[Update] The best Android emulators for PlayStation, SNES, Game Boy, Mega Drive, and more
Pocket Gamer's complete guide to Android emulation (Updated with fixed links)
Your Android possesses the power to play almost every major video game from the last three or four decades. If you find the right emulator and source a cheeky ROM file, your phone can morph - Transformers-style - into a Game Boy or an NES or a TurboGrafx-16.
To help you get the most out of your blower, we've put together this guide to finding the very best emulator for every games console and classic computer, from the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo DS and from the ZX Spectrum to the Commodore 64.
Download the app, find a ROM, and relive some happy memories.
This guide is an ever-evolving critter, and we will add emulators for arcade systems (like Neo Geo and MAME) and other devices in the future. We'll also keep our ears to the ground in case someone decides Android really needs a Virtual Boy emulator.
Note: Pocket Gamer does not condone piracy, and offers this information for entertainment purposes only. Pocket Gamer also takes no responsibility if you follow this guide and manage to bugger up your phone or tablet in the process.Nintendo
Emulators for every Nintendo console and handheld, up to the 3DS and GameCube. Sadly, there's no emulator yet on Android for the red headache-inducing Virtual Boy. However will we cope?NES - Nesoid (free)
To play 8-bit classics from Nintendo's first console, the free and feature-heavy Nesoid will do you well. The 1984 console is no strain on the Android, so practically any phone will run these antique games without effort.
This emulator has save states, fast forward, cheats, and even the ability to play multiplayer over wi-fi or Bluetooth. As for controls, it has virtual buttons and support for hardware controls or Bluetooth devices.
The app even packs support for the most obscure bits of NES history, including Famicom disc system support, and Zapper emulation for shooters like Duck Hunt.
Must-play games: Super Mario Bros, Mega Man 2, Final Fantasy.SNES - Snesoid (free)
Nintendo's super console follow-up works best with Snesoid. It has great performance (it ran any game we threw at it on Xperia Play), and has options to restrict graphics and sound if your phone isn't fast enough.
It sports cheats, wireless multiplayer, fast forward, completely customisable controls, and even emulation of Nintendo's bazooka-esque Super Scope.
Must-play games: Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Castlevania.N64 - N64oid ($4.99)
The N64 was Nintendo's first foray into 3D, but most modern Androids should have the necessary grunt to emulate it smoothly. We found Super Mario 64 ran on the Xperia Play without a hitch.
It doesn't have as many features as the other "oid" emulators - just customisable controls and Bluetooth. Also, performance and support will vary on a game-by-game basis.
Must-play games: Super Mario 64, Blast Corps, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.Game Boy and Game Boy Color - GBCoid (free)
This handheld emulator covers both the Game Boy and Game Boy Color. It has cheats, fast forward, save states, and customisation. As you would expect with a 20-year-old portable, Android has no trouble replicating it.
Must-play games: Pokemon Blue, Super Mario Land 2, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening.Game Boy Advance - GBAoid (free)
Now you're playing with power - 32 bits of it, to be precise. And GBAoid (also called GameBoid) handles these handheld games without breaking a sweat.
It has all the important options: cheats, completely customisable controls, save states, and fast forward. You will, however, need to source your own BIOS file. Find out more in our dedicated tutorial.
Must-play games: Wario Ware: Mega Microgames, Final Fantasy Tactics, Mega Man Zero.Nintendo DS - nds4droid (free)
Don't get too excited. This emulator is still very much a work in progress, and simply a proof of concept for what might be possible one day. It ran at a pathetically slow framerate on our Xperia Play, with no sound or touchscreen emulation.
If you fancy trying it, make sure you've got a particularly fast phone with the processing horsepower to emulate the console we recently crowned the best handheld of all time.Sega
Everything up to the Dreamcast has been emulated on Android, including clunky six-battery "portable" the Game Gear. Sadly, there's are no Android emulator for the 32X. If you wanted to play Knuckles Chaotix on the go, you're out of luck, my friend.Master System - Gearoid (free)
Gearoid emulates both the Master System and Game Gear in the same app, and accepts ROMs from either console. It also has a fancy Sonic The Hedgehog icon for your app library.
As you've come to expect from the "oid" emulator clan, it has save states, fast forward to zip through boring bits, and intense virtual and physical controller customisation.
Must-play games: Phantasy Star, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, Fantasy Zone.Game Gear - Gearoid (free)
The Game Gear shares an emulator with the Master System. See above for more details.
Must-play games: Columns, Sonic Chaos, Shining Force: Sword of Hayja.Mega Drive / Genesis - Gensoid (free)
Sega does what Nintendon't. Or so the '90s advertising campaign would have us believe. But, in the world of Android emulation, the two consoles are almost exact equals.
Like Snesoid, this Mega Drive emulator has cheats, save states, fast forward, wireless multiplayer, and the ability to tweak the controls to your heart's desire.
Must-play games: Sonic The Hedgehog 3, Gunstar Heroes, Streets of Rage 2.
Sega CD - MD.emu (£3.49)
MD.emu has always been a competent rival to the free Gensoid. It's got high performance and compatibility with most games, and it has support for on-screen controls, physical buttons and all manner of Bluetooth devices (including the Nintendo Wii remote).
But in the latest update, which was released in April 2012, it finally justified that price tag. The app now emulates Sega CD games (in ISO or BIN file format). It's still in beta - so CUE files and CDDA are not yet supported - but it runs a lot of CD games. Even Virtua Racing (thanks to SVP chip support).
Must-play games: Sonic CD, Virtua Racing, Batman ReturnsSaturn - Yabause (free)
Like the Nintendo DS emulator above, this Saturn app is still a work in progress. Sega's penultimate system is notoriously difficult to emulate, so don't expect silky smooth performance any time soon.
Or simple installation, for that matter. This app requires a huge setup process with extra downloads and tweaks. Sorry, guys, we didn't bother to make that tremendous effort. No one needs to play NiGHTS into Dreams THAT much.Atari
Only one Atari console has had an Android emulator developed for it: the iconic wood-trim 2600. The 5200 and 7800 haven't felt the emulation love yet, and there aren't any emulators available for the Jaguar and Lynx, either. Boooo.Atari 2600 - Ataroid (free)
It's nice when an emulator goes the extra mile to recreate the original console experience. On that note, Ataroid lets you map the 2600's iconic switches to buttons or keys on your phone.
Otherwise, this is a standard emulator. It has lots of audio and video tweaks, customisable controls, (including Xperia Play and Bluetooth devices), and save states.
Must-play games: Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Pitfall.Other consoles
There are a few heavy hitters here, including the Neo Geo Pocket Color and the trusty PSone. If you were hoping to play 3DO or Philips CD-I games on the go, then (a) what is wrong with you?, and (b) sorry, no dice.WonderSwan - WonderDroid (free)
We couldn't get WonderDroid - an emulator for Bandai's Japan-only handheld - to work. Which is a shame, because we wanted to try Rockman & Forte: Mirai Kara no Chousensha.
It completely crashed our Xperia Play, causing the phone to cruelly kill the app. Your mileage may vary, though: the app's free, so no harm in trying.TurboGrafx-16 or PC Engine - PCE.emu (£2.99)
We all have fond memories of the TurboGrafx-16, right? Good old Bonk and Keith Courage and other, erm, memorable characters.
If you have a soft spot for this console, PCE.emu should do you right. We haven't tested it, but its Google Play blurb states save states, customisable controls (including Bluetooth devices and Xperia Play), and support for both .pce and .sgx ROM files are present. And possibly correct.
Must-play games: Bonk's Adventure, Devil's Crush, Galaga '90.Neo Geo Pocket Color - NGP.emu (£3.49)
SNK's clicky-stick handheld didn't do well at retail, and calling its software library "slim" would be the understatement of the year. But, it did carry some truly great fighters and cut-down arcade games in its short life.
NGP.emu (untested) has save states, support for Bluetooth controllers and hardware buttons, and PSG sound support. Sadly, it doesn't replicate the NGPC's built-in horoscope reader.
Must-play games: Metal Slug: First Mission, Sonic Pocket Adventure, Capcom vs SNK: Card Fighters Clash.PSone - FPse for Android (£2.52)
The PSone may be a good 17 years old, but it's still a 3D system. Just don't expect every game to work perfectly - especially on older Androids. If you've got a modern 'droid phone, though, read on.
FPse requires a little setup, but the extra effort gives you lots of options for customisation, force feedback, analog sticks, and even Guncon emulation. It supports the Xperia Play and Bluetooth devices, too.
The app supports .img, .iso, .bin, .cue, .nrg , .mdf, and .Z disc image formats.
Psx4droid is supposed to be a good alternative, but it seems like it has been abandoned. Unfortunately, we couldn't find a reputable place to download it.
Must-play games: Final Fantasy VII, WipEout 3, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2.Computers
Want to play games from classic computers like the ZX Spectrum or the Amiga 500 on your Android? Search through Google Play and you'll find various apps that emulate retro operating systems and game engines.DOS - aDosBox (free)
DosBox is the go-to emulator for playing antique PC games from the days before Windows. Luckily for us, it's available on Android in a number of different incarnations.
Freebie app aDosBox works fine. It has a huge number of options for changing the controls, so you can pull up an on-screen keyboard, use the buttons and keys on your device, or hook up a Bluetooth keyboard.
You can also emulate a mouse on the touchscreen, and map hotkeys to the different buttons on your device.
DosBox isn't as simple as most emulators. Instead of being supplied with a list of games, you'll be provided with the Dos terminal. Furthermore, you will have to navigate to the right drive and directory with keyboard commands. Luckily, you can find a good tutorial right here.Atari ST - SToid (£1.44)
Like every other emulator in the 'oid' pantheon, SToid is easy to use, filled with options, and compatible with just about any game you'd want to play.
It has save states, and support for ROMs in the .st, .msa, and .stt formats. You can customise the controls to your heart's content, and it even works with Hacker's Keyboard - a mod for the Android's on-screen keyboard with number keys and the like - for the complete ST experience.MSX - MSX.Emu (£5.49)
The MSX was a family of computers made by ASCII and Microsoft that was supposed to establish a single standard in PCs. It didn't really take off globally, but it was a big hit in Japan and was the first home to many games: including the Metal Gear series.
This pricey emulator is compatible with lots of different types of ROM, including .rom, .mx1, .mx2, and .col file types. Plus, it will load floppy disk images.
It has save state support, controller customisation (touchscreen, Xperia Play, and all manner of Bluetooth devices), and even multiplayer support on the same device.
If the price tag is a little much, there's a free alternative. fMSX doesn't have quite the expansive feature set of its pricier cousin, but it's a capable emulator that will run most games.BBC Micro - Beebdroid (free)
There's an intriguing link between the BBC Micro and your Android. Both the retro computer and the ARM processor chip inside your phone were built by British computer outfit Acorn. Enjoy, fact fans.
To celebrate the link, why not emulate the old computer on your brand-new phone?
Freebie emulator Beebdroid is your best bet. It's got great compatibility with a range of games, and if you've got an up-to-date device, you'll often get perfect 50 frames per second performance.Amiga 500 - UAE4Droid (free)
First off, this Amiga emulator has save states. Second off, you can use the touchscreen or one of those little trackball doohickeys as a mouse. It's a pretty barebones emulator, but if you've got an Amiga ROM file (you'll have to source your own) and a powerful phone, it's capable.
Here's a handy tutorial for downloading and configuring the emulator. You'll be playing Turrican in no time.
Don't waste your cash on the £1.99 AnUAE4All. It's unstable, the interface isn't that hot, and the free UAE4Droid is a better port of the open source Amiga emulator.Amstrad CPC - CPCDroid (free)
CPCDroid is an emulator for Alan "You're Fired" Sugar's '80s computer. It's based on the desktop PSPCAP32 emulator, but has been thoroughly optimised to work on your mobile.
To that end, you can map anything on the keyboard or joystick to virtual buttons on the touchscreen. Plus, you can tweak the rendering mode for better performance on older phones.
You can get a guide to downloading and installing the emulator over here.Scumm Engine - ScummVM (free)
Scumm is the scripting engine that LucasArts used for its string of classic point-and-click adventures, like Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle.
Scumm VM is a long-running emulator of that engine, which has ballooned to support hundreds of other adventure games, and to work on just about every console and device under the sun.
Android is no different, and you can grab a mobile-optimised version for your phone on the Google Play Store. It has almost identical compatibility with the desktop version, and you can tweak the touchscreen settings to your liking.
If you still own one of the supported games, you can import them into the emulator. To do that, just head to this page here to find out which data files you need to extract from the CD or floppy disc, and then put them in your ROM folder.
For extra help using Scumm VM, there's a full quick-start guide for the Android version here.Apple II - cAndy Apple (free)
It feels a little naughty emulating an Apple system on an Android. But, seeing as the iPhone is closed off to emulators of any kind, Google's smartphone platform will have to do.
This free emulator works with physical keyboards, but if your phone doesn't have one, just draw an 'S' gesture on the main screen to pull up a customisable virtual keyboard. It's a faithful Apple II emulator, and it runs smoothly on most phones.Commodore 64 - Frodo C64 (free)
Frodo is the best C64 emulator on Google Play. It's compatible with any game you'd want to play, it sports a good interface, and it runs classic games at a good clip.
It works with touchscreen controls; physical buttons and keyboards; and Bluetooth devices.ZX Spectrum - Marvin (free)
If you've got a modern Android phone, Marvin promises to run 48 and 128k Spectrum games at a full 50 frames per second, with accurate timing and high-quality sound. It supports .z80 and .sna snapshots, and .tap, .tzx, and .zip tape files.
As for controls, you can use (highly customisable) touchscreen buttons, or map the joystick to hardware keys. And as a nice bonus, the virtual keyboard has the Spectrum's iconic rainbow band across it.
Even better, you can access World of Spectrum's comprehensive archive of ROMs from the emulator, and download games straight from the app itself. We were playing Monty on the Run in no time.