The best console emulators (NES, SNES, Genesis, and more)
The best emulators allow you to replay classic games from systems like the Super Nintendo and PlayStation 2 on modern hardware — and usually with some enhancements to boot. Because emulators often meddle in a legal gray area, it can be hard to find emulators that run classic games consistently.
Thankfully, there’s one go-to emulator for most platforms. In addition to RetroArch, which covers a large range of retro consoles, there are also several stand-alone emulators that can fake more recent hardware — even the Nintendo Switch.
One to rule them all: RetroArch
In the past, emulation was, more often than not, something of a juggling act. To play games that appeared on different consoles, you had to install and configure multiple programs — one for each console you wished to emulate. That could be a headache. These days, things have become streamlined and easier overall, thanks to a program known as RetroArch.
RetroArch is a program that acts as a hub for all your emulation needs. With it, you can download and install various emulation “cores” to the system, organize your ROMs and game files, and configure your experience through a single front end that makes emulation a breeze … once it’s set up. RetroArch’s open-ended flexibility gives the user a ton of control with which to customize and fine-tune their emulation experience, and for the most part, it’s easy to use.
From the download directory on the RetroArch, select your operating system and download the appropriate compressed files. Extract it into an empty folder, and launch the program by clicking the RetroArch executable or application file. If you don’t have a controller plugged in, use the arrow keys to navigate about the menu, with the X key taking the role of the A button and the Z key taking the role of the B button by default.
Once inside, you’ll need to install some cores. You can actually install them from directly within RetroArch via the Online Updater. Once there, select Core Updater and scroll through the list of available systems.
The breadth of options available for RetroArch can make it overwhelming to use, however, and some emulators require extra steps for installation. Because there are often multiple cores available for each system supported by RetroArch, we’ve selected our top picks to save you some guesswork and allow you to get straight to your nostalgic waxing. If you’re planning on using any of the systems below, this is by far the easiest way to emulate.
|Nintendo Entertainment System||Nestopia UE|
|Super Nintendo Entertainment System||SNES-mercury|
|Sega||Genesis X Plus|
You’ll still need the ROM files for the games you want to play, but because of their varying legal status, we won’t be sharing any links here. Suffice to say, they aren’t hard to find, but remember that you’re likely only allowed to use ROMs for games you already own, depending on where you live. Save your ROMs in a folder that’s separated into subfolders by console. In RetroArch, navigate to Settings, select Directory, and choose File Browser Dir. Select the folder with your ROMs in it, and you should be ready to load them up.
A stand-alone emulator is likely the right choice if you’re looking to emulate just a single system, though, or if you’re put off by RetroArch for whatever reason. Luckily, we’ve included stand-alone picks for consoles and operating systems that are not currently supported by RetroArch. Check out each selection below for further details.
Nintendo Entertainment System (NES): FCEUX
The NES was revolutionary and spawned several of the most iconic video game franchises of all time, including Super Mario Bros, Mega Man, Final Fantasy, and TheLegend of Zelda. And even though it is far less powerful than most smartphones today, it’s still just as awesome for playing the best NES games.
The FCEUX emulator is the go-to emulator of choice for most of the NES community, and it couldn’t be easier to install and use. Simply download FCEUX from the Downloads page, use Ctrl + O or Open from the File menu, and select the ROM you want to play. There’s no need to extract them; like a lot of older ROMs, FCEUX can play them straight from the zip or 7zip package.
The all-in-one application offers features for both the casual and more advanced gamer, providing user-friendly tools for debugging, video recording, ROM-hacking, and creating speedruns. It’s essentially a merger of various forks — when developers take the source code of one piece of software and use it to develop something else — of FCE Ultra, a previous NES emulator. This means that it combines different elements from the assorted forks to create more advanced emulation software. Current ports include Windows, MacOS, and Linux, among others.
Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES): SNES9X
SNES9X is the clear victor in the battle for the ultimate SNES emulator. It’s among the most compatible of any SNES emulator — it’s capable of running even the later Super Famicom releases — and also comes equipped with a ton of great features that have been continually honed and refined over the years, such as image upscaling, video filters, cheats, and online multiplayer. The Turbo Mode is another awesome feature for power leveling and fast-forwarding through games that seem to move along at a snail’s pace. Ports include everything from Windows and MacOS to mobile versions for iOS and Android. SNES9X is also available as a core for RetroArch, should you choose to use it over bsnes-mercury.
Some of the best SNES games included Super Metroid, Chrono Trigger, Donkey Kong Country, and dozens of others, and you can play them all on SNES9X.
Nintendo 64: Project 64
Project 64 is one of the most compatible Nintendo 64 emulators out there and doesn’t require any sort of BIOS image like its PlayStation counterpart. The default plugins, though rather low-level in nature, work surprisingly well, closely mimicking the 64’s original audio and video components. The emulator isn’t too heavy on features, though there is multiplayer support, cheat functionality, and an intuitive tool for altering the aspect ratio without any unnecessary cropping or stretching that would compromise the original viewing experience. The emulator does a nice job of recreating the experience if you have a decent graphics card and RAM. It’s a straightforward emulator that allows you to play some of the best N64 games.
Nintendo GameCube and Wii: Dolphin
Dolphin is the one-and-only GameCube and Wii emulation software you should consider, supporting some of the best GameCube games and Wii games of all time. The software performs just as well, if not better than the original consoles ever did, and comes loaded with some great features.
The trick here is that emulating Gamecube and Wii hardware requires a lot of computing horsepower. Only those with already impressive gaming machines will be able to achieve consistent performance. The FAQ page on the Dolphin Emulator site should help you navigate any issues that arise, as well as determine hardware compatibility.
In addition to anti-aliasing and quick-save functionality, you can also play games in 1080p high definition, a feature the actual Gamecube and Wii lacked. Even syncing your Nunchuck is a simple two-click process, assuming your computer is equipped with a cheap Bluetooth receiver. Sure, it has a few bugs here and there, but the open-source software is constantly being updated and enhanced to address various flaws and compatibility issues. It may be your only choice for a GameCube and Wii emulator, but it’s also a terrific one, available for RetroArch, Windows, MacOS, Android, and Linux.
Gameboy, Gameboy Color, and Gameboy Advance: VBA-M
There may be a plethora of Game Boy systems out there, but one emulator seems to fit the bill better than any other: VBA-M. Like the FCEUX emulator, VBA-M merges the best elements of multiple Game Boy forks into an all-in-one emulator (both as a core for RetroArch and stand-alone), featuring both grayscale and color options. VBA-M is available from SourceForge, and at the time of publishing, it’s being updated frequently, though the project has moved to GitHub.
Other noteworthy tools include various graphic filters, debugging tools, screenshot utilities, real-time IPS patching, a full-screen mode, auto-fire support, and a fast-forward button akin to some of the other more popular emulators on our list. Despite being spearheaded by multiple people at different times, and a general lack of updates in the past several years, the software has been ported to Windows, MacOS, and Linux systems as well as the GameCube and Wii. The stand-alone emulator requires the latest version of Microsoft DirectX to run properly, so be sure to update the software if you haven’t already.
Nintendo DS (and DSi): DeSmuME
DeSmuME is the best DS core for RetroArch, but it does have a few limitations, especially when compared to stand-alone emulators. Most notably, its DSi compatibility is lackluster, and the RetroArch core version doesn’t support BIOS files. However, those minor limitations aside, DeSmuME is one of the best emulators for DS emulation. It’s simple to set up and use, has a handful of graphical and audio options to tweak, and even supports GBA emulation.
Citra is a work in progress, but it’s come along surprisingly fast. You won’t be able to run any games at full speed, and even if you did, it’s likely they will be full of errors or glitches, or even completely lack any sound playback. It’s not unreasonable to think that you’ll be playing 3DS games on your PC at full speed and compatibility in the relatively near future, however. Now, this is of course very exciting, but it bears a massive caveat: The 3DS is still an active console. Nintendo is developing and releasing games for the system. This makes obtaining ROMs to run on the emulator even more precarious.
Wii U: CEMU
Like the 3DS, Wii U emulation is in the early stages, with around 50% of the Wii U library playable, and requiring extremely powerful PC hardware due to the high resource needs. However, Wii U emulation does exist, and it’s actually coming along at a surprisingly quick pace, even faster than 3DS emulation in some respects, despite the more complex hardware. The sole Wii U emulator is CEMU.
A few months ago, programmers could barely get games to load; now, with the latest version of CEMU on particularly beefy systems with a fair amount of configuration, some users have gotten games like Mario Kart 8 and Twilight Princess HD to run relatively smoothly. Other games, like Mario 3D World or Splatoon, can at least be started and might even load into the game, but are currently unplayable. We wouldn’t expect to find many of these games all that easily either, since they are still being made and sold by Nintendo, meaning the company is more likely to actively stop any attempts to pirate their software. That said, given the speed at which development seems to be moving, within the next year or two, a decently equipped PC may be a feasible Wii U emulation machine.
Nintendo Switch: Yuzu
Yuzu comes from the same makers as Citra, and unsurprisingly, development on the platform is moving at a brisk pace. The vast majority of the Switch library is either unplayable or nearly unplayable, but there are a few games you can give a shot. Super Mario Odyssey and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate work, but not well, while some indie titles like Super Meat Boy and Shovel Knight run with little to no issues. The bigger issue is finding ROMs for Switch. The console is only a few years old, and Nintendo shows no signs of slowing down development for it. If you want ROMs right now, you’ll need to resort to piracy, which we don’t recommend, even if you own the physical game.
Sega Genesis: Kega Fusion
Kega Fusion is the premier choice when it comes to emulating Sega games on your computer. Although it doesn’t have emulation options for the Saturn and Dreamcast, sadly, the comprehensive emulator still can run games fairly accurately from any other mainstream Sega console (i.e., Genesis, Game Gear, Sega CD, etc.). That being said, Fusion is compatible with almost every Sega game ever made for those systems and features all of the basic features we come to expect from a rock-solid emulator, including save states, cheat support, audio and video capture, online play, and various gamepad support.
The audio may sound a little off from time to time (the Yamaha YM2612 sound chip isn’t the easiest thing to accurately emulate), but the video is still as pixel-like as we remember it. Full-screen mode, upscaling, and various rendering filters are also at your disposal, and ports are available for Windows, MacOS, and Linux systems.
PlayStation and PlayStation 2: PCSX and PCSX 2
Truth be told, there is no perfect PlayStation emulator out there, but the PCSX-Reloaded does a decent job of mimicking the original console. The emulator touts a nice set of standard features and robust compatibility that work accurately with most games, but also requires a few video plugins and an official PlayStation BIOS image in order to function properly — something that is technically illegal to download and distribute online. The stand-alone emulator supports Windows, MacOS, and Linux, and a core for RetroArch known as PCSX-Rearmed. Although your graphics card doesn’t need to be top of the line, you’re going to need a bit more power under the hood when you make the jump to emulating fully-fledged 3D games. Emulating PS games and games for subsequent consoles is not as straightforward as the earlier systems, but it can still be done.
The PCSX2 is basically your only option when it comes to emulating classic PS2 games on your computer. The software is compatible with most PS2 titles and is still being actively developed by the good folks who built the original PCSX. You will need to snag a BIOS file and a few plugins before you can play (which is just as legally suspect as downloading ROMs/ISOs), but the game does a decent job of capturing the proper speed given that the software is trying to replicate the PS2’s multiple-core processor.
PlayStation Portable: PPSSPP
When it comes to PSP emulation, PPSSPP is really your only option, and for good reason: The software runs incredibly well. On decent PC hardware, PSP games look and run better. The emulator has the capability of running games at twice their original resolution, effectively removing the “jaggies” on polygonal models that were caused by the PSP’s lower-resolution screen. In addition to that, the software is able to boost the resolution on certain textures that may have appeared blurry on the handheld’s screen. Unlike emulators for Sony’s home consoles, the PPSSPP doesn’t require any legally questionable BIOS files to run. It’s also available on the Google Play Store for Android.
It also has a number of fine-tuning options, as well as an impressive JIT (“just-in-time recompiler,” software that simulates PSP machine code). In some ways, the PPSSPP might be the better way to enjoy the PSP’s best games (if you’re willing to sacrifice the mobility of the original system, that is). That said, PSP emulation is tricky, and not every game is fully compatible, so keep that in mind. PPSSPP is available on Windows, Mac, Linux, and a vast array of other operating systems and devices, and is also available as a core for RetroArch.
Arcade: Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME)
MAME is a great option for emulating classic arcade games without the quarters. The software is supposedly intended strictly for preservation and historical purposes, but that can’t be properly done without actually playing the games in all their glory. Features are pretty minimal — aside from a full-screen mode — and stay true to their arcade roots despite technological advancements and the increased ROM compatibility over the years. MAME also supports Neo-Geo games that are difficult to emulate anywhere else, but unfortunately, the software hasn’t received an overhaul in a good while. You can also use MAME to emulate and create your own in-home arcade machines. It is available on Windows, MacOS, and Linux, and as a core for RetroArch.
Questions about the best emulators
Where can you find the best emulators?
If you want to play retro console, arcade, or PC games, you can find the best emulators through RetroArch. It includes dozens of “cores” that allow you to play a large swatch of retro games. If you want to play games on more recent hardware, you’ll need to seek out a list of the best stand-alone console emulators.
Why do people use emulators?
Emulators help with video game preservation. As hardware and games get older and more difficult to find, they become more expensive. Emulation offers a way to play these games without a massive investment, as well as the option to play with updated visuals on modern hardware.
What game systems can you find emulators for?
You can find emulators for most retro consoles and all Nintendo consoles. That includes the NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, GameCube, Wii, Wii U, Game Boy, Nintendo DS and 3DS, and the Nintendo Switch. There are also emulators for the PS1, PS2, and PS3, as well as the Sega Genesis and arcade machines.
RetroArch Emulates Nearly Every Classic Gaming Console on Android
Android: We love retro gaming, and Android's always been a great platform for emulating the classics but multiple emulators were required to get the job done. Now you can download RetroArch and emulate nearly every classic console in a single app.
RetroArch emulates many systems. Here's the full list:
- PlayStation 1 (emulator: PCSX ReARMed)
- Super Nintendo (emulator: SNES9x Next)
- Nintendo Entertainment System (emulator: FCEUmm / NEStopia)
- GameBoy / GameBoy Color (emulator: Gambatte)
- GameBoy Advance (emulator: VBA Next)
- Arcade (emulator: Final Burn Alpha)
- Neo Geo Pocket Color (emulator: Mednafen NGP)
- Virtual Boy (emulator: Mednafen VB)
- Sega Genesis/Mega Drive (emulator: Genesis Plus GX)
- Sega Master System/Sega Game Gear (emulator: Genesis Plus GX)
- Sega CD / Mega CD (emulator: Genesis Plus GX)
- PC Engine / PC Engine CD (emulator: Mednafen PCE Fast)
- WonderSwan Color / Crystal (emulator: Mednafen Wonderswan)
- Cave Story (game engine: NX Engine)
- Doom 1 / Doom 2 / Ultimate Doom / Final Doom (game engine: prBoom)
Like most emulators, RetroArch features on-screen controls for touch-based play. It also includes support for several USB and Bluetooth gamepads (like the iCade). RetroArch uses your GPU for maximum performance, you can customize the touchscreen overlays, the emulation cores are expandable (you can even add your own), and it's completely free (no cost, no ads). If you've wanted to turn your Android smartphone or tablet into a retro gaming device, this is the emulator to get.
RetroArch (Free) | Google Play Store
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What ROMs does RetroArch support?
What ROMs does RetroArch support?
RetroArch: the ultimate all-in-one video game emulator
- Atari 2600.
- Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
- Sega Genesis, also known as Mega Drive.
- Game Boy, Game Boy Color (GBC), Game Boy Advance (GBA)
- Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
- PlayStation (PS, PS1, PSX), PlayStation 2 (PS2), PlayStation Portable (PSP)
- Nintendo 64 (N64)
Can RetroArch emulate ps2?
The RetroArch team noted it’s getting “quite usable” and it shouldn’t be too much longer until it gets a first release with support for libretro and RetroArch so you can have another emulator under one roof. …
Is RetroArch illegal?
It’s legal, to my knowledge, to make a ROM from your own copy of a game, but downloading a ROM of that game I believe is a sort of grey area. Just a technicality, but I done believe it’s illegal to download them. It’s illegal to run a website that distributes them.
Can RetroArch emulate Wii?
Yes, there’s a core of the Dolphin emulator that emulates both Wii and Gamecube. The libretro dolphin core works pretty dang well now with a decent PC. …
Can RetroArch run GameCube?
How to get it. Start RetroArch. Go to Online Updater -> Update Cores. Download ‘Gamecube/Wii (Dolphin)’ from the list.
Can RetroArch emulate Xbox?
RetroArch has been ported to many platforms. It can run on several PC operating systems (Windows, macOS, Linux), home consoles (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, etc.), handheld consoles (PlayStation Vita, Nintendo 3DS, etc.), on smartphones (Android, iOS, etc.), single-board computers (Raspberry Pi, ODROID, etc.)
Can RetroArch run GameCube games?
That said, it works pretty well just for playing games (especially Gamecube games), but if you’re a Dolphin power-user, you will likely find it lacking in exposure of options, controller mapping, peripherals (no native Wiimote support, for example), etc.
Can PS3 play GameCube games?
No, it’s not possible. No, but you could buy a cheap wii and play gamecube games on it, with original gamecube controller,… Or you use an emulator on pc.
Can PS3 emulate Wii?
Technically, the Wii can be emulated on the PS3.
Can PS3 emulate Dreamcast?
does a dreamcast emulator exist for ps3? Dreamcast is NOT gonna happen. Check out Retroarch and its available cores. Ps3 isn’t powerful enough to emulate dreamcast, it can’t even do n64.
What systems can PS3 emulate?
Emulators on PS3
- Virtual Boy
- Nintendo 64
- GameCube / Wii
- Sega Genesis
Can you play PS2 games on Wii?
No, there is no PS2 emulator for Wii, and it’s never going to happen. This Wii is just not strong enough to emulate it. There is however a PSX emulator coming out.
What can PS3 emulate?
Can pcsx2 play PS3 games?
If you would like to do that you would need a ps3-emulator since these games are only playable with a ps3. If you have an old ps3 (fat) and are using the hardware/software emulator to play original ps2 games. And now you want to play them on your pc you can use pcsx2 but need to find the bios.
Can PS3 emulate Xbox?
As of yet, there is no PS3 or Xbox 360 emulator that can run games.
Will there ever be a PS3 emulator?
RPCS3 is a free and open-source in-development video game console emulator and debugger for the Sony PlayStation 3. The emulator currently runs on Windows, Linux and FreeBSD operating systems, allowing PlayStation 3 games and software to be played and debugged on a personal computer.
Can you emulate PS3 games?
PS3 games can be emulated using RPCS3, an open-source emulator written in C++ for Windows and Linux machines. If you want to emulate PS3 (or even PS2) games, you’ll probably want a decent CPU and GPU for a decent framerate and quality.
Can PS3 games work on Android?
You can play PS3 games on your Android device but the process is fairly complicated and requires hardware that will make emulating Ps3 games useless in most cases. To play PS3 games on your Android device you will be needing the PS4.
Can I play PS3 on my phone?
Register the PSP™ system or the mobile phone to be used for remote play with the PS3™ system. Follow the on-screen instructions to register (pair) the devices.
Can I play PS2 games on Android?
After years, an app developer made an emulator app that is capable of running PS2 files on Android. Many newbies are asking questions about playing PS2 games on android, the only answer is yes. Anybody can run Play Station 2 video games on Android phones using the app called Damonps2.
RetroArch (formerly SSNES) is an open-source, multi-platform libretrofrontend written in C or C++. It is designed to be fast, lightweight, and portable.
- Main article: libretro#Cores
- Consistency across multiple platforms, using the same UI structure and a fully featured command line interface.
- Gamepad controlled menu system with multiple styles available, such as XMB or Material UI. (There's also a QT-based 'WIMP' desktop-style interface for PC platforms that was announced before and released in version 1.7.3.)
- Gamepad auto-configuration profiles, so that gamepads are mapped automatically when connected. XInput controller autoconfig is built into the application, with other controller types available as external profiles.
- Per-core and per-game configuration overrides
- Custom resolution and refresh rate for video output, with exclusive fullscreen mode and monitor index for multi-monitor setups.
- Dynamic rate control for smooth audio and video, even when the game's output rate is different from your system. Especially obvious with systems like GBA that do not run 60Hz.
- Basic fast forward, SRAM saving, savestate, etc. It supports serialization of the emulation state which is used to provide real-time rewind and netplay.
- Pixel shaders, primarily using Cg and GLSL, with HLSL on Xbox 360. The shader format it uses is flexible and fairly easy to use, allowing for complex multi-pass effects with adjustable runtime parameters. Also supports traditional video filter plugins that are run in software.
- Supports audio DSP filter plugins through .dsp configuration files.
- Custom overlay support.
- FFmpeg recording and playback support. It can record either the native resolution output of the core or the post-processed output of the frontend. Playback is handled through an internal FFmpeg libretro core.
- Streaming support. By adding your twitch account to RetroArch and making some small setup, it is possible to stream on Twitch the content of the game played.
- GGPO-like netplay (latency hiding rollback). It should be lag-free if everyone involved emulates at full speed, doesn't live on opposite sides of the world and has decent internet speeds. It uses peer-to-peer UDP and supports two players. Due to rollback, it requires a fair amount of CPU power to run, and only works with cores that support serialization.
- Options for decreasing input latency related to vsync by eliminating buffering by the video driver, as well as using frame delay to delay polling of inputs until right before a vsync occurs on the display.
- Run-ahead to reduce latency. This setting allows cycle-accuracy emulators to run ahead of mandatory 1 or 2 frames of input lag. It allows emulators to achieve better latency than original hardware (Official debut in version 1.7.2).
- Main article: Building RetroArch
- Main article: Using RetroArch
RetroArch for Dummies
- Main article: Dummies Guide: RetroArch
Netplay is now usable from the menu in current builds, under Settings>Netplay Options. You can get it to work with the command line or the long-deprecated RetroArch-Phoenix Launcher as well in older builds.
You must specify whether you will be hosting (server) or joining (client) the game. If joining, you must also enter the host's IP address in the field below. Make sure your firewall is open on port 55435 (default; you can change it if you like) and that the port is forwarded in your router, if applicable. You can also specify 'spectator mode,' which will allow an arbitrary number of spectators to join and watch you play without being able to play themselves.
Delay frames denote the maximum number of frames RetroArch's libretro cores will need to emulate at once to maintain synchronization due to actual network latency. You can figure out an appropriate ballpark for this number by pinging the other player and dividing the time (in milliseconds) by 16 (roughly the number of milliseconds in a frame from a game running at 60 fps). If the gameplay is a bit choppy, try increasing the number of delay frames a bit.
Similar to the GGPO platform, RetroArch creates a constant stream of savestates which, along with button presses, are exchanged and compared between the server and client machines. If the savestates start to diverge, the game rolls back in time to a point where they both agree and then the libretro cores emulates the missing frames all at once to get back to the appropriate spot. This gives the illusion of completely lagless inputs, which is invaluable for twitchy, fine controls.
If you try to connect to a server and it immediately says client disconnected, open your log and make sure your ROMs match exactly (it will complain about a hash mismatch otherwise). If it gives you a weird time-out error, just close the window and try to connect again and it should work itself out (sometimes excessive spikes in network latency can cause the states to diverge catastrophically, resulting in this error).
Alternative Launchers and Frontends
There are plenty of other frontends that can either work as a launcher for RetroArch or you can replace it entirely with another libretro frontend.
- Main article: Frontends
Does emulate consoles what retroarch
RetroArch: Steam Release, Cores and Where to Download This Retro Gaming Tool
RetroArch by Libretro has been popping up on people's radar lately thanks to its announced launch on Steam. The tool had already gained wide popularity among people looking for an easy emulation solution on their platform of choice, and it could soon reach a much bigger audience.
For the uninitiated, RetroArch can be a little confusing at first. It isn't an emulator, and it doesn't come with any games. But it does allow you to easily play retro games on not only your Windows, Mac or Linux PC, but also your PS3, 3DS, GameCube and more.
Intrigued? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about one of the biggest things in retro gaming.
How does RetroArch run old games? And what are RetroArch cores?
As mentioned, RetroArch isn't an emulator. Instead, this program houses and unifies the settings for multiple emulators that already exist. When you run RetroArch, you can download and install "cores" (emulators) from a vast library that covers most retro systems from about GameCube and before.
There's no need to visit each emulator's site and acquire them individually, as RetroArch lets you download and install compatible emulators from within the program itself. And as usual, these emulator cores do not include game files (ROMs or ISOs). You must obtain those preferably through the legal route of extracting the files from a legal copy that you already own.
If you're deep into emulation already on PC, you may already know that running multiple programs — each with its own controller settings and resolutions, hot keys and other quirks — can get cumbersome. RetroArch tries to solve that by tying everything together into one easy-to-use program.
What are the benefits of RetroArch over regular emulation?
Aside from the convenience of unifying your settings among emulators, RetroArch provides an easy-to-use interface to help you navigate all of the different emulators and games you have running. More importantly, RetroArch provides a solution for running emulators on systems other than PC, and it sports a controller-friendly clone of the PS3 XMB menu design.
MORE: The Best Games of 2019 (So Far)
RetroArch can also improve the performance of games when using certain cores with a "run-ahead" feature. This uses RAM-loaded save states to reduce input lag as much as possible. RetroArch also supports a wide range of input devices and allows input profiles to be set across all cores.
When is the RetroArch Steam release coming? And how will it be different?
According to a July 25 post, RetroArch's Steamprogram is slated to arrive in Q3 2019. It was originally meant to arrive in July, but Libretro wants to "ensure the release is more polished and that it will meet the user expectations of your average Steam user."
The Steam release of RetroArch will start out simply as a means of launching RetroArch from inside Steam, in a sort of Russian nesting doll manner of software launching other software. But Libretro has promised that increased use of Steam functionality will happen down the road.
What platforms can run RetroArch? How do I get it running on my console?
Supported platforms for running RetroArch include PC, Mac, Android, iOS and various consoles, such as PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, GameCube, Wii, Wii U and 3DS.
The installation process can vary in how simple it is to get up and running based on your platforrm of choice, and installation may require access to a PC or smart device to get started or require extra mods to be installed on the platform. But once done, RetroArch can squeeze quite a bit more usefulness out of that old PS3 or Xbox 360 you may have laying around
The downloads page provides a complete list of currently supported platforms and installation instructions, including quick and easy YouTube videos.
Is RetroArch the best way to emulate games?
RetroArch works off of the open-source Libretro API (a programming standard), which means all of the emulators booted up through RetroArch need to conform to this standard. Work often needs to be done to emulators to make this happen, and depending on the emulator in question, this can mean that older versions of an emulator are all that's available through RetroArch.
This tool can make emulation more convenient, but it doesn't remove the usual incompatibilities and glitches you may encounter when running games on unofficial software. Emulators will always improve over time, adding compatibility for more games and smoothing out performance issues, so running the latest build of RetroArch is the best way to ensure the best performance.
If an emulator you're using in RetroArch is giving you problems, support from the emulator creators might not be easy to obtain. That can be the case with MAME, an arcade-emulation suite that has undergone heavy revisions since the last build that's available on RetroArch. Thankfully, everything, including supported cores for emulated platforms, is easily updated through RetroArch when updates are made available.
How do I know which core to use to run a game?
Emulation is always going to require a little more legwork on the player's part to get things going, and this is still true for RetroArch. If a game isn't running, you can check the RetroArch forums or the forums from the emulator's official site and see if the problem is a known issue or something affecting only your setup.
MORE: Best PC Game Controllers
If you know your way around emulators, you'll probably find the ones you like in RetroArch. But if you're completely lost, then some quick Google-fu should point you in the right direction. "SNES emulator" should return Higan as a top result, and, indeed, this is one of the best SNES emulators around.
Does RetroArch support all emulators? Can I add one that I'm using?
You won't be able to drop your existing emulators into RetroArch. You should be able to find the one you were running, but if you don't, then it's likely a work in progress, as the RetroArch platform has only grown in popularity and usage over the years.
What else does RetroArch let me do other than play old games?
Aside from playing games, RetroArch has built-in streaming and recording features and an achievement system. It can also be used to run video and audio files.
Another feature that's slowly being rolled out on PC is disc dumping. Currently supported for only PS1, Sega CD, Sega Saturn and 3DO games, this feature lets you copy game data from original game discs and load the games directly into RetroArch. And Libretro plans to later allow direct play from discs without requiring you to to copy data from them at all.
Emulator and media player frontend
|Developer(s)||The Libretro Team|
|Initial release||May 26, 2010; 11 years ago (2010-05-26)|
1.9.11 / October 10, 2021; 5 days ago (2021-10-10)
|Written in||C, C++|
|Operating system||Unix-like, Linux, Android, iOS, FreeBSD, macOS, Windows 95 and later, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo 2DS, Nintendo GameCube, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U , PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Classic, tvOS|
|Platform||IA-32 (x86), x86-64 (x64), ARMv7, AArch64, PowerPC, MIPS, Cell|
|Available in||English, Mandarin, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Vietnamese, Turkish, Arabic, Greek, Persian, Hebrew, Asturian|
|Type||Video game console emulator|
RetroArch (pronounced ) is a free and open-source, cross-platformfrontend for emulators, game engines, video games, media players and other applications. It is the reference implementation of the libretroAPI, designed to be fast, lightweight, portable and without dependencies. It is licensed under the GNU GPLv3.
RetroArch runs programs converted into dynamic libraries called libretro cores, using several user interfaces such as command-line interface, a few graphical user interfaces (GUI) optimized for gamepads (the most famous one being called XMB, a clone of Sony's XMB), several input, audio and video drivers, plus other sophisticated features like dynamic rate control, audio filters, multi-pass shaders, netplay, gameplay rewinding, cheats, etc.
RetroArch has been ported to many platforms. It can run on several PC operating systems (Windows, macOS, Linux), home consoles (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, etc.), handheld consoles (PlayStation Vita,Nintendo 3DS, etc.), on smartphones (Android, iOS, etc.), single-board computers (Raspberry Pi, ODROID, etc.) and even on web browsers by using the Emscripten compiler.
Formerly known as SSNES, initially based on pseudonymous programmer Near's libretro predecessor libsnes, it began its development in 2010 with Hans-Kristian "themaister" Arntzen committing the first change on GitHub. It was intended as a replacement to bsnes's Qt-based interface but it grew to support more emulation "cores". On April 21, 2012, SSNES was officially renamed to RetroArch to reflect this change in direction.
RetroArch's version 220.127.116.11 was released on January 11, 2014 and at the time was available on 7 distinct platforms.
On February 16, 2016, RetroArch became one of the first ever applications to implement support for the Vulkan graphics API, having done so on the same day of the API's official release day.
On November 27, 2016, the Libretro Team announced that, alongside Lakka (LibreELEC-based RetroArch operating system), RetroArch would be on the Patreon crowdfunding platform to allow providing bounties for developers who fix specific software bugs and to cover the costs for matchmaking servers.
In December, 2016, GoGames – a company contracted by video game developer and publisher Sega – approached the RetroArch developers with the intention of using their software in their SEGA Forever project but ultimately the cooperation did not come to fruition due to licensing disagreements.
In April, 2018, an input lag compensation feature called "Run-Ahead" was added.
The Libretro Team planned to release RetroArch onto Steam as a free download, integrating Steamworks features into the platform in July 2019. It will be the first major dedicated emulation title to be released on the platform.
In August, 2020, someone impersonating a trusted member of the team got access to the buildbot server and the GitHub account for the libretro organization, causing vandalism and server wipes.
In November, 2020, RetroArch in conjunction with a PCSX2 libretro core allowed the Xbox Series X and Series S to emulate the PlayStation 2, something that Sony's own PlayStation 5 could not do at the time.
On September 14, 2021, RetroArch was released on Steam.
Its major features include:
- Advanced GPU shader support - A multi-pass post-processing shader pipeline to allow efficient usage of image scaling algorithms, emulation of complex CRT, NTSC video artifacts and other effects;
- Dynamic Rate Control to synchronize video and audio while smoothing out timing imperfections;
- FFmpeg recording - Built-in support for lossless video recording using FFmpeg's libavcodec;
- Gamepad abstraction layer called Retropad;
- Gamepad auto-configuration - Zero-input needed from the user after plugging gamepads in;
- Peer-to-peernetplay that uses a rollback technique similar to GGPO;
- Audio DSP plugins like an equalizer, reverb and other effects;
- Advanced savestate features - Automatic savestate loading, disabling SRAM overwriting, etc.;
- Frame-by-frame gameplay rewinding;
- Button overlays for touchscreen devices like smartphones;
- Thumbnails of game box art;
- Low input and audio lag options;
- Automatically build categorized playlists by scanning directories for games/ROMs;
- Multiple interfaces including: CLI, XMB (optimized for gamepads), GLUI/MaterialUI (optimized for touch devices), RGUI and Ozone (available everywhere);
- Game ROM scanner - Automatically constructs playlists by comparing the hashsums of a directory's files against databases of hashsums of known good game copies;
- Libretro database of cores, games, cheats, etc.;
- OpenGL and Vulkan API support;
- Run-Ahead - Hide the input lag of emulated systems by using both savestates and fast-forwarding;
- Achievement tracking - Integration with the RetroAchievements service to unlock trophies and badges;
- AI Service - Uses machine translation external services to translate game text on screen.
RetroArch can run any libretro core. While RetroArch is available for many platforms, the availability of a specific core varies per platform.
Below is a non-exhaustive table of which systems are available to RetroArch and what project the core is based on:
Below is a non-exhaustive list of things that don't fit in the list above, such as individual games, libraries, or programming languages.
RetroArch has been praised for the number of systems and games it can play under a single interface.
It has been criticized for how difficult it is to configure, due to the extensive number of options available to the user, and at the same time has been praised for the more advanced features it possesses.
On Android, it has been praised for the fact that overlays can be customized, for the expandability of the libretro cores it supports, for its compatibility with several USB and Bluetooth controller peripherals, in addition to the app being free and having no ads.
Tyler Loch, writing for Ars Technica, said that RetroArch's 'Run-Ahead' feature is "arguably the biggest improvement to the experience the retro gaming community has yet seen".
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- ^De Matteis, Daniel (August 16, 2020). "Hacker vandalised our buildbot and Github organization". libretro.com. Retrieved August 20, 2020.
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- ^"The NES Classic is sold out, but these emulators do the same thing for free". Digital Trends. 2017-03-31. Retrieved 2017-08-03.
- ^ abDachis, Adam. "RetroArch Emulates Nearly Every Classic Gaming Console on Android". Lifehacker. Retrieved 2017-12-26.
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