It’s been more than twelve months since I posted an article covering my experiences with running various computer and console emulators on my trusty old Surface Pro.
When traveling you aren’t always guaranteed of having a network connection or television services so having a flexible entertainment device can come in very handy, especially if you have children.
In the last year, Windows 8.1’s features have become quite stable thanks to the last major update which has gone a considerable way to making the OS less of a bane to the lives of desktop users.
One big change in that time has been an increase in the use of “universal apps” (similar to “cross-buy”) which can be great value for those who’ve also got Windows Phones. Not only can you have your emulator in your pocket, some of these apps will let you share files on OneDrive (was SkyDrive) and in some cases even share settings.
Another welcome feature has been the support of Xbox One controllers. Though a wireless dongle is coming later in the year, right now you can connect the controller via a USB cable and begin gaming away. If you can find a cable long enough this is a very easy win and these controllers will become the new PC standard in the coming years.
The following is a list of emulators that I am currently using on my Surface Pro with a bit of feedback on how I feel they work on my mobile “emulation station”. A lot of this hasn’t changed since last year but SegaDude did point out a fairly significant platform omission which helped convince me to go back and update things. 🙂
Please note: some of these emulators may require ROM, BIOS or game image files to work correctly which you will need to track down for yourself. None of those will be linked to from here.
Note: Growing up with the Atari platform means I do tend to use these apps more than the others but I’m working on branching out more over time.
This is an Atari ST/STE/TT/Falcon emulator that is still in development and so far provides great emulation of the ST/STE machines that works on the Surface in desktop mode. The UI allows users to get up and playing quickly but you may find that not all disc images work with it yet.
Nevertheless it plays Dungeon Master perfectly so the rest is gravy.
Hatari is free and can be found at its website.
This Atari 8-bit emulator is impressive in the amount of functionality that has been packed into it. The desktop app has a lot of options that need to be set initially but once it is all set up the app becomes easy to use.
Its more technical features like the integrated debugger even have the potential to turn it into a teaching tool for those interested. Until I began searching for emulators for my Surface Pro, I had not even heard of Altirra but am glad to have found it because it is a rock solid product.
Perhaps the most comprehensive emulator of the ones mentioned here.
Altirra is free and can be found at its website.
The first Windows Store emulator of the list, this was the first product I had purchased as it was the only Atari Lynx emulator to have been developed in years. There was an old one called Handy which was fairly capable at the time but support for it dropped off many years ago so I had a lot of excitement for this one.
It comes in a universal app version and has a design consistency shared with other emulators produced by the same developer (see Genstalgia below). It’s surprisingly capable and apart from some issues with sampled sound, it gives an accurate experience.
For those that may be put off by the chunky pixels in full screen mode, there is even a filter that attempts to smooth out the graphics somewhat. Just don’t expect too much – the Lynx’s screen resolution was a mere 160×102 so there’s not a lot of room to manoeuvre.
Lynxstalgia is a paid app that can be found here on the Windows Store.
This Windows Store emulator is another universal app that provides emulation of the Atari 7800 Pro System, which had hardware comparable to the Atari 8-bit range but had the added benefit of also being compatible with the Atari 260 VCS.
Unlike other emulators listed here, this one is the complete package – all the games are built into the product. There are plenty to choose from but the majority are Atari produced titles but don’t expect to see anything from existing publishers; Pitfall! and River Raid from Activision are nowhere to be found.
I’m not a big fan of the touch controls though on both tablet and phone so this might be one for keyboards and controllers only.
EMU7800 is a free app that can be found here on the Windows Store.
Years in development, this Commodore 64 emulator is one of the best and works more than adequately in desktop mode.
Thanks to the platform having one of the biggest and best library of games from the era it is almost a necessity to have it if you’re into retro gaming on the run. My addiction to Sid Meier’s Pirates! began here by playing the C64 version.
CCS64 is shareware and can be found at its website.
A Windows Store version of the popular SNES9X emulator. Being built on such a long maintained and high quality codebase helps this one be capable of handling almost anything thrown at it which makes it a perfect choice for classic Nintendo fans.
Though there are other apps out there similarly capable it’s hard to go past this. And thanks to it now being a universal app, your Windows Phone enjoys the same benefits too.
SNES8x+ is free and can be found here on the Windows Store.
From the same developers of Lynxstalgia, we have a Genesis emulator from the Windows Store that really makes it easy for users to get up and running quickly. It supports a touchscreen, keyboard and controllers. There aren’t a huge amount of options and some are unnecessary (sepia tone filter!?) but you can’t help but be impressed with how quickly you can be up and running.
I picked up the universal app version and have found the Windows Phone version to work just as well. Games can be loaded from OneDrive which allows your phone to then have access to the same library.
Genstalgia is a paid app that can be found here in the Windows Store.
Also known as Kega Fusion, this desktop app has a long pedigree and is considered the best of the best when it comes to Sega emulators. Not only does it support standard Genesis games, it will also handle 32X and SegaCD titles. In addition, Master System and Game Gear titles are also supported.
The emulator is comprehensive with plenty of options to adjust quality settings for boosting performance however you should find for stock Genesis games the defaults work perfectly well. There are some nice touches though like providing filters to help get the visuals looking as if they are running from an old 80’s television.
If you prefer the keyboard to touchscreen, this is a great emulator that will take on just about any Sega game you throw at it and make it look a million dollars.
Fusion is free (donations accepted) and can be found here.
Originally a LucasArts games emulator only, ScummVM has expanded to include a raft of other titles that literally makes it the adventure game version of M.A.M.E. but thankfully without the DOS interface. Curse of Monkey Island still looks phenomenal and works perfectly through this.
The emulator is still in active development and this year added support for a couple of Activision’s FMV based Zork adventures: Zork Nemesis: The Forgotten Lands and Zork: Grand Inquisitor.
ScummVM is free and can be found at its website.
The most famous emulator of them all. The Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator’s ability to play classic arcade games of the past has won over many fans and its constant development almost ensures that eventually you will find your favourite game is going to work.
The emulator runs a treat on the Surface Pro. The varied display modes for the games work nicely and classic titles really come up well but the DOS UI can be a bit of a pain as it doesn’t show all the available titles at any given time.
Just don’t try rotating the screen while it is running as it wont deal with it nicely.
M.A.M.E. is free and can be found at its website.
As the OS continues to mature, it is encouraging to see some developers take advantage of it. Most of the universal app emulators have excellent support for all valid input methods; playing Sonic the Hedgehog on Genstalgia was a breeze with an Xbox One controller.
Despite this, the desktop based emulators are still the ones to go to if you are looking for comprehensive support of a particular platform. A lot of this is simply for the fact that these apps have a level of maturity that will take time for the newer apps to reach.
That may change with the leap to Windows 10; there are bound to be a raft of app updates or new contenders released so we might need to revisit things again to see if the new OS brings glad tidings to emulation fans
There are still a couple more retro systems I really need to spend some time checking out too such as the Amiga (WinUAE is a good bet) and with the successes I’ve had so far I’m fairly confident of seeing more great games running soon on my humble Surface Pro.