That old Android phone you have lying around from when you upgraded is actually a lot more capable than you think. In fact, by connecting it to your TV and using a couple of cheap Bluetooth controllers, you can turn it into a retro gaming console with all the Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, SNES, Game Boy, and Atari games in the world at your disposal.
This is a quick and easy project with no programming or construction required. Excluding the phone, parts should cost around $50 total. What do you say? Interested?
Step 1: You’ll Need These
You’ll need a few things to get started:
- Android phone or tablet
- MHL to HDMI adapter
- Micro-USB charging cable
- HDMI cable
- At least one wireless Bluetooth controller
Your controller options for Android are wide, from Wiimotes to PS3 controllers to Xbox 360 controllers to generic Bluetooth controllers; I’ll be using GameStop’s Red Samurai V2 controllers that cost about $15 each.
Step 2: Check You Have MHL
I’ll be using an old Galaxy S3, but you can use any device that is MHL compatible. Be sure to find out if your device has a 5-pin or 11-pin setup and buy an appropriate adapter, because while both are called MHL, they are not cross-compatible. For example, the Galaxy S2 uses a 5-pin setup and the Galaxy S3 uses an 11-pin, so MHL adapters made for the S3 won’t work with the S2 and vice-versa. I bought the $13 Cable Matters adapter, which I’ve found to be very reliable.
Alternatively, if you’re one of the lucky few with an Android phone that has a micro-HDMI port, you don’t have to worry about MHL compatibility and can simply use a micro-HDMI to HDMI cable.
Step 3: Grab some ROMs
ROMs are the game files themselves: the N64 cartridges, the Dreamcast disks, etc. To play a game, you need an emulator (the console) and a ROM (the game).
Downloading ROMs you don’t own the original game for is illegal, but you can easily find them by doing a quick Google search for the game’s title and the word “ROM”. Be sure to only download .zip files, and there’s no need to unzip them — the emulator reads the zipped file just fine. If a website tries to get you to download a .exe file or .apk – don’t. Those are installables that can harm your computer or Android device.
Depending on your emulator, the process for selecting a ROM is different, but you’re best off creating a folder on your Android device that is dedicated to ROMs. Most emulators have a built-in file explorer that will allow you to navigate to this folder and select the ROM you want.
Step 4: Download An Emulator
We’ve covered how to emulate all sorts of consoles on your Android device in the past, but today we’ll look at emulating the Nintendo 64 specifically.
Since there are so many emulators out there to choose from, let’s choose one to use as an example: N64oid. This is my favorite N64 emulator and it’s available from the SlideME Market, Sourceforge, or Emuparadise.
Still, feel free to download as many different emulators from the Play Store as you want. You can also try browsing Emuparadise’s selection of emulators. Most are quite similar to N64oid in the way they are setup.
Step 5: Pair A Bluetooth Controller
Your process will vary depending on your controller, but let’s step through how to setup the Bluetooth controller from GameStop.
Once you have it all charged up via the included mini-USB cable, you’ll want to press the large center button and hold it until a blue light starts flashing. Then, turn on Bluetooth on your Android device and tell it to search for devices.
It will be named GS Controller. Pair with this, and you’re good to go. It will act as an input device, allowing you to move around the screen with the analog stick, select things with Enter and go back with Escape. This way you could even back out of one emulator and go into another without having to get up and use the touchscreen.
Step 6: Setup The Emulator
When you open up N64oid, you’ll be asked to select a ROM and shown the default local storage location. You can use the up arrow to navigate back and choose a micro-SD card if you have your ROMs saved on one. Once you’ve found the ROM and selected it, it will automatically start playing – just like you booted up your N64.
However, on-screen controls won’t do you much good if you’re trying to hook up your emulator to a TV. So press the Menu button on your device (or press Back and select the three-dot Menu button that appears in the top bar) and choose Settings.
From here, select Input settings and deselect the Virtual keypad. Now select Key mappings to manually assigns actions to every button on your controller.
Alternatively, you can install Bluez IME [No longer available] and set up the controllers through the Bluetooth gamepads section, but I found the regular key mapping to be far simpler and easier to set up.
You can then customize every button. For example, you can map the N64’s A button to the 1 button on the GameStop controller, and so on and so forth for all the buttons and the analog stick.
Once all your buttons are mapped, press the back button on your device (or Escape on the controller) until you’re back into the game, and you’re good to go. But that Android screen is tiny – let’s hook it up to a TV.
Step 7: Connect To A TV
Almost there! Next, plug in the MHL adapter to your device’s micro-USB port. Then take the HDMI cable and plug one end into the adapter and one end into the TV. The adapter also needs power, however, so this is where the micro-USB charging cable comes in. Plug that into wall outlet and the micro-USB into the adapter.
There’s no need to activate any settings or anything like that. Your phone should automatically begin mirroring it’s content to your TV. You need to be running a stock-based ROM for this to work (if you don’t know what this means, don’t worry – you are running a stock-based ROM). Anything AOSP-based will not properly output the video.
Step 8: Play!
With your emulator up and running, your device connected to your TV, and your controller connected to your device – you should be all set to play some nostalgic retro games. Check out the video for a short demo of Super Smash Bros. being played on a TV using a Galaxy S3 and the GameStop controllers.
For a little inspiration on what games to play, be sure to check out these 8 amazing retro gaming YouTube channels.
If you followed along, were you able to get everything set up and running the way you like? What is your favorite emulator or retro game?
Photo Credit: Jonas Nilsson/Flickr, Michel Ngilen/Flickr