Best Emulators in 2023: Ultimate Guide to the Best Game Emulators for PC

There’s something special about reliving the past and playing games from days gone by. For some, the best emulators open up a world of possibilities, granting gamers the ability to go back in time some ten, twenty, or thirty years to re-experience games they thought were lost. If you’re a retro gaming fan, then this guide is for you – join us as we break down the best emulators on offer. Let’s explore the past in our present and find out everything we possibly can about the best game emulators for PC.

Sadly, owing to the passage of time, old technology is becoming scarce and increasingly expensive. For retro gaming collectors, there’s an ever-dwindling market of classic consoles to be bought and traded. Fortunately, tech-savvy gamers can make use of the best emulators in 2023 to instantly reconnect to their past without the need for a decades-old console. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to play old SNES, Genesis, or PlayStation games. We’ve got you covered.

Now, let’s take a look at the best game emulators for PC.

How Does An Emulator Work?

best emulators 2022 pc

Emulators are great for retro gaming, but how do they work?

Firstly, before we take a look at the best emulators 2023 has given way to, let’s quickly highlight what an emulator is and how they work.

At the most fundamental level, an emulator is a piece of software that essentially mimics an operating system from an old console. It enables a modern computer to run a piece of software that totally mimics the classic, retro gaming device, thus enabling gamers to play older games as they once did, decades before.

There are many emulators on the market, some more complex than others, but for the less experienced user, many of them offer an ‘out-of-the-box’ solution. There’s a lot of convoluted technical know-how that goes into building an emulator, but fortunately, there are so many available that require almost no technical knowledge whatsoever.

Of course, nothing is perfect, and even the best game emulators for PC aren’t without their flaws. But, if you’re wondering how to make a retro gaming console, you’ll at least be somewhat willing to put up with a few teething issues.

Is retro gaming worth it, when it comes down to the amount of work possibly required to get it going? Well, it depends on how much you value that hit of nostalgia.

Are Emulators Legal?

There’s something of a grey area in this space, as downloading and using the best emulators is a totally legal practice. However, the active sharing of video game ROMs – copies of the games themselves – is illegal and is considered an act of piracy.

Although, there’s very little legal precedence in the space, and for years, millions of players have used the best PC game emulators without any issues or legal repercussions.

This remains the same whether you’re using a PC emulator, or one of the emulators for Mac, for example.

And Now, The Best Emulators for 2023

PCSX2 (PlayStation 2)

best emulators 2022 pcsx2

We’re starting this list of the best emulators 2023 has to offer with a clear fan favourite and an iconic solution: PCSX2. In history, remarkably few devices have sold quite as well as the PlayStation 2 console, and even today, as a retro platform, it holds up to intense scrutiny. Fortunately, PCSX2 exists to provide PS2 fans with an alternative to seeking out a still-working twenty-year-old console and its respective games.

With PCSX2, which has been under constant development for well over a decade, players reportedly have access to ‘98% of the original PS2 library’. That’s an impressive feat by any means, and it’s made better by the fact that the PCSX2 emulator is one of the easiest pieces of software to get to grips with.

Recommended Games:

  • Final Fantasy X
  • Dark Cloud
  • Soul Calibur III
  • Okami
  • Devil May Cry 3

PPSSPP (PlayStation Portable)

Back in its day, the PSP was a legendary device, introduced as a competitor to Nintendo’s popular handheld platforms. Like some other handheld systems, the PSP device can actually be modified into an emulator itself, but PPSSPP stands as a software-driven emulator that eradicates the need to still have a PSP to hand.

It boasts HD upscaling, and an easy-to-navigate interface, and as an open-source emulator, it’s constantly being updated by both the development team and the community. If you’re a fan of handheld gaming and perhaps are looking for the best emulators for Android, take a walk down portable gaming memory lane and download PPSSPP.

Also, as a side note, if you’re wondering what is the best emulator for Windows 10 – this is absolutely one of them.

Recommended Games:

  • God of War: Chains of Olympus
  • Assassin’s Creed Bloodlines
  • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
  • The Warriors
  • Spider-Man 2

Dolphin (Nintendo Wii and GameCube)

best pc game emulators dolphin

Both the Nintendo Wii and the Nintendo GameCube were hugely popular in their heyday, and today, many gamers still attempt to emulate both of the systems. For almost twenty years, gamers have been replicating the GameCube platform through Dolphin, which is one of the oldest software-based emulators of its kind.

According to Dolphin’s development team, up to 36% of games released across these two platforms play ‘perfectly’ and without any real issues. That’s a huge win for any emulator, especially for one that upscales to full HD and exists on Windows, Android, Linux, and macOS.

And if that wasn’t enough, Dolphin also serves as one of the greatest Steamdeck emulators on the market.

Recommended Games:

  • Luigi’s Mansion
  • Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
  • Fire Emblem
  • Animal Crossing
  • Eternal Darkness

RetroArch (Multi-Platform)

For many retro gaming fans, RetroArch is the best free gaming emulator for PC, without a shadow of a doubt. It’s a one-stop solution, wrapping up platforms and nestling them firmly within a single app. There are downfalls to the platform though, such as the fact that it’s a little too complex for first-time users, but ultimately, this is definitely one of the best game emulators for PC.

RetroArch is an out-of-the-box solution, boasting a clean interface reminiscent of the PlayStation 3 homepage and the ability to play games from countless platforms. Of course, in order to use RetroArch, players will still need to obtain their own ROMs, and as we’ve stated, that’s not always a legal practice.

Recommended Games:

  • Metal Slug
  • Battletoads
  • Metroid
  • Metal Gear
  • Legend of Zelda

SNES9x (SNES)

When it comes to retro gaming, few consoles are as iconic as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It debuted in 1990 and spent years as the dominant successor to the NES. Today, retro fans the world over make use of SNES9x to emulate the games found on the platform. It’s a back-to-basics piece of software that has no hurdles to clamber over in terms of usage.

There are around 1700 games for players to experience on the SNES9x emulation platform, making this one of the best game emulators for PC.

Recommended Games:

  • Chrono Trigger
  • Super Mario World
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Mario Kart

Project64 (Nintendo 64)

Project64 game Super Mario 64

The Nintendo 64 home console, along with its bizarrely-shaped controller, is one of the most popular platforms of all time. For those looking to relive all the retro goodness of the ‘N64’, Project64 is ready, willing, and able to assist. It’s admittedly a very basic PC emulator that doesn’t boast too many features, but it’s that simplicity that makes it a fantastic choice for those relatively new to emulation.

Ultimately, Project64 is a highly compatible emulator that runs on even the most low-level PCs, making it super accessible and globally popular.

Recommended Games:

  • Banjo-Tooie
  • F-Zero X
  • GoldenEye 007
  • Star Fox 64
  • Perfect Dark

Launchbox (Multi-Platform)

Like RetroArch, Launchbox is a one-stop shop for all things retro gaming, offering users an end-to-end emulator for dozens of different platforms. From the moment it’s installed, Launchbox offers players the ability to dive into games from everything from the Atari 2600 to the GameCube, and from the Genesis to the PlayStation. It’s one of the best-looking emulators to make this list, and it’s an extremely capable piece of equipment.

As one of the most progressive pieces of software on this list of the best emulators 2023 has to offer, Launchbox can even store your modern-day games. For instance, if you have a stacked Steam library, you can import it to Launchbox, keeping your retro games and your more modern games all in the same place. It’s the perfect solution for the gamer looking to truly do it all.

Recommended Games:

ePSXe (PlayStation)

epsxe best emulators

This might be the third Sony-focused emulator to make this list, but there’s a great reason for that. From the original PlayStation all the way to the PlayStation 5, there are almost thirty years of intense, exciting, and memorable gaming history. As an emulator focused solely on the PlayStation platform, the ePSXe solution gives players the opportunity to explore some of the best games to come out of the 1990s.

It has the ability to run almost every PlayStation game from that era, and it’s compatible with both a keyboard and mouse or a controller-based setup. There’s no doubt that this is one of the best game emulators on PC, and it remains one of the most popular even today.

Recommended Games:

  • Metal Gear Solid
  • Resident Evil 2
  • Tekken 3
  • Silent Hill
  • Gran Turismo 2

FCEUX (Nintendo Entertainment System)

For the vast majority of the ’emulation crowd’, FCEUX is one of the easiest, most accessible emulators on the market. It’s built around the NES operating system, and as such, players can get access to many of the most iconic games to emerge from the 1980s. It’s such a user-friendly tool, and that’s partly why it has become so popular despite being one of the most basic, quietly-spoken emulators on the market.

There are no fancy user interfaces or complex mechanics with FCEUX, it’s a case of ‘what you see is what you get’, and retro gamers absolutely love that.

Recommended Games:

  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Mega Man 2
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Ninja Gaiden
  • Kirby’s Adventure

KEGA (Sega Genesis / Sega Mega Drive)

We’ve listed a lot of Nintendo solutions on this list of the best emulators 2023 has to offer, but this is the first Sega-focused emulator we’ve produced. For years, Kega has offered retro fans the ability to play more or less every single game released for the Mega Drive (or the Genesis, depending on where you are). It’s a very smooth and stable piece of software, a fact which is attributed mostly to the simplicity of the software itself.

As an expansion to the base Kega emulator, there’s also Kega Fusion. This takes things one step further by giving players the ability to explore games from the entire Sega suite of consoles from the 1980s and beyond. There’s a whole world to explore out there, and once upon a time, Sega was considered a contender for the crown of that world.

Recommended Games:

  • Sonic the Hedgehog
  • Gunstar Heroes
  • Beyond Oasis
  • Castlevania: Bloodlines
  • Streets of Rage 2

Best Emulators 2023 FAQ

What games can you play on an emulator?

Emulators have come a long way in the last few years. That means the catalogue of games you can play on them has grown exponentially. What games you can play will depend on which emulator you use. Check out our lists of recommended games for the best suggestions.

Is it legal to use emulators?

As long as you don’t share copies of full games with other players, using an emulator is completely legal. It’s worth double checking the laws if you’re not sure where you stand in this gray area.

What are the best emulators out there?

This is going to depend on which games you’d like to play! For PS2 games, you may want to take a look at PCSX2. For classic, retro games, you will want to check out Snex9X. It’s just a question of preference really!