There’s something magical about arcades. A dimly lit room, neon lights and the chatter of dozens of excited gamers, perhaps interrupted by the harsh impact of an air hockey table in the distance, make the games come alive. While you may not be able to capture that atmosphere at home, you can play some of your favorite titles there.
Whether it is Galaga† Space Invadersor Glove, there are emulators that let you relive these arcade classics from the comfort of your home. The key is: find the perfect emulator† The one that offers the most authentic experience, right down to the stutter and lag on certain games.
The 4 Best Arcade Emulators for Windows
When it comes to arcade emulators, you have many different options.
MAME is the great grandfather of all modern arcade emulators. It is the best choice for most people, especially anyone who wants to set up an all-in-one appliance at home. MAME is currently at version 0.229 and can handle almost any arcade title you throw at it, including a host of various fan hacks†
MAME is primarily designed for Windows, but if you’re a Mac or Linux user, you can still download the framework and play many of your favorite titles. MAME is the perfect way to re-experience Turtles In Time, especially since you can easily assign arcade-style controllers to almost any game.
One of the reasons MAME has such a huge presence in the arcade emulation world is due to its name. MAME is an acronym for “Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator” – in other words, it’s designed to run all the major arcade machines out there, even weirder ones that use limited input, like the Golden Tee series.
You can download MAME itself from MAMEDev.org. There are many variants of MAME, including a few for mobile operating systems.
FinalBurn Alpha was one of the most important arcade emulators for a long time, second only to MAME, until many developers abandoned the project. FinalBurn Neo is the active fork of the project and the one worth considering.
That said, there are many diehard fans of FinalBurn Alpha who don’t want to stray from their favorite emulator. If you fall into this group, you can certainly continue to use it, but there is virtually no chance of future updates. FinalBurn Neo is the best choice if you want an up-to-date version of the platform.
FinalBurn Neo can be downloaded from GitHub.
RetroArch is a popular and widely used emulation platform, but it is important to note that RetroArch on its own not an emulator. Instead, it acts as a front-end for many different emulators running in the background. However, thanks to its wide range of compatibility, it is worth mentioning.
RetroArch makes it “easy” for users (stressed due to RetroArch’s somewhat complicated installation) to download specific emulators. After you configure RetroArch to your desired settings, you can use the interface to click on the emulator of your choice and download it, including both MAME and FinalBurn Neo. However, RetroArch also works with Daphne, a more focused arcade emulator that plays titles that none of the others can.
RetroArch is an attractive option because it is available on so many different platforms, including Steam. Sure, the setup is still confusing, but at least you can consolidate it into one platform with all your other games.
Zinc is a command line emulator specially designed for ZN1, ZN2, and System 11 arcade hardware titles. Zinc requires more technical knowledge and installation can be particularly tricky, but it excels at emulating titles that other platforms struggle with.
Zinc is a great option for those looking to play more obscure arcade titles like Monster Farm Jump† Tech Romancerand Kasodate† That said, Zinc is only compatible with about 70 games and a pair of BIOS romsso it won’t be your main emulator for all arcade titles, especially more modern ones.
Why do I need different arcade emulators?
Arcade emulation is a sometimes confusing, tricky process. For example, MAME will play many of the same games as Zinc, but Zinc does it better. That is the main reason why hardcore fans have multiple emulators installed on their machine. If you want the most authentic, accurate experience, you need to use the right emulator.
Certain emulators play certain games better than others. Vertical scroll games like TwinBee reportedly outperforming on FinalBurn Neo than on MAME. That can of course also depend on the romset you have. It is often better to download an entire ROM set for a game than to download a specific ROM.
Another aspect to consider is the number of games each platform can emulate. Since the arcade emulation scene has several dedicated emulators for a small, niche group of games, you have to decide which games to play and how best to do it. MAME can emulate over 7,000 games, while FinalBurn Neo is right behind it with over 6,000.
Finally, consider the hardware each is compatible with. If you want to play arcade games on your computer and just plug in a USB arcade stick, that’s fine. But if you want exact control over the input so you can map buttons to a DIY arcade cabinet, make sure the emulator you choose allows for that level of precision.
Give some of these emulators a try. You may find that one version of MAME works better than the other, or you prefer the style of FinalBurn Neo. In the end, it’s all about the chance to replay your favorite games.