Best Steam Deck Emulators 2024

Our top picks for Steam Deck Emulators

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When considering the Steam Deck, emulation often comes to mind. Emulators replicate various retro games and consoles, granting access to a broader array of titles than those originally present on the platform.

For those seeking to relive classics from Sega, Sony, Nintendo, and more, we’ve compiled the finest emulators to opt for. Benefitting from reasonable specifications and portability, the Steam Deck provides an excellent platform for emulation. Curious about the best emulators? Let’s delve into our top selections to enable your retro gaming experience on the Steam Deck.

What You Need To Know About Game Emulation

For those who have delved into PC tinkering, understanding emulation might come naturally. However, newcomers might find it a bit perplexing. Before we dive into setting up emulators on your Steam Deck, here’s a brief primer to get you started.

An emulator serves as a system (hardware or software) that enables one program to mimic another. In the realm of game emulation, we’re dealing with software that lets you play games on different platforms. For instance, these tools allow you to enjoy classic SNES games on a mobile device or play Atari games on your PC.

When emulating games from specific consoles, you might need a BIOS file. This is software that mimics the console’s functions for the game you intend to play. Some emulators won’t work without it. While we can’t advise where to find these files due to potential legal concerns, a web search can guide you.

In gaming lingo, a ROM file is essentially a copy of a game along with its settings. Think of ROMs as the game you load into the emulator. As with BIOS files, we can’t offer direct guidance on where to locate ROMs, but an online search should point you in the right direction.

Best All-Rounder Emulator For Steam Deck: RetroArch

If a console isn’t mentioned here, it’s highly likely that Retroarch supports it. Retroarch is a user-friendly graphical app that brings together various emulators and can even run on Xbox Series X|S. You can utilize Retroarch with most of the mentioned software, using them as emulation cores instead of standalone apps. Keep in mind that these cores might not always be the latest versions, so be mindful of compatibility issues.

Certain consoles, like the PlayStation Portable, can be more complex for game backups, requiring additional steps to dump ROMs from the PSP itself. There are also arcade emulators available, but delving into them demands a deeper understanding that might exceed the typical retro gamer’s knowledge.

Best Emulator For PlayStation 1 Games: DuckStation

Sony’s original PlayStation games run smoothly on emulators, offering a great way to expand your Steam Deck gaming library. These games were on regular CDs, making it easy to create backup copies using laptops or desktop PCs with disc drives.

DuckStation is a modern PlayStation emulator that aims for accurate emulation without sacrificing performance. It’s simple to set up and use, available on Flathub via the Steam Deck desktop Discover app or the official GitHub repository.

Keep in mind that game enjoyment may vary, as not all PlayStation titles supported analog controls. Turn-based games like Final Fantasy VII are well-suited for extended gaming sessions. To check if your favorite games are playable, you can refer to the DuckStation compatibility list.

Best Emulator For PlayStation 2 Games: PCSX2

Emulating PlayStation 2 games is a bit more challenging, and achieving perfect emulation is rare due to the complexity of the console. The PS2 used both CD and DVD media, making game backups relatively straightforward. However, don’t expect to play your entire collection flawlessly on the Steam Deck.

PCSX2, an open-source emulator, has seen significant improvements through community contributions since its launch. You can find it on Flathub or download it from the official PCSX2 website, with regular updates for Linux builds along with the Windows version.

Performance can vary, and the official PCSX2 compatibility list helps track it, but testing on the Steam Deck is often necessary. While some simpler titles might have graphical issues, more complex games like Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance can run surprisingly well.

Best Emulator For Nintendo Switch Games: Ryujinx and Yuzu

While the idea of emulating Switch games on the Steam Deck is alluring due to their similar nature, achieving flawless performance isn’t a given. Switch emulation varies in results, allowing you to play many games with differing outcomes.

To address this, having both Ryujinx and Yuzu is advisable. Ryujinx focuses on precise emulation, while Yuzu aims for better performance. Together, these emulators potentially cover a significant portion of the Switch library. It’s essential to manage your expectations and become familiar with optimization techniques to enhance Steam Deck performance while emulating Switch games.

Best Emulator For Gamecube Games: Dolphin

The Dolphin emulator offers impressive results for emulating Nintendo’s GameCube console. Many games are perfectly compatible, and the list keeps growing with each update. The only challenge is that ripping the miniDVDs used by the console requires a suitable disc drive. Most desktop DVD drives should work, but the process might not be straightforward.

Dolphin can also emulate Wii games, which use full-sized DVDs. However, due to their reliance on the WiiMote peripheral, many titles aren’t recommended for Steam Deck play. You can get Dolphin from Flathub or find Linux instructions on the official Dolphin Linux wiki.

Most games will run well at native resolutions, and some can be enhanced further with built-in features. The official Dolphin compatibility list provides info on your favorite games, including necessary tweaks to run classic GameCube titles like Resident Evil 4.

In Summary

That pretty much wraps up the best emulators for the Steam Deck to get your retro gaming on. Just remember, if you’re using the Steam Deck, it’s best to opt for the Linux versions of these emulators, unless you’ve installed Windows on your device.

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