By Eli Becht/June 25, 2023 2:00 pm EST
When it comes to playing classic games like “Yoshi’s Island,” you have a few options: purchase the original console, such as the SNES; buy an official re-release of the game for a modern platform if possible; or download the ROM version of a game and play it using an emulator. While the latter method isn’t officially condoned, many classic games haven’t been released for modern consoles nor made available through services like Nintendo’s SNES game catalog for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers. As such, emulation is your only option if you can’t get ahold of the original hardware.
Not only does emulation provide access to these classic games, but you can even enjoy them on an Android device. Your Android smartphone isn’t going to be running semi-recent games like those from the Xbox 360 or PS3 era, but it can be a solid way to enjoy 8-bit, 16-bit, and even some 3D titles without much of an issue. The games you can play will come down to which emulator you install as there’s a different one for each console — though, of course, there’s nothing stopping you from installing more than one app.
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If you’re looking to relive some GameCube and Wii classics like “Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door” or “Mario Kart: Double Dash,” then the Dolphin Emulator is for you. The popular GameCube and Wii emulator is the go-to when it comes to emulating titles from that generation of Nintendo games. While your phone’s hardware will determine which games you can play, you don’t need a high-end gaming smartphone to run many titles available via emulation.
According to the team behind Dolphin, the emulator can be used on Android 5.0 (Lollipop) and later, which covers just about every Android device currently in existence. The phone or tablet will need a 64-bit processor, and based on testing shared by various enthusiasts online, you’ll want to go with something like the Snapdragon 855 for quality playback.
That’s not a difficult requirement to meet, as the sort of mobile hardware that can play GameCube games smoothly has been around for years at this point. However, if you’re thinking about turning an old Android phone or tablet packing something like the Snapdragon 650 into an emulation device, you may be disappointed by the performance.
Whether you’re looking for a game on Game Boy, Game Boy Color, or Game Boy Advance, the John GBAC emulator has you covered. With three generations of games supported, this is a really good emulator to have. There are some real gems from this era that include all of the “Pokemon” titles up to “Leaf Green” and “Fire Red,” as well as some underrated classics like “Advance Wars” and “The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap.”
The John GBAC emulator recreates the control scheme of a Game Boy right onto your display, so you can hold your phone in portrait mode and treat it just like you’re holding the real thing — though there’s also support for Bluetooth controllers if you prefer to use them. The emulator supports Android 6.0 and newer, but the developer notes that the app has been optimized for modern versions of Android. As with most other emulator apps, it is free to download.
If you’re looking for a PS1 emulator, Duckstation is one of the best around. Many games from this era have since been remade or remastered — “Spyro the Dragon,” “Crash Bandicoot,” and “Resident Evil 1-3” — but that’s not the case with every title. Unless you have the original hardware, and that’s getting expensive nowadays, emulation is the only way to play games like “Ape Escape” or “Dino Crisis.”
The developers state the emulator is focused on being as accurate as possible to the original games and hardware while also providing good performance. Part of this will come down to what type of Android device you have, and having a more modern and powerful one will obviously allow the games to run a bit better. As an added bonus, users of Dolphin will feel right at home with Duckstation as the two user interfaces are very similar to each other.
The PlayStation Portable was so successful that it led to a successor with the PS Vita, which was never quite able to capture the same lightning in a bottle. Today, the PPSSPP emulator is the best way to experience games from the platform like “Metal Gear Acid” and “Monster Hunter Freedom” if you don’t own a PSP. Unlike many consoles from the PSP era, the Sony handheld can still be had for a decent price of around $50 if you search long enough. Of course, that doesn’t account for the rising cost of games, so emulation makes the whole process easier.
Many PSP games have since been ported to modern consoles like the “Kingdom Hearts” and “God of War” games, but the emulator is still a good way to experience them as they were initially intended. The developers claim this is the best PSP emulator on Android, but warn users that not all of the games will run at their intended performance if you have a weaker device. It’s free to download, so just give it a shot and see if your Android phone or tablet is up to the task.
RetroArch isn’t an emulator itself, but it will instead act as a hub for all of your other emulators. What this means is you can download programs like Dolphin and PPSSPP as cores, which act as different programs within the RetroArch app. It’s essentially a way for you to keep everything in one spot without having to swap between programs over and over. It’s not needed if you only plan to emulate one platform, but it’s good for people who want to hop around different consoles and eras.
If you’re a newcomer to the emulating space, the RetroArch interface can feel overwhelming because there’s so much going on. Once you get into a game itself, things are way more straightforward and easy to understand. The regular version of RetroArch comes with 50 cores, and the RetroArch Plus version bumps it up to 127. You probably won’t need anywhere near that amount of cores to get started, but the emulation rabbit hole is quite deep.