I may be showing my age here, but, to me, there’s nothing quite like a classic video game.
Whether it’s Mario, Sonic or Lara Croft, there’s just something about those games that brings back the kid in me. If you’re like me, you’ve probably long-since sold your older game consoles, but still want to find a way to play those classic games.
That’s where emulators come in, and there’s few better systems for emulators than the NVIDIA Shield TV.
If you’re new to emulators, here’s a high-level overview.
An emulator is software that funs on a modern system (PC, or in this case, the NVIDIA Shield) that imitates a classic console. This allows you to play classic games without having to dig it out of your closet, or find a used one on eBay.
For example, if you know someone that owns a Mac computer, but runs Windows on it, they’re actually using an emulator to do it.
Most game system emulators just focus on one game system. However, there are a few, like RetroArch that will emulate several different consoles.
While the NVIDIA Shield is one of the best platforms to run emulators on, it’s far from the only one. Once you’re finished reading this article, check out my article on the best android boxes for gaming to see some of my other top choice!
What is an Emulator?
Over the last few years, video game emulators have become popular because they allow us to play older games on modern computers or consoles.
I mentioned earlier that an emulator is a piece of software. But it acts like a piece of hardware.
Let me explain.
An emulator is a program or computer that imitates or ‘emulates’ another program or computer. It works by simulating the individual hardware components.
For example, when you play Mario Kart for the GameCube on your NVIDIA Shield TV, the emulator isn’t changing the game to run on your Shield. It’s creating a software version of the GameCube inside your NVIDIA Shield TV.
You could actually take that game and run it on your GameCube.
As you might expect, reverse-engineering an emulator for a twenty year old game console is pretty complex. The emulator needs to mimic a proprietary graphics card, sound card, CPU, and storage system seamlessly.
Otherwise, the game won’t be playable.
Emulated Games (ROMs)
Speaking of the games, let’s talk about those briefly as well.
Games for emulators are called ROMs. ROM stands for Read Only Memory, and it was the part of early computers that stored the operating system. That part of the system memory was set to be ‘read only’ so you wouldn’t accidentally overwrite parts of the program you needed to make the computer work.
Similarly, console game came in either cartridges or CD’s or DVD’s that you couldn’t overwrite. Any saved game files or DLC were kept on memory cards, away from the actual game files.
Even though the game files we download aren’t ‘read-only’ anymore, the name stuck, and they’re still called ROMs.
How to Get ROMs For Your NVIDIA Shield Emulators
Once you have an emulator installed and configured on your NVIDIA Shield, you need to load game files (ROMs) onto it.
Emulators are perfectly legal to use. There was a US court case back in 2000 between Sony and Connectix which declared that reverse engineering an game console emulator falls under ‘fair use.’
However, you can’t say the same thing for the ROMs themselves.
Downloading ROMs is protected by copyright law. In the United States, copyright law protects a work for up to 75 years. That means there are no console games that are public domain.
However, you could not share those ROMs online, and that’s where the trouble usually begins.
What Consoles can the NVIDIA Shield Emulate?
Emulators let you play a wide selection of classic games on your NVIDIA Shield device from several different consoles.
The NVIDIA Shield has emulators for the Nintendo SNES, N64, GameCube, Wii, Sega Genesis, Saturn, Sega CD, Dreamcast, Sony PlayStation, as well as the Gameboy DS and Sony PSP handhelds. It also has arcade emulators that let you play certain coin-operated games.
These emulators are passion-projects, created by amateur programmers that can take months of work to develop.
Depending on the emulator you use, you’ll likely have a different experience. Sometimes, performance can be an issue, and not every game will be playable. Other times, an emulator will actually perform better than the original console.
This is especially true when it comes to some of the older game consoles.
Newer consoles can be challenging to emulate, however. That’s because the emulator takes a lot of CPU power and RAM to work. On many systems, it’s common to experience lag in terms of performance.
Thankfully, the NVIDIA Shield TV is the best performing Android TV device, and an amazing streaming device. That’s because it has performance in spades.
While setting up an emulator on the NVIDIA Shield (or any system) isn’t always easy, you get the benefit of being able to play games from several different consoles all on one system.
Best NVIDIA Shield Emulators
As I’ve mentioned, a huge advantage to the NVIDIA Shield is that there are emulators for most popular game consoles.
So now that we’ve covered what emulators are, how they work, and how to get games, it’s time to look at the best emulators that you can install on the NVIDIA Shield.
Let’s start off with the oddball.
RetroArch isn’t an emulator per se. It’s a font-end that lets you launch all of your emulated games right from one place, no matter what system they’re on.
That makes it one of the most popular Android gaming emulators. It supports consoles like the PS1, NES, SNES, Gameboy Color, Sega CD, Gameboy Advance, Gameboy Classic, and N64.
The Dolphin emulator is easily the best emulator for Nintendo GameCube and Wii games. You can check out my full review of Dolphin emulator on the NVIDIA Shield here.
You can play games in full HD with several enhancements, such as networked multiplayer, turbo speed, and compatibility with all PC controllers.
While I’m not a huge GameCube gamer, I’ve got several games that look amazing on Dolphin.
Before the Xbox and PlayStation, my console of choice was the Sega Genesis.
For Sega games, hands-down the best emulator for the NVIDIA Shield is MD.emu. It supports Sega Genesis, Sega CD, and Sega Master games.
It allows you to backup and load save states, and also offers cheat code support, and includes accurate sound emulation.
Classic Boy is a great Nintendo emulator. While it’s not as robust as Dolphin for GameCube and Wii games, it’s great to emulate the N64, Gameboy Classic, Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance, and NES.
Like many emulators, it lets you save your progress at any point, and controls that allow you to customize the rendering resolution for better visual quality.
As an added bonus, it also lets you enter cheat codes if you want to get an added boost.
I only had a couple of PSP games back in the day. For those, I go with PPSSPP. It’s awesome if you enjoy playing retro PSP games.
This is one of the original emulators for Android, and it’s able to run a wide range of games. There are currently two versions available – free or paid. The paid ‘Gold’ version doesn’t add any additional features, but it helps support development.
If you don’t need a flashy user interface, Mupen64 Plus is easily one of the best emulators for N64 games. It’s free to download and is currently in Beta testing.
While there may be the occasional audio problem or graphical lag, the emulator is still a great option for those who want to play games for this console on their NVIDIA Shield.
SuperRetro 16 doesn’t have very many configuration options, and only supports SNES games. However, it offers great compatibility with most game controllers.