In this era of 60-hour epic quests for the home consoles, many people look to smartphone games for simpler, more accessible titles that don’t require so much attention. These games often remind players of the games they played as a kid, when every game didn’t come with a 20-minute tutorial before they could even start playing. As it turns out, smartphones not only provide the familiar feel of the old classics, but in many cases, they enable us to play the very same games that got us hooked on gaming. Here are five of the best smartphone emulators for retro gaming.
Top Smartphone Emulators for Retro Gaming
The Game Boy Advance is the best handheld system of all time, so what better place to start than with GBA4IOS? This Apple-specific app lets you play some of the GBA’s best moments, which includes some ports of classic titles such as “Super Mario World,” “Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past,” “Final Fantasy VI” and many more. The app is completely free and, best of all, you don’t have to jailbreak your iPhone to get GBA4IOS to work.
Free, available on iOS
For those who are looking to go a little more old-school, there’s John NES for Android devices. Like GBA4IOS, John NES does not require a rooted phone, and the program is free to use; however, the removal of ads necessitates the purchase of the full version. John NES features a split-screen setup that separates the controller portion from the main screen; the app also allows for save states and screenshots, staples of PC-based emulators.
Free ($3.49 for full version), available on Android
The Super Nintendo may be the best console ever created, boasting some of the best games of our lifetimes. Fortunately, these games can now be played via emulator on nearly all smartphones via SNES 9X, while Windows Phone users can download and enjoy the same games using SNES 8x. Both versions of this app support in-game saves in addition to the conventional save states, and compatibility with the Wii Remote and Classic Controller on Android phones ensures a nostalgic experience that avoids the pratfalls of touchscreen game play. All versions of SNES 8x/9x are free and contain no ads.
Free, available on iOS (jailbroken only), Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry
As great as each of these emulators are, wouldn’t it be nice to play the games from all of the different systems via one app? RetroArch is the answer for those gamers who had multiple systems as kids and want to play all of their favorite games. You can play all of the 8-bit and 16-bit systems, as well as Playstation 1, Neo Geo Pocket Color and arcade games. RetroArch is available, for free and without ads, for all of the major smartphone platforms with the lone exception of Windows Phone.
Free, available on iOS, Android and Blackberry
Availability in App Stores
Emulators are technically illegal if you don’t already own the game. As a result, it’s often hard to locate and install emulators and roms, particularly on iOS, where a jailbroken phone is required to install most emulators.
Fortunately, you can always go “legit” and obtain the games you want through your phone’s app store. “Pac-Man” is available on all mobile formats in both trial and full versions. “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Streets of Rage” and many other classic Sega titles are available for purchase in the iOS App store, while Square Enix sells updated versions of the early “Final Fantasy” games on Apple phones. However, we won’t see any of the Mario games on smartphones as long as Nintendo sells millions of handheld consoles every year, so emulation often becomes necessary to play the true classics.
Games available for various prices, available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry
Some apps are not made available to certain phones, like the Blackberry Bold from T-Mobile. For those phones, there are free games similar to old-school games that you don’t need a smartphone emulator for. “Ziptrix Battle” is similar to “Tetris,” while “Fightin’ Words” is similar to “Scrabble.”