If you miss the old video games of your youth, the 10 emulators listed in this article will let you relive your childhood like you’ve never imagined.
Frogger, Double Dragon, Donkey Kong, and Doom. Does it get any better than that? Just because the consoles are long gone, doesn’t mean the games have to be. All you need is a modern Android phone and a good emulator app installed, and you can be playing those old video games just like you used to.
Just try not to stay up all night gaming and show up late for work in the morning. The boss is not likely to be very understanding.
How Emulators for Android Work
When you run an emulator on your Android phone, it allows that device to run the same exact games that used to run on the game consoles you used as a kid.
In this article you’ll discover 10 great emulators for Android that’ll let you play those old games again on your phone. Just make sure that the ROMs (game files) you use with these emulators are of games that you’ve actually purchased and already own — downloading ROMs for games you don’t own is piracy. Keep that in mind.
Don’t think running an emulator is complicated. It isn’t. Each emulator either looks at a specific folder on your phone for the game ROMs to load, or it’ll let you choose the path.
I use an FTP app on my phone so that I can transfer files directly to my Android device wirelessly, and I’ve placed ROMs of the games I’ve owned since childhood into a “Games” directory on my phone (see above).
But there are emulators that don’t let you specify the folder, so sometimes you’ll need to place the ROMs there instead. The folders are usually created when you install the emulator app.
1. Arcade Games (No Specific Console)
One of the easiest ways to start out playing retro games on your Android device is installing an emulator that comes with pre-installed games. Arcade Games is one of those.
In this emulator you’ll find old arcade games like Double Dragon, Alien, Blade Master, and Altered Beast all pre-loaded. You’ll also find a very big library of additional games for Playstation, Nintendo, NES, and other platforms that you can download and play.
The first game I had to try with this emulator was Double Dragon — a game I haven’t played in at least two decades.
You know what? It was every bit as awesome as I remembered.
I thought it would be difficult to control using touch-screen controls, but the emulated joystick actually worked surprisingly well. This fact held true for every other emulator included in this article as well.
Download: Arcade Games (Free)
2. 2P NES Emulator (NES)
One thing that makes 2P NES Emulator unique is that it allows you to play old NES games in two player mode over WiFi. That makes it one of the best free emulators for Android if you’re looking for multiplayer. This emulator runs NES ROMs that you store on your Android device.
How many years has it been since you’ve played the earliest Mario Brothers games?
The controls in this emulator are very responsive, and playing the game is just as fun as it was when the game first came out.
It does take a little adapting to get used to using the touch-screen buttons for jumping, but it doesn’t take very long. And once you get used to it, it’s a LOT of fun. Get ready to get addicted just like you did when you were younger.
Download: 2P NES Emulator (Free)
3. NDS Boy! (Nintendo DS)
Were you a Nintendo DS addict? Well now it’s time to fuel that addiction by installing the NDS Boy! emulator on your Android.
This emulator supports NDS ROM files, and also imports compressed formats as well like ZIP, RAR, and 7Z. The emulator is fast and runs smoothly.
If you have any issues running any of the games initially, just make sure to explore the settings and adjust the execution engine and increase the JIT block size as needed.
This emulator is one of the more popular emulators for Android on Google Play, with over 96,000 ratings to date. It’s updated frequently and ran smoothly during testing with a WWII NDS game, running on a Google Pixel.
Download: NDS Boy! (Free)
4. MegaN64 (N64)
Donkey Kong 64 — the Nintendo 64 take on the famous Atari game — was actually one of the reasons I spent so much time in my friend’s college dorm room instead of my own. He had a Nintendo 64 and this game.
MegaN64 is a highly rated emulator for gamers who loved Nintendo 64 games. It’s a very fast emulator, just as advertised.
MegaN64 is a variation of the Open Source Mupen64+ emulator. This new version included performance and user interface enhancements.
The controls are well placed at the lower corners of the screens so you can play the game with your thumbs just like you did with the Nintendo64 game controller back in the day.
For this reason, I’d recommend sticking to using this emulator on phones that aren’t so big that holding it like a Nintendo64 controller would be awkward. Playing Nintendo64 games on a regular sized smartphone, like the Google Pixel, is an absolute blast.
Download: MegaN64 (Free)
5. Mupen64Plus FZ (N64)
Speaking of Mupen64Plus for Nintendo64, it’s actually an excellent emulator on its own.
Personally, I like the library system where you can view icons of all of the games in your emulator path on your phone.
But beyond that, I didn’t actually notice any significant differences between this and the MegaN64 emulator as far as performance goes. There were some subtle user interface differences, but I’m not sure they make the MegaN64 better, just different.
And if user ratings and reviews on Google Play are any indication, Mupen4Plus is just as well-loved by users as just about any other game console emulator for Android out there.
Download: Mupen64Plus FZ (Free)
6. ClassicBoy (PS1, N64, Game Boy)
For fans of the old Game Boy and Game Boy Advancd (GBA), I highly recommend installing the ClassicBoy emulator.
It’s highly customizable so that you can adjust Advanced emulator settings so that it works well with your phone. You can also customize the user interface (like gesture mapping and sensor sensitivity settings) so that the emulator gameplay feels comfortable to you.
I tested this emulator using Dragon Ball, and found the animation (in the annoyingly long intro sequence) to run smoothly and without any issues at all.
Gameplay itself was also good, thanks to the well placed controls at the very corners of the screen.
The control placement, the retro graphics, and the original sounds coming out of the smartphone speakers definitely brought up some feelings of nostalgia.
Download: ClassicBoy (Free)
7. RetroArch (GBA, NES, Sega, PS, and More)
If you’re only going to install one emulator on your Android device, or if you used to be an avid gamer across many different consoles, then RetroArch is the emulator you need to have.
The beauty of it is that you only install what you need — the emulator lets you upload “core” updates for whatever console or gaming engine you’d like to emulate.
This includes anything from Atari and Commodore 64, to any model of Game Boy, PlayStation, or Nintendo. There’s also the option to join network game sessions.
To really put this emulator to the test, I decided to test it using the first game that made me fall in love with first person shooters many years ago: the original Doom.
This was probably a mistake. I’m not ashamed to admit that I wasted a few hours while trying to work on this article playing this game using the RetroArch emulator.
If you grew up playing Doom and other FPS games using a keyboard rather than a console controller, this will take some getting used to — but it doesn’t take too long. You can even still do advanced maneuvers like strafing (sliding or leaning sideways around corners) by using the R and L buttons on the right and left sides of the screen.
On the computer, this was actually a two-finger action. Well, three if you’re also trying to shoot a charging monster at the same time.
This emulator is my top choice on this list, not so much because of the user interface (although it is well laid out and comfortable), but mostly because of the flexibility to play games across so many consoles with just your Android phone. It’s a beautiful thing.
Download: RetroArch (Free)
8. PPSSPP (PSP)
The PlayStation Portable (PSP) was an incredibly popular portable gaming system when it first came out in 2004. And the influx of games for it after it was unveiled left PSP gamers with hours of gameplay without the need to be tied down to a TV console.
The PPSSPP emulator will take you back to 2004. Settings and loading ROMs up are easy to manage from the simple ettings menu. The ROM navigation window is a little bit unwieldy at first, but once you get used to it, you shouldn’t have a problem finding your ROM files.
I tested this emulator with a game that I thought would push its limits the hardest: God Of War.
Playing this game on my Google Pixel was a bit surreal. The game actually responds to the degree you move the joystick just like it would have with the original PSP. This lets you run or walk in any direction and at any speed — meaning the fact that it’s an emulator won’t limit you from playing in much the same way you did with the original PSP.
I never owned a PSP personally, but played a friend’s a few times. I remember thinking how easy it was to get used to the controls on that device, and I felt the same way while testing this emulator as well.
If you’re a PSP fan, this is definitely the emulator you’re going to want installed on your Android.
Download: PPSSPP (Free)
9. GENPlusDroid (Sega Genesis)
If you’re old enough, you might remember playing the Sega Genesis console. It was a console that played a part in the “console wars” of the late 80s and early 90s between Sega and Nintendo.
This led to a huge library of awesome games for both competing consoles. Game makers produced a lot of games for Sega, and for at least a few years, gamers playing on Sega Genesis consoles were in heaven. You can relive those years when you install the Sega Genesis emulator GENPlusDroid on your phone.
There is no way I could install a Sega Genesis emulator on my Android phone without playing Sonic. I’ve owned the entire series since I was just a kid.
And it was just like I remembered.
I’m not sure if the delayed reflexes were because of the decade since I’ve played the game, or a slightly slow-to-respond interface, but I did find it a little difficult to react as fast as a game like Sonic needs with a touch-screen emulator.
With that said, after 15 to 20 minutes of practice, I was able to improve enough to avoid most obstacles and make it at least halfway through the first board.
I suspect I’ll be keeping this emulator installed on my phone for quite some time.
Download: GENPlusDroid (Free)
10. Activision Publishing Games
Emulators aren’t for everyone, and it’s fine. Some people feel like running an emulator will be too complicated (it’s not), or difficult to configure (it isn’t).
But if that describes you, that’s fine. In Google Play, you’ll also find individual retro games released by the original publishers, and ready for you to play for free. One such publisher is the famous (at least amongst 1980s and 1990s gamers) Activision Publishing.
One of the most well known Activision games from back in the day is Pitfall.
I “tested” this one out to see how close it was to the original that I played so many years ago. Let’s just say, I was late turning in this article thanks to my “testing” of Pitfall.
In the Play Store, you’ll also find other Activision games like Call of Duty Heroes, Skylanders, Ghostbusters, and an “Activision Anthology”. All of these are free and offer hundreds of hours of nostaglic gameplay.
Download: Activision Publishing Games (Free)
Retro Games on Your Android Device
If you think emulators for Android are only for avid gamers, think again. These emulators are super easy to install and set up. You can easily set up emulators on an iPhone as well.
Just imagine, on your next lunch break, you could be sitting back and playing a few rounds of Mortal Kombat or God of War. That’s a whole lot more fun than listening to Fred, from accounting, explaining last quarter’s financial results — isn’t it?
Do you have a favorite emulator you already use? Have you used any of the ones listed in this article? Share your own feedback and advice in the comments area below!