My first video game console was a used purple Game Boy Color that came with a port of the original Super Mario Bros. It introduced me to my longtime enjoyment of video games. Multiple consoles later, I still try to enjoy quality gaming experiences whenever I can.
One of the coolest ways to do that is through emulators on my smartphone. If you’re running Android or jailbroken iOS, you can add special apps which play games from past consoles. Sure, the legality is questionable, but it’s awesome and your chances of getting in trouble are basically zero.
However, you have to play these games with on-screen buttons. It’s the only way to interact with the game if you’re missing an external Bluetooth gamepad. Touch-screen controls are certainly workable, but they are not ideal and provide noticeably worse performance than physical buttons.
Even though you can technically play any old video game on a phone emulator, there are a couple franchises which work much better than others with the touch-screen controls. If you’re looking for some quality games to emulate, you can’t go wrong with these titles.
Top Emulator Games for Android and iOS
Any Pokemon game will work wonderfully on a phone emulator. The entire franchise is turn-based and requires no fast reflexes, which alleviates struggling with the controls.
The Pokemon franchise has been going strong for two decades so far from its accessibility, addictive grind, and unfailing ability to hook players into catching them all.
It’s a turn-based RPG-lite, something with minimal tactical depth that allows anybody to jump in and enjoy. Pokemon games are always fun, and they work great on a touch screen.
Recommended titles: Pokemon Red, Chrystal, and Fire Red.
The Legend of Zelda (NES, SNES, GBA)
Nintendo franchises enjoy strong fanbases, but The Legend of Zelda stands on its own even among them. Gamers love Zelda for its epic quests and enjoyable puzzles.
The old 2D Zelda games for NES, SNES, and Game Boy Advance all run fine on a phone emulator. They do require some fast reflexes to fight enemies, but nothing too incredibly demanding.
I got through Link’s Awakening and most of A Link to the Past on touch screen controls just fine. You’ll struggle most with the puzzles, not the controls, and that’s fine.
The worst thing you can say about the old Zelda games is that they are damn near impossible without a walkthrough. I struggled so much with those games. Take my advice. Get one. It’s easier.
Recommended titles: A Link to the Past, The Minish Cap
Chrono Trigger (SNES)
This one’s not a franchise, just one very, very good game. Reviewers shouldn’t throw around words like “perfect” and “phenomenal” too often, but Chrono Trigger earns them.
This is hands-down the best RPG I’ve ever played. Everything works- the story, the uncompromising gameplay, the setting… it’s all here.
I prefer the SNES version to Capcom’s later Android port because it’s free and you can navigate the menus faster.
Try Chrono Trigger. It will suck you into its amazing world and show you why legions of JRPG fans love this game. Chrono Trigger is that good.
Recommended titles: Chrono Trigger, but you knew that
Fire Emblem (GBA)
Fire Emblem comes from the ingenious Intelligent Systems. They crafted a game about long-term strategy through a variety of battles.
Like any other tactical RPG, you move units around the board to complete story missions. The catch is that when a unit dies, it’s gone forever.
Permadeth adds tension to the game and makes you reconsider everything. It’s easy to sacrifice a nameless unit, but can you kill off that guy who just reunited with his son?
Fire Emblem works well on touch-screen controls because, like Pokemon, it’s entirely tactical. There are no quick decisions to be made, so struggling the controls won’t ever kill you.
Recommended titles: Fire Emblem, The Sacred Stones
Advance Wars (GBA, DS)
Advance Wars operates like the polar opposite of Fire Emblem. Made by the same studio, this franchise focuses on deep tactical combat within a single map rather than an entire campaign.
In Advance Wars, you order units around the board. However, you make them in the battle, they’re faceless, and at the end they disappear. Since they don’t have names, permadeth doesn’t really apply either.
I greatly enjoy Advance Wars for its tactical depth and endless replayability. It’s a great series if you can get into it. The series also works well with the touch screen for the same reasons as Fire Emblem.
Recommended titles: Advance Wars 2, Dual Strike
That’s about all I’ve got. If you want to get the best old-school Nintendo experience, though, you’re best off getting a 3DS and trying out Nintendo’s eShop. That way, you can support the game creators and enjoy hardware buttons.
What are some of your favorite emulator games?