Best emulators for retro games

Do you miss that Master System or Nintendinho game? Longing to hear the noise of the plug in the arcade machine? So here are the best emulators for your retro games

There was a time when games were simpler. You went from left to right, met enemies along the way and reached a final boss and then ended the game. No DLC, no microtransactions and no complicated tutorials with fairies or anything else talking in a small voice to teach you how to use the complicated mechanics of current games. Of course they had terrible games at that time too, but even those had their fans and sometimes I miss playing them.

best emulators
Play decades of games on your PC

Many older games are available via PlayStation Now and Nintendo Switch Online, but what happens when a subscription service is no longer supported and companies stop storing games on their servers? Unless you have a DRM-free copy of an old game and a way to play it, you are hostage to game distributors and their financial interests.

But there is a way out: Emulators.

Quick FAQ

What is the best PC emulator?

For PC players, RetroArch it's like the Holy Grail of emulation. This all-in-one front end uses the libretro API to support cores for multiple systems, with a huge selection of settings to fully customize game elements and video/audio settings

-- Advertising --

What is the best emulator for playing SEGA games?

Kega Fusion has been the favorite emulator for Mega Drive games, but it also supports titles from other Sega systems such as SG-1000, SC-3000, SF-7000, Master System, Game Gear, Sega CD and 32X.

Is there an emulator for arcade games?

M it's the best way to play arcade games on your PC, but it's not particularly easy to use.

What is the best NES emulator for PC?

If you're looking for an emulator that you can use to play ROMs for Nintendo games, then go to Mesen, which has great results for NES and Famicom.

Best emulators for each system

There are multiple emulators for every retro video game console – some even support multiple systems – and a variety of operating systems and some “nice gray areas” around ROM file ownership plus some emulators that require complex setups, but if If you are looking for a way to play an old game on your computer, or even on your cell phone, see a list of the best emulators for each system.

Best GameCube and Wii Emulator: Dolphin

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android

-- Advertising --
Dolphin
Dolphin

If you're looking to emulate GameCube or Wii games, your best bet is Dolphin. He found a way to emulate Wii motion controls, so even if you don't have a Wiimote around, you can still play games that need it, like Skyward Sword and Mario Galaxy. Dolphin also emulates Nintendo's Wi-Fi connection, allowing you to add online play to compatible games.

As good as it sounds, there are some downsides. As GameCube and Wii games are a little more complicated than previous systems, the technical limitations of some computers can get in the way here. The developers recommend using a powerful CPU and GPU to avoid crashes.

Download Dolphin at website download page, but be careful here. Scroll down to the Stable Versions section and download the Windows or macOS button next to the latest update. Dolphin allows you to enable cheats, set a memory card path for saving files, and change the default resolution and screen aspect ratios. You can also enable overclocking to improve game performance and add anti-aliasing or other graphics enhancements.

By default Dolphin is configured to use the keyboard for all input commands, but you must change this. Dolphin supports wireless controllers, GameCube peripheral devices (such as DK Bongos), real GameCube controllers with an adapter, and Wiimote via Bluetooth. You can also connect multiple gamepads at the same time for local multiplayer mode.

Dolphin emulator also works on Android devices. Some games can be choppy and the Wii motion controls don't translate well to touchscreens, but it's a great choice for mobile gaming.

-- Advertising --

How to install Dolphin

You can find all versions of Dolphin here . Choose what you prefer, download it to your PC and extract the 7Z file to a folder.

Dolphin doesn't come with an installer and the folder you extracted is the actual location of the program. If you keep everything related to games in a specific folder, a dedicated partition or hard drive, you might want to move it there. You might want to create a shortcut on your desktop to the Dolphin executable to avoid having to pay a visit to this folder every time you want to run it.

To run Dolphin, double-click the “Dolphin.exe” file in your folder.

Best DS emulator: DeSmuME

Platforms: Windows, Linux, Android
Alternatives: melons, Drastic (Android, paid), iNDS (IOS)

dismantle
DeSmuME

There are many ways to play Nintendo DS games, but DeSmuME is considered the best emulator for overall performance. It can be used via the command line or as a graphical program, but the downside is the lack of a mobile version.

-- Advertising --

As an emulator, DeSmuMe offers features such as saving your games, support for screen capture, cheats and video and audio recording. The program does well to mimic the experience of the real handheld device, providing screen filters, microphone support, and customizing screen borders.

You can also use a control or customize keyboard entries and shortcut keys. And in case you're wondering how a desktop program emulates the DS touchscreen features, DeSmuMe lets you click your mouse cursor for in-game movements and interactions.

How to install DeSmuMe

Downloading DeSmuME is confusing. The first thing you see when you visit their homepage is a 2015 blog post saying that ''stable version' v0.9.11 has been released. However, when you go to the Downloads page, you see a message saying "Don't download stable version v0.9.11 because it's old from 2015!"

Instead, the Downloads page directs you to the automated builds page (as shown in this image) From this page, you can download the latest version of DeSmuME. It's weird and confusing, I know. But you should download this 'automated builds' version because there have been significant improvements since v0.9.11.

DeSmuME is a standalone program, so it does not have an installation wizard. Installation is simple:

-- Advertising --

Move the DeSmuME EXE to a common folder on your computer. I recommend Documents, Downloads or a folder on your desktop. Wherever you decide you want to place DeSmuME, create a new folder for DeSmuME. In this new folder, double-click DeSmuME EXE to open DeSmuME. The first time you open DeSmuME it will automatically create several folders for Battery, Cheats, Roms, Screenshots and StateSlots.

Best Sega Mega Drive emulator: Kega Fusion

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux
Alternatives: Mega Drive Plus

kega fusion
Kega Fusion

O Kega Fusion has been the favorite emulator for Mega Drive games, but it also supports titles from other Sega systems such as SG-1000, SC-3000, SF-7000, Master System, Game Gear, Sega CD and 32X.

As an emulator, Fusion supports multiple save slots, cheat codes, screenshots and netplay. You can also fully customize the video with screen filters as well as the system sound. Controllers can be configured for specific consoles.

How to Install Kega Fusion

Kega Fusion is a standalone program, so it does not have an installation wizard. Installation is simple: just extract Kega Fusion from its zip file. IMPORTANT! Kega Fusion should be placed in a common folder on your computer. I recommend Important , Downloads or create a folder on your desktop. If you place Kega Fusion elsewhere on the main C drive, you can restrict it to read-only access. This prevents Kega Fusion from saving anything.

-- Advertising --

Best arcade game emulator: MAME

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux

Mame
M

O M it's the best way to play arcade games on your PC, but it's not particularly easy to use. The emulator offers a simple graphical interface, but it is clumsy and confusing. Your best bet is to activate MAME via the command line, no matter how adverse you are to coding, or download a compatible third-party front-end.

Consult the developers' MAME documentation to better understand the setup process and how to use the program. Basically, what you need to do is extract the MAME file into a folder, download ROMs and extract them into the “roms” folder provided by the emulator. MAME must be able to see your ROM and play the game via the command line or user interface.

As an emulator, MAME allows you to play on many Capcom, Namco, Neo Geo and Sega arcade systems, in addition to some older home consoles and personal computers. MAME even offers a page with ROMs that can be downloaded safely, if you prefer to avoid legal gray areas. Keep in mind that not all ROMs will work perfectly, so developers also provide a ROM page. FAQ for specific game issues you may encounter.

If that sounds too complicated, you can use a multi-system front end like RetroArch (PC) or OpenEmu (Mac), which uses the MAME core for arcade games and does most of the work for you.

-- Advertising --

How to install MAME

Guide how to Install the MAME emulator.

  • Download the MAME emulator

    First, you must download the emulator binaries from the official website. M.

  • Install MAME emulator

    When the download is finished, you will need to unzip the obtained files. Create a folder that will contain the extracted file and, when prompted, be sure to place the emulator content in this directory. For example, you can create and use the directory “C:\mame”.

    -- Advertising --
  • Put the ROM games in the MAME folder

    You should know that all ROM files come in compressed formats such as .zip or .rar. Fortunately, MAME does not require you to unzip downloaded files. All you need to do is simply place them in the “C:\mame\roms” folder.

Start the game with the MAME emulator

The next step will be to launch the DOS command prompt. So go to the Start menu and select Command Prompt. When the required window appears, be sure to type the command “CMD” (without the quotes) and confirm your action by pressing Enter.

To go back to the root folder, you will need to type “cd \ ”.

If you want to access the directory “ C: \ mame ”, use the following command: “ cd \ mame ”.

Now it's time for you to start MAME. To do this, type “mame”, place a space and indicate the name of the ROM file you want to play at this time. For example, “mame puzzle bobble”.

-- Advertising --

Best PS1 and Sega Saturn emulator: Mednafen

Platforms: Windows, Linux
Alternatives: PCSX-R, ePSXe

Mednafen
Mednafen

Mednafen is a multi-system program that leads the pack in emulating the original PlayStation, Sega Saturn and TurboGrafx-16 / PC Engine. It also supports titles for Game Boy Advance, Neo Geo Pocket, NES, Sega Mega Drive, Super NES and other systems for various hits.

But it lacks a graphical interface, so setting things up won't be the most user-friendly process. Basically, you need to install Mednafen.exe file and purchase the appropriate BIOS files, which can be found on the web.

  • PlayStation requires scph5500.bin, scph5501.bin and scph5502.bin files;
  • Saturn requires sega_101.bin and mpr-17933.bin.

If you want a PlayStation 2 emulator, we have an article dedicated to PCSX2

Add these files to the “firmware” folder that Mednafen creates. You can download your ROMs, extract the files and drag the .cue file from the ROM folder to the emulator .exe file to run the game.

-- Advertising --

Despite the lack of a friendlier interface, the emulator supports many features, including save states, rewind, screen filters, cheat codes, screenshots and video recording, hotkey remapping, controls connectivity and netplay. For help setting up the program, playing games with multiple discs, learning its hotkeys, or accessing any of its features, there is documentation on the Mednafen website and a wiki with instrucciones.

Other standalone emulators are easier to use, but none guarantee as consistent results as Mednafen. If this all sounds too complicated, go to RetroArch (PC) or OpenEmu (Mac). These front-ends use the Mednafen core for PlayStation emulation. Its graphical interfaces should make playing PS1 games much easier, although you still need the proper BIOS files.

How to install Mednafen

Mednafen is a standalone program, so it does not have an installation wizard. Installation is simple: just extract Mednafen from its zip file. After downloading it, just extract it into the Mednafen folder. When everything is ready, the Mednafen paste should look like this.

IMPORTANT! Mednafen should be placed in a common folder on your computer. I recommend Documents, Downloads or create a folder on your desktop. If you place Mednafen elsewhere on your main C drive, you may be restricting it to read-only access. This prevents Mednafen from saving anything.

To open Mednafen (or rather the Mednaffe front-end), double click on the Mednaffe EXE

-- Advertising --

Best NES emulator: Mesen

Platforms: Windows, Linux
Alternatives: Nestopia EU, punes, FCEUX

bladder
bladder

If you're looking for an emulator that you can use to play ROMs for Nintendo games, then go to Mesen, which has great results for NES and Famicom. Mesen also supports the Famicom Disk System, VS. System, Dendy and various regional variants. Built-in features include video and audio recording, screen captures, debugging, netplay, and rewind.

Improve your gameplay even further through palette filters, sound and video customization, and overclocking. If you find the original NES graphics hard to appreciate, there are texture replacement packs you can load up to improve the graphics. Developers also make available documentation to help him.

How to install Mesen

There is no installer for Mesen – run the Mesen.exe application and a first-run setup wizard will be shown.

data storage location : This section of the wizard allows you to select where you prefer to keep Mesen files.

-- Advertising --

Input mappings : Select which input types you want to use to play. There are built-in presets for:

  • Xbox controllers
  • PS4 controllers
  • WASD keyboard layout
  • Arrow keyboard layout

You can select multiple presets at once, but only a single keyboard layout.

Create a shortcut on my desktop : Check this option if you want to add a Mesen shortcut to your desktop.

Best multi-system emulator for Mac: OpenEmu

Platforms: MacOS
Alternatives: RetroArch (for Windows)

openemu
OpenEmu

Instead of worrying about which emulator is for which ROM, turn to the OpenEmu, a multifunctional front-end with multiple emulator cores integrated in a user-friendly interface. This allows you to easily play any game compatible with the platform, without ever having to fiddle with complicated emulators or worry about compatibility issues.

-- Advertising --

OpenEmu is a Mac exclusive that works with a long list of systems including: Atari, DS, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, GameCube, NES, N64, PS1, PSP, Sega Mega Drive, Super NES and more. The program contains a game library and comes with a collection of home games. You can also add filters, configure controllers, take screenshots and keep several different save states at the same time. Setup is easy, but we have a complete guide to get you started.

How to install OpenEmu

While setting up an emulator can seem daunting, OpenEmu installs like any other program on your Mac – you drag and drop it into the applications folder. Then, just start the program, select the systems (the “cores”) you want and click the Finish button. The entire process takes no more than a few minutes.

Best PlayStation Portable Emulator (PSP): PPSSPP

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android

ppspp
PPSSPP

PPSSPP is the emulator you will use to play PlayStation Portable games on a computer or mobile device. It's a free program, but you can also buy PPSSPP Gold to support developers. Whether on a PC or phone, the emulator includes a customizable game library that will list all the titles you've previously uploaded for easy access. You can also download homebrew games directly from the emulator.

Multiple input options let you use a mouse on your PC and touch screen controls for mobile. PPSSPP includes basic features like saving states, screenshots and cheat codes. You can record audio and video and play games online with an integrated chat tool. Optimize your gaming experience using screen filters, VSync, upscaling, frameskip and other settings to make these games look their best.

-- Advertising --

How to install PPSSPP

PPSSPP is a standalone program, so it does not have an installation wizard. Installation is simple: just extract the PPSSPP from its zip file. After downloading it, just extract it into the PPSSPP folder. When everything is ready, the Mednafen paste should look like this

Best Nintendo 64 Emulator (N64): Mupen64Plus

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android
Alternatives: Project64

Mupen64plus
Mupen64Plus

If you're looking to play Super Mario 64 or GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64, look no further than Mupen64Plus. This emulator supports saving states, taking screenshots and has built-in cheats. Keyboard shortcuts support various system functions. Advanced features like online play and graphical enhancements like anti-aliasing and VSync are also included.

Download and install the program from GitHub ( Google Play for Android) and it's ready to use – no complex execution commands and interface plugin required. ROMs will not be stored inside the GUI, so it's a good idea to organize your games in a centralized location for easy access. By default, Mupen64Plus assigns all inputs to your keyboard, but you can also connect up to four controllers.

How to install Mupen64Plus:

  1. First create this directory: C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Mupen64Plus
  2. Copy all the .ini and .cfg files that are in the file you downloaded to this folder you created and then create a folder called “save”.
  3. To play you can do the following:
    • Drag and drop your ROM onto mupen64plus.exe.
    • Alternatively, associate the .n64 / .z64 / .v64 files with mupen64plus.exe through the Default Applications and double click the ROMs to play them.
  4. You can change plug-ins and settings by editing the mupen64plus.cfg file.

Best Dreamcast Emulator: Redream

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android
Alternatives: DEmul, flycast

-- Advertising --
Network
Network

For Dreamcast games, Network is your best option. The developers announce the emulator's compatibility with a list of games and how well they work with the program. Redream also does not require BIOS files or controls settings. The emulator allows you to load games into the program's library for easy access. You can then switch titles mid-game, apply cheat codes, connect a controller and even remap buttons.

The basic emulator is free, but this is a commercial program, so the developers want you to upgrade to the $5 Premium edition. If you decide to pay, you get access to multiple save slots for the same game and add high definition games with 1080p and 4K support. There is also an official Android version.

How to install Redream

Enter the website and download Redream. Once the download is complete, you need to unzip the file containing the emulator. Requires no installation or anything. You just have to unzip the file and you're ready to play, that's it.

Best multi-system emulator for PC: RetroArch

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android
Alternatives: OpenEmu (for MacOS)

retroarch
retroarch

For PC players, RetroArch it's like the Holy Grail of emulation. This all-in-one front end uses the libretro API to support cores for multiple systems, with a huge selection of settings to fully customize game elements and video/audio settings. However, RetroArch lacks a user-friendly configuration scheme, requiring you to download individual cores and select which one you want to use before launching a game.

-- Advertising --

As an emulator, RetroArch supports an impressive number of systems, including Atari, DS, Game Boy, GameCube, MAME, NES, Nintendo 64, PlayStation, SNES, Wii and more. The front end supports basic features such as state saving, screen filters, screen captures and video recording, as well as controller and hotkey customization. More advanced features include netplay, custom achievements, rewind, fast forward and slow motion, user interface customization, and integrated streaming.

Graphics settings allow you to adjust refresh rate, screen resolution, aspect ratio, VSync, anti-latency, anti-aliasing and anti-ghosting features. RetroArch also gives you full control over audio controls and sound mixing. For basic configuration or advanced configurations, see the library documentation.

How to install RetroArch

Download RetroArch from RetroArch.com if you haven't already. Double-click Install EXE to start the installation.

  1. At the welcome screen, click Next.
  2. On the License Agreement screen, check to agree and click Next.
  3. The Install Location screen is an important step. RetroArch does not standardize its installation in the programs folder as programs normally do. The default is your “AddData” folder. If you're not computer savvy, you might want to have RetroArch installed in an easily accessible location, such as in the Documents folder. This makes things easier for you when you need to copy BIOS files and find your screenshots. Otherwise, if it's okay to have RetroArch in “AddData”, click Next.
  4. On the Optional Components screen, this step is only important if you have an older computer. By 'older' I mean probably mid 2010 onwards. Installing DirectX helps prevent video related issues. Even if you have a new computer, installing it doesn't hurt. Anyway, if you think your computer might need it, check “DirectX 9.0c Runtime”. Click Next.
  5. If you chose to install DirectX, the next step will start installing DirectX in a new installation wizard. Just click Next, Next, Next for each screen. BUT, make sure on the last screen to remove the selection that installs the Bing search bar. Pay attention to this detail.
  6. 6. On the Start Menu Folder screen, click Install.

Wait patiently for RetroArch to install. And that's it! On the final screen, click Finish. RetroArch is now a new program on the Windows Start menu and a shortcut icon on the desktop.

So, let us know if you want more settings for other console emulators. Also comment on your favorite games. Take the opportunity to learn more about the PC, iOS, Apple, Microsoft,  PlayStation, Nintendo e Sega on our website.

-- Advertising --
Avatar of paulo factory

Paulo Fabris is a journalist, writer, RPG player, gamer, cosplayer, nerd and fan of anime since the time of TV Manchete.