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Retro Game Emulators vs. Original Systems: Which Is Better?

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The revival of retro games has sparked a battle between two play methods. In one corner, you have retro gaming enthusiasts who swear by emulators. The other half retro gamers love experiencing the game as intended: on the authentic hardware.

What method is actually better: playing on the original system, or using an emulator? While it may come down to personal preference, there are some clear advantages and disadvantages to both methods.

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Why Choose Retro Game Emulators?

Emulation is everywhere. Nowadays, playing a retro game is as easy as using a retro mini gaming console, buying a digital copy, or finding free ROM files online.

Emulations aim to replicate retro games as closely as possible. Is it enough to forget the original system altogether?

Lower Cost Than Physical Hardware

If you don’t have the original system in the first place, you’ll have to buy the whole system and the games to go with it. Sure, you can find retro systems online or at thrift shops for cheap, but if you actually want a refurbished model, you’re looking at a much higher price.

This is especially true with extra rare games and arcade games. Not only are these games hard to get your hands on, but the high price tag just doesn’t make sense for someone on a budget.

With an emulation, you can use a system that you already own. That means you can boot up your PC, PS4, or Xbox One, and download a digital copy of the game. Plus, you don’t even need a high-performance PC to play an emulation, as most are relatively lightweight.

Emulations require much less effort overall—you don’t have to worry about the price or hardware issues.

Better Performance and More Convenience

Many gamers choose emulations over the original console for the improvements in performance alone. When you play an emulation of an old game on a newer console or PC, you can experience the game in more vibrant colors, as well as with better responsiveness.

Some emulators also allow you to play with the non-original controller. Start up an emulation on your PC, and you can play with your Xbox One controller instead of an old Nintendo controller. However, if you buy a mini retro gaming console, you’ll have to play with a remade version of the original controller (which isn’t a bad thing).

Old-school games make it hard to save your game, and that’s a part of what makes them so challenging. Most emulations have revamped the saving system. Instead of saving your game at select intervals, you can usually save your game whenever you want. This added convenience definitely makes emulations more attractive.

Why Choose Original Systems?

While physical retro gaming consoles are pricier, it’s still appealing to own them. Since emulators are improved renditions of retro games, then why do you need the original system? It’s all a matter of preference.

Experiencing the Authentic Hardware

You just can’t beat the feel of playing a retro game on its original hardware. Connecting the old-school system to your TV, sliding in a cartridge, switching the system on, and picking up the original controller is hard to resist.

Once you hear the music and watch the 8-bit characters cross your screen, you instantly travel back to the past. This whole process is quite nostalgic for anyone whose childhood revolved around these old games.

Choosing to play games on the authentic hardware means accepting all of the issues that come along with it. Although you might have to clean your old cartridges and deal with glitches, it only makes playing the game more authentic and fun.

Games Will Always Run Correctly

Emulation isn’t perfect. The original console is built to run its games, and an emulator can’t always recreate that perfectly. With emulators, you can still run into some bugs and glitches.

It’s also worth knowing that some “newer” older games (N64 and after), are harder to emulate. That’s where having the actual system comes in handy. You may have to deal with some hardware issues, but at least you won’t have any software problems.

The Satisfaction of Collecting

You start with one or two old games in your collection, and suddenly you have dozens on display. After you finish collecting games for the NES, maybe you move onto the SNES, and N64.

It’s an expensive hobby, but it’s extremely satisfying. Who doesn’t want a huge collection of old-school games at their disposal?

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Authentic or Emulation: The Choice Is Yours

Ultimately, the decision to go with emulators or the original system is up to you. While you may heavily lean towards one or the other, it can help to use a mixture of both.

Now that retro games have made a comeback, many are available for digital download on your favorite console’s online stores. If you’re open to emulation, check out some of the best retro game collections for PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.

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Peter Schott
Peter Schott

I don’t know about the “always run correctly” part. As anyone who’s ever blown into a cartridge to get it to work will tell you – sometimes they just don’t run. 🙂 (And yes, I understand what you meant – several things that were rare/never emulated in those original systems.)

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