I was born too late for the first wave of fun hardware, but I'm all for the modern renaissance

 A Gameboy Playing Tetris With Another Player Over The Internet.
A Gameboy Playing Tetris With Another Player Over The Internet.

I’ve got a lot of time for any form of unique console or accessory. As a proud owner of the Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom-themed Nintendo Switch OLED, and the Pikachu 2DS XL, alongside a whole drawer of fun controllers and headsets, I’m no stranger when it comes to buying hardware because it looks cool. I’m also a sucker for anything that’s vaguely collectible and hardware is no exception, so it’s no surprise that I’ve started clearing my shelves for this wave of shiny, new, yet slightly nostalgic hardware that seems to be resurfacing about thirty years after its original trend.

Even though I appreciate how sleek modern tech and consoles are nowadays, especially when looking at the likes of the DualSense and the PS5, I can’t help but feel nostalgia for an era I wasn't even around for. Born after the millennium I missed out on years of translucent plastic and charmingly cheap-looking decals, all now consigned to landfills, collectors shelves and that weird corner of CEX. But that’s not to say that this era of hardware is completely forgotten.

I’m not necessarily talking about older, retro-inspired hardware like NES-, PS1-, or SNES-inspired controllers, especially with a huge variety of companies utilizing current technology to create modern adaptations of older hardware. I’m exclusively talking about the vibrant, goofy-looking consoles and accessories that would’ve been all the rage a few years before I could even hold a controller. Even though I may have missed the original wave of see-through tech and showy accessories, I’m definitely starting to feel as though I’m now relieving an era I missed out on in the first place.

Within the REALMz of possibility

PDP REALMz Sonic the Hedgehog controller
PDP REALMz Sonic the Hedgehog controller

Although it’s not the first, one recent bit of hardware that has made me feel like a new era of collectible and fun hardware is on the horizon is the new REALMz collection by PDP. Originally announced at Gamescom 2023, this series of collectible hardware consists of collaborations with SEGA, Hasbro, and Nintendo for a range of Sonic the Hedgehog, Transformers, and Pikmin-themed controllers, and a Sonic headset. But even though it's a standalone unit compared to the controllers, the PDP REALMz wired headset matches the aesthetic and still creates the same air of reminiscence.

Within the clear plastic shells of these peripherals, a scene is printed while an actual 3D figure is also encased within one of the headset earcups or controller's wings. It seems like a pretty simple idea, and it’s not the first time we’ve seen printed accessories - especially for consoles like the Nintendo Switch - but it’s the first time we’ve seen plastic figures inside hardware. This is a unique selling point and makes it well worth considering adding to your setup if you want something substantially more novel than your standard controller.

Despite being a visually impressive piece of hardware, the headsets and controllers are still completely functional and, in the case of the latter, utterly affordable in comparison to other modern controllers, setting you back around $39.99/£34.99 and upward depending on whether or not you want a wired or wireless model. Perfect for collectors on a budget, or for the targeted younger generation of gaming.

But, this is probably why it feels like such a pivotal release for someone who craves to see this side of fun hardware return to shelves. Mainstream companies like Sony and Microsoft constantly feel as though they are competing to have the sleekest, most ergonomic design for consoles and accessories. This is why I think it's essential for third-party companies to optimize this gap in the market, and create something that I’ll be able to actually use instead of just making something to look neat and collect dust on my shelf.

Glow big or go home

Analogue Pocket Glow in the Dark edition
Analogue Pocket Glow in the Dark edition

Accessories aren’t the only thing getting this treatment either. Even consoles are starting to return to this style, featuring unique quirks, colors, and formats that are setting them apart from the flagship consoles of this generation - which is one of the final things that has twisted my arm in believing this era of older tech is making a comeback.

As if getting caught with your DS under your pillow blaring Mario Kart music way past your bedtime wasn’t enough, the newest handheld release from Analogue Pocket glows in the dark. These elements aren’t just accents either; the entire console is doused, emitting a yellowish-green glow whenever in a dark room. It doesn’t feature any special designs or decals, and the main appeal is that the whole console glows in the dark, but that alone is a unique selling point, and I’d quite happily absorb one into my collection if they hadn’t already sold out.

While PDP’s REALMz hardware feels as though it’s targeting a younger generation, the Analogue Pocket feels like a premium offering for a slightly older audience. It appears to successfully encapsulate the nature of this era of consoles and accessories for those who either experienced it as it happened or those who are fondly grasping for a chance to experience it now.

But it’s important to note that these are just two examples of a whole selection of products that reflect this era. Accessories like the Nitro Deck and the NES-inspired 8BitDo Arcade Stick, and consoles like the Playdate and the Evercade are all further examples of products that have perfectly captured a modern take on older themes.

So if you find yourself longing for an experience or a product that might transport you back to your first gaming experience, the hunt might not be as farfetched as you’d think.

The best handheld consoles are worth checking out if you’re looking to shake up your setup, but if you’re looking to make the most out of your existing setup, you might also want to consider checking out the best accessories for Nintendo Switch alongside the best Xbox Series X and Series S accessories, too.