of these cheaper, which is great!
You will always be able to get even better deals if you get pre-owned or second hand devices, but those may be slightly worn out and may not perform as well as a new device will.1
€60 to €90: Raspberry Pi for emulation
The Raspberry Pi is the cheapest hardware money can buy. A Raspberry Pi 3 sells for a little under 40 euros, giving you enough leeway to grab a cheap controller like the wired Xbox 360 controller, which you can hook up to your device. You can then take a look at the Retropie setup, to play retro games.
You might want to look into getting decent-sized SD-card as well, but your Raspberry Pi might include one if you got a starter kit (priced slightly higher).
€100 to €120: Nintendo 2DS
For about 100 euros, you can buy the 2DS and play all DS and 3DS games (with the exception of a few New 3DS exclusives) on this cheap device. I would still recommend grabbing a New 3DS if you like the platform, but the 2DS is a great way to get into Nintendo games.
The 2DS ships with a 4GB SD card, but you can get a much larger one for about 20 euros if you want one.
€120 to €150: PS TV
Woah there, you might say. The PS TV only costs 44 euros on Amazon.de! While that is true, you still need a controller (which can cost up to 65 euros for the official PS3 controller) and a memory card — for which the Vita and the PS TV are known to be overpriced.
For 120 to 150 euros, you’ll get a PS Vita that can only be played on a television and does not support some PS Vita games that require touch controls.2 To be frank, you’re better off buying the PS Vita itself unless you really want to play Vita games on your television.
€170-€220: PS Vita or New 3DS (XL)
In this price tier, you’ll have to find out what platform you’re more interested in:
- New 3DS (XL), a great way to play Nintendo 3DS and DS games. The XL is slightly more expensive, but boasts bigger screens. I would recommend getting a bigger microSD card as well, since the default card included is only 4GBs large. (If you’re looking into getting a digital library. Card speed does not matter much, since the 3DS only supports SDHC speeds.)
- PS Vita, which boasts more impressive hardware but a bit more of a constrained game library. Also features expensive storage. Ships with a 8 GB ‘PS Vita storage card’. In my experience, these cards are also not that fast as SD cards.3
As far as these two options go, you get two different devices that tailor to different types of games. Find out which one you like the best if you’re looking into these. If you want the cheapest option, go for the 3DS (and remember, at the 95 euros price point, you can also get a 2DS).4
€250: NVIDIA Shield K1 / Android Phone
I know, right. You can also play games on Android and iOS devices. But you can get a powerful Android smartphone or the Shield K1 at the 200 euro price point, which I can recommend since I use it myself for emulation and more. You’ll need a bluetooth controller and an extra microSD card that I would recommend, which lands this tier's price point at about 250 euros.
Not a bad option if you also want a tablet you can use to watch shows on, or use apps with. If you need a multipurpose evice, this is not just a good entertainment/emulation option, but also a great tablet or phone option at a great price point.
€250 to €290: PS3/Xbox 360/Wii U
Why a Wii U? If you want to play Nintendo-exclusive games like Splatoon, Xenoblade Chronicles X or Tokyo Mirage Sessions. I would recommend buying the disc-based games instead of going digital, since the HD on the Wii U is small or you’ll need an external hard drive to be plugged in your console at all times.
Why an Xbox 360? Ehhh. Don’t. Since the Xbox One supports 360 games with backwards compatibility, I’d recommend that one instead.
Why a PS3? If you want to play PS3-exclusive last-gen games or just PS3 games, this is the best option here. You can find tons of PS3 games on the cheap in stores and in the PlayStation Store.
€350 to €400: PS4/Xbox One
This gets you a fairly large capacity current-gen console. Interested in playing last-gen games? Buy a Xbox One (S) instead, since it supports Xbox 360 games, unlike a PS4, which doesn’t support backwards compatibility.
However, the PS4 is a more solid choice if you want slightly better graphics and a more interesting game library. Personally, I’d recommend getting a PS4.6
While I consider the 700 euro price point ideal for a powerful PC (with a decent CPU and GPU, not to mention the cost of Windows), I understand that you can get an even more affordable PC for the same price as a PS4 or Xbox. Cheap keyboards and mice also cost little money, so you can build a budget PC for as little as 500 euros. Getting a PC means you can also scale up your hardware as you buy better components and swap them out.7
If you want to, you could also buy some of the top-tier tablets like the iPad Pro at the €700+ range, but that’s a lot of money you could put in any of these other options.
PC’s are not just for games: you can do work on them as well and you can use them to record your gameplay and orchestrate fun multiplayer matches with friends while taking to them through Discord.
€1300 to €1700: VR-ready PC with VR headset
Depending on which headset you pick, this price will vary. The HTC Vive is available for about 900 euros, and the Rift for about 600 euros. Given that you need a PC of at least +/- 700 euros to be VR ready, this is a far more expensive bargain than just getting a PC and hooking it up to a cheap monitor.
Personally, I’d recommend waiting at least one more year before getting into this, since I think you’ll get a bit more bang for your buck. There’s also not that many games out right now, but I believe in the future of VR. It is happening.
So that’s it for this particular overview. Whether you only have 100 euros to spend or thousands, you can get started with games on a budget. As far as games go, you can even play games on low-spec laptops like League of Legends and DOTA2 without issues, so you probably already have a laptop capable of playing even heavier games at 30 FPS at 720p.
Personally, I’d rank my personal hardware recommendations in the following order:
PC > Tablet/Phone > 3DS/2DS > PS4/PS3/XB1 > PS Vita > Wii U.
That means, I’d only buy a Wii U if you’ve already considered all the others before. A PC should be top priority, since it can do much more than just games, as well.
But in the end, you'll have to decide, so remember to do research on these devices as well. I'd recommend looking for video reviews on YouTube along with unboxings to get a good feel for what you want to buy. The main reason why I made this was to list the "price tiers" that come with each group of devices.
If this was useful, feel free to leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter (@nicoverbruggen).
As far as handhelds go, I would not recommend pre-owned hardware. Always buy new, if possible. Or make sure that what you buy is in an excellent condition; which is harder to get, since the people who babysit their devices usually don’t sell theirs. ↩
With the controller and the memory card by themselves costing already over 100 euros, I’m slightly lowering the price point to 120 euros taking into account that the controller and memory card can be found elsewhere for slightly lower prices. ↩
A bit issue here is that memory cards are absurdly expensive, so if you need more than 8 GBs of storage (which is the default that is included), you might want to get a 64 GB card shipped from Japan which will cost about 95 euros, making this an expensive option. ↩
You might also be able to find their predecessors for cheap: the PSP can still be found for about 100 euros, and the DS can be found for less than that. Depending on the model, it might cost a little more. However, these newer versions both support older games. You can play DS cardridges on the 3DS, but not UMD discs on the PS Vita, (you’ll need to rebuy games digitally if you want to play them on your Vita). ↩
You can find these much cheaper second-hand, starting at 120 euros. ↩
You may want to wait, though: with PS VR also coming at the end of 2016, they will also release a new PS4 (dubbed “Neo”) that you might want to grab. ↩
I’ve upgraded my rig a few times already, putting in more harddrives, more memory, and a better graphics card, all without having to buy an entirely new computer. Upgrading a PC is far more affordable than buying new tablets and laptops every few years. ↩