How to use RetroArch

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RetroArch is a wrapper for emulators of the Libretro project. A key feature is the API, which allows you to use a single application with common settings to run multiple emulators (cores).

We will look at how to use RetroArch, as well as the most important points in working with the program, starting with the installation and ending with the choice of cores. After learning these basics, you can easily launch your favorite childhood games.

  • Installing RetroArch
  • How to use RetroArch
    • 1. Program interface
    • 2. Interface language
    • 3. Video settings
    • 4. Control settings
    • 5. Configuring cores
    • 6. Loading emulators (cores) and BIOS consoles
    • 7. Adding Games
    • 8. Sega console emulators
    • 9. Nintendo Console Emulators
    • 10. Sony Console Emulators
    • 11. Other emulators
  • Conclusions

Installing RetroArch

RetroArch can be installed in several ways. Depending on the distribution used, the installation command may differ. For distributions based on Debian or Ubuntu, you can use the command:

sudo apt install retroarch

For Arch Linux, you can use the following command:

sudo pacman -Sy retroarch

RetroArch is also available as a Snap package. You can install the latest version using the command:

sudo snap install retroarch --edge

If you need an installation, then this option will be preferable, since the developers themselves make sure that the repository contains the latest versions of the program. In addition, the configuration folder will be located in the user directory (home/snap/retroarch/423/.config), and not in the system folders with restricted access.

But we will look at the simplest way – “night build” in the Appimage format. There is no need to be afraid, a test release is much better than a stable one. Just download the archive, for example, for x86_64 and unpack it to any folder. Updating the program is also easy, just replace the files with new ones, the settings in this case will not go anywhere.

All that remains is to check that the file is marked as executable and run the program. By default, the configuration files will be located in the neighboring directory RetroArch-Linux-x86_64. AppImage. home/. config (you need to enable the display of hidden files). In the future, we will refer to the .config folder more than once.

In addition, RetroArch should soon appear on Steam. This can be considered another installation method.

How to use RetroArch

1. Program interface

RetroArch main menu with ozone theme

At the first launch, the ozone menu theme will be applied. It is convenient to use both with a mouse and a gamepad. Previously, RetroArch set xmb by default, which echoes the PlayStation 3 interface. You can change the theme in the settings section (User Interface -> Menu). Russian Russian fonts are not suitable for other themes if you plan to use the program in Russian, as their fonts do not contain Russian characters.

There are several ways to navigate through the menu items, using the keyboard, mouse, and gamepad. Keyboard keys and XBox controller buttons to control the menu:

  • Scroll up/Down: Up/Down key / D-Pad up/Downkey .
  • Confirm: X key / B button.
  • Back: Z key / A button.
  • Info: Right Shift key / Back button.
  • Start: Enter key / Start button.
  • To open the quick menu: F1 key / Guide button.
  • Exit: Escape key.
  • To call the keyboard: S key / Y button.

In addition, mouse control is supported. The right button performs the actionGo back.

The interface is extremely simple and does not require additional explanations. The only thing that should be said is about calling the quick menu during the game. When playing with the keyboard , use the F1key, and with the gamepad, use the combination of buttons (Settings – > Enter – > > Keyboard shortcuts – > > > Combination of gamepad buttons to open the menu>>>).

Selecting a combination of buttons to open the quick menu

2. Interface language

Changing the language is available in the sectionSettings -> >User -> >Language. By choosing English, you will be able to install any theme, not just the ones discussed above.

3. Video settings

You can switch to full-screen mode in the sectionVideo. There is also a section called filters, for example, you can use them to simulate the operation of a CRT monitor. The filters themselves are located in the .config/retroarch/filters/video folder .

4. Control settings

In the sectionInput buttons are set for virtual gamepads (RetroPad) Manage the ports 1-4that will be used by the emulators (cores). If you want to use the gamepad stick instead of the D-Pad, then pay attention to the itemAnalog-to-digital type, so you don’t have to reassign the buttons.

The test will help you check the selected settingsMain Menu – > > Load Kernel – > >Launch the remote RetroPad.

This section sets the buttons for virtual gamepads (retropad) that will be used by console emulators. Pay special attention to the hot keys, you can use them to save the gameplay, speed up and slow down the game, and even rewind it. You can adjust the rewind speed in the Frame rate section. It also includes rewind, which is a resource-intensive process, so it is only suitable for older consoles.

For 8-bit and 16-bit consoles, you can assign unused gamepad buttons as hotkeys. For later consoles, it is better to select the hotkey button, while holding it down, the other buttons can perform the functions of hotkeys. But there is a third option, when the hot keys will remain on the keyboard, and the game will be controlled using the gamepad.

5. Configuring cores

The settings of the cores themselves are available viaQuick Menu -> Options>. If there is nothing to do for 16-bit consoles, then it is highly desirable to increase the render resolution when emulating 3D graphics. This will make the image quality noticeably higher. After setting up, don’t forget to make a backup copy of the ~/.config/retroarch/retroarch.cfg configuration file.

6. Loading emulators (cores) and BIOS consoles

Most of the emulators (cores, core) are available for download directly from RetroArch (Main Menu – > Load Kernel – > > Download Kernel>>). But some kernels need to be downloaded manually and placed in the ~/.config/retroarch/cores directory.

For some consoles, like the Playstation 1, you need to copy the BIOS image of the console to the ~/.config/retroarch/system folder. In order not to waste time searching for images, you can download the archive from the BIOS of the most popular consoles, or a full set of images, including for arcade machines (MAME).

7. Adding Games

Games can be loaded after selecting the kernel, but it is much easier to add them usingImport content. If you selectIf you scan the directory, RetroArch will try to do everything on its own. However, usingBy manually scanning, you can specify the desired file format and destination console, for example, files with the .cue extension for PlayStation 1.

After that, the consoles will appear on the main screen on the left side. You can also add covers viaMain Menu -> Online Updates – > > Update playlist thumbnails>>.

8. Sega console emulators

  • Sega Master System and Mega Drive – Not many games have been released for the Master System, and it has not been widely distributed in Russia, but you can still evaluate the games of this 8-bit console using the Genesis Plus GX emulator. This emulator is also suitable for the popular Mega Drive. It can work not only with cartridge images, but also with CD-ROMs (Mega CDs) that were used through the expansion slot.
  • Sega Saturn-Sega Saturn emulation is best handled by Kronos. It can run more than 70% of games. Unfortunately, the Mednafen (Beetle Saturn) emulator, which supports most games, does not have the latest version for RetroArch and requires a high-performance computer. But there is a separate Mednaffe emulator, which you can use instead of RetroArch.
  • Sega Dreamcast-Use Flycast to emulate the Dreamcast. It originates from another popular emulator, Reicast. Over time, this core has become one of the most productive and functional, especially in terms of graphics settings. Don’t forget to increase the render resolution (Quick Menu -> Options – > > Internal resolution>>).

9. Nintendo Console Emulators

  • Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) – The NES console, also known as the Famicom and Dendy, has the largest collection of emulators. Among them, we can distinguish Mesen, which most accurately emulates a game console.
  • Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) – There is also a Mesen S emulator for the SNES, but work on it only started a couple of years ago and there are problems with some games. Therefore, the best solution will be Snes9x, it does not just run games, but also does it very accurately. Other emulators often have problems with sound.
  • Nintendo 64-You can use both ParaLLEl and Mupen64Plus to emulate the Nintendo 64. They are both offshoots of Mupen64 and offer good performance and a rich set of settings. Since the games on this console have moved to 3D, it is highly desirable to increase the render resolution in the Options. There you can also choose the RDP (Reality Display Processor) plugin. The default will be GlideN64, it has good performance, but to achieve the most accurate rendering, choose angrylion.
  • Nintendo GameCube and Wii-to emulate the GameCube and Wii, you should definitely use Dolphin. This emulator can run almost any game, while it consumes not so much system resources. The consoles had very unusual controllers. If you can still come up with something for the GameCube to mark up all the buttons of the gamepad, then with the Wii the situation is more complicated. It is best to use the original controllers and a standalone Dolphin emulator.

10. Sony Console Emulators

Enabling PGXP plugins inQuick Menu -> >Options

  • The PlayStation 1 is best emulated with the Beetle PSX HW (a port of the Mednafen emulator). This kernel is not demanding on system resources, if you have a modern computer, you can even try to enable rewind inQuick menu. But the main advantage of the emulator is the PGXP plugins. As you know, the PS 1 does not have a high rendering accuracy, but this problem was not so noticeable in the native resolution. With the emulator, you will probably increase the resolution, and this disadvantage will appear in all its glory. The PGXP Operation Mode plugin improves the accuracy of polygon positioning. In most games, you will get a clear picture without twitching. But in some cases, you have to disable the plugin, as the game developers have already taken this feature into account.
  • PlayStation Portable-PSP is emulated using the PPSSPP core. It allows you to run most of the games. When you increase the resolution, some projects look even better than on the PS 2, as the graphics chip has received more features. The RetroArch core has not been updated for a long time, so it makes sense to use a standalone PPSSPP emulator.
  • PlayStation 2-emulate PlayStation 2 in RetroArch is not yet possible, work on porting PCSX2 and Play! almost not maintained, so it is not known when these emulators will get into RetroArch.

11. Other emulators

  • Atari 2600 and 7800-To emulate the Atari 2600 and 7800, you can use the Stella and ProSystem cores, respectively. On these consoles, such games as Pac-Man, Pitfall, and Galaga first appeared.
  • DOS-For DOS games, RetroArch has the most popular DOSBox emulator for this purpose. For many games, it is more convenient to use the keyboard, so make sure that in the sectionQuick Settings-Management-Port 1-The type of device is the keyboard.
  • MAME-There is a MAME core for emulating arcade machines . But this is not the best solution, it is much more convenient to use an independent MAME emulator, it has a database that allows you to find out about the compatibility of games with the emulator.


The easiest way to use RetroArch is as an Appimage. In this case, all the files will be located in one place. Management is configured once, for Retropad virtual controllers. In the future, emulators will rely on them. This will be enough to get started with RetroArch.

With the choice of the emulators themselves, you should also have no problems, if you use exactly the ones listed earlier, you will get the best compatibility with games. In addition, you can explore other emulators available on Linux. Together with RetroArch, you will be able to run countless games.


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