Want to play classic titles made for PC or old consoles? Here’s how!
Some of the most addictive video games ever devised were created decades ago. Super Mario, Street Fighter 2, Super Metroid and countless others were made for platforms that are no longer manufactured. Some were produced as cartridges and some worked on PCs that ran Windows 95. While not all games have aged well, they are all important parts of the rich tapestry that is video game history.
Fortunately, if you want to play some of these games, there are options! Here are the top 10 easiest ways to play retro video games.
Emulators: The Elephant in the Room
We’ll be frank here; our legal department won’t let us address the elephant in the room here; emulators. Emulators are programs that you install on your smartphone, tablet or PC and run pirated copies of old games. This is somewhat of a grey area as the emulators themselves are legal but downloading the games is software piracy.
For instance, if you want to play Super Nintendo games on your Android device, an emulator is available for purchase from the official Google Play store.
You’re then left to your own devices to find the illegal copies of the games online. But we can’t recommend that, since there is no legal way to load such these apps with games (besides software you already own). Obviously, we won’t point you toward sites or services that carry pirated software.
The good news is that all 11 of our methods for playing retro games are fully legal and result in a better gaming experience!
#1. Buy and run an original PC games
Unless you own a very old PC or laptop, changes in CPU architecture mean that today’s computers can’t easily run older games. For example, if you want to play a game originally designed for Windows 95 such as DOOM II: Hell on Earth, it will require a lot of trickery to get it to work on Windows 7. While the game itself is available for purchase on Amazon.com, playing it on a modern PC is tough.
Many retro disc-based games come with full, easy instructions to get them working on modern PCs, but this doesn’t always work. For example, DOOM II: Hell on Earth will work on Windows 7, but not on Windows 10. This is where DOSBox comes in handy.
#2. Buy and run an original game on DOSBox
DOSBox is a powerful emulator that can run thousands of DOS games. If you own the original game and know how to work with command lines, DOSBox can probably run it. As DOSBox doesn’t have a user interface, you need to comfortable working in DOS. You can check this PC Gaming Wiki to find out whether the game you want to play is available.
What if you can’t work with DOS? This is where GOG.com comes in.
#3. Buy and install the game you want from GOG.com
If you want to run old PC games on a Windows 10 PC, there’s a fairly good chance that GOG.com can help. GOG is a digital distribution service like Steam that will help you get retro PC games running on a modern PC effortlessly. GOG has thousands of classic games including SimCity 200, No Remorse, Crusader and more.
Instead of buying the game from retailer such as Amazon, you purchase it directly through GOG.com. There’s no need to wait for shipping as games can be instantly downloaded. GOG takes all the hassle out of running the game that you may otherwise experience. Best of all, games often come with a ton of digital-only extras such as soundtracks, wallpapers and manuals that you’d never get if you purchased the original disc. For example, whereas a used copy of DOOM II: Hell on Earth ships for $8.51 on Amazon, you can buy DOOM II and Final DOOM together for just £3.39 on GOG.
#4. Buy and download a remastered or ported game from Steam
If you can’t find the original game disc and it isn’t on GOG, thankfully, remastered or ‘ported’ games are here to help. These are classic PC games that have been remastered (or ‘ported’) to modern PCs. They are readily available on Steam and other distributed services. For instance, DOOM II: Hell on Earth is available on Steam. You simply need to sign up for Steam and install it on your computer, then buy and download the game.
These games will run on Windows 10 PCs without any emulation or processing. Some games are direct ports with higher resolution settings while other have interface and graphics improvements.
#5. Buy a game for your iOS or Android device
The Apple Store and Google Play have a range of retro games available, depending on their popularity. You are somewhat limited in terms of what you can find. To give you some idea of the types of limitations you’ll face, at the time of writing, DOOM II wasn’t available but DOOM 3 BFG is.
While some games are direct ports with higher resolution settings, others have interface and graphics improvements. For example, DOOM 3 has a new checkpoint save system that the original never had and improved lighting and rendering.
For a full-screen experience, you can buy an Android TV box that connects to any TV via component or HDMI cables. With optional wireless controllers, you can create a console-like experience all through the Android system.
#6. Buy a used or refurbished computer
To be honest, if you have the ability to refurbish an old computer, you’re unlikely to be reading this! However, this is one route to playing retro PC games if you want everything to be original and unadulterated. If you lack the skills to do this yourself, you can also pay a computer shop to help you with all the Windows 95 and 98 frustrations you’ve forgotten about over the past two decades.
#7. Buy a second-hand console
To experience games in their original glory, you can find second-hand original consoles anywhere from Craigslist to Amazon. Expect to pay top dollar for mint or boxed consoles as they are collector's items, however, you can find well-worn examples for very little money if you hunt around.
The downside to buying an old console is that you need the original cartridges for consoles such as the NES, SNES and N64. Other retro systems such as the original PlayStation the Cube are easier as they use discs but you’ll still need to buy the original versions.
If you can find an old Nintendo Wii U or 3DS, these both had extensive virtual console libraries of NES, SNES, Game Boy, Sega Genesis and Nintendo 64 games available for download. If you want to play older, non-Neo Geo games, you might have some difficulty.
#8. Explore backward compatibility, remasters and ports on your modern consoles
If you own a modern console such as the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4, you’ll find that they have some retro titles available. Some classic games (such as Shadow of the Colossus) have been completely remastered and are available for purchase. You can find game compilations in the form of digital downloads on all modern consoles. Three of the best platform games ever made by Capcom - and The Disney Afternoon Collection, the Mega Man Legacy Collection and the Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 are available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
The Xbox One has a solid list of backward compatibility for Xbox and Xbox 360 games. This means you can buy certain Xbox or Xbox 360 games and they’ll work on your Xbox One. However, the list of supported games is limited.
The PlayStation 4 doesn’t feature backward compatibility with PSX, PS2 or PS3 discs. Some classics are available digitally, while others are only available through its cloud-based PS Now service.
Many classic Nintendo Wii U games such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Bayonetta 2 have been ported to the Switch. The Switch also has a library of Neo Geo games, for older arcade classics, and classic Nintendo games such as Mario Bros. and Vs. Super Mario Bros.
You can pick up a 3DS and the Virtual Console on that system will let you purchase digital versions of classic console games.
#9. Compilation Consoles and Cartridge Playing Consoles
Compilation consoles are collector-friendly mini consoles that pack hundreds of pre-loaded retro games. Cartridge playing consoles are similarly tiny but play cartridges just like the originals. Both of these types of consoles are produced by third-party companies under license from the original manufacturer.
From a price perspective, they offer unbeatable value. The Hyperkin RetroN 1 HD Gaming Console for NES seen below is available from Amazon for under $30. It is compatible with all original cartridges and there’s also a special complication cartridge (sold separately) that boasts 143 games!
Besides Hyperkin, many other companies including Analogue, Cybergadget and Innext offer complication consoles. Systems such as the Retro-Bit Super Retro-Cade aren’t as striking as the original systems but offer unbeatable value and feature HDMI ports for connecting to your TV or monitor that the original consoles obviously never had.
For Sega Genesis fans there’s the Sega Genesis Flashback HD, while non-HD compilation console fans will be improved with the range of various Atari Flashback systems. These let you play everything from Atari 2600 games to Sega Genesis and Mega Drive games on the Sega Genesis Flashback.
#10. Official Pre-Loaded Mini Retro Consoles
If nostalgia is biting hard, these budget-busting mini retro consoles are cute stylized versions of the real thing. The NES Classic Edition is an official Nintendo product, not a third party knockoff and comes with 30 pre-loaded classic NES games.
There is also a mini SNES available although it’s worth noting that these consoles cannot accept the original gaming cartridges. You are limited to the pre-loaded games that come shipped with the system.
With so many ways to play, there’s never been a better time to get into retro gaming. Hopefully, our top ten list of ways to play has given you a good starting point. Whether you play on a smartphone, an Android box, a console or a PC, our rundown of options means that you can’t go wrong!