Despite being a flawed and somewhat ambitious project, the SNK Neo Geo was far ahead of its time. To this day, it remains the only console of its kind and nothing similar has been released since then. While most 8 and 16-bit consoles ran downgraded ports of arcade games, focusing instead on being affordable, the Neo Geo took a very different approach.
SNK wanted to bring the arcade experience into your home. This meant arcade-quality graphics and arcade-quality audio in a console no bigger than a VCR player (those were still popular back then). SNK managed this by using a tweaked version of the Alpha Denshi M68000 board used in their arcade cabinets.
Today, finding an actual Neo Geo AES system (the home console) or MVS (the arcade cabinet) is pretty tough. Hence, emulation is the most accessible way to enjoy these old classics on your modern PC. So, for all you emulator geeks out there, here are the 10 best Neo Geo emulators in 2022.
An open-source emulator that can run thousands of retro games. MAME stands for multi-purpose emulation framework, and it started as a project that helped retro gamers play arcade classics. The developers behind MAME release regular patches and add features, along with support for more games.
It is capable of playing both regular Neo Geo, and Neo Geo CD games. In addition to the Neo Geo AES home console, MAME also supports the Neo Geo MVS which is the arcade cabinet version. I recommend MAME as the best Neo Geo emulator since it has nearly perfect support for the entire Neo Geo library.
Technically, you could also use this emulator to play PS1, PS2, and N64 games. However, the driver support for these consoles is not as good. And you will run into performance issues on many games, unlike the Neo Geo stuff which runs perfectly.
Originally, MAME used a command line interface but this got upgraded to a proper GUI frontend called MEWUI. In addition to helping you play old arcade games; MAME can also be used by hardware enthusiasts who wish to learn the system architecture of old consoles.
Running games is merely a way of testing and authenticating the accuracy of emulated hardware for MAME’s developers. Immortalizing old hardware through emulation and teaching people about its inner workings is why MAME was created.
This is a lightweight Neo Geo emulator with a sleek UI, ideal for low-end systems. If you own an old laptop or don’t have the latest CPU, this might be the emulator for you. Despite its compact nature, Nebula comes with a plethora of customization options to help you run any game released on the Neo Geo family of hardware.
You can enable or disable things like Neo Geo raster effects, transparency, sprite masking, etc., plus the sound buffer size is customizable. The game can be switched between windowed, or fullscreen mode. In addition to Neo Geo ROMs, Nebula can also run games released on the Capcom CPS-1 and CPS-2.
Downloading and installing Nebula on your PC is relatively easy. Once you have the emulator, you can load ROM packs and organize them into collections within your Nebula library. The emulator supports features like multiplayer, cheats, netplay, etc.
Possibly the largest, and most comprehensive all-in-one retro gaming project ever devised. Technically, RetroArch isn’t an emulator by itself. Instead, it’s an open-source front end that is used in combination with emulation cores for various systems.
However, you can browse through a massive collection of emulators and download whichever you want from within RetroArch itself. It connects to the internet and automatically downloads updates/ drivers. You get a plethora of customization options for video, audio, UI, etc.
There is also support for any controller you might want to use on your PC (along with an onscreen keyboard for when you need to type with your controller). The UI for RetroArch looks similar to that of a PS3 or PSP.
RetroArch also includes features like a favorites tab, game playlists, playtime stats, etc. You can even save images, music, and video. Using the netplay feature, you can search for servers created by other players and join.
Control mapping for the keyboard/ controller can be changed on the fly and saved through custom profiles. You can also download shaders, which act like filters- applying a unique graphical effect to the screen. You can assign game thumbnails and box art to individual titles in your game library.
Since some of you reading this article might want to play retro classics on your phone, here’s an emulator for you. It’s a fork of MAME designed to run on Android. And while it isn’t updated anymore, the performance is still relatively stable with support for 8000 ROMs.
I don’t know about you, but 8000 is a lot of games for someone who wants to play on the go. And unless your phone is one decade old, you shouldn’t drop any frames or run into graphical glitches. MAME4Droid’s UI is basic but very responsive.
You get the feeling that you’re playing on an actual retro handheld (like a Game Boy). There are on-screen joysticks, buttons, coin slots, and more. You scroll up or down to browse through your game library.
Created by combining elements from FinalBurn Alpha (a CPS2 emulator) and old builds of MAME. FinalBurn Neo is designed to deliver the perfect Neo Geo experience and is an improved version of FinalBurn Alpha. It will work on the following platforms- Windows, macOS, Raspberry Pi, and Linux.
A LibRetro port of this emulator is available via RetroArch. So you can download it as a core and play your favorite Neo Geo games with the best retro frontend (and full controller support). Since FinalBurn is a multiplatform emulator, you can also use it to play other arcades and consoles.
Some of the supported systems include- ColecoVision, MSX1, Sega Game Gear, Sega Master System, PC Engine, etc. If you want, you can run a lean setup and play/ manage your ROMs with a command line interface. Or you can use the GUI front end provided with the program.
There is even a version of FinalBurn Neo that’s designed to run on modded PS3s. It functions as a homebrew application, loading and playing ROMs from a wide variety of platforms on the PS3.
Kawaks is an emulator that plays Neo Geo, CPS-1, and CPS-2 games. If you want to do a test run, just download the installer’s zip file from their official site. Unpack, install, load up your ROMs- and start enjoying some retro classics.
It should be noted that Kawaks isn’t the latest or the best. But it works and will run the majority of Neo Geo AES titles with zero performance issues. Sure, its customization and UI aren’t on par with RetroArch.
The software hasn’t seen a new patch for a while. But hey- it’s basic, easy to use, and plenty good for anyone looking to get into Neo Geo emulation. The emulator can auto-scan for available ROMs of supported systems, and there is also a quick search by name function if you have a large library.
Kawaks can run fullscreen or windowed, and lets you tweak key mappings. It also supports cheats, for those of you who like to do a little “experimentation” (or just skip past the frustrating sections of a game). Netplay is also supported, and you can connect to a server by entering its IP address.
One of the oldest Neo Geo emulators, but it still performs satisfactorily to this day with excellent graphics and sound emulation. It should be noted that the software was last updated in 2002. So you shouldn’t expect seamless compatibility with modern operating systems and drivers.
However, it will work with a little bit of tweaking and some compatibility settings. Once you get this thing working, there are a whole bunch of features to enhance your Neo Geo gaming experience. Like joystick support, networked play, high scores, game saves, frameskip, etc.
In addition to Neo Geo titles, Calice32 can also emulate CPS-1, CPS-2, and Sega System -16. Since this emulator is so simplistic, there isn’t much room for features to glitch out or break- either they work, or they don’t. Plus, the actual emulator itself is absolutely tiny at just 1.3MB.
NeoRageX was designed specifically to run Neo Geo titles. It supports features like VSync, frameskip, scanlines, triple buffering, etc., so you can get your game running exactly the way you want. Color depth can be switched between 8 and 16-bit, and frame interpolation is available for those who want smoother animations.
You can drop all your Neo Geo ROMs into a dedicated folder on your computer’s hard drive, and NeoRageX will automatically detect them. But you’ll have to designate the folder path first, from within the emulator interface. After that, it can display a list of game titles that you can use to quickly launch any game you want.
Joysticks are supported, and you can also remap buttons if you want. Saving game progress is easy, and instantaneous. Audio settings can be changed to get stereo or surround sound, depending on your speaker setup (you can also increase the audio sample rate).
Like RetroArch, this is a front end and not the actual emulator engine. Originally, LaunchBox was created as a front end for DOSBox. Over time, it evolved into its own thing.
Currently, LaunchBox is only available on Windows and Android. In comparison, other emulators on this list are also available on Mac and Linux. However, the majority of PC users emulating games are on Windows and that’s the market this application is targeting.
While its OS support is limited, LaunchBox is an extremely feature-packed front end. It has integrated support for a very wide range of emulators- including popular Neo Geo emulators. And you can download the supported emulator versions within the app.
LaunchBox also has Steam integration, which means you can use it as a launcher for both your Steam library and old games. It’s a one-stop solution for all your game-launching needs. It even supports GOG and Epic Games Store, plus you can import MAME and MS-DOS games.
Once you add some games to the launcher and set up the emulator, you can go into your game library and create custom thumbnails. You can also add ratings and designate favorite games. Clicking on a game thumbnail automatically displays relevant metadata for that particular title.
Developed back in the Pentium 1 days, this emulator was designed to run popular Neo Geo titles such as Metal Slug and Samurai Shodown. Of course, the more powerful your native system hardware, the better it will run.
But most folks running a PC built in the last decade, shouldn’t have to worry about performance issues. Even with an emulator this old, which doesn’t sport the best compatibility with modern Windows versions like 10 and 11. However, there are compatibility settings you can use within Windows (or just boot up DOS in a virtual machine and use NEOGem over there).
That’s right, this emulator also works on MS-DOS. It is also worth noting that you can’t actually play Neo Geo CD games, even though NEOGem is capable of loading the BIOS for that system.
Since the Neo Geo was so expensive, few people purchased it. Its game library was small but of excellent quality.
The prices for original copies of these Neo Geo games have only gone up in value making them harder to purchase on the collector’s market. Hence, having a nice selection of Neo Geo emulators to choose from is more important than ever.
Some of the emulators you’ll find are all-in-one, which means they can emulate multiple consoles spanning two or more generations. You can add a nice GUI front-end to help with library sorting and management. If you’re serious about retro console gaming, you can even purchase an old CRT TV for an authentic 1990s gaming experience.