Similar to PC vs console gaming, this debate has also been going on ever since emulators came to be, back in the early to mid-’90s, and it’s quite difficult to objectively decide which one is better out of the two – it’s mostly a matter of personal preference and, sometimes, available budget. The best way to decide for yourself would be to indulge in Reddit and various forums to dig out a bunch of different experiences people had had before, although that does take a while to find and read and compare. So, we will try to do it for you.
Keep in mind our intention is not to convince you to pick one or the other option, but merely list out reasons why either one would be better and thus make a small comparison in hopes of making the research a bit faster and less all over the place. The main criteria we’re going to be basing on are performance and cost-efficiency. Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Performance is very important in gaming and that’s one reason why emulating is so popular: modern-day PCs are capable of making old-timer games look a million times better than they did back in their days. However, let’s not be too superficial – new technology can also make games run more smoothly than they used to (in most cases, at least). Alas, that’s not always the case.
There are multitudes of examples of games that get all glitchy, with lots of screen tearing and game crashing, on emulators. Now, of course, all the buggy and unplayable games are documented somewhere on the internet, so one should always look them up before deciding whether to emulate or get the real deal. Also, this is not a performance, but emulated games can look way worse on modern HD monitors, simply due to the large difference between screens then and now.
Now, considering performance, of course, the original hardware meant to run the game will run it perfectly… unless it’s been damaged by some seemingly harmless external factors, such as hair or dust buildup – those are a real enemy of old consoles (who doesn’t remember blowing on cartridges to ‘fix’ them when they get all buggy?). However, some older consoles, like PlayStation 2, were made to work on the TVs of that age aka the old CRT-type screens, while today those are but a relic of the past. This means that, even though it’s the original console, the game would still look way worse than it used to, as the new HD TVs would bring out all the flaws in the graphics, while the old low-resolution screens were kind of ‘hiding’ them. Of course, this doesn’t apply to consoles that weren’t connected to the PC, mainly handheld ones.
One more advantage of using emulators instead of the OG consoles are cheats and game save options. Now, of course, calling cheats advantages might sound wrong, but here by cheats we mostly mean small tweaks that were made to make the game run smoother or faster, while many an old game didn’t have an option to save your progress, which does make it more challenging to complete, but is also frustrating when you have to drop your controller to do some real-life stuff.
This is also not really about performance, but emulators let you use your preferred ‘weapon of choice’, i.e. mouse and keyboard, PS controllers, Xbox controllers, etc. Regardless of the game’s original intended console, while if you stick with the original console, you’re stuck with the controller provided. Also, the strong feeling of nostalgia that comes with reliving your early (probably childhood or teenage) memories by sitting down at the original console probably won’t be felt if the game is emulated on the PC.
We’ll begin this part with saying right off the bat that, if you want to play retro games, it’s far cheaper to do so on PC by emulating, since your PC is already there and emulating software is free, and also there are online libraries of thousands of ROM files available for download. Moreover, vintage games can be very expensive, especially some rare editions: the famous Megaman Legends costs about 80 dollars, which is more than any current AAA game costs! Not to mention you most likely don’t have the original console, so some more money is going to go for that, and potentially a large sum, by the pure analogy that if the games are expensive, a functional old-timer console would also be rather pricey.
However, if one wishes to just mod new generation games from more recent consoles, don’t let yourself be fooled – sometimes, to run newer console games on PC, your PC would have to be rather strong, so in this case, it would most likely require either upgrading your PC and emulating games or just spending money on the console and games. In this case, it would be advisable to weigh the number of games you play on the PC and the number of games you’d play on the potential new console, to see which one is more efficient in the long run.
It’s worth mentioning that sometimes the old consoles, even if you already own them, would require additional expenses in the form of new cables, connectors, or adapters, as the old ones might not be compatible with new TVs or just flat out broken. Moreover, consoles are pure ‘plug and play’, while the PC emulations do require a bit more work to set up.
As we’ve seen here, there is no right or wrong when it comes to emulation vs playing on the original console, it all comes down to personal preferences, budget, and the time available for playing. Sometimes the balance of both options is the best solution, but that, again, depends on the person’s circumstances.