Nintendo had many great consoles over the years, the GameCube being one of them. Released after the N64, it had big shoes to fill and it managed just fine. With that, it also had a library of games that people now want to play in a more modern setting, which is doable with the best GameCube emulator or in this case, 4 of them.
The GameCube has been successfully emulated, making the following choices safe and easy to use for those craving a dose of GameCube greatness.
Emulating: GameCube, Wii
Platform: Windows, Linux, macOS, FreeBSD, Android, iOS
Dolphin is a very popular emulator, known for being able to emulate the Nintendo Wii, as well as the GameCube. It is also now a notorious one, mostly due to Nintendo and their dislike for emulators. Leaving Nintendo’s opinions aside, Dolphin is one of the best GameCube emulators out there, able to run games with great accuracy and speed.
It has a modern interface and simply requires you to point it to a game, leaving you with the choice of which controller to use and how to map your keys. The library approach is handy, as other emulators and developers have already done, such as the ones behind Citra and Yuzu, the 3DS and Switch emulators.
Dolphin runs most games without problems and is available on Windows, Linux, macOS, FreeBSD, as well as Android, and iOS. It covers most platforms and can bring Nintendo’s greatest hits such as the Zelda, Marios series, as well as Pokemon, to many platforms.
Platform: Windows and Linux
Dolphins are a frequent theme, because of the eponymous codename of the GameCube during its development. Even Nintendo itself had a Dolphin official emulator which was used as a debugging tool, because it couldn’t run commercial games.
Dolwin is a combination of the codename and Windows, as it was originally intended to run on Windows. The community wanted a Linux version, or rather, support for other systems, and Linux users got what they wanted. Thus, the developer considers Dolwin a regular name, rather than a blend referring to a single OS.
Dolwin can run commercial games and while it is not like Dolphin, it is still a decent emulator. In the open-source community, separate projects that aim to do the same thing can only benefit the end users.
An old advertisement from the early 1990s promoted the Sega Genesis/Master System with the slogan Sega/Genesis Does What Nintendon’t. This more or less became an iconic phrase/meme in the retro gaming community, or when people want to make fun of Nintendo.
Nintendont is not really an emulator, but a compatibility layer that can only be used on the Wii, the actual console. You have to install it on the Wii, and then you can play GameCube games. It is not the most elegant solution as you have an entire process of installation to go through, but it works and it gets regular updates.
For those who are in the very niche situation of running GameCube games on their Wii, this is the only emulator/compatibility layer that does so. Dolphin might be the best Nintendo GameCube emulator for PC, but it cannot run on the Wii.
RetroArch can emulate a bit of everything, depending on whether a libretro core has been developed for the system in question. In the case of the GameCube, there is a core, surprise, built by Dolphin. That core is available on desktop platforms, as well as Android and iOS. RetroArch itself is available on anything from the above-mentioned systems to consoles and even embedded systems like the Raspberry Pi.
RetroArch can download the cores from its own database, and you just need to tell it which one. In this case, a single core is available. It is a modern tool that can help gamers bring life into older titles, with upscaling and support for more peripherals.
Potential Performance Issues and System Requirements
If we are to look at Dolphin’s F.A.Q. the system in question should have a processor of four cores or more, with multi-threading. As is often the case with consoles, a high IPC matters more than the number of cores. A higher single-core performance will net you better results. Most recent Intel CPUs should do fine, as well as anything Ryzen Gen 1 and above for AMD.
Dolphin doesn’t recommend graphics cards that are older than six years or are extremely low-end, to begin with. DirectX and OpenGL support is mandatory (though that is not really an issue).
Performance will also depend on the game and some, no matter how modern your hardware is, will struggle to run at full speed because the software is not able to emulate everything that is done natively. Dolphin has a handy compatibility list to avoid such issues.
Running a Game
Dolphin makes it easy to run a game, which is why it is considered the best GameCube emulator for PC. You simply have to open the file containing the game and note that it can be in a format you might not recognize, such as rvz.
Games typically run smoothly on modern hardware. There would not be Android or iOS versions of the applications/cores if the gameplay were impossible. In other words, you will likely have a good experience with modern hardware. Given that the emulators are free and open-source, you could try them with some demos/homebrews.
It is easy to recommend Dolphin as the best GameCube emulator, given how easy it makes the process of loading a game. It has a modern interface and is easy to understand no matter your tech level.
RetroArch and Dolwin are great alternatives, depending on the platform or preference. Nintendont is especially interesting from a technical standpoint and is recommended to those who want to mod their Wii and really dabble in emulation.