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What are the Best Android Emulators?

Looking to play old games on your new Android smartphone? Here are a few of the best emulators out there today.

Article by Mike Williams, .

Why do we upgrade every two years to the newest Samsung or HTC Android phone? So we can play decades-old video games on-the-go, of course! Android might be second banana when it comes to most mobile developers, but the platform still has a ton of great apps. Last time, I took a look at the best RPGs on Android, so this time I'm changing direction and looking at the best emulators.

I'll be keeping this list down to a certain number of popular old platforms, otherwise you'd be reading all day: Atari 2600, Arcades, NES, Super NES, Master System, Genesis, TurboGrafx-16, Game Boy, and Game Boy Advance. I've avoided systems whose games are available on current platforms or systems that won't give you the best experience when played on your mid-range smartphone.

If you're keeping up your due diligence like a good citizen, that means you own absolutely every single game that you're emulating, right? Good. Let's begin.

Atari 2600 - 2600.emu ($2.99)

I don't feel the need to go back this far, but some people like Jaz do, so the Atari 2600 is the first up. 2600.emu is the first emulator on this list developed by Robert Broglia. He's made emulators for pretty much everything and he doesn't charge too much for each one. 2600.emu uses on-screen touch controls like most Android emulators, but it also retains support for Bluetooth and USB gamepads. Even Nintendo Wii controllers are supported if you're using Android 4.1 or lower!

Ataroid is a free alternative, but it's not on Google Play and it hasn't been updated for almost two years now.

Arcade - MAME4Droid (Free)

Like it says on the tin, this is an Android version of the popular MAME arcade system emulator. There's actually two versions of MAME4droid on the Google Play store; this version supports more games and more games is always better, right? You can choose to play your games upright like an arcade cabinet or in landscape mode with a touch-control overlay. The emulator even supports light gun games in its own touch-screen fashion.

NES - NES.emu ($3.99)

Yep, this is another Robert Broglia jam, emulating games that ran on the Nintendo's first foray into the gaming industry: the Nintendo Entertainment System. Like 2600.emu, this emulator features save-states, Bluetooth and USB gamepad support, and dual-orientation options for touch-screen controls.

Alternative options in this category include Nostalgia.NES, which includes a wicked rewind feature, or Nesoid, which is free but hasn't been updated in more than a year.

Super NES - SNES9x EX+ (Free)

People who have been emulating older platforms for a long time should know the name SNES9x; it was one of the most popular emulators back in the day. SNES9x EX+ for Android is based on SNES9x 1.53, with many of the same features found in its PC brethren. The emulator is so feature-rich that the SuperScope is supported via touch-screen; if you want to get your Battle Clash on while riding the bus, SNES9x EX+ is the emulator for you.

Game Boy - John GBC Lite (Free)

This is the free, ad-supported version of the app, which is good enough for most folks. The paid version is only $2.99, so if you're willing to go without Starbucks for a day, you can snatch this emulator up without the ads. The thing I really like about John GBC is the touch-screen controls in landscape mode are set up to not get in the way of the game. Constant updates, save-states, controller support, GameGenie/GameShark code support, and the ability to work on any Android device above 2.2 make this emulator a winner for your Game Boy Color fix.

Game Boy Advance - My Boy! ($4.99)

My Boy! is one of the pricier emulators on this list, but it's also the most robust Game Boy Advance emulator available. It's one of the few that actually has link cable emulation over Bluetooth or WiFi. That's not necessary for everyone, but it's a good feature to have if you're really serious about emulating Game Boy Advance games. My Boy! also has a great layout editor for the touch-screen controls, so you can move different elements around if they conflict with the game you're playing. It has a free version as well, but that version doesn't have link cable support or save-states, which makes it rather useless.

Master System & Genesis - MD.emu ($4.99)

Broglia returns! MD.emu covers two of Sega's systems, the Sega Genesis and the Sega Master System; the latter wasn't very popular in the United States, so getting both systems in a two-for-one package is great. This emulator also plays Sega CD games, but support for those titles is currently in beta. MD.emu features a number of weird support options, including the SVP chip for Virtua Racing, external audio tracks, 4-player multitaps, and touch-screen emulation for Menacer and Justifier light guns. Like the preceding emulator, it'll set you back $5, but if you really care about Sega system emulation, it's worth it.

TurboGrafx-16 - PCE.emu ($3.99)

You may not remember the TurboGrafx-16, but NEC's little system fought the good fight against the Sega Genesis and Super NES. Bonk's Adventure, Legendary Axe, Blazing Lazers, and Ninja Spirit were all classic gaming titles you may have missed, so here's your chance to experience them for the first time. PCE.emu - named for the TurboGrafx-16's Japanese moniker, PC Engine - not only supports T-16 games, it also plays Super CD titles! That means Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Ys I & II are on the table... if you happen to own those rare import titles. It'll cost you, but if you're playing T-16 games, you're already in the hardcore niche that's going to pony up the $4.

EVERYTHING - RetroArch (Free)

This monster emulates a ton of different systems and it's 100 percent free. Seriously, the developers are really married to the 'free' idea: no ads, no DRM, no restrictions, and it's completely open-source. RetroArch's support for specific games isn't as robust as single-system emulators, but it makes up for it by allowing users to download a single app and take their chances. If you're playing mainstream titles, RetroArch may be the catch-all you're looking for.

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Comments 13

  • Avatar for metal_maniac #1 metal_maniac 3 years ago
    The lack of a physical controller have turned me off mobile emulation so far, but I'm considering the Nvidia Shield. The few I have tried on my galaxy have worked just fine, but still plays like a dog.
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  • Avatar for koalpastor30 #2 koalpastor30 3 years ago
    How is this shit legal?
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  • Avatar for orient #3 orient 3 years ago
    Every time I have my finger hovering over the 'purchase' button of one of these emulator, I remember I'm on a touch device and forget about it. I prefer retro gaming on a handheld, but there's nothing like a virtual d-pad to completely ruin an old game. I downloaded Sonic CD for iOS and it was unplayable. I did manage to finish Shining Force on iOS, but it would've been a much nicer experience with real controls.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #4 Funny_Colour_Blue 3 years ago
    @orient I had the same sad experience with Streets of Rage...Streets of Rage indeed.

    Sonic 2 is excellent though. I just wish it was on an actual system with better online support.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #5 SargeSmash 3 years ago
    @koalpastor30 : Because emulation is legal. The way one obtains the ROMs, though, may or may not be legal.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #6 SargeSmash 3 years ago
    @metal_maniac : Depending on your version of Android, you could use Wii remotes or Classic Contollers. Or if you're rooted, a Dual Shock 3.
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  • Avatar for DiscordInc #7 DiscordInc 3 years ago
    I've tried emulators on the various smart phones I've owned over the years, and ultimately the virtual controls end up distracting from the experience. It doesn't help that I only like to play games on my own in short bursts, and a lot of retro games aren't really conducive to that.
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  • Avatar for freddyordoñez08 #8 freddyordoñez08 3 years ago
    If touch controls aren't your thing, you could just download the wiimote app on the play store: http://preview.tinyurl.com/6mpbdxp. Sync your tablet with any wiimote you've lying around, and all of a sudden the interface becomes smooth. It feels a bit like playing Wii Games on the Wii U, while using the Game Pad as a screen. I just tested it with Nostalgia Nes.
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  • Avatar for GustinHardy #9 GustinHardy 3 years ago
    Right now my Ouya is only being used as a a retro emulation console. I couldn't see doing it on a touch screen phone
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  • Avatar for abuele #10 abuele 3 years ago
    I specially like that for the NES emulator photo you included a photo of Monter Party from Bandai.
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  • Avatar for metal_maniac #11 metal_maniac 2 years ago
    @SargeSmash I went and bought the Shield and have already filled it with emulators. The best one so far is the one for the C64. And I really like it so far.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #12 SargeSmash 2 years ago
    @metal_maniac : I've been rather tempted to get one of those. Or maybe the newly-released tablet version. I wish I had one of the graphics cards necessary to do PC streaming, though. I'd be all over it then.

    Regarding RetroArch, it'd be perfect if it supported Wii U Pro Controllers like the Broglia emulators do.
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