I’ve just returned from a couple of weeks in America visiting the Wife’s family and celebrating thanksgiving. Which was pretty great, with the key traditional features of a family gathering and stacks of food. Even if due to a hectic schedule led to us chopping vegetables and making pies at 2am the night before.

Anyways my brother in law has lately been in the mood to revisit some old Nintendo favourites, so while over there I was introducing him to emulation on his PC. As it happens I learned a few new tricks myself, because instead of installing a bunch separate emulators we ended up setting up Retroarch, something I’ve not tried before.

If you haven’t heard of it, Retroarch is a front end for running emulators for many different systems. The emulators are referred to as cores, and there are a wide range available, for just about every console you’d want. For popular systems like the SNES you’ll have a few choices. The cores are created by third parties and I think many are based on standalone emulators (I recongised Nestopia in there for example).

Cores aren’t included with the base package, but adding them is dead easy as you can choose what you want to install from within the Retroarch interface. Roms however, you will have to provide yourself from external sources, of course. I recommend emuparadise.me. Then just go back into Retroarch and tell it to scan whatever directory you put the Roms in.

The gui is geared towards use on a big screen, so it’s fairly uncluttered. It’s also geared towards use with a gamepad. In fact we found xbox controllers worked great for both the gui and cores without much tweaking required.

So we were pretty quickly up and running playing Mario Kart. My brother in law wanted to revisit Chip And Dale’s rescue rangers, which I’d never played but recognised as the work of Capcom, something about the music and graphics was a bit megaman-ish. He also indulged me in a game of Final Fight 3, one of my favourite of the old scrolling Beat ’em Ups. In which I always play Mayor Haggar because he can grab bad guys, jump into the air then piledrive them into the sidewalk.

One other matter to report: we were also taken to an amazing arcade full of old 80s and 90s games. You pay a flat fee up front, at the door, then play any games as much as you like. Which is great because I suck at these arcade classics, so infinite continues are a must. I had a blast on a bunch of games including Galaga, some truly ancient vector-based star wars game, and Gauntlet 2. Meanwhile my wife and sister in law were happy playing some old racing game, and some pinball too.

The highlight was the 1992 x-men beat-em-up, which all four of us could play together. Infinite lives meant we could freely use the health-draining special moves, so I spent the entire game spamming Colossus’ “angry explosion” attack. Which he never actually does in the comics because his powers have nothing to do with explosions. We also had a four-player go at the Turtles arcade game, a trip back to that first wave of cartoon-fueled turtles mass popularity, circa 1989. This was entertaining also, although I was occasionally trying to control entirely the wrong turtle, since they all look pretty similar to each other.

So if you ever happen to be around northern Illinois, pay a visit to Underground Retrocade in West Dundee.