Developers have now made it possible to emulate PS2 games on the Xbox Series X and S using the RetroArch emulator — something that the PlayStation 5, a successor to the PS2, can’t.
Thanks to the Xbox Series X / S consoles’ “Developer Mode,” the emulation software can be added as a Universal Windows Application (UWA), allowing users to download a retail version of the emulation software directly to their console without tricky workarounds, so players don’t have to wait for a re-release to play an older favorite.
While RetroArch is able to emulate several different consoles, the compatibility for running PS2 games using the PCSX2 core is particularly notable because of how limited Sony’s PlayStation 5 is when it comes to backwards compatibility compared to the Xbox. The new console is only natively backwards compatible with PlayStation 4 games (with some caveats), and Sony currently only offers the option to play PS3 and PS2 games using its PS Now game streaming service.
It’s worth mentioning that Microsoft doesn’t officially support this kind of emulation and PCSX2 support is still a work in progress, but the early results with RetroArch are exciting: despite the limits imposed by a cap on file sizes, PS2 games do run at almost the same quality as they did on the original console.
The process for adding RetroArch to your Xbox using Developer Mode is a bit complicated. You’ll need to pay a $19 registration fee to be a part of Microsoft’s Developer program, then download the “Dev mode activation” app from the Xbox store. Once the app is downloaded and running, you can connect to your Xbox from a web browser using your local network and add the RetroArch UWA files. This UWA RetroArch is notably limited by a file size cap that could prevent you from running games larger than 2 GB.
The newer, easier method for doing this, created by programmer “tunip3,” was first covered by Ars Technica. Tunip3’s method uses a retail version of RetroArch listed as a “private app” in the Xbox Store. By adding player emails to a whitelist, the full version of RetroArch can be downloaded directly to your Xbox with a code. This method removes the file size limitations that come with a developer UWA app, meaning more games are compatible — at least until Microsoft eliminates this loophole.
With RetroArch on the new Xbox, there’s now solid proof that emulating these older consoles is possible on next-generation hardware. In fact, Microsoft already relies on an emulator it built to run Xbox and Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One and Xbox Series X / S. For PlayStation games, the ball is in Sony’s court, and it’s not yet clear whether it intends to offer a formal backwards compatibility option on the PS5 that goes beyond cloud streaming.