The Sega Genesis (or Mega Drive, as it was known here in the UK) is one of the stalwarts of 16-bit gaming. Yes, it was ultimately overshadowed by the SNES, but you can’t overlook its wonderful catalog of games that included the Sonic, Streets of Rage and Phantasy Star series. Luckily, emulating all these classics isn’t too hard today. Here we show you how to set up Sega Genesis emulation on Retroarch so you can play your favorite games just as you remember them – or even better!
Best Sega Genesis Cores
Once you’ve downloaded and installed Retroarch, the first step is to find the best cores to play your Sega Genesis games. Go to the Main Menu icon at the far left, then click “Load Core” and scroll down to “Download a Core.”
Scroll down to the Sega section. You’ll have a few choices of core here, so we’ve picked out a couple of the most popular ones so you can choose which one suits you best.
Sega Genesis Plus GX: The best and by far most popular Genesis core. It doesn’t support the handful of Sega 32X games out there, but it’s fair to say that’s a pretty niche shortcoming.
PicoDrive: A little worse than GX in terms of options and compatibility, but some people prefer to use this core for its Sega CD and 32X compatibility as well as the fact that it works with RetroAchievements, which brings modern console-style achievements to those great old games.
Download one or both of the above cores, then add your Genesis games library by going to “Import Content -> Scan Directory” (or Scan File), then navigating to where you keep your Genesis ROMs.
If you’re curious about the legality surrounding console emulators and ROMs, see our article that explains everything you need to know about the legality of emulation.
Once your directory is scanned, your games should be added to Retroarch. An icon on the Retroarch menu in the shape of a Genesis controller should now be visible. Go over to it, and you’ll see your list of games.
Select any game, as you need a game running in your selected core to adjust the core settings. Click Run, choose the core you want to run it on, then Run again.
If you’ve already connected a controller to your PC, Retroarch usually detects it automatically and maps the buttons in a logical manner. The problem is that the Genesis gamepad’s two rows of three face buttons don’t map that elegantly onto a PS4 or Xbox controller’s four face buttons, and not every game’s consistent about which button is “jump,” for example.
To remap controls, open a game, then open the Retroarch menu (F1 by default) and click “Quick Menu -> Controls.” Here you can mess around with the controls until they’re comfortable to you.
When you’re done, in the Controls menu you can click “Save Game Remap File” to save your controller mappings for that individual game or “Save Core Remap File,” which will apply them across the entire core.
Again, Genesis is very inconsistent with its controls between games, so it’s probably best to save controls on a game-by-game basis for now. Alternatively, you could open Sonic and map its controls, then apply that across the core, as Sonic is very much the baseline around which many other Genesis games built their control schemes.
In the Retroarch menu, go to “Settings -> Video -> Scaling” and make sure that Aspect Ratio is “Core provided.” This will ensure your Genesis games are running in their native 4:3 format.
Next, open a game, then open the “Retroarch menu -> Quick Menu -> Options.” Here you can fiddle around with various visual and sound elements specific to that core.
The Blargg NTSC filter, for example, is a fun way of mimicking the saturation and blurriness of CRT displays that you would actually have played these games on in the ’90s! Play around with the different filters and see if that blurry nostalgia suits you.
For maximum accuracy in recreating that Genesis sound, go to “Quick Menu -> Options,” then change the following:
Mega Drive / Genesis FM: Nuked (YM2612)
Audio Filter: Low-pass
Low-Pass Filter: 55%
That about covers Sega Genesis emulation on Retroarch. Retroarch also exists on Android, and we’ve written a guide showing how to set up Retroarch on Android. If Retroarch isn’t working properly for whatever reason, we also have you covered with a bunch of fixes.