How to emulate your childhood video game memories

Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc.
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By making miniaturized versions of their iconic consoles, Sony and Nintendo dipped into the childhood memories, and pockets, of their core audience. Last year saw Nintendo’s sold-out success with the pint-sized NES, and 2018 holiday sales suggest Sony’s Playstation tapped into the same indelible market opportunity: nostalgia.

If you aren’t getting a Playstation or NES Classic this year (or if your digital desires live outside the canon of Zelda or Crash Bandicoot) there are still legal ways to mash your memory buttons over the holiday.

Digital purchases


The newest consoles, like PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One, make their classic games available through digital download and purchase.

With the cost of a Nintendo online account, you can play favorites like Dr. Mario, Tecmo, or Yoshi in crisp 1080p glory. In some cases, the companies purchased the rights to distribute rereleases on their systems.

Into the brutal side-scroller Metal Slug? For $10 you can play through the unforgiving game mechanics once again on your PS4.

War never changes.
War never changes.
Image: SNK

Re-released and remastered

Cellphones breathe fresh life into classic games.

The Japanese roleplaying game cult hit, Chrono Trigger, can be played on the subway via iOS or Android. From the SNES days, this time-traveling Square Enix title made the quantum leap into the 21st century. Also among mobile reboots, you can feed Sonic the Hedgehog’s ring obsession on iOS or Android. Best part? You don’t need to carry around a dozen double A batteries to play it.

Some game studios went the extra mile to port not just content, but to update the graphics along the way.

Blizzard, famous for the World of Warcraft multiplayer experience, overhauled their eSport-worthy sci-fi strategy classic Starcraft. Bringing the game to a modern resolution with a widescreen aspect ratio, while boosting the frame rate, updating sprites, and keeping their lovable in-game dialogue, the developers revived a hit.

The company made the original game free to play, while the remastered version costs $10 online. The strategy must have made corporate happy; in November, Blizzard announced a 2019 release date for Warcraft 3: Reforged, another remastered title.

Zug zug
Zug zug
Image: Blizzard Entertainment

But what about ROMs?

ROMs are ripped copies of video games’ read-only memory—essentially, a jailbroken copy of the game.

With the proper emulator, software designed to read and play ROMs, you can play old video games from systems like Sega Genesis, NES, and PlayStation. But ROMs are in a gray area when it comes to legality, according to How to Geek.

But what if you own a cartridge version of Super Mario Bros. 3—can’t you download or make your own copy? According to Nintendo corporate that’s less of a black and white issue: “whether you have an authentic game or not… it is illegal to download and play a Nintendo ROM from the Internet.”

Free, licensed games are another story. You can play some original MAME arcade games, through their site. You can also browse the Internet Archive’s list of old MSDOS and Windows games. These titles are available to play in browser.

Myself? I’m keen on a cosmic adventure down memory lane. Commander Keen’s “Goodbye Galaxy!” used to be a staple around our family’s CRT monitor.

Billy get your pogo stick.
Billy get your pogo stick.
Image: Internet Archive / Apogee

The world of open-source

Die-hard fanbases have taken to remaking abandonware titleswhere authoring studios either stopped supporting the title or are long gone. By faithfully recreating these games without stripping the original codebase or selling the software, hobbyist developers can reproduce classic titles.

To this end, one entry from the original realtime strategy series, Command and Conquer: Red Alert, has been faithfully adapted to play on Windows, MacOS, and Linux (among others). The title, OpenRA, allows for single-player, online, and even local area network (LAN) play. Maybe order yourself a pizza and deploy your construction yard for fantasy military warfare over finite resources. You know, role play.

You can find a nice list of other remake titles over here. Feel free to email us here, if you’re down for a skirmish.

DIY arcade

Replaying these games on my work laptop isn’t the same, you might say. I would agree with you, but also suggest you shouldn’t play computer games on your office computer…

To live out your vinyl button and joystick dreams, take a look at the Picade or Cupcade. Developed by the folks at Adafruit, this miniaturized arcade allows you to play class arcade titles from the comfort of your home. Part of the joy comes from building the machine yourself. They’re powered by the credit card sized computer, Raspberry Pi.

Two photos of the Adafruit Cupcade and the parts to assemble the tiny arcade.
Some assembly required
Image: Adafruit

Make your own 8-bit game

But why stop at building your arcade experience? Let’s just make our own 8-bit game.

Pico-8 is “a fantasy console for making, sharing and playing tiny games,” according to its makers. Ok, maybe we all don’t know how to program, but Pico-8’s adorable interface, active community, and straightforward language makes it as approachable as it gets.

Pixel pushing
Image: Lexaloffle

If learning Lua wasn’t your idea of how to quench a vintage game urge, not to worry. Pico-8’s site lets you search and play these games in the browser for free.

The winter months aren’t just about reconnecting with old friends and families. Hopefully, this guide helped blow dust off some old cartridge memories.