Relive your youth with Nintendo, SNES, Sega, Atari, and other emulators

Miss your old systems? You can emulate them on your PC.

By JC

Sometimes, you just want to go back to your roots… it’s a human need that arises from time to time. Whether you’re going back to visit your hometown, spending some time thinking about your first significant other, or begging a parent to fix your favorite childhood food… or playing old video games.

Now, there’s nothing I can do for you with the first few, but the last one, I can help with. It’s hard to play old video games, because of course your old game systems were probably broken, worn out, sold or given away 10 years ago, and replacements are a bit pricey. But with a decent PC and the right software, you can play just about anything you ever owned.

Personally, I cut my teeth on a Texas Instruments 99/4a (emulator), with great games like Scott Adams’ various text adventures and other games like Munchman, Alpine, and Parsec.

I’m sure there are plenty of Atari folks out there, too… this one‘s for you.

My first and best real gaming system, and I’m sure that applies to a lot of the folks here, too, was the original Nintendo Entertainment System. I personally use the NESter (specifically, the NNNJester emulator on my PC and … I don’t remember which one on my Mac, but there are lots of options.

I never had a Sega Genesis, but I played Phantasy Star on one a few times at a friends, and it was cool. You can grab a genesis emulator here.

I did have a Super Nintendo, though, and it had some great games as well (ok, and it had some really lame ones, too). I’m much happier with my ZSNES, SNES emulator than I am with my NES emulator, but I really need to pick up a better controller for it, since my “start” and “select” buttons are just to the right of A, B, Y, and Z which means I frequently pause or go into some kind of menu when I’m mashing buttons. There are other emulators, too, but I’ve had the best luck with ZSNES. I don’t recall what I had on my ibook, since I don’t have a controller for my laptop and the number of buttons snes games use makes it hard to play, so I don’t have much experience one way or the other with it. Hopefully you’ll all share your experiences below.

When you get down to it, there are emulators for just about everything: Commodore 64, Apple II/e, Amiga, Gameboy, Lynx, NEOGEO… heck, you can even get emulators for newer stuff like a playstation. Did I miss anything? Check here

But what good is an emulator without a game to play on it? Not much. Of course, the legalities of emulated games (ROMs if you’re not familiar with the subject) are shaky. You can definitely have a ROM of a game you own a physical copy of… but you’re not supposed to own one if you don’t have the physical game. But it’s a little hard to find old games in your local electronics store, particularly rare ones. But if you check Gamestop/Funcoland you can often find them pretty inexpensively; and if you check ebay, there are always collections for sale. And that’s all well and good, it makes you legal, but it doesn’t actually get you a ROM to play. So, once you’ve satisfied the legality requirement, or decided to be a horrible lawbreaker stealing games that the actual manufacturers/writers won’t receive a penny on even if you do buy them, you’ll need to find some ROMs. Perhaps the best site I’ve found for them is CoolRom. They have almost all the NES and SNES games, including a goodly number of new games people wrote that were never on cartridges, and a number of parody/spoof games. What they don’t have are Zelda and Mario, and maybe a few other major games… presumably lawsuits were threatened. Zelda 1 isn’t hard to find, Zelda II was harder, but a good googling will help. Mario… just find a copy of super Mario all-stars for SNES, it gives you all 3 original Mario games, plus Mario lost levels which I think was a europe only release (cool because Mario and Luigi are different– Mario is the normal Mario, Luigi jumps higher, runs faster, but has a much harder time stopping and controlling movements). If you’ve never played them, by the way, I *highly* recommend Uncharted Waters for NES and Uncharted Waters 2: New Horizons for SNES, particularly the second one. GREAT game…

And finally, there are some real benefits to emulators over consoles, and not just having 10 different systems in one convenient package. First, most of them have built in game genie/gameshark/whatever support, so you can try out some of the nifty cheat codes and other things. I find that while I enjoy RP games, I’m really not terribly fond of spending hours and hours leveling up (Though I remember blissfully playing dragon warrior and the original final fantasy for about 20 hours straight doing almost nothing but leveling on many occasions)… so a code that gives you extra experience lets you sit back and play the game without the game getting in the way of your enjoyment of it. And some of them do some pretty cool stuff that’s not really cheating per se, just changes.

Also, with many of them, you can turn off one layer or another of the screen. This can be useful particularly in the few games that the emulators have trouble with, or if you just want to take a screenshot without the character sprites in the way.

My favorite, though, has got to be on ZSNES. Hold down the tilde (~) key and while it’s held down, the game runs as fast as your system can run it. Slow RPG battles are no more, just hold down the attack button and the tilde key and watch your battle end in a matter of seconds instead of minutes (leveling up becomes far less painful)… and it takes only a couple of minutes real time to walk across country in an otherwise painfully slow RPG (assuming you’re strong enough not to get killed, of course)… and for games where time plays a role, like Harvest Moon, you don’t have to sit around and wait.

And don’t forget, to get the real feel, you can even buy Retro Controllers for most old game systems. And if you want something easy to play on your TV, you can get standalone units that play 10 or so games by Atari
, Activision and Namco just by hooking the controller into the TV.

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