The short answer is yes, emulators allow you to play games online that were originally designed for local multiplayer. With the right emulator and settings, you can play your favorite retro games with friends worldwide. Let me explain how it all works!
As a fellow tech geek and avid retro gamer, I‘ve spent countless hours tinkering with emulators to play games online. In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll share everything I‘ve learned to help fellow enthusiasts discover the joy of revisiting classic multiplayer games through emulation.
What Exactly Are Emulators?
For anyone unfamiliar, an emulator is software that mimics the hardware functions of old school game consoles and arcade cabinets. For example, a Nintendo 64 emulator like Project64 replicates the N64 environment, letting you play N64 games on a computer.
Emulators read the game data from ROM files, which are copied software images from physical cartridges and discs. As long as you legally obtain your own ROMs by dumping your own games, emulation itself is 100% legal.
There are fantastic emulators available for just about every retro system:
- NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, GameCube, Wii, Wii U
- Sega Genesis, Dreamcast, Saturn
- Sony PlayStation 1, 2, and 3
- Classic arcade machines like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong
- And many more!
Now let‘s get into the details on how to play the classics online.
Netplay – Built-In Online Multiplayer
Many emulators now include a "netplay" feature that syncs games over the internet for online play. Netplay users simply connect by exchanging IP addresses, then load up the same game ROM. Inputs are sent back and forth in real time, creating a fluid online multiplayer experience.
RetroArch is an incredible open-source emulator that supports netplay for tons of systems like NES, SNES, Genesis, Nintendo 64, and PlayStation 1. I regularly use RetroArch netplay to play Bomberman ‘93 online with old college buddies across the country. It brings us right back to countless nights battling over beer and pizza in the dorms!
Netplay does require a fast, stable internet connection for smooth performance. But when connections are solid, it flawlessly replicates local couch competition. The only limitation is players must use the exact same ROM file, so you can‘t mix and match versions.
Remote Access Gaming with Parsec
Remote desktop programs like Parsec offer another slick way to play emulated games online. One person hosts by streaming their emulator screen through Parsec to friends. Guests simply join the stream and control it remotely with their keyboard or controllers, as if they were sitting at the same PC.
I use Parsec weekly to play X-Men vs Street Fighter on MAME (arcade emulator) with my best friend who moved across the country. The latency is nearly unnoticeable, and being able to see and chat makes it feel like we‘re gaming side-by-side. Parsec works with any local multiplayer game – the possibilities are endless!
Connecting via Online Game Services
Many emulators integrate with custom online platforms to match up players worldwide. For example, Dolphin emulator users can play online Wii games by signing into Wiimmfi‘s fan-made servers, with over 200,000 users!
Virtual LAN Gaming
You can also network emulators together with virtual LAN tools like Hamachi. This convinces games you‘re all playing on the same local network. Hamachi is a slick way to privately host online matches for retro titles without relying on 3rd party servers.
My Top 10 Games to Play Online
Now let‘s get to the fun part – my personal picks for the best retro games to play online:
1. Super Smash Bros. (N64)
Is any classic multiplayer game more iconic than the original 1999 Smash Bros? 8 players smacking each other around colorful Nintendo arenas is eternally entertaining. I still enjoy the simpler gameplay compared to newer Smash titles.
2. Bomberman ‘93 (TurboGrafx-16)
The pinnacle of the Bomberman series, this version mastered the formula of battling friends by blasting through mazes and trapping them with your bombs. It‘s a blast online – literally!
3. NFL Blitz (Arcade)
The over-the-top, hard-hitting football action of NFL Blitz is perfectly preserved on MAME. Nothing beats the satisfaction of talkin‘ virtual trash and unleashing suplexes with buddies online!
4. Warcraft II (PC)
The classic RTS gameplay of Warcraft 2 has stood the test of time. With multiplayer support added to the remastered version, we can return to battling orcs and humans across Azeroth together online.
5. Mario Kart 64 (N64)
Mario Kart 64 was many gamers‘ first taste of racing with friends in 3D. Triple green shells and lightning bolts remain just as infuriating today when playing online via netplay!
6. Doom II (PC)
As one of the earliest multiplayer 3D shooters, Doom II paved the way for gaming networks as we know them. You can honor its legacy by fragging demons in deathmatch across nightmare dimensions.
7. Street Fighter Alpha 3 (PS1)
With tons of characters and multi-tiered super meters, SFA3 is arguably the best Street Fighter title ever. I still never get tired of landing Shoryukens online!
8. Power Stone 2 (Dreamcast)
Capcom‘s Power Stone 2 remains unmatched as a 4 player 3D arena brawler. The item-fueled mayhem translates perfectly to online brawls with the right netcode.
9. Star Wars Episode I: Racer (N64)
Star Wars Episode I: Racer stood out as a fast and flashy podracing game on N64. Outracing friends through Sebulba‘s course and beyond makes it one of the most replayable racers.
10. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo (PS1)
This gem mashes together Tetris puzzles and Street Fighter characters into one addicting multiplayer delight. It still shines as a competitive battle of wits online.
Of course these are just my personal favorites – the possibilities are endless! Almost any classic multiplayer game can be played online with the right emulator setup.
Getting ROMs Legally
Since downloading ROMs you don‘t own is illegal, here are some legit methods to obtain games legally:
- Dump your personal game cartridges/discs to your computer
- Rip backup ISOs of your PlayStation 1 and 2 discs
- Download ROM hacks and homebrew games distributed as freeware
- Check if the publisher hosts the game files (Blizzard provides Warcraft II freeware)
- Search for CDN/SRM save files that work with emulators
Dumping your own collection takes effort but ensures you ethically enjoy emulation. Abandonware sites often illegally distribute ROMs too, so exercise caution when downloading there. Don‘t risk lawsuits just to play retro games online!
Safely Gaming Online
When playing games online, be smart to protect your privacy and computer:
- Use a VPN to mask your IP and encrypt traffic. I personally use NordVPN.
- Create separate user accounts for emulation. Compartmentalize any risks.
- Only play with people you know and trust. Avoid randoms.
- Stick to reputable emulation sites. Shady ones may distribute malware or other threats along with ROMs.
- Never share personal info during games. You don‘t know who‘s listening in.
- Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication everywhere. Better safe than sorry!
With basic precautions, you can emulate old games online without worry. Avoid sketchy sites and random players you can‘t vet.
Best Free Emulators
You really don‘t need to spend a dime to enjoy top-notch emulators:
- RetroArch – All-in-one emulator for everything. completely free and open source. My #1 choice!
- Dolphin – Fantastic GameCube and Wii emulation. Open source software as well.
- Cemu – Impressive Wii U emulator with great game support.
- PPSSPP – The best mobile PSP emulation solution. Frequent updates too.
- ePSXe – Legendary PlayStation 1 emulator that stood the test of time.
- Xenia – Rapidly progressing original Xbox emulator, free and open source.
- MAME – Massive arcade game support with thousands of ROMs. Open source.
- DeSmuME – Top notch Nintendo DS emulation without paying a dime.
Spending money is totally unnecessary thanks to these incredible free emulators. I stick to open source projects when possible for transparency.
Thanks for reading my epic guide on playing retro games online with emulators! I hope you discovered helpful tips, cool games to try, and got pumped about reconnecting with classic multiplayer magic. Just remember to emulate responsibly and legally. When in doubt, dump your own discs and cartridges. Feel free to hit me up with any other questions. Happy gaming!