What is an arcade emulator?

Arcades have a mystical quality to them. The games come to life in a darkened room with neon lights and the buzz of dozens of ecstatic gamers, maybe punctuated by the heavy crash of an air hockey table in the distance. While you won’t be able to recreate the ambiance at home, you will be able to play some of your favorite games.

Some emulators let you relive arcade classics like Galaga, Space Invaders, and Gauntlet from the comfort of your own home. Finding the ideal emulator is the key. The one that gives you the most accurate experience, right down to the stuttering and latency that came with some games.

When we talk about arcade emulators, we’re referring to our well-known coin-operated machines. The machines themselves are available in a wide range of hardware configurations and are constantly evolving. Please keep in mind that certain games are simple to replicate while others are not. If you truly want to play a game that hasn’t been replicated yet, you’ll have to wait until someone succeeds.

Best Arcade Emulators

When it comes to arcade emulators, there are a plethora of choices.


MAME is the forefather of all contemporary arcade emulators. It’s the most popular option among most individuals, particularly those looking to set up an all-in-one system in their house. MAME is now at version 0.229, and it can play practically any arcade game you throw at it, including a slew of fan hacks.

MAME was created primarily for Windows, but you may still download the foundation and play many of your favorite games if you use Mac or Linux. MAME is an excellent method to revisit Turtles In Time, especially since arcade-style controls can be easily mapped to nearly any game.

MAME’s moniker is one of the reasons it has such a large presence in the arcade emulation scene. MAME stands for “Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator,” and it’s designed to operate all of the major arcade machines, even oddball ones like the Golden Tee series that use restricted input. MAME is available for download from MAMEDev.org. MAME comes in a slew of different flavors, including a handful for mobile platforms.

FinalBurn Neo

For a long time, FinalBurn Alpha was the most popular arcade emulator, second only to MAME, until many of the project’s developers quit. FinalBurn Neo is the project’s current fork, and it’s the one you should look into.

However, many loyal FinalBurn Alpha fans are adamant about not abandoning their favorite emulator. If you fall within this category, you can continue to use it, but future updates are unlikely. If you want the most up-to-date version of the platform, FinalBurn Neo is the best option. FinalBurn Neo is available for download on GitHub.


RetroArch is a popular and widely used emulation platform, but it’s crucial to remember that it’s not an emulator in and of itself. Instead, it serves as a user interface for a variety of emulators running in the background. It is, nonetheless, worth mentioning because of its wide range of compatibility.

RetroArch makes it “simple” for users to download specific emulators (stressed owing to RetroArch’s fairly difficult setup). After configuring RetroArch to your liking, you may utilize the UI to select and download the emulator of your choosing, which includes MAME and FinalBurn Neo. RetroArch, on the other hand, collaborates with Daphne, a more targeted arcade emulator that can play games that none of the others can.

RetroArch appeals to users since it is available on a variety of platforms, including Steam. Sure, the layout is still perplexing–but at least you can combine it with your other games on a single platform.


Zinc is a command-line emulator that supports titles from the ZN1, ZN2, and System 11 arcade hardware. Zinc needs more technical knowledge and can be difficult to set up, but it excels at replicating titles that other platforms have trouble with.

Zinc is an excellent choice for fans of rare arcade games such as Monster Farm Jump, Tech Romancer, and Kasodate. Zinc, on the other hand, is only compatible with about 70 games and a few BIOS ROMs, so it won’t be your go-to emulator for all arcade games, especially newer ones.

What’s the Point of Using Different Arcade Emulators?

Emulating an arcade game can be a perplexing and difficult procedure. MAME, for example, can play many of the same games as Zinc, but Zinc does it better. Hardcore gamers will have many emulators installed on their computers for this reason. You must use the appropriate emulator if you want the most realistic and accurate experience.

Specific emulators are better at playing certain games than others. Vertical-scroll games like TwinBee, for example, are said to run faster on FinalBurn Neo than on MAME. That, of course, depends on the romset you have. Downloading a whole romset for a game is often preferable to downloading a single room.

Another thing to think about is how many games each platform can replicate. Because the arcade emulation community has multiple dedicated emulators for a limited, narrow group of games, you’ll have to figure out what games you want to play and how to play them. MAME is capable of emulating almost 7,000 games, whereas FinalBurn Neo is close behind with over 6,000.

Finally, think about the gear that each of them works with. It’s fine if you want to play arcade games on your computer by just plugging in a USB arcade stick. However, if you want precise control over inputs so you can map buttons to a homemade arcade cabinet, be sure the emulator you chose supports it.

Try out a handful of these emulators. You may find that one version of MAME works better for you than another, or that you prefer the style of FinalBurn Neo. In the end, it’s all about getting another chance to play your favorite games.

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