The N64 is one of the greatest games consoles of all time, leading the way in the late 90s with pioneering 3D graphics and bringing franchises like Mario and Zelda into gorgeous open worlds. If you own the original games, you can relive these glory days through emulation on PC, which lets you do things like increase resolutions and framerates and add shaders over the game to recreate that retro feel.
The emulation frontend Retroarch is arguably the best N64 emulator out there, letting you run several different N64 emulators as “cores” (as well as letting you play PS1, SNES, Sega Genesis, and various other retro console games on your PC). Here, we’ll show you the best way to get Retroarch to run your N64 collection.
Note: We’ve updated this guide to reflect the new Ozone UI that Retroarch has been using for a while now. If you’re still on the old XMB UI, then the guide still completely applies – it’s just that it will look different on your screen.
To make things simpler, you can update the XMB UI to look like the new UI we use here. IN Retroarch, just go to Settings -> User Interface -> Menu and change it to ‘ozone’
What Is the Best N64 Core in Retroarch
Once you’ve installed the latest version of Retroarch, you’ll need to choose from one of the two main N64 cores. Cores are essentially emulators designed to work specifically in Retroarch and are usually based on existing emulators. To download a core, open Retroarch, and from the leftmost icon (Main Menu), go to “Load Core,” then “Download Core.”
Your choices for N64 cores are Mupen64Plus and Parallel 64. Both are good options, with the latter being renowned for better accuracy, while the other has better overall performance, more customization, and broader compatibility with more games.
However, if you run other cores, such as Beetle PSX HW (see our PS1 Retroarch emulation guide for more info), then you’re likely running them using Vulkan drivers. These drivers are incompatible with Mupen64Plus and most of ParaLLel 64, which use “gl” drivers.
This means that for these cores to work, you’ll need to go to “Settings -> Drivers -> Video” in Retroarch, and make sure that “gl” is selected.
If other cores use Vulkan drivers, you’ll need to switch this manually each time you want to use those cores. It’s a bit clunky, but one workaround is to install Retroarch into a second, separate folder so that you have two separate versions of Retroarch – one that runs GL cores and the other for Vulkan.
Add N64 Games to Your Library
We’re assuming you already have a collection of N64 roms ready to go (and that you own the original copies of the games). To add games to your Retroarch N64 library, go to “Import Content -> Scan Directory” in the Retroarch menu, then navigate to where you keep all your N64 roms on your PC.
Once your games have been added to your library, you should see them listed under the N64 controller icon in the Retroarch menu. Go over to the icon, select your game, click “Run,” then select the core you want to run the game.
ParaLLel 64 for Accuracy (and Vulkan)
If you don’t care for high resolutions and other graphical tweaks and just want the most accurate N64 emulation possible (which also happens to use Vulkan drivers), then you can run ParaLLel-64 with the “angrylion” plugin.
First, make sure your driver is set to “gl,” otherwise the core won’t open in the first place. Next, pick an N64 game by going over to the N64 controller icon in your Retroarch menu (assuming you’ve already added your games), and make sure to “Run” it using ParaLLel N64.
Once the game starts, go to the Retroarch menu (F1 by default), then go to “Main Menu -> Quick Menu -> Options -> GFX Plugin,” and select the “angrylion” plugin. Restart Retroarch for the plugin to activate.
After restarting Retroarch, go to “Settings -> Drivers -> Video,” change the “gl” plugin back to “vulkan,” then restart Retroarch again. Your super-accurate ParaLLel 64 core should now work, and you won’t need to switch between Vulkan and GL drivers when using different cores.
Mupen64Plus for Performance
If you find that the ParaLLel 64/angrylion combo looks a little too grainy and, well, accurate, then you should try using the Mupen64Plus core. Remember, again, that you’ll need to set your video drivers in Retroarch to “gl” for this to work.
Open Mupen64Plus much like ParaLLel N64. From the main menu just select “Load Core,” and select “Mupen64Plus” from the list. (Or go to Download Core and find it there if you don’t have it yet.) Select a game from your collection, then click “Run” and select the Mupen64Plus core. (If you previously ran that game with another core, you’ll need to select “Reset Core Association” instead of “Run” in the game’s Retroarch menu.)
Once a game is up and running in a given core, you can change that core’s graphical settings and so on by going to “Retroarch menu -> Quick Menu -> Options.” Here you can make changes to the resolution, texture filtering, and all kinds of other trickery to make your games look crispier or more “authentic” as you please.