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Just about a year ago we reported that the popular multi-platform retro gaming emulator RetroArch had been published to the Play Store. Apparently Google took exception to this, as they've done with a seemingly random assortment of game emulators - some have been viciously torn out of the Play Store, some have been left alone, and Google isn't talking about why it picks one over the other. In any case, RetroArch is back, at least for the moment.

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RetroArch is multi-platform in every sense of the word - the open-source emulator itself has versions available for Windows, OSX, Linux, jailbroken iOS, Raspberry Pi, and even game consoles from the original Xbox to the Nintendo Wii. It also supports multiple types of game ROMs, including the NES, SNES, Game Boy, GBC, GBA, Master System, Genesis, Sega CD, Game Gear, Virtual Boy, PC Engine, Neo Geo Pocket Color, Wonderswan, and the original PlayStation. This is one of the most versatile emulators available on any platform, though you might get better results from a program designed to emulate a single system.

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It looks like the new version doesn't have much in the way of expanded features (not that something this complex really needs them), but developer Libretro has implemented a few changes that will hopefully keep the app from being pulled. First, users now have the option to only enable processor cores that use GPL standards, achieved via a pop-up on first run. You can get access to this choice again by wiping the app's data. Second, the logo and Play Store screenshots have been altered to remove any possibility of copyright infringement.

Google didn't tell Libretro why the app was pulled before, so there's no way to know if the emulator will be sticking around. You can download it for free on Android devices running 2.3 or higher. RetroArch is free with no ads or in-app purchases, but you'll need to supply your own game files. RetroArch is also available as a sideload APK on the developer's website.

Michael Crider
Michael is a native Texan and a former graphic designer. He's been covering technology in general and Android in particular since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

  • Robert Alex Kibler

    Fantastic emulator. It's so ugly though.

    • Matthew Fry

      Well, in all honesty, I've never seen a beautiful emulator but keep in mind that 99% of the time, you will not be looking at the interface, you'll be playing a game.

  • Erstam

    Awesome! Hopefully one day you can load roms from network/cloud.

  • mlj11

    Why did Google pull it in the first place?? I know the devs take pains to comply with GPL (and that at least one of them also regularly berates other emulator devs who charge for their apps).

    The least Google could do is to give a proper explanation to the devs whose apps they pulled. Just keeping quiet and directing them to read support forums or fill out some web-based form just fosters dissatisfaction and may push good devs away from the ecosystem.

    • Rob

      Apparently the one that berates has never actually read the GPL. It specifically allows people to charge. His berating could arguably (it's a really big stretch) be seen as a violation of the GPL, since everything there is supposed to convey with it.

      • Libretro RetroArch

        I have never been a GPL advocate. One possibility for our app having been taken down by request was because some FLOSS zealot taking issue with RetroArch (a GPLv3 app) being distributed with dynamic libraries that were licensed under a proprietary non-commercial license. They did some really selective interpretation of the GPL with the specific aim of trying to make it seem like this was a license violation. We have included a GPL waiver now which should guard us from these same zealots for a while - if they reject the waiver, all non-GPL cores get deleted.

        I won't take out the non commercial cores because I personally believe it is the right approach to take. The mobile phone scene is a really slimy and shady marketplace where selfstyled entrepreneurs cynically profit from the hard work of geeks with Don Quixote-like ideological tenets. Basically - the GPL movement is being destroyed internally because of basic human greed, and the more the zealots internalize their radicalism and try to deem everything a license violation, the less desirable they make their own license.

        it is really unfortunate what a destructive effect the mobile app stores have had on FLOSS software. The drive by even geeky Aspergers to sell their own mother for a nickel and call that a 'monetization strategy' is nothing short of disgusting. I don't mind making a living but I don't think it's too much to ask that people earn that money honestly and not by being a parasitical selfstyled 'entrepreneur' on some bullshit App Store.

        in short - this is the old school heading for a collision course with the new school - keeping the old school alive and hopefully trying to steer the course of computing down a different direction than the road towards serfdom.

        • http://mrmcpowned.com mrmcpowned

          *slow clap*

      • Sir_Brizz

        You can charge for GPL software, but you have to release your modifications which most of the people selling emulators in the Play Store do not do. Even if all you did was pull down the code and modify the build script, that still has to be made available to satisfy the GPL.

        That being said, the goal of these parasites is to make money off of others hard work, and I have no respect for them at all. It hurts users, which is clearly contrary to the spirit of the GPL, if nothing else.

  • merman1983

    Hmm, last time i tried this the performance was not there compared to other stand-alone emus. Will certainly give it another try (I just need GBA and SNES tbh)

  • Wifulated42

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  • Android Developer

    why does it need precise GPS location?

    • Andres_Suarez

      It's for AR features like the camera. No cores take advantage of the feature so far

  • Cat Astrophy

    "This is one of the most versatile emulators available on any platform, though you might get better results from a program designed to emulate a single system."

    Then why the hell would I want to use this? Who wants a dozen half-assed emulators? Is it really that hard to just swap apps to superior emulators of X platform?

    • Libretro RetroArch

      Actually, that "perception" is based more on ignorance than anything else.

      RetroArch uses the same emulator engines as from PC - they are the most accurate and they are definitely the most compatible you can find anywhere. It might require more high-end hardware than some speedhacked butchered emu port like SuperGNES (probably stuck on some ancient 2003 version of SNES9x with really crappy sound emulation) - well, the mobile phone scene is all about having the latest "faddish" high-end phone so I don't see how that can be much of an issue.

      It's just that when you are in a toxic scene where people have been indoctrinated to think "something being free" equals it "not being as good as something that costs money", you generally get this kind of undeserved perceived notion of it being inferior. To any real serious emulator person on PC it would be of course a bad joke to say that something like SuperGNES (something that makes wind sounds in FF6 sound like howling cats - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYsZuIg6yRg ) is better than bsnes - you'd get laughed out of the room.

      Anyway, for what it's worth, I'm not trying to make RetroArch solely about emulators and I'm already communicating this renewed focus in the writeups. It will start becoming more versatile - it already has a couple of game ports - that will be extended with augmented reality applications and other apps as well. It might even be possible to run XBMC as a libretro core.

      The important thing to take away is that RetroArch is NOT an emulator - it is more like an application engine with lots of addiitional advanced features not found in other "engines" of its ilk.

  • GraveUypo

    i want updates to the xbox360 version of this :(

    pretty much every xbox360 emulator is basic at best and i was hoping this would be the more polished one eventually.

  • hp420

    The play store link in the article is dead. Try this one: