Of course, video game emulation is nothing new. Websites such as CoolRom have made Mac emulators widely available for free for years now. However, what has changed are the emulators themselves. In the past, setting up a successful emulator has been tricky business, requiring terminal commands and permissions-altering procedures in order to get any worthwhile results.

Old School Mac Game Emulators

Enter the new era of classic game emulation for Mac. This article will outline the newest, simplest and most free options for classic gaming on all the major consoles of days past. Slide over and take a seat BioShock, because Mario, Super Metroid and Final Fantasy have jumped into their respective time machines and been transported directly to the present and earned their place as legendary classics of the genre. Emulators up to the sixth generation (GameCube, Playstation 2) are freely available for download and, in a combination of spurious legality and uninhibited awesomeness, so too are the respective ROMs for most of their games.


Towering over the previously complicated and unreliable emulators of the past, OpenEmu is an all-in-one vintage console emulator for Mac OS X 10.7 and up. It has an iTunes-style menu that runs emulations simply and automatically by detecting the necessary components and housing them directly in the application itself. The developers are currently working towards adding more modern consoles, but as of this writing the following are supported:

Game Boy Game Boy Advance Game Gear NeoGeo Pocket Nintendo (NES) SuperNintendo (SNES) Nintendo DS Sega 32x Sega Genesis Sega Master System TurboGrafx-16 Virtual Boy

Using OpenEmu couldn’t possibly be made any easier. Simply download the emulator for free from the developer website link offered above, open the program drag your ROMs onto the application interface and play. If you’re serious enough about your games to purchase a USB or Bluetooth controller (of which plenty are available for every system) it will automatically detect any present and allow true plug-and-play functionality for as many of these games as you want. There are even dedicated developers who are creating new games for these emulators. A whole new era of classic gaming has been opened by this piece of software and you can find just about any game you might be looking for, including the obscure titles no longer manufactured.

Classic-era emulators

If you’ve satisfied your first round of nostalgia with OpenEmu, you’ll certainly be left with a desire for more. The classic consoles, largely considered to have begun with the advent of the Sony Playstation and 3D gaming, are also widely and freely available for download. In this case, however, individual emulators must be used for each console:

Playstation: PCSX-Reloaded

PCSX-Reloaded is the best choice for Playstation emulation. This, too, will automatically detect any USB/Bluetooth controllers connected to your Mac and provide hours of distraction from the horrors of real life. The, “Reloaded” version of this software is an open-source upgrade that offers compatibility with nearly all Mac OS X systems and streamlines a previously complicated installation process. Simply place all your Playstation ROMs in a folder with PCSX-Reloaded, open the application and drag your favorite ROM onto the window to start.

Nintendo 64: Mupen64plus

The Nintendo 64 console has a few Mac OS X emulators available, but the most stable and widely compatible is Mupen64plus. The only caveat of this emulator is that you must install GTK+ in order for the emulator to work. GTK+ is a multi-platform graphical toolkit that sits in the background and processes the graphics for your N64 ROMs. Once that is installed, the process is again a simple drag-and-drop of your favorite N64 ROMs onto the Mupen64plus window.

Sixth-Generation Consoles

As of this writing, the latest emulators available online are for sixth-generation consoles. Being larger and more complicated systems, they are usually not plug-and-play installations but can be done with a minimum of fuss on most systems. There is no XBOX emulation currently available for Mac OS X, so unfortunately, for now, Halo is out of the question, but the other two giants of the sixth-generation console world are widely available.

Playstation 2: PCSX-2

PCSX-2 is a reliable emulator for Playstation 2. Don’t let the terminal window scare you, it opens automatically with the program and can be hidden once the games are running. It’s meant for developers to have an idea what’s going on while the software is running. PCSX-2 has a 3–step installation for OS 10.7 Lion that is pretty straightforward:

Download the Mac OS X Nvidia CG Framework package from here. Download the latest release of Quartz X11 Developer Tools using this link. Install the PCSX-2 app for Lion from the downloads page of the developer’s website.

If you run Snow Leopard, the same process applies except you can skip step #2 because the built-in Quartz package for Snow Leopard is compatible with the PCSX-2 software. If you’re running Mountain Lion or Mavericks, however, you’ll have to wait until a new version is finished and released.

Gamecube and Wii: Dolphin

Dolphin is a very well-written application that runs both Gamecube and Wii games natively on Mac OS X. It works for operating systems from OS 10.6 to 10.8 and is largely plug-and-play. Individual ROMs may require a specific BIOS file which is downloaded with the ROM, placed in the same folder and then automatically detected by Dolphin. A surprising and unique feature is that the Bluetooth Wiimote can be used with any Bluetooth-enabled computer. To do this you simply need to start up Dolphin, enter the Bluetooth settings and then detect and pair the Wiimote. The infrared sensor is combined with the Wiimote and doesn’t need to plugged into your Mac at all.