An emulator allows to run an operating system on a strange device. In the case of a video game console, we will be able to play games that are not supposed to work on our smartphones or Android tablets. As you have already understood, it is possible to have access to an unlimited library of games composed mostly from oldie titles, but also recent ones. You are in the right place to learn everything about Android emulators and enjoy your favorite retro game!
- See also: PPSSPP: a PSP emulator for Android
On Android, there are all kinds of applications that can emulate, often to perfection, the former trophies kept in our living rooms, but some more recent consoles are also supported. To understand how all this works, we offer you a tutorial to find Mario Bros, Sonic and all the classics in your pocket.
We will consider emulators that run natively on the Google OS. Many of today’s consoles are well supported and the usage is more or less easy depending on the complexity of the emulation. But don’t worry, we will do our best to guide you to complete the necessary steps!
- The prerequisites
- How to download the BIOS
- Where to find games ROMs
- Download the best gaming emulators for Android
Apart from the emulator, you need:
- The BIOS of the machines to emulate.
- The ROMs of the desired games.
To start, the BIOS (basic input/output system) allows to boot the machine. Without going into details, some emulators need these firmwares to stay within the law, others use alternative ways to avoid this step.
ROM (Read-only memory) is simply a game often copied from a video game cartridge or a computer’s firmware. These ROMs come in different file format for each console. Thus, a Gameboy ROM will have the extension “.gb” while a title for the Atari Lynx will have the extension “.lnx”.
It is an easy task, there is an application present in Google Play Store that gathers many of these BIOS files. Its name is EveryBIOS. By downloading it, you will avoid a lot of troubles. Attention, the use of these files is permitted only if you are in possession of the original gaming console (we suppose that :p)
If by chance this app is not very helpful then you can perform a small search via Google. Thus, we propose this website to help you, emuparadise, which includes many BIOSes and many other useful goodies.
Once the file is recovered by either method, you need to put it into the emulator folder. To achieve this, we must use the file browser integrated with the emulator or any available one on Play Store (like ES File Explorer File Manager).
Just like the BIOS, most of the time the ROM of a game is subject to copyright. You must therefore have the original cartridge to use the ROM (same thing if you want to watch a movie on streaming websites). That said, you can try Emulator Games Database that references an astronomical number of retro games (Castlevania, Super Mario, Zelda, Pokemon …
To respect Google policy, this application provides no direct link to ROMs, however, it easily guides you through search engines to find your precious game.
You can also check one of the numerous websites specialized in retro gaming, here a list of few good sites:
Just like the BIOS seen before, ROMs must be placed in a specific folder. Sometimes you need to create one either at the root of your Android system or in the “Download” directory. Regardless, emulators have file browsers to fetch ROMs.
This emulator is developed by Robert Broglia, an emulators specialist, it is very stable and has many features. Firstly, it includes a Multi-Touch support up to 4 fingers, manual or automatic save system and a multiplayer compatibility with many controllers.
ROMs in a “.A26” and “.bin” format are supported, also compressed ones in “.zip” files, it is possible to put the games on your SD card or internal storage. It is compatible with Android 2.1 at minimum but it is paid and costs 2.99 $.
This is an emulator that supports OpenGL but it doesn’t offer any customization for the controller. This is unfortunately the only emulator for the Atari Lynx available on Android.
To use it, you have to get the BIOS of the Atari Lynx, named “lynxboot.img”, and to specify the folder where it is located via the options in the “Path” tab and on the line “BIOS Path” via the “set” button. In this menu, you can set your default folder for the location of ROMs with the line “Default Rom Path” via the “set” button.
Once the BIOS and the ROMs are located, you just have to return to the main menu, then click on “Load Game” to load the game of your choice. There is a free and a paid version (3.00 $) if you want to support the developer.
Hataroid is not only free but it brings the famous STE compatibility. Enthusiasts will appreciate, especially if it is a very complete application that only suffers from a somewhat austere interface.
To use, simply retrieve ROMs in “.img” format then search for them by trough “Settings”>“system”. You will then have a sub menu “Rom” in which you can choose whether it is an ST or STE ROM. Now you can enjoy your Atari ST games with Hataroid.
With this free emulator, you will relive the great moments of Amiga titles. Pretty simple access, it is nonetheless equipped with very rich features. This is an excellent app to develop the Amiga emulation. Try it is adopting it.
For the UAE4Droid, there is no need to BIOS, so all you need is to download ROMs, place them on your SD card or the internal memory, set the games location, then return to the main screen and click on “Start Amiga”. You are now ready to enjoy the A500 via UAE4Droid.
ColecoVision has also an emulator! The legendary console is nicely represented with an app that will meet all your needs. No BIOS is required, just move the different ROMs to a folder on the SD card and then emulate through ColEm.
Simple, accurate, and fully functional, ColEm is available for free, but with the presence of ads. To remove publicity, enjoy a better joystick, the ability to share your savegames with other users and to be able to play online, go with the paid version (1.99$).
- Frodo C64
With Frodo C64, it’s a pleasure to meet the Commodore 64 again with all its glory. This free emulator is thought to revive this old fantastic machine. It requires no BIOS, facilitating greatly the task.
To play the Commodore 64, you need to place your ROMs in the format “.d64” within a folder in the root of your SD card. When you launch the application, you will just have to “Load Game” and select the folder where the ROMs are placed then choose your game.
CPSEmu is the leading Android emulator for Capcom Play System 2 games. considered the mother of arcade machines, it is easy to find the related ROMs for PC or Android use. In contrast, Play Store no longer hosts this emulator. You can therefore get it from this website already mentioned and install it as a usual APK file.
To use this emulator, you need to create a folder on your phone named “roms” in “sdcard”>“CPSEmu”, download ROMs of your games then start CPSEmu to select the title you want.
- VGB – GameBoy (GBC) Emulator
To play all the classic GameBoy cartridges VGB is your friend. This is probably the most complete application to emulate this device with a database allowing cheat codes and supporting many gamepads.
The BIOS of the classic GameBoy or GameBoy Color are not necessary, and therefore you only need to place your ROMs with the format “.gb” or “.gbc” in a folder of your choice and then select one within VGB – GameBoy (GBC). However, you need to invest 2.99 $ to be able to use it.
- My Boy!
Among Nintendo’s mobile game consoles, this is the inevitable Game Boy Advance. With My Boy! find the same pleasure you had with this jewel on your Android device. The BIOS of the Game Boy Advance is not necessary to acquire.
It is very simple to use, just place your ROMs (“.gba” format) in a folder of your choice and then select a game directly from My Boy!.
However, it is not possible to play GameBoy and GameBoy Color games via this emulator. This free version is fully functional, but does not allow instant savegames like the paid version (4.99 $) available here.
Before the PS Vita there was the PSP (PlayStation Portable). The first mobile device by Sony is also emulated under Android. There are several emulators intended for this cause. PPSSPP is probably the most perfect emulator among all.
A little surprise, PPSSPP does not require a PSP BIOS. Just transfer the “.iso” or “.cso” files in a folder then select your game from the app to enjoy it.
Nevertheless, make sure you have a fairly powerful smartphone or you will experience slowdowns, developers recommend a high-end, although a Nexus 5 or 6 may suffice. Also make sure that your game belongs to the long list of compatible titles.
The Nintendo DS has also entitled to its emulators. Drastic is one of the most popular, since everything works except the multiplayer via WiFi, it does absolutely everything that one would expect from a DS emulator. Save states are available, the interface is super nice and the performances are undeniable.
It is not necessary to have the BIOS of the Nintendo DS, but you can still use one, if you prefer to use a custom BIOS, place it in “sdcard”>“drastic”>“system“. Again, you must download your ROMs in a “.nds” format and place them into a folder of your choice.
DRASTIC is not really free, you can play it only 30 minutes but the cheat codes and savegames are not supported. You will have to pay 5.99 $ to unlock it.
This is an Android version of the MAME 0.139u1, it is used to emulate more than 8000 arcade games since it supports many arcade cabinet and consoles. This is a true Swiss army knife for retro-gamers.
To use it, nothing is more simple, upload your ROMS and then place them in “sdcard”>“ROMs”>“MAME4all”>“roms”. Once done, you can enjoy the arcade games that marked your childhood on your smartphone.
The MSX computer-console may not be very well known but it has a strong reputation among gamers. Hideo Kojima released his first Metal Gear game on this system. The emulator requires no BIOS, so it will be very simple to use it.
You will first need to download your games in a “.rom”, “.dsk” or “.cas” format then copy them to the internal memory of your phone or on the SD card, then run fMSX.
fMSX is offered for free, available here, but it displays advertisements, a paid version (1.99 $) is also available, which will allow to enjoy your games without being bothered by banner ads.
Rather confidential, the NeoGeo Pocket has a software that allows playing some SNK games. NGP.emu offers the options to use “.zip” files and automatic savegames.
To enjoy games of NeoGeo Pocket, simply place the ROMs that you have previously downloaded on your SD card, then select the desired game from the application. Note that the Bluetooth and USB joysticks are compatible, giving you a maximum comfort.
NGP.emu is unfortunately a paid app, and thus it will cost 4.99 $ to play the NeoGeo Pocket on your smartphone.
- John NES
The Nintendo NES is also emulated with several good emulators on Android. But since we must choose, we picked John NES. It’s not fully compatible with all the games catalog but it it has the Game Genie cheat functions to change some memory states. Automatic sauvegames “save states” are also available.
To use it, you will need to copy “.NES” files on the SD card or the internal memory of your phone and then select your game from the list that appears on the menu, the application automatically scan your files on startup. John NES is available in a free version but with commercials. The paid version (no ads) costs only 2.44 $.
Who has never dreamed of finding the classic N64 on his Android smartphone? Mario Kart 64, Ocarina of Time, Mario 64 and so many other wonders run now on Android devices through Mupen64 +. If the emulator has not been updated for almost a year, it still the best of its kind.
It is not necessary to have the console BIOS to enjoy this emulator, so it will be a breeze if you have a machine powerful enough to run N64 games. It suffices to move your ROMs in the “.n64”, “.v64”, “.z64” or “zip” format on SD card or the internal memory of your phone, then select a title from the app.
Mupen64 + is free, but if you appreciate the work of developers, keep in mind that it is possible to give a small donation by buying the Mupen64Plus AE version.
FPSE is the best PlayStation 1 Android emulator right now. The application is very powerful and compatible with smartphones running on Android 2.1 and above. However, it will take a high-end phone to enjoy games in a pleasant way.
To use it, you must recover the PS1 BIOS, named “scph1001.bin” and place it in the FPSE folder. Then you just have to download a ROM that can be an “.iso”, “bin”, “.nrg”, “.img”, “.mdf”, “.pbp”, “.bz” or “.Z” file, place it on your SD card and finally select it from the application.
To enjoy PlayStation 1 games on your smartphone, you will have to pay 3.17 $ because FPSE is only available as paid version.
A little less known than its competitor above, ePSXe remains a solid alternative, offering respectable performances for the major hits of Sony’s console. Again, you will need the PS1 BIOS named “scph1001.bin” to be placed on the SD card, the application will automatically search for the file during its first launch.
After downloading a ROM in a “.iso” or “bin” to place it on your SD card and then run it using “Run game”. ePSXe will automatically scan the SD card at first boot, all your games should appear. Unfortunately again, ready your wallet, since the app is offered for 3.39 $.
The Mega Drive, also known as the Genesis in the US, was honored with a free Android emulator, but also in paid one. Here, no special manipulation to do, simply upload your Mega Drive ROMs and move them to your SD card or the internal memory of your smartphone.
You just have to start a game from the application, taking care to specify where your ROMs are.
The paid version will cost you 1.46 $ and the free one comes with ads, it’s up to you to choose one of them!
- Snes9x EX+
Based on the Super Nintendo emulator Snes9x 1.53, this open-source Android emulator has the advantage of being completely free and especially compatible with the majority of the games.
To play the Super Nintendo games on your Android phone, simply download a ROM in a “.smc” or “.sfc” format and put it on your phone then pick a game through the app.