Windows 11

5 Best Emulators for Arcade Games

The Ultimate Nostalgic Journey into Arcade Gaming


Are you looking for the best emulator for arcade games on your PC? While traditional arcade machines can be hard to come by, emulators have become a popular alternative. These apps recreate the classic arcade gaming experience on various platforms, providing gamers access to their favorite classics on modern devices.

Emulators also help preserve game history, ensure compatibility and portability, and enhance the gaming experience. This article will share the top emulators available for playing arcade games. Also, see our review on browser-based emulator options.

In a Hurry? See this Summary of the Best Emulator for Arcade Games Here

  1. Retroarch – Users of this emulator reported that they enjoy customizable mapping, shaders for graphical enhancements, achievement tabs, netplay functionality, and a continually expanding library of gaming options.
  2.  Bizhawk – This emulator is notable for basic re-recording and bulletproof recording support, input display for monitoring input activity, auto hold feature for automatic button holding, RAM watching and poking tools, and Lua scripting for customization and automation of game behavior.
  3.  FinalBurn Alpha – This emulator provides additional features like save and load state functionality, support for cheat codes, the ability to take screenshots, support for multiple input devices, and support for multiple languages.
  4.  MAME – This is the best emulator for arcade games you need if you desire features like support for multiple monitor setups, network play for multiplayer gaming, support for different video filters and shaders, ability to rewind and replay gameplay, and integration of external controllers and input devices.
  5.  Mednafen – Your goto emulator for arcade games with save state support and netplay functionality, Gamepad hotplugs support, rewind feature, and game-specific input mapping.

1. Retroarch – Frontend for emulators
best emulator for arcade games

RetroArch stands out among other emulators like Bizhawk due to its unique and feature-rich nature. Acting as a frontend for emulators, game engines, and media players, RetroArch enables cross-platform gaming on your Windows PC.

As a comprehensive Nintendo emulator, RetroArch also provides access to a wide range of video game ROMs, including Nintendo, Super Nintendo, NES, Nintendo 64, and more.

RetroArch is not limited to Windows computers, as it offers compatibility with various platforms such as Mac OS, Linux, Android, iOS, and gaming consoles.

Additionally, the user interface boasts a sleek design, allowing for easy navigation through the game collection using the menu. However, it may require some time to familiarize yourself with the emulator.

Although the initial installation and setup process for RetroArch may require dedication, the emulator compensates by offering the opportunity to relive classic gaming experiences across multiple platforms within a unified framework.

The highly adaptable system empowers users to customize emulators and game settings to their preferences.

Lastly, RetroArch utilizes RetroCores to emulate games from a variety of platforms. Notable cores supported by the emulator include Dolphin (for Wii and GameCube ROMs), Citra (for Nintendo 3DS), Redream (for Sega Dreamcast), OpenLara (a Tomb Raider game engine), melonDS (for Gameboy), and more.

Additional notable features of RetroArch include:
  • Customizable mapping
  • Shaders for graphical enhancements
  • Achievement tabs
  • Netplay functionality
  • A continually expanding library of gaming options

2. Bizhawk – Multi-System Emulator
best emulator for arcade games

Bizhawk, created by the developers at TASVideos, is an exceptional all-in-one emulator that combines a retro design with powerful functionality. It is compatible with Windows operating systems and is available for free.

Designed to provide users with accuracy and power, Bizhawk also streamlines the emulation process without unnecessary complexities.

Furthermore, with Bizhawk, you can seamlessly emulate and run several ROMs on your Windows PC, including Neo Geo Pocket, Nintendo DS, Sega 32X, PlayStation, Sega Saturn, Sega Master System, Virtual Boy, Uzebox, and ZX Spectrum. For a comprehensive list of compatible ROMs, refer to the official website.

Additionally, Bizhawk offers extensive recording capabilities and Lua scripting support, allowing users to create and customize gaming experiences. It also includes features like full-screen support, controller and hotkey mapping, gamepad support for precise controls, and an auto rapid-fire function.

While the installation process of Bizhawk may require more than just a few clicks, it is well worth the effort, given its range of features and functionality.

Additional notable features of Bizhawk include:
  • Basic re-recording and bulletproof recording support
  • Input display for monitoring input activity
  • Auto hold feature for automatic button holding
  • RAM watching and poking tools
  • Lua scripting for customization and automation of game behavior

3. FinalBurn Alpha – Arcade and Console Emulator
best emulator for arcade games

FinalBurn Alpha (FBA) is popular as one of the best emulators for arcade games due to its exceptional performance, extensive compatibility, and accurate arcade hardware emulation. The FinalBurn team developed FBA aims to provide users with an authentic arcade gaming experience on various platforms.

One of the standout features of FinalBurn Alpha is its excellent support for a vast library of arcade ROMs. This is because FBA supports a wide range of arcade systems. These systems include Capcom CPS-1, CPS-2, and CPS-3, Neo Geo, Sega System 16, and many more.

Furthermore, FBA is known for its highly accurate emulation of arcade hardware. It strives to replicate the original arcade experience by faithfully reproducing the behavior of the original arcade machines, including sound, graphics, and gameplay.

This level of accuracy allows players to enjoy arcade games without compromising quality or performance. The emulator offers various customization options to enhance the gaming experience. Users can configure controls, graphics filters, and audio settings to suit their preferences.

FBA also supports different display modes, including full-screen and windowed, providing flexibility in how games are presented on the screen. Additionally, FBA supports netplay functionality, allowing players to engage in multiplayer gaming over a network.

This feature enables users to connect with friends or participate in online gaming communities to enjoy arcade games together. This enhances the social aspect of the arcade gaming experience.

Finally, FBA is available on multiple platforms, including Windows, Linux, and Android, offering accessibility to many users. Its user-friendly interface and straightforward setup process make it easy for both beginners and experienced users to get started with the emulator.

Additional notable features of FinalBurn Alpha include:
  • Save and load state functionality
  • Support for cheat codes
  • Ability to take screenshots
  • Support for multiple input devices
  • Support for multiple languages

4. MAME – Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator
best emulator for arcade games

MAME is arguably the best emulator for arcade games, preserving gaming history with accuracy and compatibility. It is an open-source project that aims to emulate a wide range of arcade systems and preserve the software and hardware legacy of arcade gaming.

MAME’s main strength lies in its accuracy. It strives to faithfully reproduce the original arcade experience by emulating the hardware components of arcade machines, including CPUs, sound chips, and graphics processors.

This level of accuracy ensures that games run as close to their original counterparts as possible, preserving their unique gameplay, graphics, and sound.

Additionally, MAME supports an extensive library of arcade game ROMs. It covers several arcade systems from various manufacturers, including Capcom, Sega, Namco, Atari, and many others. This comprehensive compatibility allows players to access various arcade games from different eras and genres.

MAME also offers a range of customization options to enhance the gaming experience. Users can configure controls, graphics settings, audio options, and input devices according to their preferences. This flexibility allows players to tailor their experience to match their desired gameplay style and hardware setup.

In addition, MAME provides various features to aid in the preservation and documentation of arcade games. It includes support for artwork files, such as marquees, control panel overlays, and cabinet artwork, to recreate arcade machines’ authentic look and feel.

MAME also supports high-score saving, allowing players to compete for top scores and maintain a record of their achievements. Finally, MAME’s community-driven development and active user base contribute to its ongoing improvement and expansion.

Additional notable features of MAME include:
  • Support for multiple monitor setups
  • Network play for multiplayer gaming
  • Support for different video filters and shaders
  • Ability to rewind and replay gameplay
  • Integration of external controllers and input devices

5. Mednafen – Trusted Sega emulator

Mednafen is a versatile emulator designed for Windows computers, capable of simulating various gaming systems. This emulator is portable and harnesses the power of OpenGL and SDL to deliver captivating game rendering.

In its initial iteration, Mednafen emerged as a command-line-centric emulator capable of emulating multiple systems. However, the development team has thoughtfully introduced a user-friendly graphical interface (GUI), expanding its accessibility to a broader audience.

While RetroArch and Bizhawk excel in facilitating the emulation of handheld retro games, Mednafen takes the spotlight for those seeking a comprehensive emulation solution that covers PlayStation 1, Nintendo, and SNES platforms.

Mednafen boasts an impressive range of supported platforms, encompassing Apple 11/11+, PlayStation One, Sega Genesis, Master System, Game Gear, Super Nintendo, GameBoy Advance, Neo Geo Pocket, WonderSwan, and more.

Like RetroArch, Mednafen does not offer a conventional installer; rather, it requires some manual file and folder management to initiate. Unlike RetroArch, however, Mednafen’s installation process is notably more straightforward and user-friendly.

A noteworthy highlight of Mednafen lies in its robust support for ISO files and its capability to emulate TurboGrafx 16-CD / PC Engine CD games. This facet makes Mednafen an excellent choice for indulging in CD-based gaming experiences on your PC.

Additional notable features of Mednafen include:
  • Save state support
  • Netplay functionality
  • Gamepad hotplug support
  • Rewind feature
  • Game-specific input mapping

In conclusion, Emulators have revolutionized how we experience arcade games, bringing the nostalgic joy of the arcade era to our fingertips. Whether you are a seasoned gamer or a newcomer, one of the emulators in this review might be the best emulator for your arcade games.

From recreating authentic visuals and sounds to offering customizable controls and save states, these emulators provide a rich and immersive arcade gaming experience. So, dust off your virtual quarters and get ready to relive the magic of arcade gaming with the best emulators available.

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Richard Omachona
Richard is a techie in providing fixes and solutions for computer issues of various kinds. Among his contemporaries, he is a preferred choice. His experiences are vast in Windows operating systems, and several other skills in programming such as Python, Web Frontend designing implementing at industry standards, best practices in HTML, CSS and JavaScript. and basics in Web Backend. He also loves traveling, gaming and music.