Citra vs. RetroArch Emulator Comparison

There are plenty of challenges that come with emulating games. You have to work out all of the interface bugs, how you’re going to ensure that they’re completely functional and how each step of the programming language should look. For this reason and a handful of others, a lot of emulators are open source, meaning that developers can go in and make helpful modifications to the source code. Today, we’re going to be taking a look at Citra and RetroArch, two amazing and very different pieces of software.


The development that goes into different emulators and programs is really important. With both open-source and closed-source emulators available, certain aspects of the development will tell you where the program should go in the future and what it will be capable of going forwards.


When developers first began trying to emulate the Nintendo 3DS, there were a lot of challenges that they had to overcome. The Nintendo 3DS brought new things to the table that emulators hadn’t previously seen, and it was really important for any emulators to be completely functional. They had to be capable of handling a variety of games to work.

Citra is an open-source emulator, meaning that plenty of developers have contributed to its development over the years. At this point, some 150 developers have contributed to the source code on GitHub. A functioning form of Citra has been available since April 2014, with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time being the first game to run on the emulator.

RetroArch Emulator

RetroArch is rather unique as it isn’t strictly an emulator. It breaks the boundaries of what emulators are capable of, operating as a front-end for emulators, consoles and even individual games. While it was released a decade ago, a stable form of RetroArch was released this year, making it a wonderful cross-platform piece of software. 

The Libretro Team developed RetroArch so that people could run a number of classic games on different computers and consoles. It utilises a rather impressive graphics interface that a lot of developers have put their time into. Perhaps one of the best traits of its development is the fact that there are some original game discs from RetroArch that the software can be used to run.


Before you pick an emulator, we would always recommend making sure that it is updated regularly. If an emulator isn’t updated regularly, you might just find that your issues continue being issues and you can’t play the games that you want to play. This could be a disaster, especially when you consider the fact that updates really are essential in the world of emulation. 


When it comes to updates, Citra has really got the game covered. In a lot of situations, updating emulators can be rather tedious. You sometimes have to go into individual folders and change things over yourself. If you’re not the most tech savvy individual, this could be rather confusing.

Luckily, Citra is continuously growing and as of 2017 they have hosted automatic updates. The update installer that they created is integrated into the frontend in the form of scheduled updates. This means that you can check for updates when you start Citra or when you end it. 

RetroArch Emulator

Just like Citra, RetroArch is updated frequently. One of our favorite things about updates with RetroArch is the fact that they include a list of their future plans, meaning that you can see what sort of things are going to change over the coming months.

At the moment, the future plans that RetroArch have got on the go include an enhanced core downloader, some minor and major fixes for specific games and device types, replacing the static entries array with a dynamic one and touchscreen mouse emulation. As an open-source piece of software, there are a lot of developers working on this.


While both Citra and RetroArch might be sounding like great options for you, you need to check the system requirements before you install either of them. Some emulators will only work with specific operating systems, whereas others will work with a wide range of different programs. It’s really important to make sure that anything that you download will function properly with what you have available to you.

System Requirements

At the time of writing, Citra works with Windows 7, 8 and 10, Linux and macOS, meaning that there are plenty of different operating systems you can use to download Citra. If you are using macOS, you will need to make sure that your operating system is High Sierra or higher. Some earlier versions do work well, but they aren’t actively tested so you might encounter problems. Ideally, you also need a processor with a high-performance level. If your processor isn’t good enough, you might find that Citra doesn’t function properly. 

The system requirements for RetroArch are a little bit different because it is a cross-platform frontend. If you’re using a handheld console, you will probably find that RetroArch functions perfectly. When you install RetroArch, you then have to install individual cores to make sure that you can play the games that you want to play. Each core comes with a unique system requirement, meaning that that’s where your research has to come in. Generally speaking, as long as you have a good processor you should be fine.

Graphics Card Compatibility

As with most emulators, we would always recommend using the best graphics card you can when you’re emulating games. The better your graphics card, the better your overall experience will be. Citra in particular will spend a lot of time drawing straight from your GPU, whereas the exact needs of RetroArch depend on the core that you’re using.


When you’re trying to decide which emulator to install, you should always take a look at which cores and games are available to you. There are some emulators out there that can handle a lot of games really well, whereas there are others that can handle just a handful of games perfectly. 

Citra Games

Right now, some of the best games that can be played through the Citra emulator include:

  • 3D Ecco the Dolphin
  • Cooking Mama 5: Bon Appétit! 
  • Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure
  • Harvest Moon 3D: The Tale of Two Towns
  • Luigi’s Mansion
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
  • Pokemon Moon
  • Pokemon Sun
  • Pokemon Yellow

RetroArch Games

At this moment in time, some of the best cores available on RetroArch include:

  • Atari 2600
  • Dreamcast
  • Gameboy
  • Gameboy Advance
  • Megadrive/Genesis
  • Nintendo 64

The Overall Winner

As you can imagine, this is one of those situations where it’s impossible to choose an overall winner. RetroArch is an amazing cross-platform frontend, especially if you’re looking for a little blast from the past. If you like playing Nintendo 3DS games and games like Pokemon, then Citra would be an amazing option for you. With this, it’s all about the things that you enjoy doing and what you want to play.