Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products/service out there. You can learn more about our review process here. We may receive a commission on purchases made through some links.
Emulation is a wonderful thing, on all fronts. You can use it to run macOS X on a PC or to run DOS apps within Windows, or even to play classic games on a phone such as an Android or iPhone.
One of the things you can do with modern emulators is run virtual versions of older, classic console games like those you might have played on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, or even something like the Commodore.
It offers a lot of fun, alongside a great big helping of nostalgia. It’s also pretty easy to get working, which is always a bonus.
Disclaimer: Here’s where I tell you that using emulators is not illegal, however, downloading and playing ROMs for games you don’t own certainly is. It’s akin to pirating software and theft.
In fact, many sites that offer ROM downloads for free have either been taken down or have been hit with copyright infringement and cease and desist notices. Just keep that in mind.
Here are the eight best NES emulators you can download for Windows, right now.
1. NESbox/ Universal Emulator
If you don’t want to bother downloading and installing emulators and then configuring them for use — which sometimes means downloading other content — then NESbox is your man.
Games or ROMs are primarily run within your browser, but there is also an app available for Windows 10. If you run a game within the browser, just keep in mind you’ll have to sign-in to an active Microsoft account before you can play.
Otherwise, using NESbox is pretty straightforward. It’s also a universal emulator which means you can play games from other systems too including the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Gameboy.
RetroArch is another universal emulator with support for a wide variety of platforms, including the NES. It’s designed to have a modern console feel, with an interface that looks and works a lot like the PlayStation 3 — if you’ve ever used one.
It also happens to be a little more complicated to set up, especially out of the box. There’s no official manual, so if you want to use RetroArch you’ll have to spend some time looking for a decent tutorial. Lifehacker has a good one, for instance.
Once you’re done, however, you can plug in a gamepad or controller and go to town. It also offers an incredible array of in-game options like save states, screenshots, speed controls and more.
Although the user interface is quite simple, FCEUX is one of the most popular emulators around. That’s because not only does it support playback — with a lot of great features — many use it for rom-hacking and mods, as well as speedruns, and video recording for classic games.
It’s fairly easy to set up and dive in. Starting out, however, it uses an inaccurate color palette which can end up looking a little weird in most games. It’s an easy enough fix, though.
If you don’t want to tinker, but instead want to install an emulator, a few ROMS and then dive right in, jNES is your best bet. Unlike some of the other emulators on this list, it doesn’t boast as many features and options but that’s okay.
You can still use gamepads or virtual buttons, take advantage of improved sound profiles, and even adjust the total screen size.
If you want anything more advanced than that, check out one of the other options on this list. Otherwise, jNES is quick and easy to use, which is ideal for many.
The portal where you download VirtuaNES seems a bit outdated, and many of the characters will not display if you don’t have Japanese fonts installed. Don’t let that scare you off, though, because the emulator is awesome.
That said, it’s no longer supported by the developer so there will be no more updates. It works fine as-is, especially for the most common games like Super Mario Bros.
It works in all versions of Windows, even Windows 10, despite the lack of support. It also comes with a lot of great features like gamepad and joystick options, full-screen, and cheat code integration.
The original Nestopia emulator lost the support of its developers some time ago but was repackaged by a new crew and released as NestopiaUE or Undead Edition. While sadly, it looks like the new developers might have moved on too — the last update was in June 2018.
Regardless, NestopiaUE is an excellent emulator that offers quite a few features and options. It supports external devices, has screen size options, in-app recording, multiplayer support, and auto-saving. It looks great while running too, which is always positive.
You can grab NestopiaUE from SourceForge.
If you want to push NES games to their limit with enhanced graphics and sound, then RockNES is the way to go. It includes a unique Eagle Mode that cranks the experience up to 11.
It also includes all the same features you might expect from a modern emulator like gamepad support, save states, improved color palettes, and more.
It works great with Windows 10 — and older versions, of course — and it’s still being actively updated by its developer, which is more than you can say for some of the other emulators on this list.
Mesen is touted as a “high-accuracy” NES and Famicom emulator, and it works great in both Windows and Linux. In short, the improved accuracy means that ROMs will run as they did on the original console, which is excellent if you still have muscle memory for your favorite games after all these years.
It’s also compatible with a huge list of titles — 290 to be exact. Other features include stereo effects, netplay support, save states, auto-saves, overclocking and cheat codes.
There’s even a nifty recent game selection menu that shows the last few games you’ve played for quick access.
There are a lot of great emulator choices even in Windows 10. In fact, you really cannot go wrong by using any one of the emulators in this list, even those that are no longer support by their developers.
That’s a bummer sure, but they all work splendid and come with a ton of cool features. Plus, they’re all free. What more could you ask for?
If you have any questions or concerns feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help.