RetroArch seems to be considered the emulator to use these days, with everyone flocking to it and using it to the exclusion of everything else. Tons of praise has been heaped upon it, and there seems to be this dismissive attitude of using anything else when RetroArch “just works.”
Except, at least for me, RetroArch just doesn’t work.
Okay, maybe it technically works, as in I can get games to play in it. But the work involved in getting the thing just to play a damn game just doesn’t seem worth it to me. The emulator itself is a bare-bones, useless emulator that does absolutely nothing, and operates from a clunky in-game menu that admittedly is probably done for using it in a self-contained emulation environment, such as a dedicated emulation PC that just runs RetroArch. But to get it to that stage, you have to download its core files (otherwise, none of its menu modes besides an ugly, blocky one that looks like it came out of the Apple II era looks right), the emulation cores for every system you want to emulate, and tweak to death a ton of options just to get it to do what you want, how you want, all in a clunky menu system that makes very little sense and haphazardly done with little to no self-documentation about what its many obscure, oddly worded options even do.
And when you do get it working and scroll to the ROM you want to play, it has to detect its proper core or ask you to do so, and if anything goes wrong (wrong core, needs BIOS, corrupted file, etc), RetroArch doesn’t gracefully tell you and continues on — it exits completely.
Seriously, what kind of poorly-coded pile of garbage actually exits the entire emulator if there is a problem? And given that the whole UI seems to be geared toward a dedicated emulation machine, it’s insane that it would leave a device like this in that state. This is, plain and simple, bad design, and completely counter-intuitive to everything it tries to be. Maybe there’s a configuration somewhere that keeps this from happening. If there is, I sure can’t find it among the sea of obscure options, and moreover, such an option not being the default makes no sense, making me believe that there is no such option.
I’m going to stick to emulators that may not try to beautify everything under a single pretty face while being a confusing, unintuitive mess underneath, but at least they work. Hell, even mednafen, a command-line emulator that is configured in a huge text file, is more intuitive than that mess RetroArch. At least for systems that don’t need BIOSes, mednafen JustWorks without any configuration at all.
RetroArch needs a lot of work for it to be good, and in fact, it can be very good. And that’s probably the saddest part of it. With some tweaking and rethinking of its UI and how it works, it could be what everyone seems to think it is, the be-all and end-all of emulators. But as it is, it’s just a mess that I can’t deal with, and given that people seem to accept its mess means it will never be fixed. And that’s sad in and of itself. We accept so many poorly done things (modern gaming, smartphones) that they will never be fixed and made into what they are supposed to be. And one voice of reason in a sea of insanity will never be heard. But I’m going to keep shouting, in the off chance that at least one person might hear.