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OpenEmu with a WIMP interface
Attract-Mode with a HTPC interface

Frontends are programs that address a quality-of-life issue that emulators may not fulfill. For example, some emulator developers skip the user interface portion of development by having the user launch them from the command line. This usually means opening Command Prompt in the folder where the emulator is installed and typing something like emulator.exe game.rom. From a usability perspective, this is not optimal; running emulators from a shell can be considered tedious if commands aren't already scripted by the user (and they can't be expected to know how to set up such a thing if their first time loading the program is a black window that pops up and then disappears). To avoid this, many emulators will try to incorporate some kind of graphical user interface (GUI) in their standalone builds. For the emulators that never receive one however, a separate frontend project usually emerges.


Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs)[edit]

Frontends have different types of GUIs, here we have categorized them as follows:

WIMP stands for "Windows, Icons, Menus and a Pointer". This is a GUI based on one or several window(s) and it's normally controlled by a mouse. Examples of this type of interface are LaunchBox and OpenEmu.
This type of interface is often intended for viewing on a big screen, such as a TV or arcade monitor. Normally the navigation is optimized for joysticks or gamepads, although they often work with keyboard controls as well. RetroArch, HyperSpin and MAME's integrated frontend MEWUI are examples of this interface.
A touch interface is often similar to a HTPC interface, the difference is that they are intended for touch screens. This is mostly found in Android frontends intended for smartphones and tablet computers.

Launcher types[edit]

These "Launchers" or "Executors" use their own graphical interface to start emulators. They're generally very adaptive and can support different arguments between emulators to ease integration. These frontends can be used with almost any emulator of your choosing, as long as they support command-line arguments.

Name Platform(s) Latest Version Interface(s) FLOSS Active Recommended
PC / x86
LaunchBox   13.1 (Free)
Premium ($75)
Attract-Mode       2.6.2 HTPC
QuickPlay   4.7.6 WIMP
RetroFE       0.10.31 HTPC ~
EmulationStation     2.0.1a
2.10.2 (RetroPie fork)
HTPC [A 2] ~[A 2]
Lutris WIMP ~
Nostlan       1.24.x WIMP, HTPC, Touch ~
skeletonKeY   git WIMP, CLI ~
Playnite   9.18 WIMP, HTPC ~
Pegasus       Alpha 16 HTPC
HyperSpin   1.5.1 HTPC
GameHub   0.16.2 WIMP
GameEx   18.36 (Free)
Lifetime pass ($60)
mGalaxy   8.5 HTPC
Emu Loader   8.8.3 WIMP
Terminal Launch   190905 CLI
Metropolis Launcher   git WIMP
Maximus Arcade   ?.? (30-day trial)
Licenced ($24.99)
EmuCon   2.7.7 WIMP
EmuCenter 2
LusSpace   1.23 WIMP
Mobile / ARM
Dig   1.40.8 (IAP) Touch
EmulationStation   2.0.1a
2.10.2 (RetroPie fork)
HTPC [A 2] ~[A 2]
Daijishō   1.3.1 HTPC, Touch TBD
Attract-Mode   2.6.1 HTPC TBD
Pegasus     Alpha 15 HTPC, Touch TBD
RESET Collection   1.1.19 ($4.99) Touch TBD
HyperSpin   1.1 Touch TBD
  1. This feature is called Big Box and is only available in the paid premium version.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Only the RetroPie fork


Was originally built as an attractive front-end for DOSBox but has since expanded to support both modern PC games and emulated console platforms. It comes with an integrated metadata scraper, and the interface is highly customizable, likely the most customizable alongside HyperSpin, but only with a license for the premium version. Premium also includes Big Box, which is an HTPC version of the frontend. Launchbox can also be launched natively from Kodi.

A graphical frontend for command line emulators with a completely customizable appearance. It hides the underlying operating system and is intended to be controlled with a joystick, gamepad or spin dial, making it ideal for use in arcade cabinets. Attract-Mode is open source and runs on Linux, macOS, and Windows.
An excellent FOSS alternative to LaunchBox. It has a WIMP style interface and is Windows only. Compared to LaunchBox it has less eye-candy but it requires a lot less system resources, it's blazing-fast and slowdown free.
According to the author, skeletonKeY is a unified interface for ROMs emulators and frontends. A dynamic GUI provides granular options for MAME, snes9x, mednafen, emulationStation, retroFE, PegasusFE and a very comprehensive interface for retroArch (including netplay). SkeletonKeY integrates and supports the installation of hundreds of emulators. SkeletonKeY is free, open source and very ugly.
A great general gaming frontend for Windows. Version 9 greatly expanded emulation support, and better arcade support is planned. For something similar on Linux, check out Lutris.
A great general gaming frontend for GNU/Linux with support for running Windows games with Wine and Proton. However, for the emulation use cases it has some downsides, such as: there is no bulk import for ROMs. There is a lutris-bulk-adder script which might solve this.
A general gaming frontend for Linux. At the moment it's not useful for huge ROM collections as it seems to crash when bulk importing.

Integrated emulator types[edit]

These "frontends" have a graphical user interface that lets you launch emulators that are included with the system, meaning it's not possible (or very difficult) to incorporate other emulators. They may or may not contain original emulator cores. If a program has mostly original cores, then it's called a multi-system emulator and is not included here. If you're looking for a full Linux distribution to run on a Raspberry Pi or similar, check out our Emulation Boxes page.

Name Platform(s) Latest Version Interface(s) FOSS Active Recommended
PC / x86
OpenEmu   2.3.3 WIMP
Lakka   4.3 HTPC
RetroPie   [I 1] 4.8 HTPC ~
BizHawk   2.8 WIMP ~ TBD
Provenance     1.4 HTPC TBD
Mobile / ARM
RetroPie   4.8 HTPC
Lakka   4.3 HTPC
  1. RetroPie for x86 Linux is only available Ubuntu (16.04 LTS or later) and Debian based distros. See these install instructions.


A frontend for various emulators that runs under macOS.

Launcher mods[edit]

These programs aren't launchers themselves, but instead tools for changing other launchers.

Name Platform(s) Latest Version FOSS Active Recommended
PC / x86
Steam ROM Manager       2.3.11
Ice   1.0.0


Steam ROM Manager
A tool that adds emulator launching capabilities to the Steam client.

Project-specific Frontends[edit]


Name Platform(s) Latest Version Core support Interface(s) FOSS Active Recommended
PC / x86
RetroArch         1.14.0 Full[B 1] HTPC, WIMP[B 2]
Ludo       git Most non GL cores HTPC
Games (Gnome)   3.36 Limited WIMP ~
RetriX Limited WIMP, Touch ~ ~
minir     git Limited WIMP ~
Phoenix       git (pre-alpha) Limited WIMP
Mobile / ARM
RetroArch             1.14.0 Full [B 1] HTPC, Touch
Blast16   1.0.18 (2020-01-18) Genesis Plus GX, PicoDrive HTPC
SNESES   1.0.7 (2020-01-22) Snes9X? HTPC
Ludo   git Most non GL cores HTPC
RetriX Limited WIMP, Touch ~ ~ ~
Lemuroid   1.13.1 Limited Touch
RetroArch                         1.14.0 Full[B 1] HTPC
RetriX Limited HTPC ~ ~
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Limited by system hardware
  2. Press F5 for WIMP interface. Only available on Windows and Linux.


The flagship project for libretro, and the most widely available.
Lighter, cut-down Retroarch alternative for Android.
A minimalist HTPC frontend with sane default settings, configuration is always optional.
Games (Gnome)
A Linux launcher for PC games and a libretro frontend. Very easy to use, almost no setup. You'll need the GNOME Settings app to be able to bulk add ROMs.
Really nice looking frontend for Raspberry Pi that only support Sega Genesis games. Has a similar UI to the NES/SNES Classic Edition.
Same as Blast16 but for Super Nintendo games.


MAME was originally designed as a command line program. However, when the project relicensed as open source in February 2016, they merged the frontend MEWUI into the main project as part of the MAME executable. MEWUI uses the ten-foot interface philosophy which accounts for large television displays where the user is expected to use a TV remote-like input device to navigate the menus. However, MAME still supports command line arguments, so many old launchers still work with newer versions.

Name Platform(s) Latest Version Interface(s) FOSS Active Recommended
PC / x86
pfeMAME     v2.25.7 WIMP TBD
QMC2         0.195 HTPC TBD
gnome-arcade   v.0.243 WIMP TBD
MAMEUI64   0.248 WIMP
Negatron       0.100.1 WIMP
M+GUI     1.8.2 WIMP
MameFave   Latest WIMP


IV/Play (pronounced "Four Play") was designed and commissioned by John IV as an alternative to MAMEUI. It has a narrow and particular feature-set, is keyboard driven, and utilities many of the navigation and keyboard short cuts of MAMEUI. It is available as a combo x64/x86 app and is targeted towards Windows 8.1 with leveraged features like Jump List support. IV/Play is decoupled from setting MAME options directly in an effort to future proof and guard against continual core command line changes[1].
Python front end for MAME that can run in Linux and Windows. It also includes a pretty graphical Tile View designed for MAME cabinets which allows control using joystick/gamepad. pfeMAME was written by Gareth Finch and the development project started in 2014.
QMC2 is a multi-platform MAME/MESS/UME frontend.
A minimal MAME frontend using GTK+ 3. On some Linux distros, you have gnome-video-arcade package: Simple MAME frontend. Available on Ubuntu 16.04+ on official repo.
Currently unmaintained, MAMEUI64 was the current name of MAME32, the original MAME GUI for Windows. As it dates back to 1997, it had additional bugs compared to mainline MAME, lacked several features of modern MAME or made it difficult to use them via GUI, and did not scale properly to high resolutions. The MAME developers did not recommend using any derivative of MAME32 for these reasons, instead suggesting mainline MAME with an external frontend if the internal user interface is not sufficient.
An intuitive and info-oriented front-end for MAME; & a prettier derivative of ageing MAME32/MAMEUI. For computers and consoles, it needs builds of the NegaMAME derivative. For arcade games only, you can use Negatron with regular MAME instead.
A Windows-only frontend launched in March 2022[2]. Creator intends for this to be a simple way to manage hundreds of ROMs.
  • The favorites database can be filtered to help you find the game you want to play.
  • Works with many versions of MAME (32 and 64 bit).
  • Optional artwork download includes icons and marquees for all the classics!
  • Links to your favorite games can be made in just a few mouse clicks.
  • Games can be played directly from the ROM picker and search windows.


Mednafen is a command line program with no graphical interface whatsoever. These programs generally ease the process of launching games, but don't address things like controller configuration, which is still done by pressing hotkeys in-game.

Name Platform(s) Latest Version Interface(s) FOSS Active Recommended
PC / x86
MedGui Reborn   0.122 WIMP
Mednaffe     0.9.2 WIMP ~ ~
MedLaunch WIMP
MedGui   1.99999 WIMP


MedGui Reborn
At this moment - one and only with active developing. New versions appears shortly after the release of a new version of the emulator, and new commits on GitHub happens every month. The only serious drawback is the fairly awkward interface. Reincarnation of the ancient MedGui.
It has a much better interface than Reborn, but apparently stopped in development. Again.
Old and dead. Totally not recommended.
Original one is history now, but it was revived as MedGui Reborn.


Name Platform(s) Latest Version Emulator Interface(s) FOSS Active Recommended
PC / x86
Mupen64Plus-Qt       git Mupen64Plus WIMP TBD
simple64-gui / simple64     git (frontend only)
2023.01.2 (simple64 package)
Mupen64Plus WIMP TBD
CEN64-Qt       git CEN64 WIMP TBD
Sega Model 2 UI   WIP 2019-04-02 Model 2 Emulator WIMP ? TBD
Sega Model 3 UI   WIP 2019-04-12 Supermodel WIMP ? TBD
SupermodelsAssistant   0.12 Supermodel WIMP ? TBD
MedSat   1.8 Mednafen (Saturn core) ? ? TBD
Dapplegrey   7.10 DOSBox WIMP ? TBD

See also[edit]