7 Emulators That Can Play Classic Video Games

We’ve been testing, prodding and, well, having a perfectly good excuse to play some video games for the last two weeks. If you wondered how to play some of those oldschool video games on a computer, you’ve come to the right article. We’ve compiled a list of 6 emulators that can allow you to play some of the older video games of yesteryear including emulators for the Atari2600, NES, SNES, Sega consoles and even the original Playstation.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

There is something about old video games. Maybe it’s the two dimensional layout, maybe it’s the story-line, maybe it’s the simplified graphics or maybe it’s just overall nostalgia of playing something that blew your mind years ago. In any event, many gamers might have that urge to just pull out that set of decade old games, shut the door and play with a buddy or two all the way to 6AM in the morning the next day doing things like trying to frag each other.

In any event, it is technically possible to play those old games again and one way to do so is through emulation software. We’ve reviewed a number of these emulators as thoroughly as we could to, you know, ensure emulation consistency for several hours at a time.

We want to warn you ahead of time, these pieces of software may distract you for long periods of time.

Stella

(Stella emulating BurgerTime)

This emulator emulates the really old Atari 2600. You can grab the emulator on their Source Forge page. The emulator is nice and small and there’s minimal configuring (mapping your keys and browsing to a ROM directory that you’ll use regularly is about all you need to do)

If you’re wondering what those weird blocks are in our screen capture. Yes, we verified that that is what those bad guys really looked like in the original hardware. We didn’t really run in to any emulation issues when taking this emulator out for a spin.

FCEUX

(FCEUX emulating Cobra Triangle – which looks easier than it really is)

This is one of numerous emulators that can emulate old Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) video games. While some might know of NESter, the development of that particular emulator ended a long time ago and the FCEUX had some development done to it since then. Presumably, there’s better video game compatibility with this particular emulator, but we don’t really have the time to sit down and test the over 1,000 games that were available on this particular gaming system. Can be found on the official home page. Minimal to no installation. Key mapping can be found under Config > Input. Plenty of emulation features and still in active development (last release made June 4, 2011). No emulation problems that we found. Game Genie downloaded separately.

SNES9X

(SNES9X emulating Dirt Trax FX)

Now, before you start complaining, we’ve selected this particular emulator for a very good reason as our Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) emulator. We chose not to recommend zSNES because, while it has a unique and easy-to-use interface, game compatibility was an issue for some of the games we tested. First example: Super Mario RPG. Some of the sounds were not accurate. While that might not sound like much to complain about, one enemy attack gave a high pitch sinewave sound which can be a little annoying after a while. In a more serious example, Dirt Trax FX doesn’t play past the title screen. On the other hand, we chose not to recommend bSNES for a rather different reason. Most ROMs available today are in the .SMC format. bSNES does not support this format and, instead, supports the .SFC format. This format is substantially more rare than the .SMC format for numerous games. SNES9X seems to better emulate some of the games we tested and supports the popular .SMC format.

Current version (1.53) can be found on the SNES9X forums. Should a newer version appear, it’ll probably be in an updated announcement on this particular board of the SNES9X forums. For whatever reason, the main home page for SNES9X doesn’t have download links.

Right after installation, we encountered a DLL error. Apparently, you need DirectX 9 in order to run this emulator. So if you get a missing DLL file error, download and install DirectX 9 to see if that clears up the problem (it did for us).

Map keys through Alt+F7 and hot keys via Alt+F9 if that needs configuring too (or if you just need to look them up). Great emulator overall during our tests.

Visual Boy Advance

(Visual Boy Advance emulating Duke Nukem Advance)

Small emulator that can emulate both GameBoy and GameBoy Advance titles. Emulator can be found on the VisualBoy Advance downloads page.

When running (with a ROM loaded), we noticed that Windows has to change the overall color scheme just to compensate for the emulators limited colors (We tested this with Windows 7). Saving states caused the whole screen (not just what was in the emulator) to flicker briefly, but it passes. These were really our only complaints about the emulator though.

No bugs were found in the emulation itself that we found. Key mapping can be found via Options > Joypad > Configure > 1…

Besides some of the weird graphical things that happen to the screen (which stops after you exit the emulator), this was a joy to test.

Kega Fusion

(Kega Fusion emulating 32X game Doom)

Another emulator that emulates numerous different systems including Genesis, Gamegear, 32X, CD and other Sega systems. Emulator can be found on their home page (scroll down a little)

Key mapping can be found via Options > Set Config > Controllers (tab) > Define (button)

We really didn’t run in to any issues while testing. Interface might be a bit confusing (it can run multiple systems after all) at first compared to the other emulators we’ve tested, but it is manageable.

Project 64

(Project 64 emulating Destruction Derby 64)

When it comes to Nintendo 64 emulators, there doesn’t seem to be much of a contest here. Project 64 seemed to have the fewest graphical issues and highest game compatibility out of all the emulators that we’ve tested. version 1.6 can be found on this page of the Project 64 website (note: This page will ask you if you’d like to save the emulator which is an .exe file). Puzzlingly, the developers decided to disallow the general public to use 1.7 and only allowed those that pay money to use the latest version (something I personally disagree with for a number of reasons). This has generally meant that, as far as the general public are officially concerned, development has stopped completely for years now.

Some games have a “high system requirement” which means you need plenty of RAM and other system resources to play some of these games. Sometimes, older systems means games have more graphical and timing issues than what is to be expected. By today’s standards, you don’t have to have a super computer to run this properly, but it is, at times, resource demanding.

Several games have graphical issues including black boxes around effects, whited out polygons, corrupted textures, slow game play, and bad sound (not all at once for the most part). So emulation is far from perfect (yes, this was also the emulator that was the most thoroughly tested here). Still, a number of games do work through this emulator with minimal problems and most games are playable. Key mapping through Options > Configure Controller Plugin.

This emulator seems to continue to be your best bet when it comes to emulating the N64.

ePSXe

(ePSXe emulating Driver – “Hey man, OK, OK, OK!!!”)

A decent emulator that, unfortunately, is a case of some assembly required. You can download the emulator off of the ePSXe downloads page. Downloading the emulator won’t be enough though. If you run the configuration wizard, you’ll find out that you’ll need a BIOS and a GPU. While we technically can’t link to a BIOS (which actually isn’t all that hard to find), we can save you some trouble and point to Pete’s GPU downloads page (since we are using Windows 7, the first link (“OpenGL2 PSX GPU”) is what we used for a GPU.

In our limited testing, we did encounter graphical glitches in the emulation which leads us to believe that you’ll probably encounter similar problems to that of N64 emulation issues with some games.

Unlike all of our previous emulators, the ePSXe uses CD images instead of ROMs (naturally, because all the other emulators are emulating games in cartridge format while this requires emulating the CD images). The emulator will recognize several formats of CD images, but if you run in to ECM formats, you’ll need to decompress the image first before you can run the image. This can be accomplished through PakkISO which can be found on the EmuParadise website. Since there is no interface on this particular piece of software, you’ll have to open the ECM file you want to decompress with the correct EXE file found in the PakkISO installation folder (might be the unecm.exe or the unpakkiso.exe file – you’ll know if the DOS prompt window says that it’s decoding either way)

Each CD image can be half a gigabyte each and up, so having a number of games can take up a lot of space. Another issue is that some of the “X” buttons in the windows don’t work for some reason, so you’ll have to hit buttons like “OK” or “Cancel” buttons instead if you go poking around in the system. Key mapping can be found via Config > Game Pad > Port 1 > Pad 1.

While this emulator has a learning curve compared to other emulators, there wasn’t much that couldn’t be overcome that we found outside of whatever in-game emulation problems and errors that might crop up.

Final Thoughts

We’ll say this right off the bat before you ask, no, we will not provide links to ROMs and/or CD images. Don’t bother asking, you’ll have to find those on your own.

This was probably one of the most distracting things to test. It was next to impossible at times to tell the difference between simply testing the emulator and just playing the game (not that we’re complaining too loudly here)

Also, we can’t totally test every single game that exists to figure out which emulator is ideal for sure as that would require an astronomical amount of man hours (there are thousands of games that could be tested that these emulators can run in total after all) so we welcome any additional feedback on these emulators and other emulators that might not have been mentioned – and, of course, general discussion about games.

Have fun!

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



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