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Recommended Video Game Emulators for Windows

By Alejandro Rodriguez. Last revised March 27, 2021.

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In this article, I'm going to list all of the best video game emulators by system and by several recommendation categories. (By the way, if you were wondering what those characters are in the art, those are the logos for DuckStation, RetroArch, Mednafen, and Dolphin.)

Top resource: Emulation Wiki

Before I dive into my recommended emulators, I want to highlight this link: The Emulation Wiki. This place is the ultimate resource for learning about all emulators. My emulation help site is targeted to beginners and casual gamers. And I primarily cover popular gaming systems. Hence, I'm not going to cover everything. Check out the Emulation Wiki if you want a more in-depth and advanced overview of video game emulators.

Recommendation categories

The video game emulators are recommended in the following categories. You could also see these as four different audiences. Which audience do you fall under?

  • 🧑 The Standalone Recommendation - Standalone emulators are dedicated to emulating a single video game system. They're normally easy to use and quick to get up and running. I know many of you still prefer standalone emulators over multi-system emulators, so I always try to have a good standalone recommendation for you.
  • 👪 The Multi-system Recommendation - 'Multi-system' emulators are mass emulators that support around 20-50 video game systems. Oftentimes, multi-system emulators emulate a system better than standalone emulators. They're also highly convenient, emulating all your favorite systems under one roof. However, multi-system emulators aren't always the most user-friendly and may come off as intimidating due to all of the options they offer.
    • Language note: A “core” is what an emulator within a multi-system emulator is called. For example, when someone says “Its Snes9x core” they're referring to the Snes9x emulator within the multi-system emulator.
  • 🤓 The Advanced Recommendation - This category primarily refers to emulators such as BSNES and Mednafen. These are normally recommended by hardcore emulation enthusiasts for the absolute best and accurate emulation experience. However, the usability of these emulators isn't the best. If you're not computer savvy, you may not be able to figure out these emulators or customize them in the ways intended by the pros for an optimum experience.
  • 👴 The Old Recommendation - This is for people using an old, slow machine or using an older version of Windows. Modern emulators either run slow or don't run at all.

About emulator accuracy

I touched on this in the Intro to Emulation article. The accuracy of an emulator's processing has different grades of quality. The highest grade is “cycle accurate”; it's a term you'll often see come up on the subject of video game emulation. In short, at the cost of being heavy on your CPU, cycle-accurate emulators produce 100% accurate emulation (at least, to the naked eye it looks that way).

For the emulators featured throughout this article, I'm going to list three different statuses for “Accuracy”:

  1. Cycle - The emulator is cycle-accurate and potentially CPU-heavy.
  2. High - Accuracy is great and the emulator isn't CPU-heavy. However, if you have a slower or older machine, the emulator may not run well.
  3. Mid - Accuracy is mid-range. This is the normal quality we're used to from emulators throughout 2005-2015. Just as such, these emulators run well on older or slower machines.

And now for the list of the best video game emulators!

Nintendo (NES) The best NES emulators

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: Mesen

Accuracy: Cycle

Download: Homepage

Mesen is the #1 NES emulator. I don't have a tutorial for it, but it's simple and easy to use. If Mesen is too CPU-heavy for your machine, try the options below.

👪 Multi-system Recommendation: RetroArch

Accuracy: Cycle/Mid

Download: Homepage

Help: RetroArch Tutorial

I put Cycle/Mid because RetroArch has a core for Mesen, which brings the emulator to cycle-accurate status. However if the Mesen core is running slow for you, you can fall back on using the FCEUmm or Nestopia cores. These two cores have mid-range accuracy (normal quality emulation).

👴 Old Recommendation: FCEUX

Accuracy: Mid

Download: Homepage My Emulators Page

Help: FCEUX Tutorial

Even though RetroArch has a core for FCE (via FCEUmm), if RetroArch isn't compatible with your old machine, the standalone emulator for FCEUX should work.

Super Nintendo (SNES) The best Super Nintendo emulators

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: Snes9x

Accuracy: High

Download: Homepage

Help: Snes9x tutorial

Snes9x is one of the most famous video game emulators. Through continued active development, it has remained a top SNES emulator. Even though Snes9x is ranked as second best, I recommend it over BSNES because it has more features and it's easier to use.

👪 Multi-system Recommendation: RetroArch

Accuracy: Cycle-Mid

Download: Homepage

Help: RetroArch Tutorial

I put Cycle-Mid because RetroArch has cores for BSNES and Snes9x. What's really cool is that it offers multiple cores for them. The different BSNES cores are optimized by speed and accuracy so that you can find the one that runs best on your machine. The different Snes9x cores are by year, so that you can select a specific build of Snes9x from the early, mid, or late 2000s.

🤓 Advanced Recommendation: BSNES/BSNES HD

Accuracy: Cycle

Download: Homepage HD's Homepage

BSNES is the #1 SNES emulator when it comes to emulation quality. “BSNES HD” is a fork of BSNES - it can render mode 7 scaling in HD, among other features.

👴 Old Recommendation: ZSNES

Accuracy: Mid

Download: My Emulators Page

Help: ZSNES Tutorial

Without question, the classic ZSNES should be able to run on any old machine.

N64 The best Nintendo 64 emulators

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: m64p

Download: Homepage

m64p, along with another emulator called ParaLLEl, are the top N64 emulators. m64p is far easier to use than ParaLLEl, so that's why I've selected it as the better of the two to recommend to you. I don't have a tutorial for it, but it's simple and easy to use.

👪 Multi-system Recommendation: RetroArch

Download: Homepage

Help: RetroArch Tutorial

RetroArch has cores for both m64p (Mupen64Plus) and ParaLLEl - the two best N64 emulators.

👴 Old Recommendation: Project64

Download: My Emulators Page

Help: Project64 Tutorial

The once great N64 emulator still runs well on old machines. Don't download Project64 from its homepage because it contains malware. Download it from my emulators page.

Gamecube The best GameCube/Wii emulator

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: Dolphin

Download: Homepage

Help: Dolphin Tutorial

Dolphin has always been #1 for GameCube & Wii since the beginning and continues to remain there by being in active development. RetroArch does have a core for Dolphin, but I don't recommend it because it's complicated and slow.

Game Boy Classic and Game Boy Color The best Game Boy/Color emulators

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: Gambatte

Accuracy: High

Download: My Emulators Page

Help: Gamebatte Tutorial

There's a handful of top emulators for Game Boy Classic and Game Boy Color. I selected Gambatte as the top one to recommend because it's the easiest and offers the most features.

👪 Multi-system Recommendation: RetroArch

Accuracy: High

Download: Homepage

Help: RetroArch Tutorial

RetroArch has a core for Gambatte, as well as several other cores for other emulators.

👴 Old Recommendation: Visual Boy Advance

Accuracy: Mid

Download: My Emulators Page

Help: VBA Tutorial

The once great emulator for Game Boy/Color and Game Boy Advance is a good option for older machines. On my emulators page, look for “VBA Classic” (the original version).

Game Boy Advance (GBA) The best Game Boy Advance emulators

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: mGBA

Accuracy: High

Download: Homepage

Help: mGBA Tutorial

mGBA is the #1 Game Boy Advance emulator. It even supports the Tilt Censor and Game Boy Camera. “VisualBoyAdvance-M” is a close second, but mGBA is more active in development with its accuracy.

👪 Multi-system Recommendation: RetroArch

Accuracy: High

Download: Homepage

Help: RetroArch Tutorial

RetroArch has cores for mGBA, VBA-M, and VBA Next. These are some great options!

👴 Old Recommendation: Visual Boy Advance

Accuracy: Mid

Download: My Emulators Page

Help: VBA Tutorial

The once great emulator for Game Boy/Color and Game Boy Advance is a good option for older machines. On my emulators page, look for “VBA Classic” (the original version).

Nintendo DS (NDS) The best Nintendo DS emulator

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: DeSmuME

Download: Homepage

Help: DeSmuME Tutorial

DeSmuME is the #1 Nintendo DS emulator. It's fast and supports a wide range of games. When you download DeSmuME from their site, read the directions because they want you to download it from the automated builds link (as shown in this picture ). RetroArch does have a core for DeSmuME, but I don't recommend it because it's complicated and slow.

Game Gear The best SMS & Game Gear emulators

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: Kega Fusion

Accuracy: Mid

Download: My Emulators Page

Help: Kega Tutorial

I'm recommending Kega Fusion only as the standalone option for Sega Master System and Game Gear. I need to stress that it's not the best option for the most cycle-accurate emulation. That honor goes to Genesis Plus GX. Kega Fusion should also work well on older, slower machines.

👪 Multi-system Recommendation: RetroArch

Accuracy: Very High

Download: Homepage

Help: RetroArch Tutorial

Genesis Plus GX is the best and most accurate emulator for Sega Master System and Game Gear. It doesn't have a standalone version for Windows, so you need to use RetroArch for its Genesis Plus GX core.

Genesis, Sega CD, 32X The best Genesis/Mega Drive emulators

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: Kega Fusion

Download: My Emulators Page

Help: Kega Tutorial

Kega Fusion has been the king of emulating classic Sega systems for a long time. Kega Fusion's drawback is that it hasn't been updated since 2010. While it's a great emulator, modern emulators in active development have surpassed it. The tricky part is that there isn't a standalone option for the latest in Genesis emulation - you need to use a multi-system emulator. And I need to point out that the new format rom sites have Sega CD ISOs isn't compatible with Kega Fusion. I talk more about this in the Kega Fusion tutorial.

👪 Multi-system Recommendation: RetroArch

Download: Homepage

Help: RetroArch Tutorial

Genesis Plus GX is the #1 emulator for the classic Sega Systems: Sega Master System, Game Gear, Genesis/Mega Drive, and Sega CD/Mega CD. It doesn't have a standalone version for Windows, so you need to use RetroArch for its Genesis Plus GX core. This emulator achieves 100% compatibility with all commercial games.

🤓 Advanced Recommendation: Mednafen

Download: Homepage

Help: Mednafen Tutorial

Mednafen's Sega Genesis/Megadrive emulation is based on Genesis Plus and information and code from Genesis Plus GX. They've modified and improved it.

Genesis, Sega CD, 32X The best Sega CD/Mega CD emulators

See Genesis/Mega Drive above

Genesis, Sega CD, 32X The best 32X emulators

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: Kega Fusion

Download: My Emulators Page

Help: Kega Tutorial

Kega Fusion, the king of emulating classic Sega systems, emulates the Sega 32X very well. It's also the only emulator that supports Sega CD 32X games! Kega Fusion should also work well on slower, older machines.

👪 Multi-system Recommendation: RetroArch

Download: Homepage

Help: RetroArch Tutorial

In RetroArch, the PicoDrive core supports emulating Sega 32X games. The quality and accuracy are about the same as Kega Fusion. Genesis Plus GX (that I kept raving about above) doesn't support 32X.

Sega Saturn The best Saturn emulators

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: uoYabause

Download: Homepage

Help: uoYabause Tutorial

uoYabause is my top recommendation for Saturn emulation. Games run smoothly and game compatibility is pretty good. Versus Mednafen, it's far easier to use and less problematic. RetroArch has a core for uoYabause (as YabaSanshiro), but it's slower than the standalone version. Another popular Saturn emulator is SSF. However, it's falling behind and is no longer recommended.

🤓 Advanced Recommendation: Mednafen

Download: Homepage

Help: Mednafen Tutorial

The Emulation Wiki says Mednafen is #1 for Saturn. I don't agree - in my experience, I found uoYabause runs better. I view Mednafen as second best. But yet, maybe I'm wrong. Try both emulators and make your own determination as to what's the best for Saturn emulation.

Sega Dreamcast The best Dreamcast emulators

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: Redream

Download: Homepage

This was a tough one to determine. Technically, DEmul is the #1 Dreamcast emulator. However, it hasn't been updated since 2018. It's also CPU-heavy. Redream, on the other hand, is generally a better option. It's compatible with nearly the entire Dreamcast library (Windows CE now supported), has a good user interface, is easy to set up, and can run without the BIOS. Best of all, it's not CPU-heavy. The only catch is that if you want HD rendering, they're asking for $5 US for the premium version. If DEmul and redream don't sound appealing, try Flycast with RetroArch.

👪 Multi-system Recommendation: RetroArch

Download: Homepage

Help: RetroArch Tutorial

RetroArch has a core for 'Flycast', a fork from Reicast. It's a highly compatible and accurate emulator. Through speedy active development, it has joined the top tier of recommended Dreamcast emulators.

PlayStation 1 (PS1) The best PlayStation 1 emulators

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: DuckStation

Accuracy: High

Download: Homepage

Help: DuckS Tutorial

There are a few top emulators for PlayStation 1 emulation. I've selected DuckStation as the one to recommend because it's the easiest to use and requires little setup. You don't need to fuss with plug-ins. It supports all the modern 'PGXP corrections', auto-downloads cheats, and has a robust Memory Card Editor. Most importantly, swapping discs with multiple-CD games is easy, as opposed to RetroArch and Mednafen where it's a hassle.

👪 Multi-system Recommendation: RetroArch

Accuracy: High

Download: Homepage

Help: RetroArch Tutorial

RetroArch has a core for 'Beetle PSX', which is what Mednafen uses for PlayStation 1 emulation. This runs as well as DuckStation and Mednafen, including the modern 'PGXP corrections'.

🤓 Advanced Recommendation: Mednafen

Accuracy: High

Download: Homepage

Help: Mednafen Tutorial

Mednafen is the #1 emulator for PlayStation 1. It's focused on accuracy, which makes it very compatible, and it's been known to outperform Sony's official PSone emulator in accuracy tests.

👴 Old Recommendation: ePSXe or pSX

Accuracy: Mid

Download: My Emulators Page

Help: ePSXe Tutorial pSX Tutorial

The once great ePSXe runs well on older, slower devices. You may need to use Pete's Soft plug-in for best performance. If ePSXe doesn't work well, pSX should run better.

PlayStation 2 (PS2) The best PlayStation 2 emulator

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: PCSX2

Download: Automated Builds

Help: PCSX2 Tutorial

PCSX2 is the #1 PlayStation 2 emulator. It supports a wide range of games. It's CPU-heavy, so you'll probably need to tweak the settings to find the best configuration for your machine (my tutorial helps with this). I'm not linking to their homepage because it doesn't host the latest version. Rather, I'm linking to an automated builds page where you'll find the latest version.

PlayStation 3 (PS3) The best PlayStation 3 emulator

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: RPCS3

Download: Homepage

RPCS3 is the top emulator for PlayStation 3. It should go without saying that emulating the PlayStation 3 is very demanding on a CPU. So if your computer isn't on the higher end, don't have high hopes with RPCS3. At this time, approximately 60% of the game library is playable. I don't have a tutorial for RPCS3 yet, but I know one is sorely needed. In the meantime, you can refer to help videos on YouTube.

Sony PSP The best PSP emulator

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: PPSSPP

Download: Homepage

Help: PPSSPP Tutorial

PPSSPP is the #1 PSP emulator. It supports a wide range of games. The latest version is even optimized to run faster than previous versions. It's still CPU-heavy, though. You'll probably need to tweak the settings to find the best configuration for your machine (my tutorial helps with this). RetroArch does have a core for PPSSPP, but the standalone emulator runs better.

Microsoft Xbox The best Xbox emulator

🧑 Standalone Recommendation: xemu

Download: Homepage

The #1 emulator for Xbox emulation is xemu. It's a low-level emulator continuing the work from XQEMU. It focuses on stability, performance, and ease of use. Almost 150+ games are reported playable. Even though this is considered the top emulator at this time, it's worth keeping an eye out for Cxbx-Reloaded which is rising quickly to possibly surpass xemu.

Arcade emulation The best Arcade emulators

👪 Multi-system Recommendation: RetroArch

Download: Homepage

Help: RetroArch Tutorial

My top recommendation for arcade emulation is RetroArch. It has the latest core for MAME, which is a big deal because using the 'standalone' version of MAME is too complicated. RetroArch has a core for FinalBurn Neo (the latest version of FinalBurn) and FinalBurn Alpha. It has multiple cores for older versions of MAME by year. If you've tried arcade emulation before, you know it can be a frustrating experience due to finding out that many of the arcade roms readily available in rom sites don't work on the latest arcade emulators. So making it easy to jump between new & old arcade emulators is an essential feature for the best arcade emulation experience, which RetroArch does well.

🤓 Advanced Recommendation: MAME

Download: Homepage

The original source of MAME is the #1 emulator for arcade games. It literally supports thousands of games! However, it deserves to be placed under 'advanced' because it's complicated. I think you'll have a much easier and less problematic experience using RetroArch, or even MAMEUI below.

👴 Old Recommendation: MAMEUI

Download: My Emulators Page

Help: MAMEUI Tutorial

MAMEUI was a top build of MAME for a long time until it was abandoned in 2014. It runs great on older, slower machines. It also still has value even today for running 'old' arcade roms.

TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine and TurboGrafx-16 CD/PC Engine CD emulation The best TG16/PC Engine emulators

👪 Multi-system Recommendation: RetroArch

Download: Homepage

Help: RetroArch Tutorial

My top recommendation for TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine and TurboGrafx-16 CD/PC Engine CD emulation is RetroArch using its 'Beetle PCE' core. This is the same emulator used by Mednafen. RetroArch even offers standard and fast variants, just like Mednafen.

🤓 Advanced Recommendation: Mednafen

Download: Homepage

Help: Mednafen Tutorial

Mednafen is the #1 emulator for TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine and TurboGrafx-16 CD/PC Engine CD. It even offers two profiles: PCE-Accurate and PCE-Fast.

👴 Old Recommendation: MagicEngine or Ootake

Download: MagicEngine.com My Emulators Page

Help: MagicE Tutorial Ootake Tutorial

Use these emulators only if RetroArch and Mednafen don't work with your old machine. MagicEngine costs $16 US. Ootake is free, but it's a weird Japanese-to-English translated emulator. Both of them don't officially support booting ISO files for CD games. Rather, you need to use virtual CD-ROM software to trick them into booting ISOs. My tutorials explain this process.