How to Use RetroArch

Play Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox games on your phone or PC

Use RetroArch to download emulators and play games on your PC.

RetroArch is a free cross-platform video game emulation program. If you know how to use RetroArch, you can play classic Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox games on almost any computer or mobile device. You can even run RetroArch on the Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and other gaming systems.

Instructions in this article apply to RetroArch 1.7.9 for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS.

What Is RetroArch?

RetroArch is an open-source project capable of running multiple video game emulators in one interface. On top of the features extra offered by individual emulators, RetroArch provides several additional perks including:

  • Gamepad and touch screen support.
  • Extensive video and audio customization.
  • Recording and streaming capabilities.
  • Online multiplayer options.

Since it's open-source, anyone can contribute new cores and customization tools, and frequent updates are released with new features. RetroArch emulates more than games and consoles. For example, there are cores for video game engines, so you can do things like design your own Tomb Raider game using the original assets.

RetroArch Cores and ROMS

While RetroArch is convenient once set up, the set up process can be time consuming. It's a tool aimed at advanced users interested in software development who like tinkering with settings. If you just want to play games for a particular system, then there may be better options for emulators.

Before you can play games, you must download the emulators (called cores) as well as the ROM or ISO file for the game you want to play. Cores can be downloaded from within RetroArch, but you'll have to obtain games by other means.

How to Use RetroArch on PC

The process for setting up the desktop version of RetroArch is the same on Windows, Mac, and Linux:

Before you begin, organize all of your game ROMs in one folder so that they'll be easy to find.

  1. Visit RetroArch.com and download the program for your operating system. If the website automatically detects your OS, then you can select Download Stable to download the latest stable version. Otherwise, scroll down and select one of the download options.

    Visit RetroArch.com and download the program for your operating system.
  2. Launch the RetroArch setup file and complete the installation.

    Launch the RetroArch setup file and complete the installation.
  3. Open RetroArch and select Load Core.

    Use the arrow keys to navigate the menu, and press Enter to make a selection. To go back, press the X key.

    Open RetroArch and select Load Core.
  4. Select Download Core.

    Select Download Core.
  5. Scroll through the list and select the emulator(s) you want.

    Scroll through the list and select the emulator(s) you want.
  6. Return to the main menu and select Load Content.

    Return to the main menu and select Load Content.
  7. Locate the folder containing your games and select the file ROM or ISO file for the game you want to play.

    Locate the folder containing your games and select the file ROM or ISO file for the game you want to play.
  8. To save your game, go to Command > Save State Options and select Save State. To load a saved game, select Load State.

You can switch games or emulators by going to File > Load Core or File > Load Content.

To save your game, go to Command > Save State Options and select Save State.

How to Configure RetroArch

RetroArch applies custom settings to all of your emulators by default. To configure settings individually for each emulator:

  1. Go to Settings and select Configuration.

    Go to Settings and select Configuration.
  2. Select the Use Global Core Options File option to disable it.

    Select the Use Global Core Options File option to disable it.
  3. Settings will now be saved for each individual emulator. For example, go to Settings > Video to adjust the display settings for the emulator core you currently have loaded.

    Go to Settings > Video to adjust the display settings for the emulator core you currently have loaded.

How to Set Up Controllers in RetroArch

You can plug in your PS4 or Xbox One controller to navigate the RetroArch interface. To customize controller settings:

  1. Go to Settings and select Input.

    Go to Settings and select Input.
  2. Select User 1 Binds.

    Select User 1 Binds.
  3. Select User 1 Bind All.

    Select User 1 Bind All.
  4. Follow the prompts to set the controller buttons.

You can go to Settings > Menu Toggle Command Combo to set a shortcut to the main menu.

Follow the prompts to set the controller buttons.

How to Download Updates and Custom Tools

Select Online Updater from the main menu to download updates and extensions to customize RetroArch. Some notable options include:

  • Update Core Info Files: Download the latest updates for your emulators.
  • Update Assets: Download the latest version of the RetroArch interface.
  • Update Thumbnails: Download box art for games in RetroArch.
  • Update Cheats: Enable cheats for games when available.
  • Update Overlays: Choose borders/overlays for your emulators.
  • Update Cg/GLSL Shaders: Choose filters to simulate old TVs.
Select Online Updater from the main menu to download updates and extensions to customize RetroArch.

How to Set Up RetroArch on Android and iOS

Before you begin, it's helpful to have all of your ROM files in one place. You can create a folder and transfer the files from your computer. To get started playing classic games on your mobile device with RetroArch:

  1. Download the RetroArch mobile app for the Apple Store or Google Play.

    Download the RetroArch mobile app for the Apple Store or Google Play.
  2. Open RetroArch and tap Load Core.

  3. Tap Download a Core.

  4. Scroll through the list and select the emulator(s) you want.

    From the RetroArch main menu, select Load Core > Download a Core and choose the emulator you want.
  5. Return to the main menu of RetroArch and tap Load Content.

  6. Locate the folder containing your games and select the file ROM or ISO file for the game you want to play.

To switch emulators, tap Load Core on the RetroArch main menu and select the emulator you want to load.

Locate and select the file ROM or ISO file for the game you want to play to launch the emulator.

How to Set Up RetroArch on Switch, Xbox One, and Other Game Systems

RetroArch.com has tutorial videos for how to set up RetroArch on different video game consoles. You may be required to hack your device, which will likely void the warranty.