Guide: Retrogaming through emulation (Part 2: Emulator software)
In my last post I have described the basics of emulation and how to organize your ROM collection. This post is part 2 of my guide ‘Retrogaming through emulation’. This time it’s all about the emulator software you will need.
Emulation software (called emulator) exist for nearly every operating system you can imagine. Of course, you will find the most variety for the Windows operating system. Because of this it’s hard to pick the best one. But guess what? This article aims to be the best guide on which emulator you should choose! It covers the most important computers, video game consoles, arcade machines and handhelds of the past.
But wait, what does ‘best’ mean? Emulators are developed with mainly two goals: To emulate the given system as accurate as possible and to emulate it as efficient as possible, meaning that it even runs smooth on older systems with low performance. Some emulators have additional features which the original platform didn’t have. For example changing the graphics processing, adding cheats or making it possible to play two player games over the Internet.
For this article I searched for the most recent, compatible and feature-rich emulators for Windows. I separated them in four different types of platforms:
Video game consoles
It says ‘APE’ in it’s name, it has an ape in his logo but what’s really meant here is ‘Amstrad Plus Emulator’. It emulates the entire CPC computer range very accurate and loads disk, tape and cartridge image files. You can record movies, audio or take screenshots of what you are doing in the emulator. It also provides a function to take snapshots of the current state of the emulation. If you are familiar with the operating system the CPC computers use, you can dive directly into the command line. A nice feature for that is that you can create text macros to input bigger amounts of text automated. WinAPE features a debugger as well as a Z80 Assembler for the more advanced users. You can configure the display emulation to your liking, complete with color sets, interlacing and blur, as well as sound and specific hardware related settings. WinAPE can read all sorts of uncompressed image formats and zipped data.
Windows | Mac | Linux | Android
Pom1 emulates the first computer created by Apple. It only accepts commands in form of HEX values. There is not much to say here. The readme file contains some shortcuts for accessing functions in the emulator. There is no menubar or context menu to reach settings. You’ll have to obtain programs in form of ASCII or binary files or as HEX codes. I never tried it, because it’s a whole different world.
AppleWin emulates the Apple II series of computers including sound. It can load uncompressed as well as zipped disk images. Like the original Apple II you have two disk drive slots to load with disk images. You can choose the Apple II model to emulate from the settings menu. There are also settings for sound emulation (emulate sound card or speaker/beeper), floppy and hard drive settings as well as input configuration which let’s you use a mouse, too. The emulator also features save states and a debugger.
Altirra emulates the Atari 400, 600XL, 800, 800XL, 65XE, 130XE and 1200XL computers as well as the Atari XEGS and 5200 video game consoles. It’s focussed on emulation quality and has many features. The emulator can load various disk image formats uncompressed or as zipped archives. Altirra comes with substitute BIOS ROMs to run programs and games, if you want to improve compatibility you need to use BIOS ROMs of the original Atari machines. The controller input mapping is a real pain as you have to map each key manually by selecting the right button from a drop down menu. Apart from that, the emulator has the usual features like save states, audio and video recording, a screenshot function, a debugger, a cheat module and a load of system/hardware options that would go beyond the scope of this guide.
Windows | Linux
Steem SSE is an advancement of the original Steem with emulation improvements, partly based on the other Atari ST emulator ‘Hatari‘. The emulator reads various disk image formats but if you have Atari ST disk images in the .IPF format you need an additional support library available for download at the website of the ‘Software Preservation Society‘. You have to download the 32-bit version 5.1. In any case the disk images have to be uncompressed, zipped ROMs are not supported. Features of Steam SSE are snapshots, a screenshot function, text paste into emulator, a patcher module, a shortcut editor, a macro recorder, settings profiles (you can create your own) and several graphics and sound/MIDI options. You will need original Atari TOS ROMs to use Steem SSE.
Windows | Mac | Linux
BeebEm emulates the BBC Micro Model B, B+ and Master 128. It has a ton of options for emulating the hardware. Features include save states, a screenshot function, video capture and a debugger. For the extra bit realism you can define motion blur to mimic the old CRT and TV screens from the past. The emulator also simulates disk drive and beep noises. Unfortunately BeebEm can’t read zipped disk images, you will have to unpack them before. A nice feature of BeebEm is that it can run disks automatically without the need to tinker with the command line.
Windows | Mac | Linux | DOS | other
VICE, the versatile Commodore emulator doesn’t have his name just by accident. In fact, it emulates the Commodore 64, the Commodore 64 DTV, the Commodore 128, the VIC-20, almost all PET models, the Plus/4 and the CBM-II (aka C610). VICE has been translated in to numerous languages, you can switch it directly in the main menu. The emulator has an autostart feature to execute disk or tape image contents automatically, but if you know what to do, you can also use the console. VICE emulates drive sounds and CRT look for more realism and it has an experimental netplay function. There is also an extended snapshot function to save and later load the complete state of an emulation session. VICE reads various disk, tape and datasette image formats as uncompressed or zipped files. Describing all the settings would blow this article, but it’s for sure that this is the best Commodore emulator you can get.
Windows | Mac | Linux | FreeBSD | OpenBSD
As this guide is about retrogaming in emulation, the recommendation for the best Commodore Amiga is FS-UAE because it’s focussed on video games. The emulator derives from the original WinUAE which is the best general-purpose Amiga emulator. FS-UAE has a nice intuitive interface with a list of available games and disk images on the right and everything hardware related to the left. A very nice feature is the database connection to OAGD.net (free signup required) which enriches the UI with meta data and screenshots/boxart and configures the emulator to run the game perfectly. To add disk images, simply use the scan function to search for disk images in the selected folders. FS-UAE reads various Amiga disk image formats, even in zipped form. Notice that you will need the original Amiga Kickstart ROMs for the various Amiga models. The emulator let’s you know which ones it needs. You can get them by purchasing an Amiga Forever DVD. Input configuration is very intuitive and should be no problem.
DOSBox + D-Fend Reloaded
Windows | Mac | Linux | FreeBSD | OS/2 | RISC OS | Solaris | BeOS
If you are a child of the 80s and 90s like me, you will know MS-DOS and how to use it. DOSBox is just the right emulator for this and it’s really good. The emulator is configured using a config file. You have to read the documentation to be able to do that but thankfully there are some really good front-ends for DOSBox. The most powerful of them is ‘D-Fend Reloaded‘ which comes with DOSBox out-of-the-box. With D-Fend Reloaded you can create profiles with individual settings for each game and organize them in categories. A nice feature is the profile wizard which helps you at installing or copying games into the DOSBox environment. As said before, this tool is really powerful and has some really useful additional features you wouldn’t expect from a front-end – for instance an ISO image file creator or a floppy disk image file writer. D-Fend Reloaded is multi-language, you can change the language directly from the welcome screen or the settings menu.
MSX is more a standard for a series of home computers than a single device. There were dozens of MSX computers back in the time. Nonetheless there exist emulators for these systems and the most advanced of them is blueMSX. The emulator lets you choose the model to emulate, for instance the MSX or MSX 2. You can also edit these machine profiles to suit your needs. It has the usual features like save states, cpu save states (snapshots), video and audio recording and a screenshot function. Input configuration is straight-forward and easy to use. In the video settings you can choose a monitor emulation to add more nostalgia feeling to your game. Other features are a built-in debugger and a trace logger, as well as a nice sound mixer panel. blueMSX reads various uncompressed disk image and cartridge formats as well as zipped ones.
Because this guide focusses on emulators with the most features and the highest emulation quality, sometimes the recommendation goes to a commercial product. So in this case, Spectaculator sells for 15.99 USD and emulates the ZX Spectrum 16K, 48K, 128, +2, +2A, +3, Pentagon 128 and Scorpion ZS 256. Spectaculator has a ton of options for the different ZX Spectrum models and it’s hardware. For instance you can mimic a TV screen with different settings to achieve a more realistic look. Input configuration is simple. You can also open a virtual ZX Spectrum keyboard on-screen. Features of the emulator include audio and video recording, a screenshot function, action replay (gameplay recordings in different formats), a cheat/pokes module and a debugger. Spectaculator can read various zipped and uncompressed disk image formats including the .IPF format introduced by the Software Preservation Society. The free alternative for this emulator is ZXSpin with similar features but without support for .IPF files.
Video game consoles
4DO is the better one of the two available programs for emulating and running 4DO disks or disk images. It’s available in numerous languages. Besides the usual features like save slots and graphics processing it has also a Disc Browser which lets you explore the contents of a disk or disk image and extract files from it. You will need a 4DO BIOS file in order to run games.
Windows | Mac | Linux
Stella is the best Atari 2600 emulator and available for Windows, Mac and Linux. It has it’s own GUI which can be a bit odd. The emulator has some nice features. Besides the usual like input, video and sound configuration or taking snapshots you can simulate a TV screen with various effects to get the real retro feeling. It also has a built-in debugger and you can audit your collection of Atari 2600 ROMs with it. It reads zip compressed ROMs as well as uncompressed ones.
Atari800Win-PLus is an enhanced version of the emulator ‘Atari800’ with many video and audio options. You can config a mouse, joystick or keyboard to act as your controller. It also supports playing games over network with another person running the emulator. Atari800Win-PLus – as the name suggests – is also an Atari 800 emulator, but it also emulates the 5200 as well as Atari XL/XE. Unfortunately it doesn’t open zipped ROMs, you will have to unzip every ROM to load it.
EMU7800 is a simple but the most compatible emulator for Atari 7800 and in active development. Key binding is pretty simple and restricted to predefined keys and there are only basic graphics options. Everything before starting the game takes place in one window. You can search for games with different criteria, for instance games which use a certain controller or by the machine they run on. It reads zipped files which is good for your collection.
Windows | Mac | Linux | BeOS
Virtual Jaguar is under active development and available for all major desktop operating systems. Unfortunately CD support is not yet implemented. Apart from this it’s a very compatible emulator. It’s not as fast as ‘Project Tempest’ – the first Jaguar emulator ever created, but with nowadays computers it should be no problem. You can open zipped ROMs as well as uncompressed ones. Don’t get confused by the filename extensions. The emulator also loads ROMs named with .j64. In order to play games, you either have to place all ROMs in a path you can define in the settings or you just drag and drop your zipped or uncompressed ROM onto the executable.
blueMSX is actually a MSX emulator but it also supports other hardware like the ColecoVision. A central feature of the emulator is the simulation of different TV screens (effects). It can also capture audio and/or video or take screenshots of the game. There is also an embedded debugger. Creating save states is of course a base functionality. You can open zipped ROMs directly.
Windows | Platform independent (source code)
MESS is a multi-system emulator and I really wanted to avoid them because emulation quality is mostly worse than with emulators specifically made for a platform. However, in the case of the Fairchild Channel-F the MESS emulator is the only choice. Please read the MESS wiki to know how to set up everything.
O2EM is the only emulator for the Odyssey². Its GUI comes as a separate download. The GUI is fairly simple. You have to define a path where your unzipped ROMs are, then you can choose the game you want to play from the list. It also shows a screenshot of the selected game. Unfortunately input configuration can’t be changed. You can take screenshots and there is a built-in debugger.
Nostalgia is a Intellivision emulator which displays your ROMs in a list along with a box shot of the selected game. You will have to unzip your ROMs in to a folder and set the path to it in the settings of Nostalgia. The emulator doesn’t have that much options but you can configure your input device as you want. A nice feature is the built-in Kaillera client which allows to play 2-player games with people over the internet. Other features include audio and video capture, screenshots and support for Intellivoice, the voice synthesizer of the Intellivision. The alternative to Nostalgia is ‘Bliss‘ which has a more clean GUI.
Windows | Mac | Linux
Nestopia is compatible with nearly all NES games and has a good feature set which include save states, video and audio recording, screenshots, support for different NES input devices, Netplay over Kaillera, input configuration and cheat system. The emulator supports ROMs compressed as 7Z, ZIP and RAR. A nice feature is the built-in game launcher which displays detailed information for every ROM and lets you launch games from there. The alternative to Nestopia is ‘FCEUX‘ which has similar features and some really advanced debugging/hacking functionalities.
VBjin can open zipped as well as uncompressed Virtual Boy ROMs. Features include gameplay, video and audio recording and a memory watcher. As the original Virtual Boy was a console with stereoscopic view, you can alter this in the emulator, for instance to display only one side to get rid of the stereoscopic effect. There is also a hotkey configuration which let’s you define the keys used to control emulation. Input configuration is straight forward and should be no problem. The emulator also supports Lua scripting.
Snes9x is the most popular SNES emulator. It has the standard features such as multiple save game slots, video recording and a cheat system and also has netplay built-in. You can emulate every input device that was released for the SNES and you can of course configure up to five different joypads which you can enable or disable as you like. This is handy if you want different configurations for different games. Beside these features you will find the usual audio and video settings such as sample rate window size and bilinear filtering. Snes9x can open your ROMs in zipped form. The alternative would be ‘Higan‘ but be advised that it uses it’s own organization structure which can be annoying for some people.
Nintendo 64 emulators are working with plugins for each component of the system. This means you have a sound plugin, a video plugin and a input plugin. This gives the user incredible freedom of choice. My recommendation for a emulator is based on which one is able to work properly out of the box with the included plugins. Project64 includes the popular plugins from ‘Jabo’ for audio, video and input. The video plugin allows some enhancements like higher resolution, anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering which increases the graphics quality dramatically. The main window of Project64 acts as a games list, you have to choose a folder where your ROMs (uncompressed or zipped) are located, then the emulator scans it and displays the titles in a list along with compatibility info and more. The emulator is available in various languages, changeable from the ‘File’ menu. For netplay, you will need an additional plugin called ‘AQZ Netplay‘. It replaces the input plugin but you can plug your actual used input plugin on top of it. Be sure to place the plugin DLL file inside the ‘Plugin/1.6 Plugins’ folder.
There are two alternatives for Project64:
1964 has the Kaillera netplay client built-in and a similar feature set as Project64 and a better video plugin called 1964Video (you can use the DLL in Project64).
Mupen64++ also has two versions of the Kaillera netplay client built-in and also similar features as Project64. It has the popular Rice Video video plugin included.
Windows | Mac | Linux
Dolphin is a Nintendo GameCube emulator available for Windows, Mac and Linux. After setting a folder where your disc images of GameCube games are located, Dolphin displays them in a list in the main window. You can also run games from burned discs, original discs are not supported. Be advised that you need to own the original disc to be allowed to own a copy. A defining feature of Dolphin is its Netplay functionality which built into the emulator, you can either host or join game. Besides that, Dolphon has the usual features like a screenshot function and multiple save slots. You can also record movies of your gameplay. The graphics settings allow some nice enhancements like higher resolutions, anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering or special post-processing effects. You can configure up to four input devices.
Windows | Mac | Linux
Besides the Nintendo GameCube, Dolphin can also emulate the Nintendo Wii. It’s recommended to own a real Nintendo Wii Remote (with or without Motion Plus) together with a sensor bar (like the ‘DolphinBar‘) for gameplay how it’s meant to be. You can also use an emulated Wii Remote and use your keyboard, mouse or gamepad to play, but it’s more complex than the original hardware. Read the paragraph above for more information on the emulator itsef.
Apart from MESS which is a multi-system emulator and ignored in this guide, there is only one dedicated Philips CD-i Emulator named exactly the same. It needs a BIOS ROM file of the CD-i to work. You can load various disc image formats with the emulator. There is no input configuration. You can set the video mode to PAL or NTSC and the emulator has a simple debugger. Unfortunately the beta version only runs for three minutes. You will have to pay 35 USD for the ‘Unlimited edition’.
Windows | Linux | Android
Sony PlayStation emulators are working with plugins for each component of the system, like the Nintendo 64 emulators. This means you have a sound plugin, a video plugin and a input plugin. This gives the user incredible freedom of choice. Unlike the Nintendo 64 emulator ‘Project64’ ePSXe doesn’t come with plugins. You will have to pick your own plugins for video, audio and netplay functionality. Controller config and CD-ROM functionality is built-in so you don’t need a plugin here. I will recommend the best PlayStation emulator plugins for the other stuff later. As the feature set highly depends on them, the emulator itself has not so much to offer. It can load games from real PlayStation discs, various disc image formats, PlayStation executables (.EXE – don’t confuse with Windows executables) and run the BIOS alone. Speaking of, you need a BIOS ROM file to use ePSXe. The emulator also allows to use two virtual Memory Cards to save your progress in game. You can manage their contents when booting in to the plain BIOS. As an alternative you can save your game using save slots which saves the complete state of the current game. The alternative to ePSXe is ‘PCSX-Reloaded‘ which may run some more games and comes with a netplay plugin.
Recommended PlayStation emulator Plugins:
Windows | Mac | Linux
Like for the Nintendo 64 and Sony PlayStation emulators, PCSX2 works based on plugins for each component of the console. There are plugins for graphics, sound, controls, disc drive, usb and more. You have freedom of choice on which plugin to use. PCSX2 comes with plugins out of the box. They work pretty well so I don’t give recommendations for other plugins here. PCSX2 can read various disc image formats and of course load original PlayStation 2 discs. It’s also possible to run PlayStation 2 executable files (.ELF). For this you need to switch to ‘Plugin’ in the ‘CDVD’ menu and select the ‘cdvdGigaherz’ plugin in the Plugin config window. To actually run a game you need a BIOS ROM file of the PlayStation 2. The emulator also allows to use two virtual Memory Cards to save your progress in game. As an alternative you can save your game using save slots which saves the complete state of the current game.
Windows | Mac | Linux
The Sega SG-1000 was the first video game console by Sega and was released on the same day as the Nintendo Famicom. Kega Fusion is the emulator of choice for this system. Read the paragraph on Sega Master System below for more information on Kega Fusion.
Windows | Mac | Linux
Kega Fusion can not only emulate the Sega Master System but also Game Gear, Genesis/Megadrive, SVP, Pico, SegaCD/MegaCD and 32X! It has a lot of features including a own built-in netplay functionality, multiple save states, screenshot functionality, scanlines and tv-mode simulation in the graphics settings. If you use MSN Messenger, it even sets your status message while you are playing games. The emulator also offers a Game Genie menu where you can enter cheat codes. Kega Fusion loads uncompressed ROMs as well as zipped ones. The alternative to Kega Fusion is ‘Gens Plus!‘ which has the Kaillera client for netplay built-in. Apart from that, it’s similar to Kega Fusion except it lacks some graphics effects like the scanlines and tv-modes.
Windows | Mac | Linux
Kega Fusion is also the reference for Sega Genesis/Mega Drive & 32X/CD. You can define BIOS ROMs for each supported system but except for Sega CD, Kega Fusion runs without them. Read the paragraph above for more information on the emulator. The alternative to Kega Fusion is ‘Gens Plus!‘ which has the Kaillera client for netplay built-in. Apart from that, it’s similar to Kega Fusion except it lacks some graphics effects like the scanlines and tv-modes.
Windows | Mac | Linux | FreeBSD | Dreamcast | PSP | Wii
Yabause is the most advanced emulator for Sega Saturn. It’s available for different platforms, including some video game devices. You can load disc image files as well as original Sega Saturn discs with it, but you will need an original Sega Saturn BIOS ROM to play any games. Yabause has the usual features like save states, a screenshot function, a cheating module and a debugger. You can also use a simulated memory cartridge to save your progress in games. Input configuration is very good as you can simulate the different perpherials for the Sega Saturn and use your gamepad, mouse or keyboard for it.
nullDC is the most compatible Dreamcast emulator. It has a plugin structure like emulators for Nintendo 64 or Sony PlayStation 2. Graphics, GD-ROM, sound, input (Maple) and external devices (e.g. Modems) are controlled by these plugins. You also need the original Sega Dreamcast BIOS files to play games with nullDC. There is a region free BIOS out there which eliminates the need to switch between BIOS versions of different regions all the time. If you want to use your gamepad or joystick with nullDC, be sure to select ‘PuruPuru Dreamcast Controller’ in the first dropdown menu in the plugins settings. In the second dropdown you have to select Puru-Puru Pak [XInput]. After that you can configure your controller from the menu ‘Options’ > ‘Maple’ > ‘Port A’ > ‘Config keys for player 1’. If you want to play with another person, you have to do the same with ‘Port B’ in the plugins settings window.
Windows | Mac
Raine can emulate the Neo Geo MVS as well as the Neo Geo CD. It loads zipped and uncompressed Neo Geo MVS ROM files and for Neo Geo CD various disc image formats as well as original discs. The GUI is similar to MAME. You can configure your gamepad or joystick to use with Raine. The emulator has the basic features like save states, audio recording and a screenshot function. There are also some video filtering options. There are a few other emulators for Neo Geo CD (like ‘NeoGeo CDZ’ or ‘Nebula’) but none of them is able to read disc images, you will have to use a tool like ‘Daemon Tools Lite’ or ‘Virtual CloneDrive’ to mount the disc images.
Windows | Mac
MagicEngine is a commercial program and costs 20 USD, but it’s by far the best emulator for NEC’s TurboGrafx 16/PC Engine console. There is a demo version available for download but it’s limited to five minutes of play time. There is a monthly contest on the website with a chance to win a registered version of the emulator. MagicEngine’s comes with its own GUI which is pretty nice. It also features save states, movie recording and a screenshot function. You can add video filters to improve image quality and configure your gamepad/joystick or keyboard as input device. The emulator loads uncompressed as well as zipped ROM files and original PC Engine CD-ROMs. The free alternative to MagicEngine is ‘Turbo Engine‘ which has a lot of features and loads ROMs and CD-ROMs. I noticed a weird scaling bug in windowed mode, the image is jagged in a grid-like pattern. I think the bigger the program window, the less this effect is visible.
Windows | Mac | Linux
This Java-based emulator is just awesome. It includes all the games made for the GCE Vectrex. It even displays a canvas of the game around the game window. If that’s not enough, it also emulates the blur of the vector screen in the original hardware. ParaJVE featues save states and a screenshot function. You can also tweak the graphics settings to your liking. The emulator allows you to use your mouse as analog stick, but you can configure your gamepad/joystick, too. I had some problems quitting the emulator. The emulation still continues after closing the main window. The only way to really quit it is to kill the ‘javaw.exe’ process with the Windows Task Manager.
Windows | Platform independent (source code)
MAME is actually no platform but an emulator for every arcade machine that ever existed. Because of this, it’s the first choice for playing arcade games. To use MAME, you need to have the correct ROM files (usually as zipped archives), equal to the version of MAME you are using. Let’s say you have MAME 0.155, you will need ROMs that are authored in a way this version of MAME recognizes. You can use authoring tools like clrmamepro which I have described in the first part of this guide. Once you have these ROMs, you have to add the folder where they are to the mame.ini file. You can also add paths to extras like game art in mame.ini. Once you did that, you can run MAME. It’s interface is very unusual and simple. To search for a game, just type it’s name, otherwise MAME displays a bunch of games randomly. I recommend using a front-end with MAME. There are dozens of them, some graphical and some as Windows UI. I can’t give a perfect recommendation here as I don’t like any of them but the following front-ends seem to be popular: HyperSpin, Maximus Arcade, mGalaxy, GameEx. There is a nice overview of different front-ends at the Arcadecontrols Wiki.
Handy can not run all commercial games but it’s the only dedicated Atari Lynx emulator out there. The emulator can open uncompressed as well as zipped ROMs. It can save snapshots and has a screenshot function. Apart from some graphics options and a non-functional netplay function there is not much more to discover here.
BGB emulates the Nintendo Game Boy as well as Nintendo Game Boy Color. It uses a context menu for all operations. You can open uncompressed as well as zipped ROMs with it. BGB supports Super Game Boy, a module for the Nintendo Super Nintendo system which let’s you play Game Boy and Game Boy Color games with it. When playing certain games, they are surrounded by a graphical border with game art. The emulator has many graphics and sound settings, a debugger, a VRAM viewer, a screenshot function, audio recording and a cheat module. You can change the LCD color scheme on non-color games, which is nice. A feature only BGB has is the link support which enables you to play two player games over LAN or internet.
Windows | Linux
Besides the Nintendo Game Boy Advance, VisualBoyAdvance-M also supports the Game Boy and Game Boy Color including the Super Game Boy module. The emulator has settings for audio and video, input configuration is easy. Features include a cheat module, a screenshot function, save states and a bunch of expert debugging and hacking tools like a disassembler and a tile viewer. You can record audio and/or video, too. It has link functionality but it’s incomplete so you only can play two player games on one computer. VisualBoyAdvance-M can open zipped as well as uncompressed ROMs.
Windows | Mac
The Nintendo DS handheld was the first one with two screens and DeSmuME emulates them both. You can change the layout in which the screens are displayed and you even can rotate them. The emulator has some unusual graphics enhancement settings for scaling, too. The original Nintendo DS has a microphone, with DeSmuME you can either emulate one or use your physical microphone if present. You can also define your DS avatars details. Like VisualBoyAdvance-M, DeSmuME has a bunch of advanced debugging and hacking features like a disassembler and various viewers, for instance memory, tiles, palettes. Input configuration is easy. DeSmuME can open zipped as well as uncompressed ROMs. If you want you can also define original BIOS ROMs which should enhance compatibility.
GeePee32 is a basic emulator for Gamepark’s GP32 handheld. It can open SmartMedia card images or GP32 binaries, but only uncompressed, zipped files are not supported. Unfortunately GeePee32 does not support sound. It has a built-in disassembler, a memory editor, a cheat module and a screenshot function. Configuration options are limited and the input configuration is limited to predefined keys or buttons.
Windows | Mac | Linux | Android | Symbian | Blackberry | iOS
PPSSPP has a very nice GUI that acts as a file browser to find your disk image files which can be zipped or uncompressed. There are save states and a screenshot function, advanced graphics and audio settings and some expert tools like a debugger, a disassembler and a memory viewer. Settings, including input configuration are accessed using the GUI which is nice. It reminds me of the Android OS. PPSSPP features a few post processing shaders to alter the visual appearance of the emulated games. You can also change the internal rendering resolution to improve graphics quality. There is also PPSSPP Gold, a paid version with exactly the same features as the free version. It’s more a donation for the developers than a real product-wise benefit.
Windows | Mac | Linux
If you have read this guide from the top, you already know Kega Fusion. It’s the reference for Sega Master System and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive & 32X/CD and it’s also the reference for Sega Game Gear. Please read the description of these two systems for more information on Kega Fusion. There is an alternative for Kega Fusion named ‘Meka‘ but I personally don’t like it because of it’s strange GUI.
NeoPop is not being developed further but it’s nonetheless the best available emulator for SNK Neo Geo Pocket / Neo Geo Pocket Color. It supports zipped as well as uncompressed ROM files. The emulator features save states and a link function for two player games. Input configuration is limited to predefined keys and it seems that the d-pad can only be mapped to keyboard keys. You should use a tool like ‘GlovePie‘ to remap the keys. Except for some graphics options, NeoPop does not offer much more.
Oswan supports the Bandai Wonderswan as well the color version. It features save states, a screenshot function and some graphics options for scaling and a few filters to improve image quality. Input configuration works fine, the only problem is that some glyphs are not displayed due to the japanese origin of this emulator. The predefined keys will help you map the right new keys.
Coming soon: Part 3 – User interfaces and front ends
This was part 2 of my guide ‘Retrogaming through emulation’ with focus on emulator software. I hope you found this information useful because most of the listings of emulators don’t rate them. If you find any errors or mistakes or missing things in my guide, please let me know. Feel free to comment, I am happy about your feedback. Thanks for reading!
The next part of this guide will give you an overview of different general front-ends for use with any emulator. The best one I know is of course ‘EmulationStation‘ but let’s see…