6 of the Best Classic Game Emulators for Linux

Play your favorite classics on your Linux PC

Old video games and consoles can be hard to find, but you can play classic games on your computer thanks to emulators. Here's a rundown of the best Linux game emulators.

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These programs are available for desktop and laptop computers running the Linux operating system.

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Best Atari Emulator: Stella

Atari 2600 Dig Dug on Stella game emulator


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.

Stella is fairly basic, but it emulates Atari 2600 games flawlessly. The emulator lets you adjust the video, audio, and input settings. 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. Stella's website offers lots more information and links to important resources such as Atari Mania, where you can obtain ROMS. The Atari ROM files are only a few bytes in size, so you can download the entire back catalog in one small .zip file.

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Best Retro PC Emulator: FUSE

FUSE Spectrum game 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. 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 that you'll be able to choose the machine type. (e.g., 48k, 128k, +2, +2A, +3, etc.). You'll find games at the World of Spectrum website.

If you are using a modern joystick, install QJoyPad and map each direction on the joystick to a key on the keyboard. This will prevent your joystick from being too sensitive.

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Best Sega Emulator: Kega Fusion

KEGA Fusion game emulator


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. That means you can play cult classics like 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 the web. ROMs for Kega are available from coolrom.co.uk, as well as other sources. Other Sega emulators such as DGEN and GENS are also available, but they don't emulate the Mega CD, and they simply aren't as good as Kega.

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Best NES Emulator: Nestopia

Bubble Bobble 2 on Nestopia game emulator


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. In addition to save states, it provides a simple interface that lets you adjust video, audio, and controller settings to your liking.

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.

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Best Game Boy Advance Emulator: VisualBoy Advance

Manic Miner on Visual Boy Advance game emulator


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, including remakes of NES and SNES titles. VisualBoy Advance allows you to play them all within Linux. You can also play original Game Boy and Game Boy Color games.

VisualBoy Advance is available in the repositories of all the major distributions. It comes with all the features you would expect, including save states and the ability to control video, sound, and speed settings.

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Best Multi-Platform Emulator: Higan

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.

Higan emulates four Nintendo systems: NES, SNES, GBA, and the original Game Boy. It features a tabbed interface for each of the available console types. Clicking on a tab shows all of the ROMS you have for that particular console. 

You can set up most gamepads and a even a Wii controller to work with Higan. The sound and video work quite well, and you can play in full-screen mode. Even if you have already have standalone emulators for the included consoles, Higan is still worth checking out.

The Legality Of Playing ROMs

Emulators are perfectly legal, but downloading and playing ROMs of games you do not already own is illegal is most jurisdictions. Nonetheless, there are hundreds of ROM archive sites on the internet, so you'll have no problem finding any game you want.

Install antivirus software before downloading files from the web to avoid malware.

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