What is Best Way to Play Old Nintendo Games

For retro gaming fans, the extensive library of classic Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo (SNES), Nintendo 64 (N64), and Game Boy/Color/Advance titles are endlessly appealing. But accessing those aging cartridges and discs today poses challenges. This guide examines the best modern options for revisiting cherished Nintendo games from past console generations.

Key Takeaways

  • Original hardware provides authentic retro experience but requires hookup accessories for modern TVs.
  • Software emulators enable playing ROMs on modern devices but have accuracy and legal issues.
  • Virtual consoles offer official digital re-releases on newer Nintendo systems.
  • Raspberry Pi DIY retro gaming rigs provide flexibility and customization for play.
  • Third party retro consoles clone and emulate old Nintendo systems at low cost.

Each method has advantages and disadvantages covered in this comparison guide.

Original Hardware Pros and Cons

For die-hard purists, playing classic Nintendo games on original hardware offers an unparalleled nostalgic experience. Let’s examine the pros and cons of chasing vintage systems and cartridges:


  • Provides absolutely authentic and accurate gameplay.
  • Enables using your existing game library.
  • Displays quirks and behaviors not emulated.
  • Offers nostalgia of original controllers and hardware.


  • Systems and games are increasingly rare and expensive.
  • Old hardware and media inevitably deteriorates.
  • Requires analog TV connections like RF or RCA.
  • Needs upscalers/converters to work well on new TVs.
  • Limited to what physical media you can obtain.

For the ultimate historically accurate experience, original hardware excels but requires significant investment and accessories today.

Software Emulators

If spending money on aged hardware seems unwise, software emulators provide a free alternative:


  • Play digitized game ROM files on modern Windows/Mac/Linux PCs.
  • Supports loading massive libraries of games.
  • Enhances high resolution graphics and textures.
  • Feature save states and gameplay rewinding.


  • Piracy and ROM ownership legality is questionable.
  • Accuracy imperfections exist in some games.
  • Software bugs can disrupt gameplay.
  • Controller compatibility can require workarounds.
  • Performance demands powerful modern PC hardware.

Software emulators grant flexible high capacity game libraries but with questionable legality plus hit-or-miss accuracy.

Virtual Console Digital Re-Releases

Nintendo’s Virtual Console services offer an official digital re-release option:


  • Legal way to purchase and own classic Nintendo ROMs.
  • Faithfully preserves original gameplay.
  • Supports modern controllers and displays.
  • Provides achievements and game-specific challenges.


  • Limited selection of only re-released titles.
  • RPGs lack historical save game support.
  • Currently unavailable as Wii Shop is closed.

For a legal and polished way to play classics, Virtual Console served well but suffers from content scarcity compared to original cartridges or downloaded ROMs.

Raspberry Pi Retro Gaming

Raspberry Pi mini PCs can be configured into DIY retro gaming rigs:


  • Customizable setup using controllers of your choice.
  • Can integrate game libraries across systems.
  • Compact and affordable using $35 Pi board.
  • Outputs HDMI for modern TVs.


  • Requires technical skill to configure and add ROMs.
  • Game support and performance varies.
  • Legality of ROM acquisition ambiguous.

For tech savvy gamers, Raspberry Pi offers an open-ended retro gaming platform, albeit one that still inhabits legal gray areas around game “backup” usage.

Third Party Retro Consoles

Finally, all-in-one HDMI retro consoles provide simple plug-and-play old school experiences:


  • Convenient out-of-box ready experience.
  • Connects directly to modern TVs via HDMI.
  • Cycles through menus rather than swapping cartridges.
  • Cost effective with hundreds of built-in games.


  • Game libraries are limited to what’s pre-installed.
  • Emulation quality varies console to console.
  • Games not individually purchaseable like Virtual Console.

For casual retro fans, these nostalgia boxes deliver a quick dose of classic gameplay but ultimately offer a confined experience.

Comparing Key Specifications

Here’s a breakdown comparing solution specifications:

Original HardwareAuthentic cartridgesRF, Composite, S-VideoStereo analog1st party$$$$
Software EmulatorsROM downloadsUp to 4K HDPC audio outPC gamepadsFree
Virtual ConsoleCurated re-releasesHD up to 1080pHDMIWii/Wii U pads$$ per game
DIY Raspberry PiROM librariesUp to 1080pHDMIAny USB/BT pads$$ Pi kit
3rd Party ConsolesPre-installed bundles720p HDMIHDMIIncluded classic pads$$

Overall, original hardware provides the highest fidelity experience possible but requires significant investment and accommodation today. More affordable modern solutions range in convenience and flexibility but also legal uncertainty in some cases.

Recommendation for Casual Retro Gamers

For most gamers seeking quick, casual access to classic Nintendo nostalgia, third party retro consoles offer nice plug-and-play simplicity. Models like the Polymega and RetroN provide HDMI connectivity and bundled controllers at reasonable prices, albeit with the limitation of not adding new games easily. If you mainly want to revisit classics like Super Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong occasionally without breakout out 30 year old hardware, these all-in-one HDMI consoles deliver adequate performance.

Recommendation for Serious Retro Fans

Die-hard Nintendo collectors seeking the purest and most extensive retro gameplay experience should invest in original hardware, cables, upscalers, and cartridge game libraries. While cost is substantial, original hardware accurately preserves beloved classics for extensive replay. Supplemented with some choice Virtual Console purchases and select software emulation, this setup provides premium quality across the full spectrum of Nintendo classics to satisfy even the most devout retro enthusiasts.


Reliving groundbreaking NES, SNES, N64, and portable classics requires the right hardware and software solutions today. Assessing your budget, technical skills, desired game catalog,legal risk tolerance and visual fidelity needs determines if original hardware, software emulation, DIY Pi builds, virtual consoles, or all-in-one retro consoles are the ideal fit. Any of these modern platforms infuse new life into aging Nintendo cartridges and discs, proving the timeless fun of iconic Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Pokémon adventures endures for generations.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best software emulator for old Nintendo games?

For Windows, Mac, Android, options like RetroArch, OpenEmu, and Nestopia provide excellent game support and enhancement capabilities.

Is it legal to download ROMs of games I own?

This is a gray area but generally copyright law and Nintendo prevent distributing/downloading digital copies without consent even if you physically own the game.

Which Raspberry Pi kit is best for retro gaming?

Look for kits that include a Raspberry Pi 4 or 400 model, adequate power supply, and high-quality micro HDMI cables for solid N64 era emulation.

Do original Nintendo cartridges last forever?

Unfortunately no. Cartridge batteries die over time preventing saves. And components eventually degrade. Using reproduction carts can help preserve original collectible copies.

What TV connections do old Nintendo systems support?

Original cables were RF, composite and s-video. To connect to new TVs you’ll need upscalers that convert to HDMI while preserving authentic 240p signals.

Are there ways to buy Virtual Console games still?

Currently no since Nintendo shut down the Wii Shop. But the Expansion Pack for Switch Online includes a growing collection of N64 and Genesis games.

Which third party retro company makes the best clone consoles?

Polymega and RetroN are stand-outs that precisely emulate original Nintendo chips rather than software emulation for accurate gameplay on modern TVs.

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