Last Updated on June 23, 2023
Video game emulators have become increasingly popular due to their ability to cater to retro gamers like us. Initially viewed with suspicion due to legal issues and its grey area of operation, these emulators are now fully embraced as a necessity for gamers.
This is because companies like Nintendo and Sega poorly handle the release of old games. Inflated prices and limited availability pushes gamers to resort to emulation even with legal risks.
Also, the prices of these old video games have increased to a ridiculous amount due to various factors as explained by Retro Gamer Boy. With so many games to explore and so many benefits the video game emulator can do, it has become therefore a necessity even with some legal risk.
There are many emulators available, but I present to you my top five favorite emulators that I still own on my laptop:
5. NullDC (Sega Dreamcast)
Despite being a discontinued project, NullDC has stood the test of time as one of the best Dreamcast emulators. It offers smooth gameplay without audio issues, easy control set-up, and works well even on older computers.
All the Dreamcast games that I had played on NullDC worked really well and did not suffer any audio issues (unlike Demul and a few others). While there will be other emulators that do better than NullDC, I recommend giving it a try.
4. Dolphin (Nintendo GameCube and Wii)
Dolphin is the go-to emulator for GameCube and Wii games, allowing for optimal resolutions beyond the original consoles’ capabilities. It is constantly being updated to support more games, making it the best emulator for these two consoles.
When many people ask as to where they can find any emulator that can play GameCube games, almost everyone’s answer is Dolphin. It was the latest emulator that I had discovered and I’m finally enjoying the GameCube games that I missed.
3. PCSX2 (Sony PlayStation 2)
PCSX2 is a top emulator for PS2 games, supporting almost all titles with features like Save States and improved graphics. It offers a great experience for those who missed out on PS2 games and is also great for reliving past favorites.
It was honestly hard to decide which emulator that I have in my laptop will make it to the list: the PSX-Reloaded emulator for PS1 or the PCSX2 for PS2. Eventually, I decided to go with the PCSX2 for a number of reasons.
First of all, when I was in Bangladesh, a lot of my friends had a PlayStation 2 console before me and I couldn’t help but be a little jealous, even if I got to play on it at their houses. Secondly, it boasts all the features you need from an emulation suite.
For the absolute joy this emulator has brought to me and making my dream to play PS2 games come true (although playing it on console would be lovely), I rank PCSX2 as my 3rd favorite emulator. Fun Fact: Many of my high school friends regret selling their PS2 consoles and games and wish that they could buy it again. I could only wish them luck as I gleefully play my favorite PS2 games on the PCSX2 emulator.
2. Kawaks (Neo-Geo and Capcom arcade games)
Although not as widely used as FinalBurn Neo, Kawaks holds a special place as the first arcade emulator for many players. It has nostalgia value and offers quality gameplay for Neo-Geo and Capcom arcade games.
This was the first arcade emulator that I had ever encountered, even before MAME. My friend from Bangladesh showed me this and we really enjoyed the many Neo-Geo and Capcom games that are supported by the Kawaks emulator. We completed each other using 2 keyboards only and it was a blast to play.
Of course, that was years ago. If only I could see my buddy again, we would have lots of fun on Kawaks as adults this time, free from the hectic modern world.
1. MAME (arcade games)
MAME is the oldest emulator and can play many arcade games, making it a favorite of Youtubers and gamers worldwide. If not for MAME, many arcade games would have been lost forever. Despite its complex user interface, MAME’s impact on video game preservation is immeasurable.
This is my No.1 favorite emulator of all time. Started in 1997, it is one of the oldest emulators that exists on the internet and its impact is huge. Across its various iterations, it has the ability to play most arcade games. Not only that, the MAME dev team are continuously improving their product so that more games can be supported and played. MAME stands for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator.
Why MAME is king of the video game emulators
Think about this. If MAME hadn’t existed, there would be many arcade games which could had been lost forever. We would never had been able to play games that were not able on overseas except Japan. We would never have been able to discover the games, genres and the technology which has intrigued us.
Video game preservation would never have been completed and we would had lived in a dark time where we would had never known that some of our favorite arcade games from Japan have even existed. In short, MAME has massively helped preserve the arcade games of the past and is highly regarded around the world. I even wrote a thank you letter to them in one of my articles.
While there are many video game emulators, none cover the wide area of arcade games as well as MAME does.
Although the user interface is very complex, it is actually simple if you are only looking forward to have a good time. You will just need the bios, the correct ROMS and set the correct directory of ROMS for MAME to detect and you are good to go, providing that the game can be supported.
So for the huge impact it had, I rank MAME my favorite emulator.
Video game emulators offer a way for retro gamers to experience their favorite games without the challenges posed by limited availability and inflated pricing. While there are some legal risks involved, the benefits that these emulators offer make them a necessary tool for many gamers.