The NES Classic is sold out, but these emulators do the same thing for free

best emulators windjammers header
Video game consoles ebb and flow like any other piece of technology in this world, rising and falling in popularity based on the latest-and-greatest system and the next must-have game. The evolution is so quick that we often forget there was a time when Nintendo was the king, when the PlayStation was considered groundbreaking for using compact discs, and Sega was still doing something other than milking that blue hedgehog for all he’s worth.

Needless to say, video games have come a long way from the heyday of cartridge-based functionality and 2D, side-scrolling masterpieces. But just because a game is old doesn’t mean it’s no longer fun — nothing gets a party going like Diddy Kong Racing, after all.

What is emulation?

That’s where emulators come in. An emulator is a piece of software for your computer that functions as a virtual console, allowing you to play ROM files that work in a similar fashion to digital copies of your favorite cartridges or discs. Most of them do so by recreating the correct environment for games to function, often by using demanding games to determine how API calls should be rendered. As you might imagine, emulating newer consoles becomes tricky without high-end hardware, but even Android smartphones can emulate some older consoles.

The software is pretty easy to obtain — many emulators are freeware distributed as zip files, after all — but downloading your ROM files online presents a legal quandary since you might not actually own the game in question.

The issue is one of intellectual property. Emulators on their own aren’t illegal to use, they’re simply a custom compiler for certain applications. The actual game files, on the other hand, are a different story. Depending on where you are in the world, the laws regarding personal backups may vary, but the rule is generally that it’s okay to have a digital backup of a game you already own a copy of. Sites that host or share torrent links to copies of games do so for users who don’t have the means to back up cartridges or discs themselves.

The exception to this rule is the MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) program, which catalogs classic arcade titles and makes them available as an act of historical preservation. If you just want to play those titles, look no further.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: A.I.-powered cat toys, wallets, food containers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Gaming

New study shows Pokémon games have the best value of your collection

What games have the best value? If you're on a limited budget or just want to buy games that give you plenty of playtime for your money, this new report reveals that Pokémon reigns supreme.
Gaming

You're not a true fan without these Nintendo Switch exclusives

Who doesn't love a good Nintendo game? If you're looking for great first-party titles for your Nintendo Switch, take a look at our list of the very best exclusives available right now.
Gaming

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now, from Super Mario Odyssey to Fortnite.
Gaming

Tired of waiting for the PlayStation Classic? Try one of these PS1 emulators

It's not always easy to get ahold of original PlayStation titles due to pricing and general availability. Emulators can solve that problem. Here are the top five PlayStation emulators.
Virtual Reality

Oculus Rift, HTC Vive head-to-head: Prices drop, but our favorite stays the same

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are the two big names in the virtual-reality arena, but most people can only afford one. Our comparison tells you which is best when you pit the Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive.
Product Review

It's got game. But the Razer Phone 2 is still crippled by its camera

The Razer Phone 2 will impress with its gaming prowess and 120Hz screen. But if you care at all about taking pictures on your phone, skip it. While Razer has improved the camera, it’s still short of the competition.
Gaming

The 'Fallout 76' beta starts tomorrow! Here's when it starts and how to join

Want to get into Bethesda's Fallout 76 beta? We don't know when the program will launch, but we provide instructions on how to get ready. The game officially launches on November 14.
Gaming

This $8,000 ‘Devil May Cry 5’ edition will make the perfect plutocrat gift

We've had to wait 10 years for Devil May Cry 5, and Capcom is pulling out all the stops for the long awaited sequel. One of the limited editions, exclusive to Japan, costs $8,000 and includes a leather replica of Dante's jacket.
Gaming

Play your games whenever you want with a MicroSD card for your Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch uses cartridge-based games, but its internal storage may fill up quicker than you would think. Here's what you should consider when picking out a microSD card to expand your Switch's storage capacity.
Gaming

A blizzard of big news is coming to BlizzCon 2018! Here's how you can watch

Tickets for BlizzCon 2018 at the Anaheim Convention Center are sold out, but you can still watch the November 2-3 event at home for your all things Blizzard fix. The opening ceremony featuring all the major news is free to watch for…
News

‘Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’ players are upset over server downgrades

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 users have noticed some network issues caused by a significant drop in server send rates from the beta to the retail release. In response, Treyarch has said it will improve the performance in the coming weeks.
Gaming

‘Fortnite’ won’t make ‘Save the World’ mode free in 2018 after all

Epic Games has delayed the transition for Fortnite's Save the World free-to-play mode. It was previously scheduled to become free by the end of 2018, just like the battle royale mode.
Gaming

Get $100 off an Xbox One when you purchase ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’

Red Dead Redemption 2 is just around the corner and anyone looking to buy the game with a new Xbox One console should consider heading to GameStop. A deal gives you $100 off the console when buying the game.
1 of 14