How to Play Retro Games on Your Modern Mac With OpenEmu (2023)

As companies move away from older consoles and new operating systems render many games unplayable, it becomes harder to play all your favorite games from the past. Game conservation has never been more important, butthe industry as a whole has mostly failed here.

Valiant efforts have been made by the Internet Archive and to preserve classic arcade, console, and computer games, but the major game developers could be doing more.As nice as it is to have subscriptions to Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation Now, or Nintendo Switch Online, those services can be shut off at any time. Nintendo's shuttering of the Wii's Virtual Console in 2019 is proof that these aren't real solutions.

There are anumber of waysto enjoy the old games you grew up playing—includingbuilding your own machineor buying a retro console—but the most accessible is the emulator, a program that lets you play any game in any operating system.

Unfortunately, the web is now littered with dozens of programs promising different results, and not all ROMs are compatiblewith current operating systems. What's worse—all the focus seems centered onemulating games with your Windows PC, but what if you have a Mac?

Don't despair, though, becauseOpenEmuis the perfect solution for retro gamers who only have access to macOS.If you have a Mac and fond memories of game consoles past, read on.

OpenEmu to the Rescue

How to Play Retro Games on Your Modern Mac With OpenEmu (1)

Games on OpenEmu

Released in 2013, OpenEmu is not actually an emulator. Instead, it's a robust front end for other console emulators. On its own, that's nothing new; front ends have existed for a long time. OpenEmu differentiates itself by working a lot like a streamlined iTunes—that is, if iTunes were smooth and fast, not sluggish, confusing, and dead.

For example, OpenEmu has a built-in library that shows you box art for each of your games, and automatically sorts by platform. It also lets you make custom collections across multiple platforms anduniversalizes controller schemes for each emulated system. It all comes wrapped in an easy-to-understand and attractive interface.

The best part is that OpenEmu takes care of the core emulation engines behind each platform. You don't have to hunt down the right core that is compatible with the ROM you have. When you download OpenEmu, it already comes packaged with a large selection of integrated cores. Many systems have multiple cores included, so there's never an issue with incompatibility.

How to Play Retro Games on Your Modern Mac With OpenEmu (2)

Head toOpenEmu.organd click Experimental underneath the Download button. This might sound dangerous, but it just means youwill have vastly extended platform compatibility, along with some features that are still in development.

Download ROMs

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OpenEmu can play games out of the gate, but you'll have to download them separately.First, a standard disclaimer: It's generally illegal to own ROMs of a given arcade machine, cartridge, or CD-ROM unless you own the actual item in question. In reality, though, it's a gray area—especially for titles that aren't available by any other means.

While we can't directly link to any ROM sites here, they're pretty easy to find. Most sites are reputable but some may look sketchier than others. Use your best judgment when downloading files from the internet, and you can run them through an anti-malware app to be on the safe side.

Supported systems include several Atari consoles, the entire Game Boy line, GameCube, NES, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, Sega Master System, Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, Sony PSP, and Super Nintendo.

More obscure systems include ColecoVision, Game Gear, Intellivision, Neo Geo Pocket, Odyssey², TurboGrafx-16, Vectrex, and Virtual Boy, as well as the Japanese-exclusive Famicom, PC-FX, SG-1000, and WonderSwan.

(Video) Retro Gaming On Mac Guide - OpenEMU / M1 Mac / Controllers

In theory,OpenEmu is also compatible with some arcade ROMs, but support is experimental and your success getting these games to run may vary. In general,MAMEROMs are the only type that can be played inside OpenEmu. If you come across JAMMA or Neo Geo games in your search, they won't work.

Games for home computers from the '70s and '80s are not supported—you'll need separate emulators for, say, theAtari 800or1040ST. Also, more complex older systems like the Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, and Xbox are not supported either.

Add ROMs to Library

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When you download a ROM file, they typically come zipped inside a zip or 7-zip file. The built-in Archive Utility on your Mac should be able to open these files, but if you're looking for something more powerful, you can downloadThe Unarchiver.

Once the file is unzipped, you should have the ROM—usually a .nes or .gbc file, depending on the console, while bigger games can be .ISO files—and maybe a few supporting text files you don't need for playing. Add the ROM to OpenEmu by dragging the file (not the folder) directly into theinterface's main window.The program almost always knows where to put the file, but if it's in the wrong place, you can drag it to the appropriate folder.

For MAME ROMs, leave the file zipped. Drag the zipped file into the Arcade section of OpenEmu, and the game should display. Since this is still an experimental feature, support can be buggy. It may show up in the wrong folder, or do something else wonky.

When a ROM is added, OpenEmu will search the web for box art, but if it can't find any, use Google Image Search to locate your own. There's no downloading required—you can find an image (.JPEG or .PNG file) and drag it directly onto the empty space where the box art should be. By default, all games are saved in~/Library/Application Support/OpenEmu/Game Library, but this can be changed inOpenEmu > Preferences > Library.

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When you successfully add a file, you might notice that the original ROM continues to exist on your computer. This is because OpenEmu doesn't just move a ROM's location, it actually duplicates the file itself. One version will exist inside your hard drive's Application Support files, while the original will continue to exist on your desktop, downloads folder, or wherever you have it saved.

This is important only because you should probably keep an eye on how much you're downloading. While most 8- and 16-bit game ROMs only take up a few kilobytes or megabytes of room, files for more modern system will begin to take up hundreds of megabytes or even several gigabytes. Some PlayStation and GameCube games can even require you to download multiple discs to get the whole game.

Having duplicate files around can lead to trouble, so once you confirm a game works in OpenEmu, you can safely delete the original ROM.

ROMs and BIOS Files

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One major complication when playing retro games is that some systems require BIOS files to work. If you want to play games for the original PlayStation or Sega Saturn, for instance, you will first need to track down these special ROM files. OpenEmu has auser guide on BIOS files, but it's not too complicated that you can't figure it out yourself.

The good news is that OpenEmu is smart enough to know what's missing. If you run into an issue like this, a message will appear on the screen to tell you exactly what files you need to download. From there, it's just a matter of hunting down the right files and getting them into the system.

For PlayStation games, you will need several BIOS files, including scph5500.bin, scph5501.bin, and scph5502.bin. If you can't find the last one, but have found scph5552.bin, you can simply rename it to match the necessary file name. Sega Saturn games will require files named sega_101.bin and mpr-17933.bin.

Some console add-ons like the Sega CD, Sega 32X, and the TurboGrafx-CD are supported, but may also be a little finicky. OpenEmu will ask you to read the user guide before you try to add any disc-based games.

(Video) How to Run Emulators and Play Classic Games on your Mac for Free - 8-bit NES SNES Atari N64 Sega

Instead of adding these BIOS files into OpenEmu like a game ROM, you will have to drag them into the~/Library/Application Support/OpenEmu/BIOSfolder directly.Go toOpenEmu > Preferences > SystemFilesto see which cores require additional BIOS files to work. You will also be able to see which ones you have added and which ones you still need.

Homebrew Titles

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If you don't feel like messing with ROMS at all, OpenEmu actually includes a decent number of custom-built games called Homebrews. These titles are built by hobbyists to run on proprietary hardware, resulting in games that look and feel like classic console installments.

Open the program's main menu and select the Homebrew tab to view the list of games available. You'll find fan-made titles like Halo 2600 for the Atari 2600, an SNES remake of the Donkey Kong arcade game called Classic Kong, and a compilation of several Pac-Man titles called Pac-Man Collection for the Atari 7800.

Controller Setup

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OpenEmu allows you to play any game using your Mac's keyboard, but why would you want to? The program is compatible with any HID-compliant USB or Bluetooth game controller, so you might as well pull out your favorite gamepad when you're ready to start playing.

The PlayStation DualShock 3 and 4, and theNintendo Pro Controller can beconnected via Bluetooth. OpenEmu is even compatible with the Wiimote. Controllers for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One may require you to download special drivers to work. Put your preferred controller into pairing mode and open your Mac's Bluetooth settings menu. Select the controller from the list of devices to establish the connection.

OpenEmu should be able toautomatically map your controls, but you can customize the button mapping by clickingOpenEmu > Preferences > Controls.From there, you'll see a wood background image with a drop-down menu for choosing systems. Choose a console, and you'll see its controls with a matching stock controller image on the left.

By default, OpenEmu will be set to use your keyboard for game input, but you can change this by selecting the Input drop-down menu. If you have a controller connected via Bluetooth or USB, it should appear here. Once you select a controller, you can then change button assignments for individual consoles.

Each action has a field next to it that you can change to your preference. Directional input can be mapped to a modern joystick or to a D-pad. OpenEmu also adds special functions like quick save, mute, pause, and screenshot that you can match to any button. You can also add rewind and fast forward buttons, if you want to make old school games just a little more forgiving.

Recommended Controllers

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If you don't want to use a compatible first-party controller,there are plenty of third-party USB and Bluetooth models that work well with a computer. Companies like 8Bitdo, PowerA, and Horihave some of the best first-party alternatives out there.

If you're looking for an all-purpose controller that will work well for any game system, the 8BitdoSN30 Pro+ is a PCMag Editors' Choice pick.

How to Play Retro Games on Your Modern Mac With OpenEmu (10)

8Bitdo SN30 Pro+ Review



  • $99.00 at AmazonCheck Stock
(Video) How to Install OpenEmu and Get Your Retro Gaming on Mac

For something cheaper, look for USB controllers. You can typically find inexpensive knockoffs on Amazon, but they typically don't compare well to the real thing.

Playing Games

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To get playing, first choose a console from the left side of the OpenEmu library, then double-click on the box art of your game of choice.Despite taking place on your Mac screen, you should find that gameplay is just like you remember it.However, there are also added benefits to using emulators.

If you find your control scheme lacking, input can be changed while playing. Open OpenEmu > Preferences > Controls or hit the gear icon on the OpenEmu toolbarand click Edit Game Controls to tweak the controller scheme. In most cases, the game should accept these new controls on the fly, without needing to restart.

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One thing you may want to do is add a screen filter, otherwise it's screamingly obvious on a 1080p monitor how low-res all of these games were. Head toOpenEmu > Preferences > Gameplay, and open the Shader drop-down menu. I typically leave it set to Pixellate, but the CRT and VCR settings make games look like you're playing on an old TV screen with scan lines and everything. Play around with what you like best, just make sure to close and reopen the game so new styles can be implemented.

Besides running your games through OpenEmu, the program also offers a few additional features. If you're done playing for the day, save your progress on the Save States page. OpenEmu can even auto-save for you and preserve several different save states, depending on the save method used. If you want to take screenshots while playing, use the Command + T keyboard shortcut (or the button you've assigned to the feature) to save the screen in the Screenshots page of the program.

(Video) Retro Gaming on a Mac Mini (is Now Awesome)

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(Video) Emulation on the M1 Pro is GREAT! Full retro macOS gaming test (PCSX2, PPSSPP, Citra, Xemu)


How to play ROMs on OpenEmu? ›

Most gamers, however, will want to install their own game files (referred to as ROMS) for one of the many supported consoles.
  1. Drag and drop. If you've got game ROMS on your Mac drag the files into the Openemu window. ...
  2. Add disc games. ...
  3. Double-click to play.
Mar 25, 2021

What emulators does OpenEmu use? ›

OpenEmu emulates the following systems:
  • Atari 2600 Stella.
  • Atari 5200 Atari800.
  • Atari 7800 ProSystem.
  • Atari Lynx Mednafen.
  • ColecoVision CrabEmu.
  • Famicom Disk System Nestopia.
  • Game Boy / Game Boy Color Gambatte.
  • Game Boy Advance mGBA.

Does OpenEmu have SNES? ›

Supported systems include several Atari consoles, the entire Game Boy line, GameCube, NES, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, Sega Master System, Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, Sony PSP, and Super Nintendo.

Does OpenEmu work on Mac? ›

OpenEmu is an open-source multi-system video game emulator designed for macOS. It provides a plugin interface to emulate numerous consoles' hardware, such as the Nintendo Entertainment System, Genesis, Game Boy, and many more.

Are ROM emulators illegal? ›

Emulators are 100% legal, as is the process of downloading them. They are no different to other programs you might download such as word processing or music player software. Downloading and uploading ROMs is illegal, however, so make sure you use your own game files.

Is OpenEmu legal? ›

Technically, it is perfectly legal in the U.S. to own an emulator, which is what OpenEmu is. However, when it comes to ROMs, I.E., the files that contain the actual games, this is where it gets tricky. You are technically only allowed to use a ROM if you created it yourself, or if you own the original game.

What macOS is needed for OpenEmu? ›

OpenEmu v2. 3 Requires macOS 10.14. 4 or above. Initial macOS 10.11 Big Sur support.

What consoles can OpenEmu run? ›

Supported Systems
SystemCode based on
Sega SG-1000, Master System, Game Gear, Genesis/Mega Drive, Sega/Mega CDGenesis Plus GX
SNK Neo Geo Pocket/ColorMednafen
Sony PlayStationMednafen
Sony PlayStation PortablePPSSPP
21 more rows

What codes does OpenEmu use? ›

Supported cheats
ConsoleCheat typeExample code
Game Boy AdvanceCodebreaker/GameShark SP/XploderA62B1D67EB2D
Game GearAction Replay00D159:98
Game GearGame Genie3A7-E4C-2A2
Nintendo (NES) / FamicomGame GenieAPEETPEY
14 more rows
Oct 13, 2022

Can OpenEmu play PS1? ›

Finally, you'll need to add BIOS files for the systems you wish to play on in OpenEmu, and that includes PS1. There's a user guide on BIOS files available other at OpenEmu detailing exactly what you need. If you're missing on any BIOS files, OpenEmu will inform you, which makes it easier for you.

Can OpenEmu play GameCube games? ›

Dolphin-Core is GameCube and Wii emulation core for OpenEmu. It is a Work in Progress and is already running many GameCube games in the latest OpenEmu compiled from git source. Wii support is added with the git source fork of Open-Emu and OpenEmu-SDK from

Can OpenEmu run DS games? ›

With this emulator, you can play any Gameboy (Color, Advance), DS, PSP, etc... game if you can find its file! This means you can play any Pokémon game from first generation to Black/White 2! Other old game consoles can be found such as the Nintendo 64, and if you have the correct plugins you may be able to add more!

Do you need BIOS for OpenEmu? ›

In order to emulate some systems, BIOS files are needed due to increasing complexity of the hardware and software of modern gaming consoles. If the core you are currently trying to use needs a BIOS file, OpenEmu will alert you with a popup message.

Is there a ps2 emulator for Mac? ›

PCSX2 mac is an emulator for the Sony PlayStation 2. Furthermore, it is the most comprehensively bundled and most helpful ps2 emulator mac available on the market. All of the ps2 emulator macOS upgrades allow users to play and enjoy a wide variety of games.

How do I play roms on my emulator? ›

Some emulators have a folder set as the default for games, so make sure the ROM file goes in that folder. If there is no folder automatically set, you will have to set one yourself. Most Emulators have a ( File>Open ROM ) option, so do that, and a box will appear to select your game file.

Where do roms go in EMU deck? ›

You will copy the game roms (contents) from your external storage device (USB Thumb drive, SSD/HDD, etc.) into the corresponding folders. Locate the bios/roms and copy them to the /Emulation/roms/[system name] and /Emulation/bios sub folders on the primary microSD card installed in the Steam Deck.

How to use Mame roms on OpenEmu? ›

For MAME ROMs, leave the file zipped. Drag the zipped file into the Arcade section of OpenEmu, and the game should display. Since this is still an experimental feature, support can be buggy. It may show up in the wrong folder, or do something else wonky.

Does OpenEmu support Game Genie? ›

OpenEmu supports Game Genie and other codes, and some games even come pre-populated with a few helpful tricks.


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