The Steam Deck is the perfect emulation station

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As someone with a passion for gaming history, I use emulators a lot. Games are, unfortunately, a very disposable medium and a combination of technological advancements and a lack of interest or passion on the part of publishers means that getting your hands on the best games is nearly impossible. yesteryear by wholly legal or official means. Games like Paper Mario, Eternal Darkness or even Silent Hill 2 are available almost exclusively through emulators for many people.


Hooray for emulation so where would we be without it? But what’s the best way to start? It can be tedious to get them to work on consoles, and there’s a bit of difficulty playing them on a PC. That’s where the Steam Deck comes in – the perfect portable emulator station.

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Setting up and running the emulators was a very simple process. If you’ve ever dipped your toe in emulation waters before, there’s nothing here that’s going to catch you off guard. It’s easy to forget that Steam Deck is a fully functional PC, but it absolutely is, which has installed faithful emulators like PCSX2 (PS2), Dolphin (GameCube), SNES9X (SNES) and others , no problem. I was playing Dragon Quest before I knew it.

Don’t be put off by the fact that the Steam Deck runs a modified form of Linux either. I know this particular OS scares people more than black magic, but Valve has done a great job of making it familiar, and you don’t need to use the terminal. Most of what you need is available through a pre-installed app store, and just to add icing on the cake, most emulators are automatically compatible with your gamepad.

Related: Steam Deck Mockup Displays Sleek Atari 2600 Aesthetics

Games from more recent generations – Playstation 2 and 3 in particular – work surprisingly well. I managed to run Demon’s Souls at 30fps and Skate 3 at 60fps with only minor drops. PS2 games work even better. Even Shadow of the Colossus runs well north of 45fps, and less demanding games like Ratchet: Deadlocked and Jak 2 never dropped below 50fps. It’s remarkable that these games work at all, having so many ready to play was a nice surprise. Being able to leave home with games from that era in my backpack is something I never thought I could do.

As a fan of retro games, Valve’s handheld really shined for me when playing simple, older games on the go. Even though I love PS2 and PS3, games like Earthbound and SquareSoft RPGs seem so comfortable on the Steam Deck. Their relative simplicity makes them great for gaming in short bursts, they don’t really benefit from being bloated on a 32-inch gaming monitor, and the smaller Steam Deck display keeps those pixels compressed and images crisp.

Handheld Game Boy games like Pokémon are also great on Steam Deck. Playing Pokémon Emerald while waiting for a bus or doing a bit of farming at Harvest Moon between college classes was amazing. I even found time to play a bit of Super Mario RPG in my dentist’s waiting room – never thought I’d live to see the light of day!

Something’s still wrong playing SNES games on the same desk I’m working on, but curled up on the couch, it’s a totally different proposition. I want an emulator to help me recapture some of that old-school console magic, and the Steam Deck does just that.

The hybrid nature of the Steam Deck is what makes it so successful. It’s a strong value proposition and has all the convenience and low barrier to entry of a console, but the power and customization of a PC. It’ll take just about anything in its stride and emulating my favorite games is a cinch. I don’t know if Valve was targeting emulation specifically, but they couldn’t have done a better job if they had. Freedom is really the key word. The Steam Deck has so many strong points, and so few caveats, that it’s a natural emulation powerhouse.

There’s another reason to imitate games on the Steam Deck that puts Valve in a slightly less favorable light. As much as the Deck impresses on the hardware front, the number of games currently rated as “Great on Deck” isn’t as high as it should be. This number will almost certainly increase over time, but right now you might feel like there are only one or two significant gaps in your portable library. We have a list of incompatible games here.

I have over 200 games in my Steam library, only 49 of which have been given the green light by Valve, while games like Halo Infinite and Destiny 2 don’t work at all because they use incompatible anti-cheat software. Emulators perfectly fill the void while waiting for the Deck to increase its collection of games that are confirmed to work well with it.

If you’re anything like me, you might find yourself using emulators more than SteamOS itself.

Next: PC Return Speculation Continues As Steam Deck Support Spotted

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