- Super Mario is a classic game that can be played on emulators, offering engaging levels and hidden secrets.
- Halo: Combat Evolved is a sci-fi first-person shooter game that impresses with its challenges, storytelling, and graphics.
- Alien Hominid is a fun run-and-gun game with advanced moves and various power-ups that make it incredibly enjoyable to play.
- The Legend of Zelda is an iconic and influential game that allows players to explore an open world at their own pace.
- Dragon Hunters: Heroes Legends is a popular MMORPG with retro-inspired graphics and strategic gameplay.
Today’s video game industry offers highly realistic and immersive gameplay. Yet, no matter how advanced the current games are, we sometimes long for the good old days. Luckily, emulators give any gamer the possibility to enjoy classic titles on modern hardware.
Whether you’re a long-time fan of retro gaming or a newcomer looking to understand what all the fuss is about, here are the 20 best games to play on emulators this year.
Let’s check them out!
1. Super Mario
Originally released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985, Super Mario is a true classic and one of the best games to play on emulators. All 49 installments are available on console-to-PC game emulators, so you can take the famous mustached plumber on a quest to rescue Princess Toadstool from the clutches of the evil Browser.
Regardless of the installment you choose, the epic worlds and various levels can keep you glued to the computer screen. All levels are expertly designed with hidden secrets and challenging obstacles that keep the game engaging.
The main playable character is Mario, even though you can also choose to play as Luigi — an option you might want to consider in a multiplayer setup. Alternatively, you can emulate Luigi’s Mansion, a related game series that sees Mario’s twin brother as a protagonist.
2. Halo: Combat Evolved
If you’re into AI and sci-fi, you must have heard of — or possibly played — Halo: Combat Evolved. The game was developed for the Xbox One and was initially released in 2001. While it is a lot younger than many true retro games, it’s hard to deny that this is one of the best games ever.
The storyline is set in the 26th century in a world in which humans have started to colonize outer space thanks to their advanced, faster-than-light vehicles. The main character is Master Chief, a soldier who fights the alien species to save his fellow humans.
Ideal for lovers of first-person shooter action games, Halo: Combat Evolved impresses with a winning combination of challenges, storytelling, and winning graphics for its age. The original version can be found on various PC emulators, including the CXBX and XEMU.
3. Alien Hominid
The independently developed run-and-gun video game Alien Hominid is a two-player simultaneous play game initially released in 2002 by The Behemoth. Two years later, after its huge success, O3 Entertainment redeveloped and released the game for the GameCube and the PS2. Today, a spin-off called Alien Hominid Invasion is in development for the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Windows.
However, you don’t have to wait for the new version to be launched. Emulators allow you to dive right into the classic variant, which is a side-scrolling shooter kind of game. As a titular hominid, you and your partner will have to fend off waves of secret agents with your arsenal of guns and grenades.
Advanced moves, such as rolling under shots and biting off enemies’ heads, can help you strategize, while various power-ups can give you unique ammo, shields, and extra grenades. Mobility-wise, you can move the character across the game world aboard a car, but you can also ride on top of a Yeti or become a UFO pilot. All these options make the game incredibly fun to play.
4. The Legend of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda is a true legend in that it is one of the first video games to allow players to explore the world at their own pace. Like Super Mario, it was released for the NES in 1986, and it has since become one of the most iconic and influential video games of all time.
In this game, you take on the role of Link, a young hero whose quest is to defeat the evil Ganon and rescue Princess Zelda. The vast open world is peppered with dungeons that can be explored in any order you choose. Various puzzles and interactions with non-playable characters help progress the story and keep things exciting.
The Legend of Zelda can be emulated on various platforms, including Mesen, DosBox, and OpenEmu. Beyond the original game, you can also emulate the numerous sequels and spin-offs.
5. Dragon Hunters: Heroes Legends
With retro-inspired graphics, Dragon Hunters: Heroes Legends is one of the most popular massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG). It is exclusively designed for Android, but you don’t need an Android device to play it. This highly acclaimed game can be found on emulators, which means that you can easily play it on a PC.
The game features three reckless heroes — an intrepid mage, an avenging Amazon, and a warlike half-orc — who must face a terrifying dragon and get the treasure hidden in its lair. The dragon is your only opponent, but a dangerous one that will do everything in its power to destroy the fellowship and derail your strategy.
To succeed in your quest, you can use numerous poisons, traps, tricks, weapons, and legendary armor. If you like strategy and deciding who gets to win the bounty, this could be the right game to play on emulators for you.
6. Wario Land 4
Developed by Nintendo and released for the Game Boy Advance in 2001, Wario Land 4 is based on a sort of badass Super Mario who explores the jungle and various passages inside a pyramid to gather four treasures and save Princess Shokora from the evil Golden Diva.
It is an ideal choice for those who can’t get enough of platformer games. To complete the quest, you must go through each of the four passages without losing all of Wario’s hearts. You get eight hearts at the beginning of the game and can collect additional ones along the way.
Wario Land 4 can be played on Windows and Mac PCs, but you need a Game Boy Advance emulator. Some options include VisualBoyAdvance, DeSmuMe, and KiGB.
7. Super Smash Bros
Super Smash Bros is one of the best fighting series that features all of Nintendo’s favorite characters, including Mario, Samus, Link, and Donkey Kong, to name just a few. The objective is kicking your opponents off a stage, more or less like the mushrooms do in Super Mario.
Originally, this game was released in 1999 for the Nintendo 64. After a huge success, the company released several other installments, including Super Smash Bros Ultimate in 2018 for the Nintendo Switch.
That said, you can play all installments on emulators. The original game includes 12 playable characters, and the multiplayer nature of the game makes it a favorite in large competitive communities and online gaming tournaments.
8. Final Fantasy VII
Originally developed by Square for the PlayStation console, Final Fantasy VII follows a mercenary and part of an eco-terrorist organization on his quest to stop a world-controlling corporation from using the planet’s life essence as a source of energy.
During your journey as Cloud Strife, you will build up close friendships and organize strategies with the other characters. The exciting world is the first in the Final Fantasy series to use 3D computer graphics and pre-rendered backgrounds.
A landmark title and one of the best video games developed for the PlayStation, Final Fantasy VII achieved critical and commercial success for its graphics, story, music, and gameplay. The title won numerous Game of the Year awards and is one of the best retro games to play on emulators this year.
9. Chrono Trigger
Released in 1995, Chrono Trigger is another of the iconic RPGs developed for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The first game in the Chrono series, Chrono Trigger, was designed by the author of the Dragon Ball manga series, among others.
The story follows a group of time-traveling adventurers in their quest to prevent a global catastrophe. Revolutionary for its time, Chrono Trigger achieved critical and commercial success thanks to its unique battle system, plot-related side-quests (most of which focus on character development), and its multiple endings.
Since its first release, the game has been reinvented and released for the Nintendo DS, PS Network, iOS, and Android platforms. Nevertheless, you can still enjoy the original versions on most Nintendo emulators.
10. God of War
If you’re an avid gamer, you likely played or at least heard of the latest God of War Ragnarök. What you may not know is that the PS4 game is based on an older version called simply God of War. The original game was first released in 2005 for the PS2 and then transformed into a trilogy that includes God of War II and God of War III.
In all versions, the game follows the protagonist Kratos—who later becomes the God of War—in his fights against the other Gods. While the game is mainly centered on combo-based combats, it also includes puzzle-solving stages, quick-time events, and platforming elements.
The successful trilogy includes spin-offs and sequels available on all PS consoles, including the PS5. However, if you want to play the original, you can do so on an emulator for classic PS games. Otherwise, if you are a PS fan, you can give God of War Ragnarök a try.
11. The Ants: Underground Kingdom
Like Dragon Hunters: Heroes Legends, The Ants: Underground Kingdom is not a retro video game. Instead, it is one of the most popular video games developed for Android — obviously, you don’t need an Android device to play it, as you can enjoy the game on the big screen with an emulator.
In this game, you take the role of the ultimate Ant Ruler. You must build and grow your colony, defend it against enemies, and lead the Queen, among others. As an ant, you must make use of resources and strategy to win the fights against the other opponents in the animal kingdom.
This fun game suits players of most ages, including preschoolers. The only downside is that not all items are free, so you might have to shell out some cash to help advance the gameplay.
12. Persona 5
Not as retro as other entries on this list, Persona 5 was actually released in 2016. This RPG is the sixth installment in the Persona series (despite its name) and was developed for the PlayStation 3 console. In 2019, an enhanced version of the game, Persona 5 Royal, was released for the PlayStation 4 and then adapted for other gaming consoles, including the Xbox and the Nintendo Switch.
The game takes place in Tokyo and follows Joker, a high school student that becomes a secret vigilante. Together with other students in his group, Joker sets off to explore the Metaverse and fight against enemies known as Shadows, using a physical manifestation of his psyche called Persona.
While mainly an RPG, the game also incorporates social simulation and dungeon-crawling elements. The group grows as new Personas are gained through battles and successful negotiations. Cited as one of the greatest role-playing games of all time, Persona 5 received numerous praises for its music, story, gameplay, and visual presentation.
13. Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid is another PS classic that you can play on emulators. This action-adventure stealth video game was first published by Konami for the PlayStation 2 in 1998 and is a sequel of the MSX2 video games Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.
The protagonist is Solid Snake, a soldier who infiltrated a nuclear weapons facility to neutralize a terrorist threat. In addition to the main mission, the main character must also liberate hostages and strategize to avoid getting caught.
Beyond gameplay, Metal Gear Solid is often credited for popularizing stealth video games. A complicated storyline and lengthy cutscenes make it one of the best cinematic games of all time.
An action RPG, Nier was released for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 in 2010 and then redeveloped and released as Nier Replicant for the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One in 2021. Both versions are a spin-off from the Darkengard series, following the fifth ending of the first Darkengard video game.
The events take place on a decayed planet Earth. As the protagonist, you must find a cure for the Black Scrawl illness and understand the nature of the Shades, some unidentified creatures that stalk the world.
The different storylines borrow elements from different game genres, occasionally switching between them and the main RPG. While not all players like this fact (some may find that the various gameplay elements are poorly connected), the game has become a cult classic that you can play on emulators.
15. God of War II
If you’re into action-adventure hack-and-slash video games, you can’t miss playing the God of War II on emulators. The game was first released in 2007 for the PlayStation 2 and is the sequel to the 2005 God of War.
Based on Greek mythology, the game is set in ancient Greece, and it has vengeance as a central motif. In God of War II, you take on the role of Kratos, a new god of war who won its place after killing the former god, Ares. Betrayed by Zeus and slowly dragged to the Underworld, Kratos is saved by Gaia and helped to travel back in time and take revenge on Zeus.
Similar to the previous installment, the gameplay focuses on combo-based combat. Aside from the main gameplay, the God of War II also features quick-time events, puzzles, and platforming elements.
16. The Pokémon Series
Pokémon was made famous by the successful anime series and the spin-off Pokémon Go game, but you can play the original Pokémon series video games — originally developed by Game Freak for Nintendo and The Pokémon Company — on most emulators.
The core series was initially launched in the early 2000s and released in generations. Each generation has its own characters and storyline, so finding the right Pokémon video game to play on emulators should be easy, based on your favorite character.
Regardless of the actual generation, all of the original versions developed by Game Freak are RPGs. However, spin-off games based on the series encompass other genres, including puzzle, digital pet, fighting, and action role-playing games.
Fans of the gothic horror genre and action-adventure video games can return to the retro era with Castlevania. Debuted in 1986, the game is largely set in Count Dracula’s castle and is based on side-scrolling action platformers.
Numerous sequels released between 1997 and 2010 can also be played on various consoles and emulators. Most of these spin-offs introduce role-playing and exploration elements as well as nonlinear gameplay.
Ranked among the best video games ever made, Castlevania enjoyed enough success to grant it entries in other types of media. The beloved characters have been featured in comic books and animated television series.
18. GoldenEye 007
Based on the popular James Bond movie, GoldenEye 007 is a first-person shooter video game originally published in 1997 for the Nintendo 64 console. In this game, the player becomes James Bond. Your mission is to prevent a criminal syndicate from using a satellite weapon and to do that, you must navigate all levels and complete all objectives.
A multiplayer mode allows you to play with three friends. Each of the four players must compete in deathmatch scenarios via split-screen — a play mode that makes everything more competitive and interesting.
Praised for its realistic style and pioneer features such as stealth elements and atmospheric single-player missions, the GoldenEye 007 has managed to leave an enduring impression in the video game culture. While the original game was released in January 2023 for most gaming consoles (including the Xbox and the Nintendo Switch), you can find it on most emulators and play it directly on PC.
19. Super Metroid
Developed by Nintendo and Intelligent Systems, Super Metroid is one of the best ‘90s games to play on emulators. It was first published on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994 as the third installment in the Metroid series.
The game follows the established action-adventure gameplay model of its predecessors, but it also introduces new concepts. For instance, players have to find power-ups to reach previously inaccessible areas, and they have the ability to fire in all directions. Other improvements include an inventory screen and an automap.
Acclaimed for its gameplay, graphics, music, and atmosphere, Super Metroid is often cited as one of the greatest video games of all time. Whether you’re into speedrunning or just long for a solid retro game, this one won’t disappoint you.
20. Skies of Arcadia
An RPG initially released in 2000, the Skies of Arcadia is a traditional Japanese game that puts great focus on exploration, turn-based battles, and experience points. In this game, the player takes the role of a young pirate that, together with his friends, attempts to stop evil forces from reviving ancient weapons that have the potential of destroying the world.
To complete the quest, you must fly an airship in a 3D space, discover hidden locations, charter the map, and engage in battles. You also have to interact with non-playable characters to progress the story, visit cities to buy equipment, and go through dungeons to make your character stronger.
Its complexity and engagement won the game positive critical acclaim. While not as popular as other entries on this list, Skies of Arcadia is one of the most popular Dreamcast games.
Finding an exciting new game in today’s world is easy, but sometimes you might long for something retro. Whether it’s an RPG or a first-person shooter genre, you can now play almost every kind of game on emulators. Just pick your favorite title from this list and let the adventure get started.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com.