Retro Gaming and Retro Emulation has boomed in popularity over the last decade. With older gamers returning to their pixelated roots, younger gamers digging into the classics, and even today’s hottest modern games: Cuphead, Hollow Knight, and Tunic taking inspiration from the past; Retro games are everywhere.
If you are interested in diving into the world of retro games or perhaps hope to reignite a past love, this guide will show you how to get started.
Table of Contents
The QUICK and Legal Way
Most solutions for playing retro games involve retro emulation and obtaining ROMS, which are technically illegal to download. So we’ll start with the quickest way to get started without compromising yourself ethically or legally. Let’s assume that you have a modern gaming console or PC and point you toward one of the many compilations of retro games available today.
If you’re one of the 115 Million people who owns a Nintendo Switch, there’s a simple way to play some of the best retro games of all time for a surprisingly reasonable price: Nintendo Switch Online.
- For just $20 you get 63 Nintendo Entertainment System games and 55 Super Nintendo games for a year.
- If you opt for the highest subscription tier at $50 you also get 22 Nintendo 64 games and 36 Sega Genesis Games.
Enjoy these classics both docked and in handheld mode. They even include the ability to save your progress at any time and let you play multiplayer both locally and online.
If you’re an XBOX, PlayStation, or PC user there are tons of retro gaming compilations to enjoy. Ultimately, these options are simply another form of retro emulation, but one that is sanctioned by the game creators and 100% legal. Here are some of the best examples you can buy:
- SEGA Genesis Collection
- Castlevania Anniversary Collection
- Contra Anniversary Collection
- Mega Man Legacy Collection
- Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and the Lion King
Another handy, legal, and affordable way to play top tier retro games is with mini consoles. Unfortunately, you can’t really purchase these beauties right now unless you’re willing to pay scalper prices. The “Super NES Classic Edition,” “NES Classic Edition,” “SEGA Genesis Mini,” Genesis Mini 2,” “PlayStation Classic,” and “TurboGrafx-16 Mini” were fantastic values when they were originally released and provide a simple way to play retro games on a modern television. Though they’re hard to come by at the moment, I encourage you to keep an eye out for future mini consoles, and snatch them up when you can.
The Authentic, Legal, but EXPENSIVE Way
So you say, “I got some money to burn and want the real thing, baby!” Then you’ll want to find original hardware, game cartridges, and either an old CRT Television or HDMI Upscaler. But, before I scare away any readers on a budget, I will present a cheaper version of this method later in the section titled “The Best Way to Play Retro Games.”
For this section though, lets say you like the idea of collecting physical copies of videos games, then prepare to pay a pretty penny building up a decent library of classic titles. Let’s look at the Nintendo 64:
- $150 for the N64 console with Expansion Pak and a few controllers
- $30-50 per game purchased
- $50-100+ for CRT Television or $100-500 for HDMI Upscaler solution
- $30+ for memory and rumble paks
That’s around $500 to get going with a playable library of around a dozen games. If you’re interested in focusing on a single system and like the idea of always having games to collect, this might be the best option for you.
The FREE and Comprehensive Way (Using ROMS)
If you’re willing to enter the world of retro emulation, you can play almost any game from any retro console for free. There are many great tutorials on YouTube and Google to get you started. Here’s a nice one from Retro Game Corps: RetroArch Starter Guide. This can all be done on your PC right now with no extra equipment.
A whole world of possibilities exist when it comes to gaming through retro emulation. You can run emulation from a Raspberry Pi, Android phones, modded gaming consoles, browser applications, or cheap pocketable devices, like the Anbernic RG280V show below.
Ultimately, this route takes an investment of time to figure out and necessitates the use of ROM and BIOS files, but if you’re someone who’s willing to follow tutorials this might just be what you’re after.
The BEST Way to Play Retro Games
So, we’ve looked at the “legal,” but limited way to play retro games via compilations on modern systems that you can purchase today. Then we explored another completely “legal” route using original hardware, and buying games one at a time. Finally, we addressed the world of emulation; using your PC to play tens of thousands of games for free. So what’s the best method that comprises the pros and cons of all of these options to play retro games?
USE REAL HARDWARE AND BUY A FLASH CART.
Instead of hunting for games and racking up debt, make a one-time purchase of a flash cart.
For example, you could pick up a Sega Genesis console with controllers on eBay for $60 and then purchase the Mega EverDrive X3 for $42. For around $100 bucks you could possess the entire Genesis library in one cartridge.
Retro emulation gets better every day, but playing retro games on their original hardware–the way they were intended to be played–is honestly worth the cost and effort. Latency is the delay between pressing “B” on your controller and Sonic or Mario jumping on your television screen. When you play with original hardware on a CRT television, the games just feels right. When you emulate, latency and misrepresented graphics prevent you from playing games at their best.
Ultimately, you’ll know which method is right for you. Tens of thousands of amazing games have been released and lost to time. Whatever method gamers use to dig up these gems and give them new life can only help keep the magic alive.