Modern games can be amazing in so many ways, but think of the hours you spent memorizing deaths in the original. mortal combat or get shredded by dogs in Resident Evil 1 and you will feel warm. If you want to relive it all, it’s not difficult.
Companies have attempted to fill the void with ports and remasters of older games. Both make them playable on modern devices. However, these remakes and reboots leave a lot to be desired.
splash house received a dreadful reboot back in the days of the PS3, Golden axe sequelae to death around 2008, and Micro machines never replicated the chaotic fun of the first two games.
So can you go back to the good old days? Sure. Any game can theoretically be emulated. Current hardware and software limitations only make it difficult to emulate current and previous generation consoles, so any nostalgic itch will be easy to wash away. Here’s what you can currently do and how you can do it legally.
What are emulators
An emulator is basically a program that runs software on a device that it is not designed to run on. Your phone is not designed to run Nintendo 64 games, and Nintendo 64 games were certainly not designed to run on cell phones that did not exist at the time.
An emulator creates a virtual version of a device that can run these games. The software in question mimics the original hardware and runs the game on top of it. Emulation therefore requires more computing power. Technology has advanced to the point where processing power is no longer an issue when running most emulators.
Emulators also tend to be device type specific. Want to run a DDoS game? You need a DDoS emulator. PlayStation 2 fan? You need a PlayStation 2 emulator etc. Some emulators can combine several similar systems. For example, Kega Fusion can play files designed for a variety of Sega consoles. Some emulators can also “upgrade” older games by adding features like pausing or saving game states.
Where to get game files
The emulators themselves are perfectly legal. But getting game files to use with these emulators is a bit of a legal gray area. A case related to someone using an emulator to play a game on another device has never been brought to court, so there are no precedents or certainties to rely on. However, our sister site HowToGeek consulted a law professor on the legal aspects of emulation.
The consensus seems to be that extracting a game from an old cartridge or CD that you own for personal use would fall under fair use. You can make additional copies of games you own, as long as you are the only one using them. Sharing the files afterwards or downloading copies of a game you don’t own would be illegal.
So rummage through the closet, pull out your old favorites, and scan them. For CD and DVD games, a PC or laptop CD drive and some software will suffice to extract the game files. It is possible to play CD and DVD games directly from the discs, but ripping files can provide faster load times and reduce the possibility of damaging your drives.
Older games that were loaded onto cartridges require specialized hardware. You will need a “cartridge lifter” specific to the type of cartridge you want to scan.
Once you have the files, you need a way to read them.
Your PC or laptop can do a lot
As mentioned earlier, emulation requires much more processing power than the original device. Modern PCs and laptops have abundant computing power and provide an easy means of emulation.
Most modern gaming PCs and laptops should be able to emulate anything up to seventh generation consoles (which include the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360) without too much trouble. Any problem will probably come from the emulation software.
While scanning old cartridge-based game files is complex, playing them on a PC or laptop is straightforward. Emulators can cover a whole family of consoles; for example: Kega Fusion will emulate anything from any of Sega’s systems. Install the emulator, select the game file and you are ready to play.
For CD and DVD games, your ripper should be able to save the files as an ISO, which essentially bundles the game into a single file that mimics the original disc. The ISO file must then be mounted on a virtual drive. Then start your emulator, choose your virtual drive, and that’s it.
Controllers are also simpler on PC, with modern XBOX and PlayStation controllers being plug and play via USB or easy to connect with Bluetooth. USB versions of classic controllers are widely available if you want that nostalgic feel. And there’s always your keyboard and mouse if you want to avoid buying other accessories.
Your phone or tablet lets you play old games on the go
Emulator apps are also widely available on cell phones and tablets. The Google Play Store and Amazon have a range of emulators you can download for free, including emulators for every pre-Millennium console. There’s even a development version of a PlayStation 2 emulator. Download an emulator app for your console of choice, download game ROMs to your phone, show the emulator where those files are, and you’re good to go. from.
Unfortunately, due to an App Store policy prohibiting emulators, iPhone and iPad users will have to put in a bit more effort. You can jailbreak the phone, but jailbreaking will expose your phone to security risks and void your phone’s warranty. The Alt Store doesn’t require you to jailbreak your phone or ban emulators. So, fire it up, load up your new emulator with files, and you should be ready to play the retro game on the go.
While there are advantages to mobile emulation, there is a downside. A major issue concerns controls. Retro game control systems are clunky compared to modern efforts, and it only gets worse when playing with a virtual controller. Hooking up an actual controller to a phone can be a bit of a pain. Having to carry a controller around with you also makes mobile emulation a little less portable and convenient, which would take away your phone’s main emulation advantage.
You can create a specialized device
If you want to be a little more hands-on, you can create a dedicated portable emulator from a Raspberry Pi. Your dedicated emulator is highly customizable and can meet specific needs. You can attach a small screen and create an all-in-one portable device, or you can turn your Pi into a miniature version of a classic console.
The portable option is more expensive because you’ll need a small screen, a speaker, and some kind of built-in controller. All the parts you need can be purchased separately or together as part of a kit. A mini console can use any Pi box, plug into a TV via an HDMI cable, and full-size console controllers can connect via USB.
RetroPie offers a range of emulator software covering all consoles, including the PlayStation 2. The software is free, and RetroPie has also provided a detailed installation guide to get people up and running. All versions of the Pi are supported, but RetroPie recommends a Pi 4 as it is the newest and most powerful version.
Although your emulator works without a case, you should have one. Not only does a case protect your device, it adds a lot of aesthetic value. You can buy or 3D print everything from a basic Raspberry Pi cover to elaborate copies of classic devices with built-in displays and speakers.
You can also buy a pre-built emulator
You may even already have one. Backward compatibility, which allows consoles to play games from older consoles, relies on emulation. Not all older games are playable, but Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S have a list of older games up to the original Xbox that will play on the consoles. Just as previously discussed, new Xbox consoles actually emulate the full Xbox 360 and original Xbox hardware, complete with boot sequences to make backwards compatibility possible.
Official emulators for classic consoles, like Sega Genesis, PlayStation One, and SNES Classic, are on the market. Official emulators look like smaller versions of the original consoles, come preloaded with games instead of relying on discs or cartridges, and contain modern features like HDMI ports.
The downside is that official emulators are more expensive than many DIY options, and the game selection can be limited – the PlayStation Classic only comes with 20 games, the SNES has 21.