Step on a goomba and travel back to 1980 as we take a look at the best NES emulators of all time!
When I think of retro consoles, I always think of Nintendo. The NES catapulted Nintendo into homes across the globe and cemented them as one of the most dominant names in gaming.
And what about some of the games that first came to light on this console? Arcade ports such as TMNT and Donkey Kong alongside the very first Legend of Zelda game.
Imagine a world without Zelda. No, don’t do that; it’s too unbearable to think about!
But what if you’re 8-years-old with a tonne of your mum’s old NES games and no console to play them on? What if you want to relive the glory days but the dog chewed through your power cable?
That’s where the best NES emulators come into play!
Check out the five best emulators we use on a regular basis and find out what makes them tick below!
Table of Contents
1. Nestopia UE
Nestopia UE kickstarts this list of the best NES emulators of all time. Scrap that; Nestopia UE is the best NES emulator, period.
This is probably going to get some hate from the trolls, but hear me out (or ‘ORRGH UGH ARRRGH’ in Trollish).
We’re all about getting people gaming here at Retro Dodo, and Nestopia UE is one of the easiest and most accessible emulators to turn on without having to fiddle around with other settings or preferences.
In many ways, it’s very similar to RetroArch, an emulator which you may well read about further down this list. A lot of the features are the same, and while it has plenty of options for tinkering with games, it feels less complicated.
In other words, it’s the perfect emulator for those taking their first steps into the world of ROMs.
Or as Brandon might call it, ‘living dat ROM lyf’.
Yes, there’s a bit of frame lag now and again, but it doesn’t affect gameplay that much, and most people will pass over it without a second thought. It’s a nice, simple emulator and one that helps to keep the best NES titles alive.
- Open Source
- MacOS, Windows, Android
As a prolific Mac aficionado, this is one of the best emulators I’ve ever downloaded. For starters, it’s the best looking program on the internet bar none. It looks like something Apple should have designed and works a treat.
I’ve referred to OpenEMU before as looking like the retro gaming world’s version of iTunes; that’s how slick it is. Drop ROM files in and sit back as OpenEMU puts them into alphabetical order and displays a neat little graphic of the game cover.
And the controller mapping screen takes all the stress out of setting up an external controller on any system. Seriously, I find controller mapping to be a tedious task and one that I had difficulty with when I first got into computer gaming. It’s like brain surgery, but OpenEMU simplifies it and makes it easy for dimwits like me to understand.
I could talk about how much I love OpenEMU for a long time, but that would bore you and send my word count sky high. Just download it and give it a try; you won’t be disappointed.
VirtualNES takes the 3rd spot in this list of the best NES emulators of all time!
Like Nestopia UE, VirtualNES just gets on with the job at hand and doesn’t need a lot of messing around with to work. It plays a large number of NES games flawlessly and is a solid choice for PC gamers everywhere.
Don’t worry; any seasoned emulator pros out there can still mess around with settings to get the best results if they wish, but it’s not necessary to enjoy all those retro NES vibes. We’re all about playing games with as little work as possible here at Dodo Towers!
We’re also all about playing as much as possible and not doing as much work, but don’t let that get out…
Hook up joysticks or gamepads and play your favourite games in glorious full-screen mode. Plus there’s a nifty cheat mode option too for anyone who loves the easy life.
- Open Source
- Multiple Platforms
RetroArch is the 4th program in our list of the best NES emulators of all time, and it’s also one of the most versatile emulators on the internet.
Like OpenEMU, RetroArch is one of those emulators that holds a large number of different consoles in one golden-age-of-gaming hub. From the PC-Engine to the Nintendo DS, RetroArch has pretty much every console ever made tucked away inside it, and it uses ‘cores’ to emulate all the different games.
Rather than concentrating on one console, these cores can be called upon for different consoles all in the same program. It’s like an emulator for the emulators, if that makes sense!
RetroArch uses the top-spot emulator Nestopia UE for its core, providing slick and seamless emulation of all the best NES games from Ducktales to Tetris.
And the best bit is that it comes with cool NES-themed overlays that make your screen look retrolicious! What more could a person want?
- Open Source
- Windows, Linux
Last but not least is FCEUX, another of the best NES emulators on the scene and one that comes with a whole host of exciting features for the player who loves customising their gaming experience.
I’d say right here and now that is one for the more hardcore gamer. Setting it up is a breeze, so it wouldn’t be hard for novice emulator users to get to grips with. Still, the debugging, video capture and speed run settings are all designed for YouTubers or professional players, making it a great choice for those serious about retro gaming.
Having said that, the only thing that sets this console back from the other programs in this list is the fact that it doesn’t have a true NES colour palette. For most people, this won’t make any difference whatsoever, but purists might want to go for RetroArch instead.
What Are Emulators?
You know how Link puts on those masks in Majora’s Mask and can turn into a Deku Scrub or a Goron but he’s still technically link? Well, that’s how an emulator works, but there’s no cool sound-effects.
The gaming industry is bigger than any other industry in the world, and its partly thanks to the golden age of gaming and the breakthrough consoles that kickstarted everything off. The NES is one of those consoles, which makes it pretty ancient, and not everyone has a working NES to go with their epic games catalogue.
Hope is not lost, however, as more and more gamers have taken to ripping their games and pulling ROM files of their favourite titles onto handheld devices and modern computers.
That’s some Back to the Future stuff right there!
Emulators play these ripped ROM files, and they essentially create a mask over your smartphone or laptop and turn it into a temporary retro games console. They’re what you’ll find powering the best retropie handhelds and other classic mini consoles.
Just remember, even though the NES is old, it’s still illegal to go throwing free ROMs around to everyone on the internet. And if you do go ahead and do it anyway, make sure everyone knows we told you not to, savvy?
What Are The Benefits Of Using The Best NES Emulators?
As I said above, the NES is an old fella’ now. The chances are that you might have one but can’t find the power cable, or maybe it’s completely given up the ghost.
The best NES emulators give bonafide Nintendoids like me the chance to remember how amazing some of the best NES games were all over again, all on a modern screen with bright visuals and no sore eyes.
For many people, it’s a toss up between buying the best NES HDMI cables or using an emulator, and cost usually sends people to chose the latter.
Are There Downsides To Emulating Games?
While many of the best NES emulators in the article above make titles such as The Adventure of Link and Super Mario Bros look slicker and smoother, there are some downsides to emulating games.
For starters, some emulators are just downright horrible to use. If the coders who made them don’t know what they’re doing, then you could basically be downloading the equivalent of the poop emoji.
And then there’s the ROM files themselves which may have been ripped badly or infected with a sneaky virus. Some of the scams surrounding the best PS5 emulators make people want to just give up with emulators completely, but there are some brilliant programs out there if you know where to look.
How Do I Download The Best Nintendo DS Emulators?
We’ve listed 5 of the most trusted and best NES emulators on the internet, some of which you may have seen in previous Retro Dodo articles. Simply type them into a search engine and check out the official downloading pages.
Listen, we would link you ourselves as emulators aren’t illegal, but we’re steering clear just to be on the safe side.
Still, if you’ve made it this far in life, then were pretty sure you’ll be able to figure the rest out for yourselves.
And remember people; sharing ROMs is bad news, capish?
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Seb Santabarbara has bought every Nintendo console that has ever been released in his 33 years on Planet Earth. His favourite game franchise is Zelda, and he’s patiently waiting for Banjo-Kazooie to come back to the fold. When he’s not playing games, he’s travelling the world in his self-converted camper van.