10 Best Video Game Emulators in 2023

Video game emulators allow users to play classic console and arcade games on modern devices like computers, smartphones, and tablets. Emulators emulate the hardware of older gaming systems, essentially tricking your device into thinking it is a specific video game console or arcade cabinet. This gives you access to thousands of classic games without needing to buy vintage gaming hardware.

Emulators are popular with retro gaming fans who want to revisit childhood favorites, as well as gamers interested in trying out “new to them” classic games from before their time. There are emulators available for nearly every retro console and computer, from the Atari 2600 to the PlayStation 2.

When choosing the best emulator for your needs, factors like emulation accuracy, game compatibility, ease of use, and extra features should be considered. Here are our picks for the top 10 best video game emulators in 2023 for playing classic games on your PC, Mac, Android, or iOS device:

10 Best Video Game Emulators

  1. RetroArch


RetroArch is an open-source, all-in-one emulator that supports emulating thousands of games for classic consoles like NES, SNES, Genesis, and N64, and arcade cabinets like CPS1, CPS2, and Neo Geo. It brings together different emulator “cores” and runs them through a unified interface.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS


  • All-in-one emulator with support for tons of systems
  • Highly accurate emulation for many systems
  • Advanced features like save states, cheats, netplay
  • Highly customizable interface and controls


  • Can be complex to set up for first-time users
  • Not all cores are as accurate as standalone emulators

RetroArch is the most versatile emulator that aims to provide highly accurate emulation while also appealing to casual gamers. Though it may take some tweaking to configure, it can handle thousands of classic games once set up correctly.

  1. Dolphin

Dolphin Emulator

Dolphin is the premiere emulator for GameCube and Wii games. It offers high compatibility and accurate emulation to deliver an experience close to playing on original hardware.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android


  • Excellent game compatibility and accuracy
  • Supports HD resolutions up to 4K
  • Options for anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering, and more
  • Built-in cheat code manager
  • Local and online multiplayer support


  • High system requirements for optimal performance
  • Configuration can be complicated for first-time users

For playing Nintendo classics like Super Smash Bros. Melee, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, and Super Mario Galaxy in HD with accuracy close to the originals, Dolphin is the top choice. Just be prepared for some tinkering to get the best experience.

  1. Cemu

CMU Emulator

Cemu is an impressive Wii U emulator that brings Nintendo exclusives like Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to PC with solid performance.

Platforms: Windows


  • Excellent compatibility for many Wii U titles
  • Can run games at up to 4K resolution
  • Offers gameplay modifications and graphics packs
  • Regular emulator updates and improvements


  • Requires a powerful PC for smooth performance
  • Early in development with some bugs
  • Limited gamepad controller options

For those looking to play Wii U games on PC, Cemu is the best option available currently. It requires a beefy processor and GPU but offers great performance and visuals when set up properly.

  1. Snes9x


For emulating Super Nintendo games, Snes9x stands as one of the best SNES emulators available today. It delivers excellent accuracy and performance in recreating the SNES experience on modern PCs and mobile devices.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS


  • Highly accurate SNES emulation
  • Supports save states, cheat codes, screenshots
  • Enhancements for graphics, audio, and controls
  • User-friendly interface


  • Lacks some features of other SNES emulators
  • Small game compatibility issues

Snes9x focuses solely on SNES emulation and nails recreating the look, sound, and feel of the 16-bit Nintendo console without going overboard on bells and whistles. It’s easy to set up and ideal for SNES fans.

  1. Citra

Citra MMJ

Citra is the premier open-source emulator for playing Nintendo 3DS games on PC, faithfully replicating both screens of the dual-screen handheld.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android


  • High 3DS game compatibility and accuracy
  • Offers customization of graphics, audio, controls
  • Supports multiplayer local and online
  • Can increase the internal resolution up to 4K


  • Demanding on hardware for best performance
  • Still in development with some bugs
  • Lacks some 3DS-specific features like StreetPass

Citra provides an impressive 3DS emulation experience, allowing you to play 3DS exclusives like Pokémon Sun/Moon, Super Mario 3D Land, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on your desktop or laptop. Just be ready for some setup.



Want to emulate PSP games? PPSSPP is widely considered the best emulator for Sony’s handheld. It offers high compatibility, good performance, and useful features.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android


  • High PSP game compatibility
  • Supports upscaling to HD resolutions
  • Solid performance even on weak hardware
  • Built-in cheat code support
  • Local and online multiplayer options


  • The interface could be more user-friendly
  • Some games still have issues
  • Slowdown on demanding titles

From God of War: Chains of Olympus to Persona 3 Portable, PPSSPP enables you to play a huge library of PSP games on desktop and mobile with solid visual improvements. It’s easy to recommend for PSP emulation.

  1. Nestopia UE

Nestopia UE NES Emulator

Nestopia UE is considered the gold standard when it comes to emulating NES games with its stellar accuracy in replicating the classic Nintendo Entertainment System.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux


  • Extremely accurate NES emulation
  • Solid game compatibility with few issues
  • Supports save states and cheat codes
  • Open source with regular updates


  • Lacks some features of other NES emulators
  • Graphical customization options are limited

If you are all about playing NES games the way they were meant to be played, Nestopia UE delivers on that front. It may not have all the bells and whistles but nails the most authentic NES emulation around.

  1. Mupen64Plus


Mupen64Plus targets accurately emulating Nintendo 64 games while adding some extra features to enhance the classic experience. It delivers great performance across many popular N64 titles.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android


  • Good N64 game compatibility
  • Enhancements like anti-aliasing and texture filtering
  • Supports cheat codes and controllers
  • Continually updated with improvements


  • Requires tweaking settings for optimal performance
  • Not as accurate as some other N64 emulators

For a balance of enhanced graphics, good game support, and customization options, Mupen64Plus is a solid choice for N64 emulation. It can breathe new life into classics like Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, and more.

  1. Mednafen


Mednafen is an open-source, multi-system emulator supporting NES, SNES, Genesis, PlayStation, and more. While not as user-friendly, it prides itself on providing cycle-accurate emulation for advanced retro gaming fans.

Platforms: Windows, Linux


  • Highly accurate emulation across many platforms
  • A wide array of advanced customization settings
  • Supports save states, graphics filters, and more


  • Very technical and tough to configure
  • Poor gamepad support
  • Steep learning curve

Mednafen delivers uncompromising accuracy in its emulation, appealing most to diehard retro enthusiasts willing to tinker extensively. But the effort can pay off in experiencing these classic games as close to their original form as possible.

  1. OpenEmu


OpenEmu takes a user-friendly approach to retro game emulation, consolidating various emulators into one slick macOS package. It’s great for casual emulation users.

Platforms: macOS


  • Streamlined, beautiful interface
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Supports many classic systems like NES, SNES, Genesis
  • Includes save states and screenshot features


  • macOS exclusive lacks Windows and Linux versions
  • Smaller emulator core selection than RetroArch
  • Fewer advanced configuration options

For Mac users looking to get into classic game emulation with a minimum of fuss, OpenEmu is an excellent pick. It may lack the depth of other emulators but provides a stellar user experience right out of the gate.

Frequently Asked Questions About Video Game Emulators

Video game emulators provide classic gaming experiences across various modern devices. But for those new to emulation, some common questions come up. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about emulators:

Are emulators legal to use?

The legal status of emulators is murky and depends on how they are used. Generally, emulators themselves are legal as they simply mimic the functions of older game consoles. However, downloading commercial ROM game files without owning a copy is often considered copyright infringement.

The safest way to avoid legal issues is to dump your game ROMs by ripping software from cartridges you physically own. You can also find ROMs for homebrew games and demos that are freeware.

Why use an emulator instead of the original hardware?

There are several advantages to using an emulator over vintage gaming hardware:

  • Convenience – Emulators allow you to play thousands of classic games on one modern device.
  • Cost – Collecting and maintaining old consoles and cartridges can be expensive. Emulation is free.
  • Enhancements – Emulators often support graphics filters and other features to improve games.
  • Preservation – Makes games accessible as old hardware breaks down over time.

Of course, purists argue original hardware provides the most authentic experience. But emulators open up classic gaming to much wider audiences.

Can emulator games be played online?

Many emulators support online multiplayer functionality through features like netplay. This allows you to play local co-op and competitive retro games online with friends who are also using an emulator. Popular emulators like RetroArch have robust netplay implementations.

Certain emulators may also augment old games to work online like connecting to new servers. So emulation can breathe new life into the online components of classic games.

What are the best controllers for emulators?

The ideal gamepads for emulators replicate the original controllers of vintage consoles. For example, the 8BitDo SN30 Pro offers an authentic SNES controller feel that’s great for Super Nintendo emulators. Retro-inspired gamepads from 8BitDo, PowerA, and others work well.

For multi-system emulators, wireless gamepads like the DualShock 4, Xbox controllers, and others work great. Many emulators also allow mapping keyboard and mouse controls for convenience. Go with a gamepad resembling the original hardware when possible.

Can the emulator save files and transfer them to the original hardware?

Sometimes yes! Many emulators work with the exact ROM and save files from game cartridges. So if the emulator perfectly recreates the experience of the original hardware, you may be able to transfer saved files back and forth between emulated and non-emulated play.

Just make sure the emulator isn’t enhancing or changing the save file format. Check documentation and forums to confirm before attempting this. Transferring saves can let you pick up the same game on the original console or emulator.


From the NES to the PlayStation 2, video game emulators make thousands of classic games easily playable on modern computers and mobile devices. Options like RetroArch, Dolphin, Snes9x, and others provide great historical game preservation while opening up new avenues of enjoyment.

Ideal emulators accurately recreate original experiences while adding modern conveniences like save states, graphics options, online play, and more. Just be mindful of only emulating software you own.

Video game emulators let you revisit childhood favorites and experience classics you may have missed across decades of gaming history. For retro fans, they are an essential way to replay and preserve aging titles. Now go forth and explore some true gaming gems from the past. Just slot in that digital cartridge and enjoy!

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