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How To Play Your Favorite Retro Video Games on Your Windows PC

Do you miss the days of playing your favorite games on “old school” consoles like SNES or Sega Genesis? Today we take a look at several different emulators for your PC that will bring back the retro gaming nostalgia. 

Note: Here we are covering retro video game emulators so you can play classic games on your PC. We don’t link to any games or “roms” as their called, but Google could probably help you out with finding some.

We tested these emulators on Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit but they should work with Vista and XP as well. We did however run into a lot of snags running some of them on a 64-bit system.

8-bit Nintendo (NES)

The first one we’ll take a look at is the 8-bit NES emulator FCEUX. It works very smoothly and controls are very responsive. There are a few different NES emulators out there and this on worked the best in our tests. Just download the file and unzip it to whatever directory you want. Then launch the FCEUX executable.

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Now you can load a game or go through it’s various settings to tweak it how you like. Click on File \Open ROM…

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Browse to the game you want to play and double-click to load it. You don’t need to unzip your ROM files, just load them up. Here we take a look at Mario Bros in a small window which would be useful at work if you run it from a Flash drive.

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If you want to change the emulator settings while playing a game you can…and while your making the changes your current game will pause.

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It also has a very nice full screen mode…

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Download FCEUX

Super Nintendo (SNES)

For playing SNES games we chose the ZSNES project. Download and unzip the ZSNES package and click on zsnesw.exe to start it up…no installation needed.

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The emulator will start and you can load a game right away and begin to play…or go through and configure it to your liking.

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There are a lot of settings you can customize including Video, sound, the controls, and more.

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Ah, the good old days listening to cheesy music and reading a long intro about the story. Luckily it allows you to skip straight to the game by pressing Enter.

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Here we take a look at playing the Ninja Gaiden Trilogy. The game play is smooth and controls were responsive. Sometimes the frame rates would slow down but over all it wasn’t too bad.

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We’d be remiss if we didn’t show one of the coolest games for the SNES…Super Mario World.

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One issue we noticed when closing out of ZSNES from the Taskbar, it was still running in the background. We had to end the process through Task Manager.

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If you want to correctly close out of the emulator, while playing a game hit the Esc key. This will bring up the ZSNES menu where you can quit. Of course you can also change configurations and save your progress as well.

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Download ZSNES

Gameboy Advance

Remember the Gameboy Advance handheld gaming system? There is a very nice emulator project for that too called Visual Boy Advance. As with the others, no installation is required. Just unzip the VBA file and run the VistualBoyAdvance executable.

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Click on File then Open and browse to your game. Again, you don’t need to unzip the ROMS just select them and the game will start.

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Here we have a version of Zelda running. Graphics are great and controls very responsive.

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If you need to change some settings while playing playing a game, just select them from the toolbar and your game will pause while you make adjustments.

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If you have a game that has a long intro, and it doesn’t let you skip it, you can hold down the Spacebar and speed right through it and get to the action.

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Download Visual Boy Advance

Sega Genesis

One of the best Sega Genesis emulators we found was Kega Fusion 3.6 which ran great on our Windows 7 Home Premium machine. Again simply unzip the file and launch the Fusion executable file…no installation required. If you have Aero enabled it will need to run in basic mode to work.

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When it starts go to File and from there you can load games from the different Sega console versions they used to have out like the MasterSystem.

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The select your ROM…you don’t need to unzip the files. In fact that seems the case with all the ones we tested.

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The games we tested ran smoothly, the video looked great, and the controls were responsive.

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You can resize the window easily including Full Screen. 

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You can configure the controllers to whatever works best for you. We were even able to get the XBOX 360 Controller for PC to work by assigning it controls.

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Being able to customize the controls can really come in handy when you’re playing a game such as the classic Mortal Kombat!

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Download Kega Fusion

Nintendo 64

By far the best Nintendo 64 emulator is Project64. It’s had some updates over the years and does a great job of emulating the N64 experience. This one you do need to install…just follow the install wizard as normal.

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After installation you’ll find it under Project64 in the Start Menu.

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Launch Project64 and select your language…

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To load a game click on File then Open Rom…

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Navigate to where your game is and double-click to start it up.

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There are many neat customizations you can do with the controls. We were able to configure an XBOX 360 Controller for PC on many of the games and they were responsive. Because N64 had such an odd controller, it might be a good idea to take a look at one so you can adjust the buttons correctly.

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There are also other options like changing the graphics and audio settings. The settings you can use will be based on your computer’s hardware.

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Once you get your settings and controller setup, this emulator is very cool if you were a fan of N64 back in the day. The graphics are great and the frame rate was very smooth on most games.

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The games play basically like the originals with previews of the games, intros, and levels.

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Download Project64

Conclusion

Using emulators is a great way to re-live the glory days of your youth. Keep in mind that most are still works in progress while others have stopped development. They don’t always run perfectly either, we had problems with several of them on our Windows 7 64-bit system. If you’re worried that they might crash your system, you can always create a Virtual Machine provided you have enough system resources, and run them in there. Here is an example of running ZSNES on XP in VMware Player.

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Overall, these are some great emulators that will allow you to play your favorite classic games. Remember they are emulators so some of the games may not run as perfectly as they do on the real system.

What about you guys? Have you tried any of these out or want to mention others you’re happy with?

Brian Burgess worked in IT for 10 years before pursuing his passion for writing. He's been a tech blogger and journalist for the past seven years, and can be found on his about me page or Google+

  • Published 07/23/10

Comments (21)

  1. Luke

    PSE is a great playstation emulator too.

  2. sam

    no$gba is a better gba emulator imo, and it also supports some DS games! also you didn’t go into ps2 emulators? those are the ones that REALLY need a tutorial dude.

  3. Randall Lind

    where do you get the roms

  4. John

    you forgot about mame and dcemu

  5. Francisco

    @ Sam: yes, but the DS is still rocking and doesn’t count as “Retro” so an emulator for GBA only is enough imo.

    Also, there’s a variant of Visualboy Advance that can emulate the link cable for multiplayer. Just google it, it’s called Visualboy Advance Link ;)

  6. Dan

    snex9x is another solid SNES emulator worth checking out.

  7. Jesse

    I desperately want to play my Sega CD games on my computer. I still have the original disks, does anyone know a good program to use?

  8. Ryan

    ZSNES is pretty good but it hasn’t been updated in a few years and still has issues with some games. If you want an emulator that focuses on accuracy and is still being updated, try bsnes.
    http://byuu.org/bsnes/

    I’ve been using it for about a year and it works great. The only catch is that you’ll need a more powerful PC to run bsnes compared to ZSNES. Or at least one built in the last couple years.

  9. chamberly

    @Randall you can find those roms at some sites like doperoms.com or google, download roms.

    I wonder why PS2 isn’t in this article, I seriously need the tutorial for that. I miss playing Spyro. lol.

    I play those project 64 a lot. I would’ve asked the how-to-geek to put it in too, but I also found out when you do play those games on the computer, it is illegal because you didn’t buy it. It free b/c you found it online, but without buying the thing, it illegal. I looked it up as well.

  10. chamberly

    Also, I don’t want to forget to add this in… I used the controller to play the game. How? Well let say, I googled it and I found the USB converter for the controller (for N64/PS2) for $10. I still have it. All you do is plug it in with the converter, and plug the converter to the USB port on your computer, configure it on the game and you are good to go. :)

  11. Mysticgeek

    @chamberly: We didn’t cover PS2 or other emulators of more recent consoles because it’s an article on really retro games.
    Also, I’ve tried out some of the newer console emulators and they are still kind of buggy yet and don’t run that great. In my experiences anyway.

  12. anon

    I could never get the dreamcast emulator to work and that sucks cause I’ve been itching to play marvel vs. capcom for a long time now

  13. MAME

    And the Best of em (imo) gets passed up !?!

    MAME Rocks for the Real Classic Retro ROMS

  14. alfred

    Where to download games for thi emulator??????????????

  15. adamkade

    There’s a few links on here, yea they are good. Would be nice to have the direct links though. Love this website.

  16. Matt

    Where do u get the ROMS!!!!

  17. Anonymous

    Are these legal?!

  18. nAMEbOY

    @Anonymous

    Yes totally legal.

  19. Anonymous

    @NameBoy: Are you a lawyer? No offense intended. :-)

  20. Anonymous

    Dude, Project 64 uses a lock out on their site. You have to complete the stupid survey, buy just disable JavaScript and you’ll be fine

  21. Daylight

    PCSX2 is a PS2 emulator and I know first hand that it plays many of the popular (and not-so-popular) game titles without any problems. Just check their compatibility list on their site ;) They also have a forum which has many users willing to help you if you run into any problems. Just don’t mention anything about downloading ROMs/ISOs/BIOSs.

    VisualBoy Advance had been updated and renamed to VBA-M.

    My favorite NES emulator is Jnes. Easy to use, cheat codes already installed and ready to use whenever you want (plus you can add more), ability to view box art of game titles, and a lot more features.

    Gens is a good alternative to Fusion.

    I like Snes9x more than ZSNES.

    ePSXe is THE best PSX emulator.

    For the latest emulator updates, google “EmuCR” and click the first link.

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