There are a whole lot of emulators out there, and it's sometimes hard to know which one is the best. There are Android apps for emulating the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo (SNES), Nintendo 64 (N64), Game Boy Color (GBC), Game Boy Advance (GBA), Nintendo DS (DS), Sega Genesis, and PlayStation 1 (PS1).
How to Play Classic Games on Your Android Device Using Emulators
For me, one of the absolute coolest parts about Android was finding out about the Market freedom. Google lets darn near anything onto the Android Market, as opposed to a certain other “villainous” company known for its tight-fisted control over apps. I won’t name any names, but their name rhymes with Apple.
Anyway, it really surprised me when I realized that Google just let anything onto the Market. There are some Android apps you can download that would never ever be allowed to see the light of day on iOS.
Probably the biggest surprise that would have never been allowed on iOS is the inclusion of emulators. An emulator is a program that mimics the function of another machine using software. For example, you can download an emulator that mimics an original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) for Android. It’s like putting a NES inside your phone.
I’m a huge video game nerd, so that blew my mind. With an emulator, you can replay some of the classic titles from gaming’s past, right there on your Android device. How cool is that?
Step One: What to Download…
There are a whole lot of emulators out there, and it’s sometimes hard to know which one is the best. There are Android apps for emulating the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo (SNES), Nintendo 64 (N64), Game Boy Color (GBC), Game Boy Advance (GBA), Nintendo DS (DS), Sega Genesis, and PlayStation 1 (PS1). Those consoles collectively represent an almost twenty years of gaming history and span hundreds of titles. How is anybody supposed to know where to start?
First of all, consider your phone. If you have an older Android device or one that doesn’t have as much processing power, you might want to stay on the low end of emulators. NES, Game Boy Color and Advance emulators will probably be your best bet.
Those are pretty minimal programs that don’t require much (if any) power. They’re also good choices if you want to save battery, as some of the bigger apps will require a lot of power.
For those of you with a fast phone that’s rooted and overclocked, I encourage you to go big and download a serious emulator. The SNES, N64, PS1, Genesis, and DS apps all require a lot of processing power, and even then they’ll make your phone work to run them. Expect these apps to take a serious chunk out of your battery. The advantage is that you get to play more complex games.
Whatever you pick, the next problem is finding a good emulator app on the Market. Finding a good one is linked to a certain other question, “Are emulators legal?” The short answer is yes, under certain conditions.
Since emulators mimic consoles that are no longer readily available (when was the last time you saw a NES in GameStop?), they are considered legal to download. Companies like Nintendo and Sony have tried to stop emulators, but the law is clear that older consoles which aren’t commonly used may be emulated.
What is illegal is downloading ROMs. A ROM file is a copy of a game that you play on the emulator. So for example, if I wanted to play the original Super Mario Bros. on my NES emulator, I would have to download a ROM of that Mario game.
Despite what you may hear, downloading ROMs from the internet is in no way legal. However, you could make an argument that because these games were made in the 1980s and are no longer commonly sold, they should be legal for the same reason that emulators are legal.
Regardless, I wouldn’t consider downloading ROMs a huge deal. These are old games that aren’t really on the market anymore, so you’re not undercutting anybody’s profits. It is piracy, but a rather benign form. You can find ROMs by searching on Google.
Step Two: Picking the Right Emulator
Because the legality around emulators is such a confusing area, they do not last long on the Android Market. I downloaded a SNES emulator a few months ago. When I looked for it again in the Market recently, it had already been banned. You’re honestly better off just downloading an emulator app from the internet.
The best ones are the “-oid” apps. Gameboid, Snesoid, and N64oid are all the best emulator apps I’ve used and they are unfortunately still banned. However, if you spend some time with Google and search for “gameboid apk”, you should be able to find and install them on your phone easily.
The “oid” emulators are excellent because they come with lots of options for customization and even support for a Wii remote. Seriously. If your phone is rooted, you can connect to a Wii remote and use it to play emulated games. This is highly recommended because it’s awesome.
Step Three: Games
I’ll be honest: don’t expect a whole lot from certain emulated games. These games were made over a decade ago, and most of them have not aged well. Some games that used to be great (Conker, GoldenEye) are not fun at all to play today. There’s a reason nobody plays them anymore.
On the other hand, there are a select few emulated games that are still really fun, years after their release. Spend some time looking at “Best Game Boy Color Games” lists and you should find a good place to start. I have found that the old Super Mario and Zelda games have aged quite well. They’re simple to understand and fun in a timeless way.
One other important factor to consider is controls. Emulators are controlled by pressing buttons on the touch screen. The controls are workable, but don’t expect to be able to play action games like Contra. You’re better off playing strategy or role-playing games as these don’t require quick reflexes.
However, if you use a Wii remote then any ROM is fair game. Wiimote controls are totally valid for action titles.
Here’s a video that shows Classic Games in action on Android. It’s a selection of the best emulators running on the Xperia Play.
In my experience, the best games for emulators are Pokemon, Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, Super Mario, and Chrono Trigger. Pokemon and Chrono Trigger are two classic RPGs that have legions of fans. Play either game and you’ll understand why.
Fire Emblem and Advance Wars are two of the best strategy games I’ve ever seen. If you like chess or Risk, you’ll love both games. Advance Wars is particularly addicting… really, I played over 200 hours of the game. It’s that good.
That’s about it for emulators. Are you planning to try one?