What is a video game emulator?
A video game emulator is a piece of software that enables your PC to act and behave like a games console you may already own.
‘Emulation’ refers to the ability of a computer program that is able to imitate another device by using a guest/host. Most commonly they are found, and used in electronic devices, such as: mobile phones, routers, or even to replicate whole operating systems.
- Choosing an emulator
- How to install an emulator on my PC
- Downloading and getting ROM’s
- Loading and playing the ROM
- Can I emulate games on my Ipad or Andriod?
Why do people use a video game emulator?
- Possible to download many older games.
- Play all your favourite games from classic consoles just on your PC.
- Easy to save/ load game states – without having to find a save point in the game.
- Store games on your PC – so they don’t take up alot of physical storage space.
- Potentially better graphics with the ability to expand the screen size.
- Access to additional features that the original hardware didn’t have.
- Configure and use controllers from different consoles.
Step 1 – Choosing an emulator;
Depending on which game you want to search for and play, you first need to download the console emulator. This will allow you to load in a ROM (game cartridge).
What are the 10 best video game emulators?
1. Dolphin – Nintendo Wii/ GameCube emulator
Dolphin was the first GameCube emulator to successfully run commercial games and has been well received in the IT and video gaming media for its high compatibility, steady development progress and number of available features.
The most popular games available to play on the ‘Dolphin’ include:
Super Smash Bros Brawl, The Legend Of Zelda – Skyward Sword, New Super Mario Bros Wii, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Mario Kart Wii, Legend Of Zelda The The Wind Waker, Super Smash Bros. Melee. There’s hours of gameplay just in those games above!
2. Project 64 – Nintendo 64 emulator
Easily considered as one of the best, most stable emulators ever made, highly compatible and contains all basic features including the expansion pack. The emulator supports multiplayer and allows alternating the aspect ratio without cropping.
The most popular games available to play on the ‘Project 64’ include:
Legend Of Zelda, The – Ocarina Of Time, Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart 64, 007 – Golden Eye, Star Fox 64, Perfect Dark, Pokemon Stadium 2, Legend Of Zelda, Worms Armageddon, The – Majora’s Mask to name a few.
3. DeSmuMe – Nintendo DX emulator
DeSmuME is the first Nintendo DS video game emulator able to run commercial games at a playable level and was created in an open-source environment.
The most popular games available to play on the ‘DeSmuME’ include:
Pokemon: Black/ Soulsilver/ Diamond/ HeartGold/ Platinum/ White/ Black 2/ White 2. Mario Kart DS, New Super Mario Bros. Arguably the best ROMS for the DX are all Pokémon.
4. PPSSPP – PSP emulator
PPSSPP is currently the best PSP emulator for almost any platform out there. It is open source and follows a community development model. It was design with an increased focus on speed and portability and is compatible with more than 984 games.
The most popular games available to play on the ‘PPSSPP’ include:
God Of War – Ghost Of Sparta, Naruto Shippuden – Ultimate Ninja Impact, Dragon Ball Z – Shin Budokai, Tekken 6, Theft Auto – Vice City, Dragon Ball Z – Shin Budokai/ Tenkaichi Tag Team, Assassin’s Creed – Bloodlines, Need For Speed – Most Wanted 5-1-0.
5. ZSNES – Super Nintendo emulator
ZSNES was one of the first Super Nintendo emulators that can play a wide range of games at good speeds. The design is quite retro now but still simple and effective. It has no problems playing all games flawlessly and Is relatively quick to switch through menus.
The most popular games available to play on the ‘ZSnes’ include:
Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario All-Stars, Super Mario Kart, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, Super Bomberman 4, Street Fighter II Turbo, Top Gear, Legend Of Zelda, The – A Link To The Past, Killer Instinct, Donkey Kong Country 2-Diddys Kong Quest, Super Mario All-Stars + Super Mario World.
6. PCSX2 – Playstation 2 emulator
PCSX2 is a free and open-source PlayStation 2 emulator for Windows, Linux and macOS that supports a wide range of PlayStation 2 video games with a high level of compatibility and functionality.
The most popular games available to play on the ‘PCSX2’ include:
Tekken 4, Dragon Ball Z – Budokai Tenkaichi 3, Ra.One – The Game, PES 2013 – Pro Evolution Soccer, God Hand, Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 – New Age Of Heroes, Naruto Shippuden – Ultimate Ninja 5, Dragon Ball Z – Budokai 3, Bully, Shadow Of The Colossus.
7. ePSXe – PlayStation 1 emulator
ePSXe is considered one of the best PlayStation emulators. It was the first emulator to run commercial games at a reliable level so it won’t let you down.
The most popular games available to play on the ‘ePSXe’ include:
Resident Evil 3 – Nemesis, Tekken 3, Crash Bandicoot 2/3, Yu-Gi-Oh! – Forbidden Memories, Metal Slug X, Marvel Super Heroes Vs Street Fighter, Dragon Ball GT, Ace Combat 3, Rayman 2, Future Cop LAPD, Ape Escape , Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy VIII.
The Final Fantasy games are definitely my favourites from this one.
8. Visual Boy Advance – Gameboy Advance emulator
VisualBoyAdvance is Compatible with Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance and is highly reliable to support nearly all of the games associated with these consoles. Features include full screen mode, Speed up key and Import/export of saved games to other emulators.
The most popular games available to play on the ‘Visual Boy Advance’ include:
Pokemon – Fire Red/ Emerald/ Ruby/ Sapphire. Super Mario Advance 4 – Super Mario Bros. 3, Dragonball Z – Buu’s Fury, Super Mario Advance 2, Classic NES – Super Mario Bros, Grand Theft Auto Advance, Kirby – Nightmare In Dreamland.
9. Redream – Sega Dreamcast emulator
Redream is a work-in-progress Dreamcast video game emulator, enabling you to play your favourite Dreamcast games in high-definition on Windows, Mac and Linux. There are two editions of Redream, Lite and Premium. Lite is free to everyone while Premium is payware but added high-definition rendering.
The most popular games available to play on the ‘Redream’ include:
Resident Evil 2, Sonic Adventure 1+2, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Resident Evil 3 Nemesis, Crazy Taxi, Marvel Vs. Capcom Clash Of Super Heroes, Resident Evil Code Veronica, Sonic Adventure, Shenmue 2, Grand Theft Auto 2, Soulcalibur, Power Stone 2.
10. OpenEmu – Multi-system arcade emulator
OpenEmu is an open-source multi-system video game emulator designed for macOS. It provides a plugin interface to emulate numerous consoles’ hardware.
Step 2 – How to install and run a video game emulator on my PC?
The best way to download your chosen emulator is to web search the name of the emulator you would like to download.
Installing the emulator is incredibly easy, just follow these steps;
- Download the emulator that supports the right platform on your PC (64-bit/ 32bit)
- Extract the (.zip) file using WinRAR
- Open the folder
- Double click on the application to start the program or it might begin a quick install to your computer.
- Follow the install and choose where you want the folder to be installed to. A desktop short cut icon will be added.
In some cases the file will be self-extracting and the emulator will start as soon as you click on the application meaning no install is required.
Step 3 – Downloading and getting ROMs
What are ROMs?
A ROM image, or ROM file, is a computer file which contains a copy of the data from the video game. This can come in many different formats such as (.iso) for Wii/ GameCube games. (.z64) for Nintendo 64 and (.BIN) file for most PlayStation games. Other formats include (IMG, .CCD, .MDS, .PBP, .ECM)
Where can I download ROMs?
Similarly to how you downloaded your emulator, the best way to find a ‘ROM’ is by doing a google search. This will bring up a list of sites that they can be downloaded from.
You may want to create a few separate folders on your PC for each game console you download ROMS for, as it’s very easy for them to become mixed up and scattered all over your desktop. Eg. GBA ROMs in the GBA ROMs folder, N64 ROMs in the N64 ROMs folder etc.
Step 4 – Loading and Playing the ROM
- Start the Emulator
- Click on “file”, click Open – This step is the same for almost all emulators.
- Find the ROM file you put into your console folder and Open Rom.
Select and your done – The emulator will successfully load up the Rom and you can start gaming.
My ROM is not working?
In some cases the ROM will not load up and give a ‘Bad ROM’ error. This could mean there was a problem with how it was created, or it might not have been downloaded properly. This may be due to an unstable connection where some data packets have been lost. Your best bet is to find another copy of the ROM, download it, and try again.
If a disk image in an unsupported format, you will need to mount it to a virtual drive using a separate program (Such as PowerISO) and configure the emulator to use the virtual drive which the image is mounted.
Can I emulate games on my IPad or Android?
Not only can games be emulated on your computer, but they can also be emulated on Tablets or Android phones for when you’re on the go. Due to the lower memory specs of these devices, it’s recommended to emulate ‘lower spec’ games from classic or handheld consoles, as the games will run smoother and have less playback problems. Apart from speed issues, these consoles will also have less controller buttons, which will be more suited to gaming on the small display of your mobile phone.
The process for Installing an emulator on your Android phone or IPad is very similar to installing on your computer. You can either;
- Follow Steps 2+3 (scroll up for more details) and transfer the files across using a USB wire.
- Download the emulator and ROMS directly onto your phone. Locate and open.
- Or head to the Google play store, here you can find most open sourced emulators for free and ready to download for a quick setup.
Nintendo DS, Gameboy Advance and PSP Have some of the best games available to play on your Android Phone or IPad as they were designed to be lightweight using 2D graphics and can be easily controlled.
Some of my favourites that I bought on the actual consoles include; the Pokémon series, Grand Theft Auto 2, Donkey Kong and the Super Mario games. What are yours? Let me know in the comments below.
Are emulators safe to use?
The majority of emulators are safe to install as they are often hosted by the creators on their own websites, or by trusted websites that have a good reputation. Emulators are ranked, reviewed and downloaded by thousands of people each day. If one did happen to be jeopardized with a virus, meaning it was unsafe to use, it would quickly be reported. Like all things downloaded from the internet, it’s best to scan the file with an anti-virus before extracting.
Is using a video game emulator legal?
Video game console emulators are considered legal as they don’t violate any laws, however ROMs do violate copyright laws. The only times that you can legally be in posession of a ROM is if;
- It was purposefully released into the public domain by the copyright owner.
- It was given or sold to you by the copyright owner.
- It has had its copyright expire (75 years after publication, i.e. no video games until well into this century).
- It is an archive copy that YOU created for backup purposes (it cannot be a downloaded copy).
Please comment if you found this article useful and have anything else to add!