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In the retro gaming community it is widely accepted that the best experience possible is with real hardware, but is that actually the case?
Whilst it is undeniable that this question is subjective, I feel that the current widespread notion of real hardware being the "superior" way to experience older titles is a bit misleading for those only now joining this hobby/community.
I'm speaking from my own personal experience here, so I don't expect everyone to think the same way - but my journey trying to experience titles of decades past started with my obsession of having real hardware and games. And for the longest time I collected that hardware, little by little, slowly buying each console and game I wanted.
This was novel at first, but it quickly became a hassle.
The maintenance required to run all of them and the effort to switch consoles, specially if you don't have an AV switch is time consuming and after a while it started to feel like it was not worth it anymore.
Space is precious and time is limited.
That was when I gave in and started downloading entire romsets of consoles. Thousands of games I'll likely never play, filling my hard drive up, right? Wrong, really. My entire rom collection with 18 thousand files, including CD and DVD based consoles weighs in at a measly 200gbs. My entire Steam library takes up 4TB. These 200gbs fit in my external hard-drive which I can just hotswap anywhere I go, it's quite convenient.
And having your games digitally isn't the only benefit you get with emulation.
I have Retroarch set-up in 3 devices around my house: My desktop computer, my phone and my laptop.
The 3 of them have my Mega account logged in through MegaSync, and all 3 of them are sharing my saves folder straight into my account, which I can retrieve anywhere and that syncs up automatically with no delay.
It's essentially a bootleg version of Steam cloud saves! Sure, it takes a bit of setting up, but it works, and works perfectly well for me.
Saves aren't the only thing you get as a proto online service, also with Retroarch, you have access to the RetroAchievements service.
Admittedly I only started actively using this recently, but it's a pretty fun service. Achievements have always enhanced my experience be it on Xbox or Steam, as they serve as a nice incentive to keep playing.
The other feature you have easy access to via Retroarch and its core is multiplayer.
Netplay isn't new or exclusive to Retroarch, but its implementation is absolutely stellar. Getting it to work has always been quite easy for me and has allowed for me and my friends to easily get into matches of Mario Party 2 so we can cuss the game or each other, it's great fun!
Emulation doesn't just come from thin air, you need things to run your emulators in. I've always been used to running them on my PC, but I've never been stuck there.
Having owned multiple hacked consoles, handhelds, phones and even handhelds made just for emulation such as the Powkiddy V90, the experience is never too far away.
Mobile hardware has advanced so much that even my not-so-powerful Galaxy A71 can handle most emulators out there without breaking much of a sweat, including PS2, PSP, Gamecube, 3DS and even the odd Switch game or two.
This brings me to controllers. Using a wired controller on a phone is possible, but it's not comfortable. My choice has always been the Dualshock 4 as it's bluetooth and immensely comfortable. Not to discredit the Xbox controllers, as I like them too, but I just prefer the Sony form factor a lot more.
You're not stuck to these fancy new-style controllers however.
I got one of these bad boys, an 8bitdo m30 from MercadoLibre. I have not yet received one, but this is going to be my first SEGA style controller and I don't think I could've made a better choice.
I dug through review after review to get a final verdict on this and from very reputable sources (people who know what they're talking about, like SEGA Lord X), this seems the closest you can get to the real deal.
I have played on original MegaDrive controllers, of course, I am Brazilian. So I know how they feel like and I might post about this if it's a pleasant enough surprise.
This is not to mention the variety of adapters you can get to use the original controllers on PC or other devices, it's simply great.
Input lag might be a consideration when using one of these solutions, however it as never been much of a problem to me, with the biggest contributor of lag being poor emulation, which can be fixed by using a better emulator, and you're never lacking in choice.
In a way you could say I'm coping. I did sell my entire collection to build this computer, which I needed for work. But I did think it through, and I realized that I wouldn't really be missing them. Getting an experience close enough to consoles where it can be enjoyable for me is cheap and easy.
This is in no way a definitive substitute for the real thing, but it's a great factor to consider before spending hundreds of dollars buying old hardware from scalpers.
Years after passed since I've started emulating, and I'm financially stable now. I've been thinking about collecting again, but every time I boot up my computer and open Retroarch... That sort of fades. I remember all the trouble I had, all the worries about scratched discs or dead cartridge batteries.
I just hope that regardless of what choice you make, you have fun.