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How to play NES games in RetroArch on Linux

RetroArch is an excellent utility that allows users to easily emulate a whole host of video game consoles as well as old computer systems to play video games. In this guide, we’ll be focusing on setting up RetroArch to play Nintendo NES games.

This guide focuses heavily on the RetroArch program for Linux to play NES games. For this reason, you must follow this guide to learn how to get the newest RetroArch app installed on your Linux PC before following along with the instructions outlined below.

Note: Addictivetips in no way encourages or condones the illegal downloading or distribution of ROM files for RetroArch. If you want to play Nintendo NES games with RetroArch, please use your own game ROM files you’ve backed up to your PC, legally.

Enabling the core updater

To play NES games in RetroArch on your Linux system, you must enable the core updater feature, as it is turned off by default. To enable the core updater, you must access the RetroArch configuration file. Follow the step-by-step instructions below to get it done.

Step 1: RetroArch must be started for the first time to create the initial configuration file. Look through your application menu for “RetroArch” and launch it. Then, close the window.

Step 2: Open up a terminal window by pressing Ctrl + Alt + T or Ctrl + Shift + T on the keyboard. Then, open up the RetroArch configuration file in the Nano text editor.

nano -w ~/.config/retroarch/retroarch.cfg

Or, for Flatpak:

nano -w ~/.var/app/org.libretro.RetroArch/config/retroarch/retroarch.cfg

Step 3: Press the End button on the keyboard to tell Nano to jump to the very bottom of the configuration file. Then, press the Enter key to make a new line.

Step 4: Press Ctrl + W on the keyboard inside of Nano. This action will bring up the search function. Then, type in “menu_show_core_updater” in the search box, and press the Enter. By pressing Enter, Nano will take you to the Core updater line in the text file.

Change menu_show_core_updater="false" to how the code looks below. If you cannot find menu_show_core_updater="false" add menu_show_core_updater="true" to the bottom of the file.


Step 5: Save the edits to the configuration file in the Nano text editor by pressing Ctrl + O on the keyboard. After that, exit the text editor by pressing Ctrl + X.

With the configuration for RetroArch saved, re-open the program and move on to the next section of the guide.

Downloading the NES core

You must download an NES core to handle NES ROMs. Otherwise, RetroArch may not load NES games correctly. Thankfully, RetroArch is very user-friendly, and cores are easy to download. To get an NES core, open up the RetroArch app and follow the step-by-step instructions below.

Step 1: Find the alien icon in the RetroArch menu. Then, use the Down Arrow key on your keyboard to go to “Online Updater” in the alien icon menu.

Step 2: After you’ve located the “Online Updater” option in the menu, press the Enter key to access the “Core Updater” area in RetroArch.

Step 3: In the “Content Downloader” area, there are many different console choices to choose from. Using the Down Arrow on the keyboard, sort through the list and locate “NES / Famicom (QuickNES)” entry, and press the Enter key on the keyboard to download it.

Don’t want to use “NES / Famicom (QuickNES)” as your default NES core in RetroArch? Select one of the other NES / Famicom core choices available. Each of them works quite well in RetroArch and will emulate your favorite NES roms decently.

With the NES core downloaded, move on to the next section of the guide.

Play NES games in RetroArch

To play NES games in RetroArch with your newly downloaded NES / Famicom emulator core, follow the step-by-step instructions below.

Step 1: Using the keys on the keyboard, make your way to the alien icon in RetroArch.

Step 2: Locate the “Load Content” option with the Down Arrow. Then, press the Enter key on the keyboard to access RetroArch’s content loading function.

Step 3: In the “Load Content” area in RetroArch, use the Down Arrow to select the “Settings” option.

Inside of the “Settings” area for “Load Content,” find the option “Filter unknown extensions” and turn the slider off. With this setting enabled, RetroArch may hide your NES ROM files, making them unable to be loaded with “Load Content.”

Step 4: Press the Backspace key on the keyboard to exit the settings area of “Load Content.” Then, find “Start Directory.” From here, browse to find the folder in which your NES ROM files are located on your Linux system.

Step 5: Select the ROM file you’d like to play in RetroArch with the Down and Up Arrow keys.

Step 6: Once you’ve found the NES ROM file you’d like to play, press the Enter key to reveal options for the ROM. Then, choose your NES / Famicom core.

Upon selecting your core, RetroArch will load the game! Enjoy!

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