5 Best NES Emulators, Ranked (2023)

The NES has been improved, with emulation!

Milan Zagorac
Milan Zagorac
8 Min Read

In the 1980s, there were many ways to play video games, from arcade cabinets to various computers. Consoles were also an option, and two were battling for supremacy, the Sega Master System and the Nintendo Entertainment System. The NES still holds many gems, which is why with the best NES emulator, you can relive those moments or experience them for the first time, even.

Emulation has come a long way and for older consoles such as the NES, at least 20 emulators could do the job, but the following 5 do it better.



Mesen is a NES/SNES emulator.

Emulating: NES, SNES, and Power PC
Platform: Windows, Linux, macOS, and BSD
Download Mesen

Mesen is an NES, SNES, and Power PC emulator, famed for its accuracy, as well as features. An open-source project, Mesen stands above other NES and SNES emulators because it ticks all the right boxes, and is actively developed.

It has a simple interface, but that doesn’t take away from its features. Nothing gets in the user’s way and loading titles is as simple as pointing the emulator in the direction of the archive containing the ROM.

It is user-friendly, even though the interface is reminiscent of every simple program with a GUI of the 2000s. Available for Windows, Linux, and macOS, it covers the most popular desktop and laptop platforms. macOS users will have to compile the emulator from the source code.



puNES, a NES emulator, has a very interesting, TV-like default screen.

Emulating: NES
Platform: Windows, Linux, and BSD
Download puNES

Cycle-accurate emulators seem to be frequent in the case of the NES. If we solely look at cycle accuracy, Mesen is the best NES emulator, but puNES is very close behind. Cycle accuracy is not the only point of data that determines whether a game is going to work fine, or whether the process of emulation is going to be successful.

In the case of puNES, games can be played with most of them being fully compatible. puNES covers most things an emulator should do, such as a GUI, standard features such as save states, as well as advanced configuration for peripherals.

It is available for Windows, Linux, as well as BSD variations. There are two main Windows versions, one that supports OpenGL, and the other which uses DirectX 9. Both are viable options and are regularly updated and maintained.



Nestopia is another great NES emulator.

Emulating: NES
Platform: Windows, Linux, macOS, and BSD
Download Nestopia

As the name suggests, Nestopia is an NES emulator, and while it might not be the best NES emulator for PC, nor the most accurate, it is a good choice for most people. Accuracy matters, but not if it comes at a cost of features.

Nestopia is a popular choice among gamers because it comes with integrated netplay. Your favorite console titles from decades ago are now playable with friends online. Netplay has been around for a while in emulators, using plugins such as Kaillera.

Nestopia is available on Windows, Linux, macOS, and BSD variants. This covers most desktop systems, leaving mobile users with the classic libretro approach. Nestopia has a fork, called the Undead Edition or UE, which aims to fix some problems that the original emulator was left with.



Ares is a multi-system emulator that covers most retro gaming systems.

Emulating: Multiple systems
Platform: Windows, Linux, and macOS
Download Ares

Ares is a known quantity, a continuation of higan, a multi-system emulator that was developed by Near. Ares is now maintained and developed by a plethora of people on GitHub, people who love emulation and wanted to continue Near’s work. Ares covers multiple systems such as the NES, SNES, Sega Master System, Genesis, the PlayStation, and more.

Ares runs on Windows, Linux, and macOS. It is a project that collaborated with other emulators, using their work as the source/inspiration to make better or their own version of an emulator. It has a modern interface and full support for peripherals, as well as other features considered standard for a modern emulator.



BizHawk can emulate the NES as well as over a dozen more systems.

Emulating: Multiple systems
Platform: Windows and Linux
Download BizHawk

BizHawk is another multi-system emulator that can emulate anything from the PlayStation, SNES, Sega Saturn, and Nintendo 64, to various Atari and Commodore versions. BizHawk covers Windows and Linux only, but that doesn’t take away from its features and simplicity. Other than having to place firmware files into the eponymous folder, BizHawk is very easy to use.

BizHawk makes gameplay easy, allowing you to focus on it, rather than the often complicated process of setting up an emulator. It has standard features such as save states, support for various peripherals, upscaling, and more. It uses libretro cores for some of its emulations, depending on the system that is emulated.

It might be the best NES emulator for PC, as well as a multi-system emulator, in general.

NES Emulation Performance

The NES is very easy to emulate for today’s hardware. It is an old device by any standard, making it a relatively easy device to emulate in terms of hardware requirements. Older smartphones should have no issues running NES games. Computers should have even fewer issues.

That being said, there are probably some requirements, such as DirectX 9 support for a graphics card if you want to use puNES. However, these requirements are so minimal that most if not all modern devices could meet them.

Running a NES Game

NES games are relatively simple to run. Most of the emulators simply require you to load a ROM by pointing the emulator toward the archive that contains it. BizHawk and Mesen do it without a hiccup. It is safe to say that others should behave the same way. Below is an image of the original Contra, running on Mesen.

The original Contra, running on Mesen, a NES emulator.

Mapping the controls, setting up resolutions, upscaling and other settings is up to personal preference.


It is hard to choose one of these five as the best NES emulator, especially since they all do a great job. All of them are also candidates as the best NES emulator for PC. None of the ones on the list cover mobile platforms but fear not, RetroArch has everyone covered.

Whichever of these you choose, including RetroArch on both desktop and mobile platforms, your NES emulation and gameplay should be perfect.

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With over 1650 hours of Apex Legends, and 2100 of League of Legends, Milan is an avid gamer. When he's not indoors, he climbs mountains or does urban acrobatics. Add a passion for writing to the mix and you get a hopefully interesting broth.
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