RetroArch FAQ: Everything You Should Know

RetroArch FAQ
Everything you didn't know about the retro gaming staple.
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If you're into retro gaming emulation, you've probably heard of RetroArch. But what exactly is it? Understanding what RetroArch is and how it integrates into open-source emulation environments can help you make the most of your retro gaming projects.

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RetroArch is an open-source frontend for emulation software with cross-platform compatibility. It's used to emulate retro gaming consoles and software. Some settings can be universally applied using RetroArch so you don't have to repeat certain tasks—like controller setup.

You can install RetroArch on a wide variety of systems, like tablets, computers, the Raspberry Pi, and more. Once installed, you'll need to configure a controller (most USB controllers work fine). Choose which cores—another name for emulation software—you want to install, and load up your RetroArch system with ROMs.

The installation method depends on which system you're using to run RetroArch. The RetroArch download page has a list of compatible platforms.

Once Retro Arch is installed, you'll need to connect and configure a controller. Most joypads are automatically configured and won’t require additional setup. Cores—or emulation software—can be installed using the Online Updater in the main menu. All that's left is to load up your RetroArch system with ROMs to play.

A core refers to an emulation program. This could be for a retro console like the NES or a newer system like the GameCube. Cores can be added and updated from within the RetroArch menu.

To add a new core, open Retro Arch. On the Main Menu, navigate to Online Updater. Select Core Updater to add a new core.

The game files RetroArch uses are referred to as ROMs. RetroArch doesn’t come with any ROMs—it's up to you to locate ROMs that will work with the emulators you want to play. To get started, check out our list of free and legal ROMs.

RetroArch can emulate a wide variety of gaming consoles. It can support classic consoles like the NES, SNES, and Genesis. If your machine is powerful enough, you can emulate more modern systems like the PS2 and GameCube. Here's an official list of cores supported by RetroArch.

Supported Cores
3D Engine
4DO
2048
Atari800
Beetle bsnes
Beetle Cygne
BeetleDC
Beetle GBA
Beetle Handy
Beetle NeoPop
Beetle PC-FX
Beetle PCE FAST
Beetle PSX
Beetle PSX HW
Beetle Saturn
Beetle SGX
Beetle VB
blueMSX
bnes
bsnes-mercury Accuracy
bsnes-mercury Balanced
bsnes-mercury Performance
bsnes Accuracy
bsnes Balanced
bsnes C++98 (v085)
bsnes Performance
Cannonball
Caprice32
ChaiLove
Citra
Citra Canary/Experimental
Craft
CrocoDS
DeSmuME
DeSmuME 2015
Dinothawr
Dolphin
DOSBox
Dummy Core
Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup
EasyRPG
EightyOne
Emux CHIP-8
Emux GB
Emux NES
Emux SMS
FB Alpha
FB Alpha 2012
FB Alpha 2012 CPS-1
FB Alpha 2012 CPS-2
FB Alpha 2012 CPS-3
FB Alpha 2012 Neo Geo
FCEUmm
FFmpeg
fMSX
FreeIntv
FreeJ2ME
Frodo
Fuse
Gambatte
Game Music Emu
Gearboy
Gearsystem
Genesis Plus GX
gpSP
GW
Handy
Hatari
higan Accuracy
Imageviewer
Lutro
MAME
MAME 2000
MAME 2003
MAME 2003 Midway
MAME 2003-Plus - Experimental
MAME 2009
MAME 2010
MAME 2014
MAME 2016
melonDS
Mesen
MESS 2014
Meteor
mGBA
mpv
Mr.Boom
Mupen64Plus
Mupen64Plus GLES3
Neko Project II
Neko Project II Kai
Nestopia UE
nSide Balanced
NXEngine
O2EM
OpenLara
P-UAE
ParaLLEl N64
PCem
PCSX ReARMed
PCSX ReARMed [Interpreter]
PicoDrive
PocketCDG
PokeMini
PPSSPP
PrBoom
ProSystem
PX68k
QuickNES
REminiscence
RemoteJoy
Remote RetroPad
SameBoy
vScummVM
SvMS Plus GX
Snes9x
Snes9x 2002
Snes9x 2005
Snes9x 2005 Plus
Snes9x 2010
Stella
TempGBA
TGB Dual
Theodore
TIC-80
The Powder Toy
TyrQuake
UME 2014
Uzem
VBA-M
VBA Next
vecx
VeMUlator
VICE C64
VICE C128
VICE PLUS4
VICE VIC20
Video Processor
Virtual Jaguar
XRick
Yabause

Visit the RetroArch download page and download the installation files needed for your device. The installation method may vary depending on the platform you're using.

For example, Windows and Mac OS users can use executable files while Linux users may need to install with a command-line interface. You can find compiling information for each OS on the download page.

Installing RetroArch on the PlayStation 3 is as easy as putting the right files on a USB drive. Visit the PS3 RetroArch installation documentation for a full breakdown of the process. Both the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation Vita use SD cards to install the RetroArch platform.

The Xbox One can run RetroArch but requires a little more work to set up. The Xbox has to be in developer mode with remote access enabled. The RetroArch installation files are transferred using a web interface. There's a detailed explanation of this process on the libretro website here.

RetroArch uses two types of cheat methods: Emulator Handled and RetroArch Handled. Emulator Handled cheats are passed to and handled entirely by the emulator while RetroArch Handled cheats are applied to the emulator by RetroArch.

You can search for cheat codes for a given title or add custom cheat codes that aren't in the database. For a complete breakdown of how to use cheats in Retro Arch, visit the Cheat/Rumble Codes document from Libretro.

RetroArch doesn't have themes for the UI, but the existing menu can be changed with a handful of presets.

Under Settings, look for the Drivers section. This screen will have a Menu option. Changing this setting will change the appearance of the menu in RetroArch. You will have to restart RetroArch for the change to take effect.

Your RetroArch device needs an active internet connection for Netplay to work. Netplay will appear under the Main Menu. You can use this menu to host and connect to other players using Netplay. Both parties will need the same ROM in order to play together. Check out this page from the RetroArch website for a detailed explanation of Netplay.

RetroArch is available for the Raspberry Pi 4 using the Lakka OS. You can download the Pi 4 Lakka image from the official Lakka website.

See also: Lakka vs. RetroPie: Which is Best?

RetroArch can be installed on the Amazon Fire TV Stick. You will need a wireless controller for navigation. Check out our guide on how to install RetroArch on the Amazon Fire TV Stick to get started.

RetroArch uses a built-in scraper to add thumbnails to your ROM library. Under the Main Menu, open the Online Updater. Choose Playlist Thumbnails Updater.

RetroArch is a frontend package with multiple emulators. RetroPie encompasses RetroArch and includes additional emulation software. RetroPie can emulate older PC operating systems like AmigaOS. While both RetroArch and RetroPie are emulation platforms, RetroPie offers more by integrating RetroArch.