How to Play NES Games on Your Windows PC
It's easy to play NES games on your PC, but with so many emulators to choose from, we're narrowing it down to the best ones!
In this guide, we will talk about how you can play your favourite NES games on your personal computer. The NES was one of the best consoles that introduced us to a handful of games. There’s no denying that the platform was the birth of the very loved character, Super Mario.
1990 was the year that the first NES emulator emerged out of nowhere. Its name would be Family Computer Emulator V0.35 by Haruhisa Udugawa. This emulator was capable of running some simple NES games such as Donkey Kong, Super Mario and Ice Climber. Now, while this was impressive, it was far from calling it a perfect emulator that emulated the real thing. After years and years, people wanted to play NES games on their Windows PCs to relive their nostalgia.
Luckily for you, there’s an NES emulator which I simply think is the perfect program out there. The program which I’m talking about is called Mesen. The aforementioned is no longer active. However, thanks to its interesting features, it deserves every right to be mentioned. Since we are doing a guide about ” How to Play NES Games on PC ”, we will make sure to let you know about any other emulators that can run your NES games in case if you didn’t like the one I suggested. Anyway, come and read all about it below!
Notice: I try to constantly update each emulator guide to be as accurate, helpful and fun to read as possible. Thank you.
Table of Contents
- 1 Is Mesen worth it with all the other better alternatives?
- 2 Where can I get Mesen emulator?
- 3 How do I install the Mesen emulator?
- 4 How to Play NES Games on PC?
- 5 Setting up the gamepad and keyboard
- 6 How to enable Video Filters using Mesen
- 7 How to save and load my progress using Mesen
- 8 Mesen’s Useful video options
- 9 Issues you will encounter when using Mesen
- 10 Useful tips
- 11 Alternative emulators to Mesen
Is Mesen worth it with all the other better alternatives?
Absolutely. However, Mesen isn’t the only NES emulator out there. There is a handful of emulators such as FCEUX which has risen from the dead. Other alternatives include Nestopia UE, the forked version of the original Nestopia, and puNES. I will be mentioning those below in case if you are wondering.
Where can I get Mesen emulator?
There are a couple of places where to get this emulator from, and luckily, all of them are safe. To get Mesen, head on over to their official site, or emulator zone. Other than that, there’s no other place to get this from. Beware of the scammers.
How do I install the Mesen emulator?
Mesen is a standalone program as any other emulator we showcased before such as Duckstation, redream, PPSSPP. All you have to do is download the emulator, extract the program inside the zip file, and you are good to go. As always, I recommend creating a folder and name it ” Emulators ” where you dump all of your stuff in it.
How to Play NES Games on PC?
Now, where do I get the ROMs? the answer is simple: google it, my friend. The first results should send you to the best and safest sites to download your ROMs from. Don’t worry, they’re all safe.
To load up a game using the emulator, simply do this: Go to File > Open or press Ctrl+O. Once you do that, navigate to where you have thrown your game to. After you locate the game, press it and you are good to go.
Setting up the gamepad and keyboard
Mesen like any emulator supports both a controller ( either DirectInput or Xinput) and keyboard. To access where to change your controls, go to Options > Input.
You’ll arrive here. You can easily re-configure everything following two options: Click on the key you want to change and press either the keyboard or gamepad button. The process is easy here and it doesn’t require much explanation Once you’re done, don’t forget to press OK.
One of the unique features I liked about Mesen is the automatic configuration of the controller when using Zapper/Light Gun. You can check that option above this picture. It’s a feature that really helps with games such as Duck Hunt. To shoot a target on the screen, target it with the mouse and use the left mouse button to shoot. To shoot outside the screen (which some games need to control menus, etc.), hold down the right mouse button while you click on the left mouse button.
How to enable Video Filters using Mesen
Like any emulator out there, with Mesen you can enhance the graphics to make them look better than the actual hardware itself. The feature I’m talking about is known as screen renders or screen filters. To enable this feature simply do these:
1-Go to Config > Video Filter
Clicking on the filter option will open lots of options to you such as NTSC, xBR, ScaleX and more. In addition, each filter can be customized to fit your needs. Finally, when you’re done don’t forget to click OK.
Lastly, here’s an explanation of these filters in case if you are curious:
I-NTSC: It simulates the fuzziness of an old TV.
II-ScaleX: this filter attempts to round pixels together without blurring.
III-Hqx: This one is similar to ScaleX, Hqx attempts to round pixels together without blurring.
IV-2xSaI: This one on the other hand attempts to round pixels together with some blurring.
V–xBR: Finally, this is Nestopia’s most advanced filter. It heavily rounds pixels together. If the game you’re playing has cartoony graphics, xBR can make it look gorgeous!
How to save and load my progress using Mesen
I think this section doesn’t require much explanation as it’s so easy. To select a save state, simply do this: go to File > Quick Save State. Or, you can press Shift+1 on your keyboard if you want to save.
To load up your progress, simply do this: go to File > Quick Load State. Or, you can simply press 1 on your keyboard to load up your progress. Press the number 1 on the left, not the right!
One feature I liked about Mesen is its autosave. It saves your progress, and once you launch the emulator it will continue from where you left it off the last time.
Note, you don’t have to fear having a save state corruption as the NES doesn’t even have an in-game save feature in the first place. So, play without thinking about it.
Mesen’s Useful video options
Unlike Nestopia UE, Mesen offers a variety of video options. Some of these are:
- Aspect Ratio: By clicking switching the aspect ratio from Default to Auto, you can simulate a CRT TV aspect ratio since that is where we used to play the NES on. Enabling auto option will switch between NTSC and PAL aspect ratios depending on the game you are playing. Using anything other than the
Default (No Stretching)option may cause pixels to have irregular sizes. You can reduce this effect by using a combination of video filters and the bilinear filtering option.
- Enable Vsync: Turning this option can help prevent screen tearing on some hardware configurations.
- HDNes HD Packs: To get the hang of this option, please check the official website.
- FPS Display: This option displays an FPS counter on the screen
- Exclusive fullscreen mode: This turns on exclusive fullscreen mode. It’s a useful option if you are experiencing screen tearing issues in regular fullscreen despite vertical sync being enabled
You can skip other options and head straight to the Advanced option. There’s some good stuff right there. Such as:
- Remove Sprite Limit: The original NES hardware can normally only draw up to 8 sprites per line – this limitation is indirectly responsible for some of the flickering seen in games at times. When this option is enabled, the limit is disabled, allowing up to 64 sprites to be drawn on the same line. However, sometimes when you remove sprite, this can cause graphical glitches.
- Screen Rotation: Rotates the display by the specified angle. This is useful to play games (generally homebrew games) designed for a vertical display.
- Disable background: Disables rendering of the background layer.
Issues you will encounter when using Mesen
Just like any emulator out there, you are bound to encounter issues. After all, nothing is truly perfect.
Mesen won’t boot up, displays a black screen
If you encounter this issue ( which is rare) that means it’s not supported on your hardware, and to fix this it will take some time. In my opinion, it’s not worth it. Just get another alternative like Retroarch and avoid this headache. However, if you are determined to fix this, here’s how you can do it:
1-First update your DirectX
2-Make sure you are using an NES ROM and not SNES format or something
3-Play using compatibility mode like set it to Windows 7 or Windows XP
4-You have an unsolved bug and it’s not worth it.
Mesen can’t save anything
The fix for this is easy: Put your emulator in a known destination. Such as, Documents, Downloads or a specific folder in your D/Drive.
This issue cannot be solved, unfortunately. The first time I encountered this problem, I immediately gave up and jumped into another emulator. You should too.
Here are some useful tips for you as usual:
How to enable cheats Using Messen
Mesen allows you to use GameGenie and ActionReplay codes. However, I do recommend Game Genie all the time as you won’t be faced with ” Codes not working for me ” issue.
To use the feature, go to Tools> Cheats. You’ll arrive at a window in which you can add all of your cheats. Click GameGenie and paste your code. Make sure the code doesn’t have any space, otherwise it won’t work. Once you’re done, press Submit. In case if you are wondering where you can get the cheats from, head to the official site.
How to Capture screenshots with Mesen
While in-game, just F12 to capture a screenshot. That’s it! Or, You could do it via the menu by going to Tools > Take Screenshot.
Fast forward is the feature that speeds up the game. To access it, hold down the Tab key. Let it go when you want it to stop.
Record Video and sound using Mesen
Recording a video or sound with Mesen is easy, just check the picture above and everything should be easy to go.
Alternative emulators to Mesen
There’s a myriad of NES emulators to choose from, but are they all worth it? No worries, we’ll let you know below!
Nestopia UE is the forked version of the original Nestopia which was initially released back in 2003. The latter allows graphical enhancements such as texture scaling and TV filters, as well as netplay support. It is pretty similar to Mesen, and It’s one of the most discussed emulators in the emulation scene.
Another good emulator, but not the best. This one has a lot to offer, but sadly it requires a fast processor as well. The developers recommend at least a Pentium 133 (MMX prefered) and a good video card with 2D acceleration. For Jnes to work properly, you also need to have the latest drivers (video, sound, DirectX) installed. Failing to do so might cause strange problems. Now, why am I saying all this with all the advanced processors out there? Well, you see. Some players enjoy using their old retro computers, so that is why I mentioned this info. (retro stuff duh)
Apparently, the emulator isn’t getting any updates on PC, but if you’re an Android user, their latest update was back in 2018. And from what I heard, it works nicely over there. If I had to choose Jnes and Mesen, I think I’d choose Mesen for its light requirements to run it on a low-end computer.
FCEUX emulator was once regarded as the best NES emulator to ever exist. Sadly, after a period, people began finding new alternatives to the emulator. It’s still active, but when compared to the likes of Mesen or Nestopia UE, the latter is really lacking behind.
Bizhawk is a multi-system emulator that is capable of emulating the following hardware:
- Atari 2600, 7800 and Lynx
- Nintendo NES, SNES and N64
- Nintendo Gameboy (Color) and Gameboy Advance
- Sega Master System, Game Gear, Genesis, and Saturn
- Sony PlayStation and PSP
- Various others like PC-Engine, Neo Geo Pocket (Color), etc.
It is not the best of the best, but after going open-source the emulator has seen significant support by the community. The last update was two years ago, but hopefully, we will see something new soon.
Mednafen, formerly known as Nintencer, is an OpenGL and SDL multi-system free software wrapper that bundles various original and third-party emulation cores into a single package. The aforementioned is a true competitor against the likes of Mesen and Retroarch with its high accuracy, the features, and how easy it is to use. Mednafen is receiving constant updates every now and then to ensure enhancing this multi-emulator. If there’s a second emulator that I would recommend, it’s this one. If you are curious, you can head on to the official website over here. The website has everything you know, and it’s safe to use, so don’t worry about any threat.
puNES is an open-source NES emulator which is still receiving updates to this day. The reason why it’s recommended is for its high accuracy in tests in a couple of games. According to what I discovered, puNES is ranked as the second most accurate NES emulator behind Mesen. To learn more about this matter, please check Emulation.tech.wiki.
In this guide, we have talked about Mesen. A fine NES emulator which can cover most of your needs. We have also discussed other alternatives in case if you are bored of using Mesen. We hope that you found this guide useful.
That’s it for the guide. Thank you for reading!