- BSNES is one of the most accurate emulators for playing SNES classics, providing an experience that is shockingly close to the real deal.
- RetroArch is a versatile emulator that allows you to choose between accuracy and performance, and offers a wide range of other emulators for playing your favorite games.
- SNES9x is one of the oldest active SNES emulators and is known for its great game compatibility, making it a reliable choice for most users.
- ZSNES is a good option for users with older hardware, although it may not have the same level of compatibility as other emulators.
- OpenEmu is a Mac-exclusive emulation frontend that offers a slick interface and runs SNES games well on Apple Silicon processors.
What emulators are best for playing your favorite SNES classics? Nintendo’s second major home console has enjoyed an evergreen status. It was home to many classic games like the popular Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, and one of my personal favorites Chrono Trigger. Buying a mint condition SNES might not be tenable for most users these days, so emulation can be an easier fit.
Thankfully, this is one area where I have quite a bit of experience. I’ve been emulating SNES games since the launch of the original Sony PlayStation. While these might not be demanding games to run in theory, there are some different tiers of emulators depending on your overall use case. Without further ado, let’s dive in and get you on your way to some retro gaming with the best emulators for SNES classics.
Most Accurate: BSNES
BSNES is like playing on actual hardware. No, that statement isn’t a hyperbole or exaggeration. BSNES is one of the most accurate emulators in existence, especially for playing your favorite SNES classics. The emulator targets all subcomponents and facets of the hardware, resulting in an experience that is shockingly close to the real deal.
BSNES is my emulator of choice when it comes to playing my favorite SNES classics. It doesn’t play nicely with some ROM hacks. If you’re one of the players who enjoy Kaizo Mario and other twists on classic platformers, you might want to look elsewhere. For playing games as they are intended to be played, this is the next best thing to having the real hardware on hand.
BSNES runs on most major operating systems. I’ve personally used it both on Windows and Mac computers, and it runs like a dream on both. Just make sure you have a good-quality controller on hand and you should be good to go.
The emulator itself is still undergoing constant development, so make sure to grab the latest stable branch. Nightly releases are a fine choice, but you just need to be aware of any issues that might arise.
Best Multi-Purpose: RetroArch
Who hasn’t heard of RetroArch at this point? RetroArch is a one-stop shop for all things emulation, and you better believe SNES games are covered. One of the best things about RetroArch comes down to how it handles emulation in general. You choose what you need in terms of emulators, or cores as they are called in the front-end management system.
There are plenty of choices when it comes to SNES emulation. If you’re looking to run games on a lower-end PC, this can be a great way to eke out some extra performance where needed. It is hard to imagine a modern PC not handling a console well over 30 years old at this point, but some emulators have heftier system requirements than others.
If you’re looking for an easy way to play your favorite SNES classics, RetroArch is always a fine choice. You can choose accuracy or performance quite easily. Not only that, but you have access to a whole slew of other emulators to choose from when it comes to playing your favorite games.
RetroArch is an easy solution for most users. It provides an easy-to-use interface alongside a slick game management front-end. You’ll also likely love the customization you can apply to the graphical settings. A vintage Sony CRT TV might not be in the cards for you, but you can get close thanks to the shaders included with the software.
Best General Emulator: SNES9x
I’ve been using SNES9x since before I even learned to shave. It is one of the oldest active SNES emulators still supported and is one of the best you’ll find. It has certainly come a long way from its days on the Pentium 2 and supported hardware. Now, with modern processors, it is one of the best native options for playing your favorite SNES classics without hassle.
The emulator itself is fairly accurate. It isn’t unerringly so like BSNES, but it has great game compatibility nonetheless. If you’re looking for an emulator that can handle most games you throw at it with minimal issues, SNES9x is going to be the way to go.
I remember using this to play and complete the fan translation of Final Fantasy 5 well before Squaresoft had become Square-Enix. It works quite well still and runs on just about anything you can imagine. SNES9x is a true labor of love, and the community around it shows that.
SNES9x might be quite old by modern standards. However, it is one of those emulators that is just going to work for 99% of users. On the off-chance that you’re stuck using an ancient computer, SNES9x still might be the right choice for your needs.
Best for Older Computers: ZSNES
ZSNES is a fantastic choice for users with ancient hardware. I don’t mean that you’re using something like a budget laptop from 2020, think even further back. If you’re the sort of user that holds on to PC hardware for decades, ZSNES is going to serve you quite well. The emulator itself has had its day in the sun as it were. Once upon a time, it was the only real way to play your favorite SNES classics.
The passage of time and modern hardware have left it as a recommendation in edge cases. It might not have the same level of compatibility as BSNES or SNES9x, but it does quite well for itself. ZSNES wouldn’t be my first choice for most SNES emulation purposes, but it’ll play most titles with some degree of ease.
You’ll run into issues with certain games. The original Star Ocean for example was one that never played quite right on the console. The same goes for titles like Tales of Phantasia. Both of these classic RPGs utilized special chips on the cartridge itself which served as a real pain in the neck for the early years of SNES emulation.
ZSNES isn’t going to be the best choice for most users. It likely isn’t going to be recommended for the lion’s share of folks looking to play SNES games. However, where ZSNES shines is making the most of any sort of hardware. You might not have the latest and greatest computer, but you can get down with some retro gaming with the best of them.
Best for Mac Users: OpenEmu
You might not think of Mac as a destination for emulation. Thankfully, multiple emulators support Apple’s operating system. OpenEmu is a fantastic choice and benefits from the speed increases seen on the latest Apple Silicon processors. OpenEmu is similar in scope to RetroArch but is a Mac-exclusive emulation frontend.
SNES emulation cores on here run quite well. I was able to coax some pretty stellar performances out of the likes of Yoshi’s Island and Starfox on OpenEmu. If you’re on Windows, this isn’t going to be of much help. You also have the option of using emulators like RetroArch and BSNES when using macOS. It’ll come down to a matter of ease and convenience as to which one suits you.
OpenEmu’s slick interface is built with Apple’s design ethos in mind. Functionally, it is quite similar to RetroArch. Less consoles are supported, but if you’re just looking to play SNES games it should be more than fine for most uses. You’ll also find some stellar support for other Nintendo consoles and the exceptionally underrated Sega Saturn.
Play Your Favorite SNES Classics with These 5 Emulators for PC Summary
|Best General Emulator
|Best for Older Computers
|Best for Mac Users
The image featured at the top of this post is ©P.Cartwright/Shutterstock.com.