Emulation. There is no way around it. No matter how you feel about it either negatively, or positively, it is a thing that is here to stay. Here is my stance on it. I love it. There, case closed. No need to go on, but I will. Without emulation, I would not be able to discover the hidden gems that escaped me when I was a kid. The best feeling is finding something truly wonderful and then sharing that thing with the world. Emulation is so ubiquitous now that even companies like PlayStation and Nintendo are using them. And here is the real issue here. Creating and using an emulator is not illegal. Downloading games is, though. You can dump your own games onto your computer to play them on an emulator, but you can’t share them.
I am totally cool with that logic. That is if these games are available to purchase. In a lot of cases, they aren’t though. Should we as an industry turn a blind eye to those games then? If we can’t buy them should they be regarded as trash in other words? Of course not. I won’t get into these legal matters further because the whole thing is complicated. What I want to do instead is share some tips on how you too can become a retro gamer very easily. And don’t worry. There are other ways besides emulation if you’re scared of Nintendo’s Invisible hand calling a Goomba squad on you. Let’s read on to see what I’m talking about.
25 OpenEmu Emulator
OpenEmu is the holy grail of emulators. If you are a Mac user that is. It’s as easy to use as iTunes and it’s not just because the interface is similar. Not only does it come packed with virtual consoles, thus saving on your desktop clutter, but also there are some nice gameplay features. You can customize control layouts, take screenshots, create save states, and best of all, you can rewind and fast forward time. Mac started off with terrible emulation support so in a way this is like a long overdue makeup gift.
24 NES Mini
What started off as a hot, hard to find item in the Christmas season of 2016 has now become something well stocked on store shelves. It certainly took awhile. Anyway not only do you get thirty games for $60, but this system is incredibly easy to hack. You can literally fit the whole library of the NES on it if you wanted. I don’t know why you would since there is a lot of garbage, but hey, the option is there.
23 SNES Mini
The announcement of the mini-sized NES was cute, but the thing I really wanted was a small SNES. My wishes came true and I was even able to snag one at launch even though they too were a hot ticket item. $80 is a great price for 21 awesome games, but like Nintendo’s other console, you can easily hack this too. Strangely some SNES games don’t work and I found it only holds about 60-80 games depending. It’s not as good as getting the whole SNES library on there, but as long as I have Chrono Trigger, I’m happy.
22 PlayStation Mini
Sigh. Heck of a way to start off this entry, right? Well, I think we all let out a collective sigh at Sony’s botched copycat of Nintendo’s mini-series. I still bought one, on the cheap, because I had faith in hackers. Not only were they able to upgrade the performance of the system, increasing frame rate, but also yes, you can even add games. Is this what Sony intended all along? I think I’m starting to see a conspiracy theory form here.
MAME is THE emulator for playing arcade games. It just is. Support for the app has only gotten better with time. It’s not as good for me on Mac as it is on PC units for example, but it does the job for most of the games you want to play like everything Konami and Capcom made. I will say it is nice to drop in virtual quarters to finally beat some of the games that robbed me of so much when I was a kid. I’m looking at you Dragon’s Lair! It’s also kind of amazing to see how short these classics really were.
20 Nintendo Switch Online
I’m a little bummed out that the Switch does not have a proper Virtual Console in the tradition they set up on the Wii. While it had holes, it was an amazing idea for the Wii. Even though it isn’t the same and it started off slowly, the virtual NES service you get with Nintendo’s online subscription is pretty dope too. The coolest thing, besides getting free games each month, is the SP versions of games. Basically, Nintendo is saving you the hassle of hacking their games by yourself. It’s not perfect and I would like SNES games actually, but as I said, it’s a start.
19 Xbox One Backwards Compatibility
This was the first generation of consoles that I have owned every single platform i.e. the PS4, Xbox One, and Switch. I caved on the Xbox One when the S came out with an incredible deal I would have been stupid to pass by. Unfortunately, the first-party support has been poor, but I’ll tell you what I do like. It’s amazing to be able to put in a plethora of Xbox and Xbox 360 games and have them run with a lot smoother frame rate and load speed boosts. It’s especially noticeable with the original’s games. It needs a bigger catalog, but these things take time.
18 PS4’s Enhanced PS2 Games
The PS4 is not the best place to play old games. It’s not a retro haven, but it does have one nice feature. It stinks you can’t just put in your discs like on the Xbox One, but it does support PS2 games. Most range from $15 to $10 and they go on sale fairly frequently. The graphics are cleaned up, but the best part is the addition of trophies. Ah, finally a reason to replay Dark Cloud 2 again!
17 Dolphin Emulator
The Dolphin is the all-purpose emulator for Nintendo’s disc-based console games. It started off with support for the GameCube, but over time it has added in Wii and Wii U support. The nice thing about this is the ability to boost graphics allowing you to run games in HD at 1080p. Hey, I know 4K is the new hotness, but Super Mario Galaxy in 1080p still looks amazing. Now if only Nintendo would make an official collection of that and its sequel for Switch.
16 PSP: A Hacker’s Delight
The PSP is probably the most broken thing Sony has ever released under their PlayStation brand name. That said, what stinks for them is great for the community because fans have made tremendous strides with the little portable that couldn’t. It can run most classic systems like the NES and GBA along with PS1 and PSP games. If people only knew this was the ultimate emulation portable, it would have sold more in its heyday, which is both good and bad as it sits in a morally gray area.
15 PS3 Save Hacks
Starting from ground zero, aka the PS1, Sony took great pride in allowing backward compatibility. PS1 games could run on the PS2 and PS3 and PS2 games could run on the PS3. Initially, that is. They soon took that part out, but PS1 games still run great. You can even find and use save files people have shared online. Did you ever wonder what a complete file for Resident Evil 2 looks like? You can find a lot of uploads on GameFAQs. This feature has helped me save time with a lot of my retrospectives.
14 Hyperkin RetroN 5
Hyperkin’s RetroN series is like the granddaddy of third-party console revisions. It was a great idea, right? Create a piece of plastic with all of the right parts to play your NES, SNES, and so forth on without having to drag out multiple consoles. The RetroN 5 allows users to play their NES, SNES, GBA, GB, Genesis, and Master System cartridges. Not only that, but it converts the signal to HD and allows for Japanese NES and SNES games to run too. Finding one can be a bit tricky now though.
13 80 Games In 1: Sega Genesis
I know what you’re thinking. What’s so special about this Sega Genesis besides the fact that it is super cheap and comes with 80 games, which is a number that sounds too good to be true? Well, it’s not just a box with a built-in emulator. It also allows you to play your original games as well. That feature alone sets it apart from other new retro consoles on the market. The only problem is that it’s Sega. Ha, I kid!
If you thought the idea of a box exclaiming it has 80 games insides bringing back memories of those phony carts from the 90s then get a load of this box. This Retropie advertises 20,000 games! That’s pretty boastful, but when you take into account this little device can install nearly every emulator for every system, well, that number seems reasonable. Of course, you have to do a little extra work programming it, but it is a cool box no doubt. If you don’t want all of those programs then there are cheaper versions of similar Raspberry Pi devices with fewer features.
11 Hyperkin SupaBoy
Hyperkin also put out this portable SNES. It should really be called the Super Beefy Boy because this thing has some heft to it. I got the first version as a gift and I love it. You can play all of your SNES carts on the go along with Japanese ones if you have any. It also doubles as a real console that you can plug into your TV. There are newer versions and other portable consoles like this, but I just love my SupaBoy. I had to include it on here as a special thank you.
10 NeoGeo Mini
Perhaps giant arcades are not your foray, but maybe you hate the idea of using MAME on your computer. Do you still want some kind of arcade style game console, but one smaller? Well, then the NeoGeo Mini might be for you. It is cute, I will give it that, and 40 games for $90 isn’t too bad, but it also lacks some diversity. Do I really need that many King of Fighters games? For SNK fans, it’s a little dream though.
9 Retro-Bit Super Retro-cade
The Retro-Bit Super Retro-cade sounds and looks like a console along the lines of the Retro Freak. It’s hard to tell who is legit and who isn’t when it comes to third-party manufacturers online. This company does have the official support of Capcom, Data East, Irem, and Technos though so that’s a good sign. It is packed with 90 games and supports not only console versions via the NES, but arcade editions as well. It lacks some key classics from these companies, but for what you get, the price isn’t bad.
8 RetroArch Emulator
RetroArch is similar to the OpenEmu system in that it is one collective menu with other emulators installed. First of all, it runs on PCs and Linux based systems too along with various other consoles. I couldn’t get the hang of it, having integrated myself into OpenEmu for so long. It takes a bit more tinkering, but PC people are probably used to that. I say that in a good way. That’s the nice thing about PCs, being able to customize and upgrade units to your liking.
7 Analogue Super NT
This next one is for the hardcore of the hardcore retro fans. If you are serious about playing your original games in HD, with superior quality, you’re going to want to look into Analogue’s line of consoles. For example, the Super NT is a SNES and costs $190. Yeah, I told you it was pricey. It also plays Japanese cartridges, which is a nice plus. There is also a Sega Genesis version for the same price. You can’t beat quality.
6 Remastered Collections
If you don’t want to go through the trouble of emulation, or buying a new, retro device then there are plenty of other options. For example, there is a plethora of great collections out on the current consoles. You can play the entire main series of Mega Man, including the X games, in three great collections. The great thing about them is the history built inside. Being able to not only play these but to read about their development is fascinating to me.
5 Your Phone
Believe it, or not but your phone can even play retro games. I don’t know why you would want to. Personally, I find virtual buttons hard to get around. They are fine for typing and tapping games built for iOS, but I wouldn’t want to play Super Mario World on my device. That might just be a Tristan thing though. So if you somehow haven’t seen any articles on how to hack emulators onto your phone then go ahead and start looking. It’s very easy.
4 Jamma Typhoon Arcade Cabinets
There is only one thing better than using MAME on your computer to play arcade classics. If you want to truly experience the joy of the arcade then you might want to invest in a Jamma Typhoon cabinet. Here is the cool thing about this site. Not only can these rigs be custom built with tons of amazing arcades games, but also there are even options to put current, or other retro consoles on it. Doesn’t playing against someone in Super Smash Bros. Melee on an arcade cabinet sounds pretty rad, right?
3 Atari Flashback Portable
There are actually two models of this PSP looking bootleg that plays Atari 2600 games. The one from 2017 has 70 games and last year’s model has 80 games. Both are pretty cheap, about $20-30, which isn’t bad. Here is my question though. Who, in 2019, would want to play an Atari game? They are important to history, yes, but not much more. That’s why I actually support this portable. It’s the exact way you should play them: in quick snippets on the go. No need for a home console today.
2 Retro Freak
The Retro Freak is similar to the Hyperkin RetroN 5, but it has the support of 12 consoles. The new additions include the TurboGrafx line of systems. There is not much to say that I haven’t already said with that other device. What I will note is the sleek, white design. It looks like an old floppy disk drive for a Mac computer. Not all systems have to be big, bulky, and flashy. The simple design is what really shines here.
1 Start Hunting
This final tip is a bit more complicated than any of the other entries on this list. However, it is the coolest, or that is to say the most hipster of the bunch. If you really want to be a retro gamer there is no better feeling than playing these games on their original hardware. The thrill of the hunt for an elusive console or game always gets my heart pumping. Like most things, you can even do it online. I’ve had great success with LukieGames and JJGames. I try to avoid GameStop, but sometimes they even have a good stash at times.