Last week, we took a look at a few emulators written to allow users to play classic Sega console games on their desktops. This week, we're going to focus on programs written to emulate various Nintendo consoles on desktop PCs. Have a hankering to revisit your classic NES, SNES, Gameboy and Gamecube games? Read on!
First, some US specific legal bits (be sure to check your local legislation): It's not yet illegal to have and run a console emulator. The trouble is in getting the ROMs for games that you want to run on the emulator. While it's legal for owners of a game to personally create an archival backup copy of a game, it isn't legal to get ROMs or image files off the net, even if you legally own a copy of the game. You have to own the game yourself, and make the copy yourself. For older cartridge games, that'll require some electronics ingenuity OR a device like the Retrode. For games on optical media, you should be able to either use original discs or copies.
Again: It's only legal for you personally to make ROM or image copies of a game you own. It's illegal to download, share, or host ROM or image files of the games themselves.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Main source for this writeup can be found here.)
We kick off the NES emulators with Jnes, a freeware NES emulator that is stable and reliable with loads of useful features. This includes the ability to slip between full screen and windowed modes,record video and screenshots, and even a netplay client.
Verdict: Stable and with a good feature set, Jnes is one of our go two emulators for regular use.
Nestopia is another well balanced and friendly NES emulator that boasts features like savestate, video and screenshot recording, netplay, and a built-in Game Genie style cheat system.
Verdict: Another good, general use NES emulator. Honestly, it's apples and oranges between Nestopia and Jsnes, as both have good points without quite outrunning one another.
FCEUX is the NES emulator you will want to use if you're looking for more advanced tools like a debugging mode, a hex editor, video recording, and other tools, on top of the ability to emulate games (of course).
Verdict: If you're thinking of more than just playing games and want to mess with speed run videos, ROM hacking, and more, then perhaps FCEUX might be up your alley.
SNES9X is a great SNES emulator available on a variety of platforms. Available for more than a decade in various incarnations, SNES9X delivers with polish and compatibility is rarely an issue. It also features the usual grab bag of features such as screenshots, video recording, and cheat code support.
Verdict: A balanced and easy-to-use SNES emulator. Fidelity might not be insanely faithful, but most users won't notice, and its pack of features make SNES9X a good place to start for users that haven't done much retrogaming.
ZSNES was initially written mostly in low-level x86 assembly language, which serves as both boon and bane to this particular SNES emulator. While the low-level code is fast and efficient and makes for generally smooth runs, it's not perfect in its emulation and isn't quite as portable across other processors not based on x86 architecture.
Verdict: A mixed bag. On the one hand, it runs really smooth. On the other hand, it has emulation artifacts and portability issues. If you're not as concerned with 100 percent fidelity but want a smooth run, then give ZSNES a try.