6 of the Best Classic Games Emulators for Linux

Play your favorite classics on your Linux PC

A teenager at a computer playing video games.
VOISIN/PHANIE / Getty Images

If you're an avid video gamer, you might be among the many who look back fondly on playing games such as MS PacMan and Dig Dug on the Atari 2600, Super Nintendo, or even Sega Megadrive.

While these legacy systems are hard to come by (and pricey, where available), you can replicate the experience on a Linux box with your choice of game console emulators. Here's a list of the best, in no particular order.

of 06


Dig Dug on the Atari 2600.

What We Like

  • Built-in debugger and disassembler are fun to experiment with.

  • TV "jitter" emulation is a nice nostalgic touch.

What We Don't Like

  • Set up is a little confusing.

  • Older versions are buggy, but the most recent release fixed most problems.

The Atari 2600 was first released in 1977. Breakout, Ms. PacMan, Jungle Hunt, Dig Dug, and Kangaroo were hugely popular on the platform, despite its incredibly basic graphics. Developers worked hard to overcome the limitation by putting great effort into the details of gameplay.

Stella is fairly basic, but it emulates the Atari 2600 games flawlessly. The emulator lets you amend the video, audio, and input settings, as well as controller options. You also can take snapshots of games and create save states.

Stella is available in the repositories of all the major distributions. The download page for Stella includes links to RPMs, DEBs, and the source code. The Atari ROM files are only a few bytes in size, so you can download the entire back catalog in one small .zip file.

Stella's website offers lots more information. You'll also find links to important resources such as Atari Mania, where you can obtain ROMS.

of 06


FUSE Spectrum emulator.

What We Like

  • Has many other uses for programmers.

  • There are ports available for PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, Wii, and other devices.

What We Don't Like

  • Documentation is a little lacking.

  • Selection of games is limited compared to other emulators.

The Sinclair Spectrum was a part of thousands of British childhoods during the 1980s. The reasons were many. Games were incredibly cheap and could be bought everywhere from High Street chemists to local newsagents. The Spectrum also made it possible for users to create their own games and software.

The Free Unix Spectrum Emulator (FUSE) is available in the repositories of all major distributions (either as a GTK package or SDL). You should also install the Spectrum-ROMS package so you'll be able to choose the machine type. (e.g., 48k, 128k, +2, +2A, +3, etc.).

If you are using a modern joystick, also install Q joypad and map each direction on the joystick to a key on the keyboard; this will prevent your joystick from being too sensitive.

You'll find games at the World of Spectrum website.

of 06

Kega Fusion

KEGA Fusion.

What We Like

  • Supports an impressive number of consoles and games.

  • Sleek interface is very intuitive.

What We Don't Like

  • No longer updated.

  • Doesn't support every commercial title.

Kega Fusion emulates everything Sega, from the Master System to the Mega CD—perfect if you like playing Road Rash, Micro Machines, Sensible Soccer, and Night Trap.

Kega Fusion is probably not available in your distribution's repositories, but you can download it from ​carpeludum.com/kega-fusion/.

Other Sega emulators such as DGEN and GENS are available, but they don't emulate the Mega CD, and they simply aren't as good as Kega. The emulation itself works perfectly well with a whole host of games.

ROMs for Kega are available from coolrom.co.uk, as well as other sources.

of 06


Nestopia Bubble Bobble 2.

What We Like

  • Nice multiplayer support.

  • Game Genie support allows you to cheat your way to victory.

What We Don't Like

  • Lacks a debugger and other advanced features.

  • Music sometimes sputters.

Nestopia is an emulator for the Nintendo Entertainment System. As with the other emulators in this list, the emulation is flawless for most games.

Other NES emulators are out there, but Nestopia beats them all with its simplicity. Nevertheless, it allows you to adjust video, audio, and controller settings, save game states, and pause games.

Nestopia is available for Arch, Debian, OpenBSD, Rosa, Slackware, and Ubuntu in binary format. You'll find the source code on the Nestopia website if you need to compile it for other distributions.

of 06

VisualBoy Advance

Manic Miner on the Visual Boy Advance.

What We Like

  • Full screen mode looks surprisingly good.

  • Supports peripherals like the Super Game Boy and Game Boy Printer.

What We Don't Like

  • Linux version doesn't offer the same controller support as the Windows version.

  • Has a known arbitrary code execution vulnerability.

The Gameboy Advance was a great little machine with some fantastic games, such as a remake of the classic Manic Miner. VisualBoy Advance allows you to play them all within Linux. You can play both standard black and white Gameboy and Gameboy Color games.

VisualBoy Advance is available in the repositories of all the major distributions and has all the features you would expect, including the ability to amend video, sound, and speed settings, as well as the ability to save states.

of 06

Higan NES, SNES, Gameboy, and Gameboy Advance emulator

higan SNES emulator for Linux.

What We Like

  • Supports more quality games than any other emulator.

  • Emulates more accurately than other popular SNES and GBA emulators.

What We Don't Like

  • Consumes more resources and battery power than the average emulator.

  • NES emulator isn't quite as good as some standalone versions.

In some countries, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was called a Famicon, and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was known as the Super Famicon. A huge number of games were released for Nintendo's early consoles, including the likes of Zelda, Super Mario, and Street Fighter.

Higan emulates four Nintendo systems in one and does so with a well-designed interface. You are greeted with a tabbed interface for each of the available console types and an extra one called Import. Clicking on a tab shows all of the games' ROMS that are within your catalog for that particular console. 

You can set up gamepads and a Wii controller to work with Higan. Sound and video work well, and you can play in full-screen mode if you wish.

The Legality Of Playing ROMs

Emulators are perfectly legal, but downloading and playing ROMS is highly questionable within the realms of copyright law. Most of the games for the Atari 2600 and Spectrum are not available in any other format, however.

There are hundreds of ROM archive sites on the internet, and many have been active for many years without takedown notices. Articles across the internet contradict each other, with some stating that it is legal to play a ROM as long as you bought the game originally, while others state that there is no legal way at all to play ROMs on games emulators. If you choose to use a dedicated ROM site to download games, you do so at your own risk. Always follow your country's laws to the best of your knowledge.