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.
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.