The Super Nintendo is widely regarded as one of the best games consoles of all time, building on the revolution of its predecessor, the NES, to offer more color, great sound, and some of the best pixel-art games of all time (as well as some early 3D ones). Thanks to the miracle of emulation, we’ve been able to play SNES games on our PCs for years now.
Retroarch is one of the best options around, offering an all-in-one emulation frontend for your SNES games, as well as those from other consoles. But Retroarch can be a little fiddly to set up, so this guide will show you how to give yourself the ultimate SNES experience on PC.
Picking the Right Core
We’re going to assume that you’ve already installed Retroarch and are ready to choose a core for your SNES emulation. Cores are key files from various SNES emulators that have been integrated with Retroarch, and can be downloaded by going to the “Retroarch main menu -> Load Core -> Download a Core.”
You may be overwhelmed by the choice of SNES cores available, so we’ll whittle it down to some of our favorites:
SNES9X: the most “universal” choice, with great performance, huge compatibility and plenty of options when it comes to graphical tweaks. It’s also the best choice if you’re looking to play online.
BSNES-Accuracy: the connoisseur’s choice, offering the most “accurate” SNES emulation, even if the regular user won’t necessarily notice the accuracies. Ideal if you’re running your emulator through a CRT display but can be CPU-intensive on lower-end PCs.
Mesen-S: the new kid on the block. Good accuracy, good performance, but not quite the best.
Once you’ve picked a core and added your games (Retroarch menu -> Import Content -> Scan Directory or File), you can run any game you like.
Just select a game from your freshly imported list, click Run, then select the SNES core you want to run it with.
When you’re ready, click Run again.
It’s only when a game is running that you can go into your SNES core’s settings to play around with them.
Most controllers these days should automatically map themselves in a sensible way onto whatever Retroarch core you’re using. However, if the controls aren’t quite right or are unmapped, then you can assign them manually.
Open the Retroarch menu when a game is running (F1, by default), select “Quick Menu -> Controls -> Port 1 Controls” and assign the controls there.
Here you can also map your analog sticks onto the SNES D-pad by selecting “Analog to Digital Type” and “Left Analog.”
When you’re done, go back to the previous menu and select “Save Core Remap File” if you want those controls to apply to all your SNES games or “Save Game Remap” file if they’re just for that specific game.
By default, your SNES games should look pretty good. You can set Retroarch’s overall resolution under “Settings -> Video -> Output,” but even if it’s widescreen, SNES games should default to 4:3 because that’s what all games from those days were designed for.
Under the Video heading, you can also add bilinear filtering if you want to soften the pixel edges, but to me this is ugly and inauthentic.
The best way to tweak the look of your SNES games is through shaders. With a game open, go to “Quick Menu -> Shaders -> Load Shader Preset.”
Depending on whether you’re using OpenGL or Vulkan drivers (check under “Settings -> Video -> Output”), you’ll be using either “glsl” or “slang shaders” respectively. Shaders are powerful filters that go over the top of your game and can range from ones that mimic the scanlines on a CRT display to various ones that soften or sharpen the image.
Find shaders that you like under “Load Shader Preset,” then after selecting them, click Apply Changes to see how they look. To remove shaders, just highlight “Shader Passes,” decrease the number to 0 and click Apply Changes.
That should be enough to get you going with SNES emulation on Retroarch. If you want to play around with other cores on Retroarch, see our Ultimate Guide to N64 and Ultimate Guide to PS1 emulation on Retroarch.