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Android Video Game Emulators

Last updated August 26, 2022

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About emulation on Android

Nearly every video game emulator for Android is very easy to use. The UI and user flows are standard with all of them. It’s not necessary for me to put together tutorials for each one. If you’re accustomed to using emulators on Windows, then you will feel right at home on Android.

However, things do get a little tricky when you want to do more than just play your favorite games. In this tutorial, I will walk you through important points pertaining to video game emulation on Android.

Which emulators to use?

In the Google Play Store, there are many video game emulators. Searching for, say, a Super Nintendo emulator brings up at least ten of them. Most of the emulators have ads or require you to pay. I want to save you the trouble of navigating this mess by presenting you with the list below of the best emulators.

Category System Emulator Name Cost? Notes
Nintendo GameCube/Wii Dolphin Free! See compatibility list.
Nintendo 64 M64Plus FZ Free with ads When you load a game, you need to look at an ad for 10 seconds. If ads bother you, use RetroArch.
M64Plus FZ Pro $3.99 US
Super Nintendo Snes9x EX+ Free!
NES NES.emu $3.99 US If you refuse to pay for NES.emu, try the alternative below or RetroArch.
Nostalgia.NES Free with ads
Nintendo DS DraStic DS $4.99 US The #1 NDS emulator on Android! If you refuse to pay for nds4droid, try the alternative below or RetroArch.
nds4droid Free! Not as good as DraStic DS.
Game Boy Advance GBA.emu $4.99 US If you refuse to pay for GBA.emu, try the alternative below or RetroArch.
Nostalgia.GBA Free with ads
Game Boy Color GBC.emu $2.99 US If you refuse to pay for GBC.emu, try the alternative below or RetroArch.
Nostalgia.GBC Free with ads
Sega Genesis/Sega CD MD.emu $4.99 US Doesn't support 32X, and Sega CD games require some setup. If you refuse to pay for MD.emu, try the alternative below or RetroArch.
ClassicBoy Partially free Doesn't support 32X, and Sega CD games require some setup. 'Partially free' means most systems are free and some aren't.
Saturn Yaba Sanshiro Free with ads Requires Saturn BIOS.
Game Gear/SMS RetroArch Plus Free! Use the “Genesis Plus GX” core.
Sony PlayStation 1 DuckStation Free! Requires PS1 BIOS. See section on ePSXe vs. DuckStation.
ePSXe $4 US Requires PS1 BIOS and some setup. See section on ePSXe vs. DuckStation.
PlayStation 2 AetherSX2 Free! Based on PCSX2 - see compatibility list. Their homepage provides some tips on improving performance. Requires PS2 BIOS.
Play! Free! Only supports 20% of game library - see compatibility list. Requires PS2 BIOS.
PSP PPSSPP Free! If you need help boosting performance, see performance guide.
Arcade MAME MAME4droid Free! I have MAME4droid directions in my Dungeons & Dragons Arcade shrine.
RetroArch Plus Free! I explain arcade emulation with RetroArch in the Windows Retroarch tutorial.
NEC TurboGrafx16/
PC Engine
PCE.emu $3.99 US PC Engine CD games require some setup and require the BIOS. If you refuse to pay for PCE.emu, try the alternative below or RetroArch.
ClassicBoy Partially free PC Engine CD games require some setup and require the BIOS. 'Partially free' means most systems are free and some aren't.
Bandai WonderSwan/
WonderSwan Color
RetroArch Plus Free! Use the “Beetle Cygne” core.
Multi-system Multi-system RetroArch Plus Free! Supports over 40 systems! This 'Plus' version is for newer devices (Android 8.0 or higher). If you need help, see my Android RetroArch tutorial. CD-based systems require the BIOS.
RetroArch Free! Supports over 40 systems! This version is for older Android devices (Android 7.0 or lower).
ClassicBoy Partially free Supports 10 systems (the most popular ones). 'Partially free' means most systems are free and some aren't.

GameCube/Wii

Dolphin Free! See compatibility list.

Nintendo 64

M64Plus FZ Free with ads The top emulator. This free version makes you look at an ad for 10 seconds every time you load a game. It's a minor inconvenience for using this great emulator for free. But if the ads bother you and you refuse to pay for the pro version, then use RetroArch (which is 100% free).
M64Plus FZ Pro $3.99 US The top emulator. This 'pro' version removes the ads.

Super Nintendo

Snes9x EX+ Free! The top emulator.

NES

NES.emu $3.99 US If you refuse to pay for NES.emu, try the alternative below or RetroArch.
Nostalgia.NES Free with ads

Nintendo DS

DraStic DS $4.99 US The #1 NDS emulator on Android! If you refuse to pay for nds4droid, try the alternative below or RetroArch.
nds4droid Free! Not as good as DraStic DS.

Game Boy Advance

GBA.emu $4.99 US If you refuse to pay for GBA.emu, try the alternative below or RetroArch.
Nostalgia.GBA Free with ads

Game Boy Color

GBC.emu $2.99 US If you refuse to pay for GBC.emu, try the alternative below or RetroArch.
Nostalgia.GBC Free with ads

Genesis/Sega CD

MD.emu $4.99 US Doesn't support 32X, and Sega CD games require some setup. If you refuse to pay for MD.emu, try the alternative below or RetroArch.
ClassicBoy Partially free Doesn't support 32X, and Sega CD games require some setup. 'Partially free' means most systems are free and some aren't.

Saturn

Yaba Sanshiro Free with ads Requires Saturn BIOS.

Game Gear/SMS

RetroArch Plus Free! Use the “Genesis Plus GX” core.

PlayStation 1

DuckStation Free! Requires PS1 BIOS. See section on ePSXe vs. DuckStation.
ePSXe $4 US Requires PS1 BIOS and some setup. See section on ePSXe vs. DuckStation.

PlayStation 2

AetherSX2 Free! Based on PCSX2 - see compatibility list. Their homepage provides some tips on improving performance. Requires PS2 BIOS.
Play! Free! Only supports 20% of game library - see compatibility list. Requires PS2 BIOS.

PSP

PPSSPP Free! If you need help boosting performance, see performance guide.

Arcade

MAME4droid Free! I have MAME4droid directions in my Dungeons & Dragons Arcade shrine.
RetroArch Plus Free! I explain arcade emulation with RetroArch in the Windows Retroarch tutorial.

TurboGrafx16/PC Engine

PCE.emu $3.99 US PC Engine CD games require some setup and require the BIOS. If you refuse to pay for PCE.emu, try the alternative below or RetroArch.
ClassicBoy Partially free PC Engine CD games require some setup and require the BIOS. 'Partially free' means most systems are free and some aren't.

WonderSwan/WonderSwan Color

RetroArch Plus Free! Use the “Beetle Cygne” core.

Multi-system

RetroArch Plus Free! Supports over 40 systems! This 'Plus' version is for newer devices (Android 8.0 or higher). If you need help, see my Android RetroArch tutorial. CD-based systems require the BIOS.
RetroArch Free! Supports over 40 systems! This version is for older Android devices (Android 7.0 or lower).
ClassicBoy Partially free Supports 10 systems (the most popular ones). 'Partially free' means most systems are free and some aren't.

As you see above, the majority of the top emulators are free. The only emulators I recommend paying for are DraStic DS (NDS), and possibly ePSXe (PS1) if you don't like DuckStation (a free PS1 emulator). DraStic DS and ePSXe go for around $4-5 US. If you like standalone emulators and you don't like RetroArch, the “.emu” series of emulators are an excellent, high quality option (they go for $3-5 US). The .emu emulators are intuitive, feature-rich, and small in size.

Single-system vs. multi-system emulators

Some of the many systems RetroArch supports Some of the many systems RetroArch supports

Android offers many emulators dedicated to a single video game system, but it also has a few emulators that support multiple video game systems. Which one should you use? Well, I recommend using both. Specifically, the multi-system emulator I recommend is RetroArch.

For example, if the SNES emulator isn't performing to your liking, RetroArch gives you the option of multiple cores (multiple emulators) to choose from for each system. But RetroArch is not very user-friendly, so the single-system emulators are better in that regard. Try both and see which one you like the best.

One area where RetroArch beats single-system emulators is with tablets and Play Store supported Chromebooks. Single-system emulators are designed for smartphones; they don't fare well on a large screen. RetroArch is designed for everything, so that'll be your go-to emulator on those devices.

Multi-system: RetroArch vs. ClassicBoy

ClassicBoy ClassicBoy

ClassicBoy is a rising competitor to RetroArch. It's a simpler multi-system emulator with a nice, visual design. By default, it comes with support for PlayStation 1, N64, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, NES, Genesis, Sega CD, Game Gear, Master System, and arcade games. Additionally, it has a plugins section where you can download support for additional systems such as Nintendo DS, Saturn, NeoGeo Pocket Color, Wonderswan Color, and PC Engine/CD.

ClassicBoy is a free emulator that doesn't have ads. However, there's a catch. It does have 'ads' in the sense that it teases you with support for SNES and other systems, but enabling support for those systems requires payment. This isn't so bad, considering the large number of systems it supports for free. For SNES, you could just use Snes9x EX+ (which is free) and avoid paying for SNES support with ClassicBoy.

RetroArch is still my top recommendation. But yet, if you find RetroArch intimidating, ClassicBoy would be a better alternative for you with its friendlier, more visually appealing design.

PlayStation 1: ePSXe vs. DuckStation

DuckStation Final Fantasy VII on DuckStation (the graphics were upscaled)

DuckStation is a relatively new and promising PlayStation 1 emulator. In this guide I keep recommending ePSXe, but what about DuckStation? Firstly, DuckStation is 100% free (ePSXe costs around $4 US). Its emulation quality is excellent - it's possibly better than ePSXe. Swapping CDs (ISOs) is just as easy as with ePSXe. I recommend enabling the PGXP corrections to correct texturing and jittery animation . One drawback with DuckStation is that it's not Chromebook-friendly. At the time I'm writing this, they even removed DuckStation from being available for Chromebooks altogether, for some reason.

But yet, ePSXe still has a better interface; it's easier and friendlier to use. It's Chromebook-friendly. ePSXe does require some setup . ePSXe and DuckStation are both good emulators with their pros and cons. It's up to you to decide which emulator would be better for your needs.

Sega CD & PCE-CD: Important notes

There are a few different types of formats that people have prepared ripped Sega CD/Mega CD and TurboGrafx-CD/PC Engine CD games as. They consist of one or more BIN files (the game's data), audio tracks, and a CUE sheet. The CUE sheet is a simple text file with a programmatic list of the audio tracks. ROM websites deliver games in one of four formats:

  1. A binary BIN/CUE: As of the early 2020s, this is the new popular format being distributed from sites. It looks like this when you open it. All files are BIN files. When you look at the CUE sheet , the BIN files are organized as the audio tracks.
  2. A standard BIN/CUE: This is how video game ISOs (for any CD-based system) are normally ripped as. It looks like this when you open it. When you look at the CUE sheet , the audio tracks are listed even though there are no actual audio files present.
  3. An ISO/MP3: This used to be the most popular format for most of the 2000s and 2010s when the Internet was slower. Converting the audio tracks to MP3 significantly reduced the file size of Sega CD/TurboGrafx-CD games. It looks like this when you open it.
  4. An ISO/WAV: This is an ISO/MP3 with the audio tracks converted to WAV .

I need to point out that not all of the above formats are compatible with emulators on Android. ISO/MP3 is not supported at all. ISO/WAV will load, but the CD audio may run fast as if in fast forward. BIN/CUE ('binary' or 'standard') are the formats that are 100% supported.

With a properly prepared ISO, the next steps are easy. All you do is copy over the proper BIOS and configure it with the emulator you're using. Every emulator does it a little differently. It might require you to place the BIOS in the emulator's root folder. Or it might require you to configure the BIOS in the settings. When the BIOS is properly configured, all you do to play your game is load its CUE sheet as if it were a ROM.

No Perfect Sync on Android

Sega CD/Mega CD games have an annoying little string attached. Some Sega CD games require something called Perfect Sync , or else they freeze at the Sega logo. In particular, I know Shining Force CD and Popful Mail require Perfect Sync in order to work. Genesis emulators on Windows allow you to enable/disable Perfect Sync to work around this problem. Android's Genesis emulators (the ones that support Sega CD) do not offer Perfect Sync. Hence, there are quite a few games that will not work. However, I know that RetroArch must have some kind of auto Perfect Sync feature because every Sega CD game I've tried on it works.

Teasing PlayStation 2, GameCube, etc.

Browsing through my recommended Android emulators, you're going to see Dolphin which supports GameCube and Wii. You'll see emulators for PlayStation 2, Sega Saturn, and Dreamcast. If you poke around the Play Store, you'll even find emulators for PlayStation 3. Don't get excited - they probably won't work! The Play Store is teasing us.

The modern smartphone is fast, but it's not that fast. These emulators are intended for high-end Android devices. For the rest of us, the highest our average Android devices will support is PlayStation 1 and N64; maybe even PSP if we're lucky.

Extracting ISOs in 7Z or RAR

ROM websites like to distribute their large CD-based games in 7Z or RAR. They must be extracted to use them with emulators. Here are on directions on how to do so:

Moving and extracting 7Z files An example for a PSX ISO
  1. First, you're going need an app that can extract 7Z files. I recommend ZArchiver (it's free).
    • Side note: ISOs are less commonly delivered in ZIP and RAR. Either way, ZArchiver supports extracting them.
  2. Open ZArchiver. You need to decide where you're going to house your ISOs. It doesn't matter where you put them. Some people keep them in the Downloads folder. What I like to do is create a folder called “ROMs” and inside that folder create folders for “PlayStation 1”, “Super Nintendo”, etc. In ZArchiver, to create a new folder tap the The Plus icon then The Folder icon. Proceed to the next step when you're ready.
  3. Return to your device's main root directory (the default screen when you open ZArchiver). Select Download. Once inside, long press your ISO and select Cut.
  4. Navigate to the folder where you want your ISOs to be. Select the clipboard icon The Clipboard icon to paste the ISO there. Tap on the file (not a long press) and select Extract here. Depending on the size of the file, it may take 10-20 seconds or two minutes to finish extracting.
  5. Depending on how the ROM site setup the 7Z archive, it will either: (1) extract the ISO files here, or (2) extract the ISO files into a new folder with the name of the game. Either way should be fine and not impact how the emulator you're going to use loads ISOs.
  6. Lastly, we don't need the 7Z file anymore so you can delete it. Long press it and select Delete. Also, if you don't foresee yourself extracting more 7Z files in the future, you can go ahead and uninstall ZArchiver (long press its app icon and select Uninstall).

The Dig front-end

Screenshots of Dig Screenshots of Dig

The Dig emulator front-end is a really handy app! Let's say you already set up all of your emulators and ROMs on your Android device. It might be a bit tedious having to fuss through a collection of emulators and look for the ROM you want to play every single time. Dig optimizes your emulation experience by consolidating all of your games and emulators into a single, fun graphical interface!

Upon opening Dig for the first time, what it does is scan your Android device to collect the emulators you currently have installed and builds a database with all of your ROMs. Then Dig presents you with a graphical interface showing the box art for each one of your ROMs. Selecting a game takes you to a helpful profile with information about it. Pressing 'Play' immediately loads the game in your installed emulator. It's awesome!

Dig is especially helpful with RetroArch since it lacks an intuitive interface. Dig is also valuable for Chromebooks since RetroArch's interface isn't Chromebook friendly.

Transferring saves from Windows emulators

This is a popular topic. Many of us are already long-time users of emulators. So, naturally, we want to continue our gameplay from Windows emulators to our Android device(s). My FantasyAnime.com also offers periodical game saves for many popular classic RPGs.

Can saves be transferred? Yes! Sort of. Not every video game system is covered.

Transferring an Snes9x save state Transferring an Snes9x save state
  • PlayStation 1 saves: If you plan on using Android's ePSXe (which I hope you are), transferring your memory card from ePSXe on Windows is a simple copy & paste. Go into ePSXe's “memcards” folder and drag over “epsxe000.mcr”.
  • Super Nintendo saves: Android's Snes9x EX+ accepts both save states & internal save RAM files from Snes9x on Windows! Let's say your save state is “finalfantasy6.000”. Rename it to “finalfantasy6.0A.frz” for it to work on Snes9x EX+. The internal saved RAM files (i.e. “finalfantasy6.srm”) don't need to be renamed - simply copy & paste them over.
  • Game Boy/Game Boy Color/Game Boy Advance saves: Internal saved RAM files (i.e. “finalfantasy6.sav”) from Visual Boy Advance on Windows will work on RetroArch. Simply copy & paste them over to the “saves” sub folder in RetroArch's root folder.
  • Genesis, Sega CD, 32X, Game Gear, Nintendo 64 saves: These cannot be transferred :(

Downloading large games... disappear?

Android can be wonky when you try to download a large ROM or ISO. ‘Large’ meaning around 1 GB in size and higher. It may take a couple tries because sometimes the file disappears as soon as you're prompted that it finished downloading. Or maybe Android will hiccup and suddenly halt the download. These issues are especially prone to happen if you’re nearing your max capacity of space on your device.

Instead of wireless downloading, I recommend a wired transfer by connecting your Android device to a computer. You won't encounter problems transferring large ROMs and ISOs that way.

Using ROM hacks

I have a detailed tutorial on patching ROMs. In my patching tutorial, I explain how you can auto patch or manually patch games with a ROM hack's patch. I recommend reading my patching tutorial before you continue reading here. The language here might be confusing if you don't.

As far as I know, no Android emulator supports auto-patching. These are your options for using ROM hacks:

  1. I think the fastest & easiest way to use a ROM hack is to look for a pre-patched ROM. That saves you loads of trouble.
  2. If you can't find a pre-patched ROM, then try patching the ROM on your computer. Upon a successful patching, transfer it over to your Android device. I recommend using Dropbox or Google Drive for the transfer.
  3. If you can’t find a pre-patched ROM and patching on your computer isn’t an option, then you can try patching the ROM directly on your Android device. I have directions in my patching tutorial.

Don't forget--the #1 website for ROM hacks and English translations is RomHacking.net!

Cheating

Every video game emulator supports cheats. Snes9x EX+ supports Game Genie cheats. ePSXe, DraStic DS, and RetroArch even auto-download cheat files!

Setting up a Bluetooth gamepad

Setting up a Bluetooth gamepad is quick and easy. First of all, make sure the gamepad's specifications specifically state that it's supported by Android. If you're looking for a Bluetooth gamepad, I have several good ones pointed out in my Gamepads article.

Pairing your gamepad

  1. First, make sure your Bluetooth gamepad is fully charged and has LED lights indicating it's on.
  2. Put your gamepad in 'pairing mode'. Sometimes it's as simple as pressing the Start button and you'll see lights blinking on your gamepad. Gamepads that are compatible with multiple OSs might require a specific button to be pressed for pairing with Android. Read the documentation that came with your gamepad. Or go to the manufacturer's website and look for directions there.
  3. On your Android device, enter the Bluetooth screen. I can't tell you exactly how because every Android device has a different GUI. Typically, you access it by swiping down on the top and press the Bluetooth icon - as shown here .
  4. In the Bluetooth screen, press Pair new device - as shown here .
  5. In the next screen, you should see the name of your Bluetooth gamepad - like this . Press it. It should turn gray with “Pairing” - like this .
    • There are a few problems that could surface in this step. Your Bluebooth gamepad might have a weird name such as “50:4B:24:2F:DC:E9”. Try to pair it anyway.
    • The “Pairing” notice might hang for a few minutes and then stop. Make sure your Bluetooth gamepad is fully charged and indicating that it's turned on, and try again. Read your gamepad's instructions to ensure its LED lights are indicating that it's on and ready to be paired.
  6. Upon a successful pairing, you should see your gamepad listed on the Bluetooth screen with “Connected” - as shown here .

Emulator setup

Next, your Bluetooth gamepad needs to be configured with every video game emulator you intend to use it with. Each emulator does it differently.

Setting up a gamepad in Snes9x EX+ Setting up a gamepad in Snes9x EX+
  • With Snes9X EX+: Go to Key/Gamepad Input Setup and you should see the name of your Bluetooth gamepad towards the bottom, as shown to the right.
  • With ePSXe: Go to Preferences, look under “Input Preferences”, and press Player 1.
  • With Mupen64Plus: You don't need to do anything. Your gamepad is auto-detected and pre-configured.
  • With RetroArch: You shouldn't have to do anything. When you load a game and press a button on your gamepad, you should see a message appear on the bottom left telling you that your gamepad is now active with the game.

Notes about a gamepad on Chromebooks

Chromebooks (what's a Chromebook?) have limited support for gamepads with video game emulators from the Play Store. I can only tell you what I know of this subject from my own experience. I don't have a pile of gamepads to test with all the popular Android video game emulators.

8Bitdo's retro Bluetooth gamepads Old 8Bitdo's don't work, but newer models do

I've been using the 8Bitdo gamepads, which is the most popular brand for retro style Bluetooth gamepads. My first generation 8Bitdo gamepads (I have the NES and SNES controller) haven't worked on any of my Chromebooks. However, I got the 8Bitdo SN30 (released in 2017) and found that it works on my Chromebook. It worked fine with Snes9X, the .emu emulators, ePSXe, Mupen64Plus, and RetroArch. And later I purchased the 8Bitdo SN30 Pro+ (released in 2019), which works great on Chromebooks. In 2021, they released a newer model of this controller: the 8Bitdo Pro 2.

So maybe only gamepads from 2017 and newer will work on Chromebooks? Or maybe only certain gamepads will work where the developer specifically programmed support for Chromebook Android apps? I can't say for sure.

The gamepad API

There's a detail I need to point out to avoid confusion. If you Google the subject of gamepads on Chromebooks, every result will tell you that all gamepads work on any Chromebook with no problem. PlayStation 3 controllers work on Chromebooks, too. However, this is misleading because what everyone is talking about is gamepad support for Chrome based games via the gamepad API. All this wonderful support for gamepads, unfortunately, does not apply to video game emulators from the Play Store.

Finding games

In my links page, I have some good links to sites where you can download ROMs and ISOs for classic video game systems.

Finding games for PS2/PS3/PSP/GameCube/Wii and beyond is trickier due to how large games are. These games are typically not available in ROM sites readily found on Google. However, Archive.org is a superb site where you can find these games for download. Navigating that site isn't easy. It's easier to search Google with such phrases as “archive.org playstation 2”. I offer some more help with that in this image .

Another way you can try to find large/newer games is through Reddit. The best way to find them is by searching Google with such phrases as “reddit download playstation 2”.

Q: Help! My emulators can't save anymore!

In 2019, Google released Android 10 which placed further restrictions on permissions and write access granted to apps (to protect us). If you downloaded emulators before upgrading to Android 10, those emulators may have lost write access. That means save states might no longer work or you can't capture screenshots anymore. Or any other action that requires writing to your device.

This is a tricky question for me to help you with because every emulator is different and there are myriad scenarios here on how to approach troubleshooting this issue. First and foremost, you must update your emulators! Emulator authors are aware of the new rules enforced by Android 10 and have updated their emulators accordingly. This should resolve any saving issues.

What many emulators have done to workaround Android 10's new rules is by saving content in a different location. For example, MAME4Droid now saves everything into Android's “data” folder. I explain how to move files to this location in my tutorial: Dungeons & Dragons Arcade: How to play on Android.

Perhaps you're stuck in a situation where you have a bunch of save states that don't work anymore since permissions changed with Android 10. What I would do is look in the emulator's settings, which should state somewhere the new path for save states. So then it should be a simple matter of moving your save states to this new location. My Dungeons & Dragons tutorial linked above may be able to help you with this.