This story was originally published and last updated .
Right now, it's not an easy time to be a gamer looking to play the latest and greatest titles. Between all the headaches you'd face trying to get your hands on a PS5, or afford a 3080 for your new PC rig without taking out a second mortgage, it's enough to make you want to give up on the whole mess. But if you've got even a moderately powerful smartphone, and are willing to invest a little time, there's a whole world of classic gaming waiting to be tapped into (on the cheap, no less) through the power of emulation.
Did you know your Android device can play old school Gameboy games? It's one of the reasons why Android is such a unique platform. Installing emulator apps that make Pokemon Blue accessible 24/7 from your front pocket is super cool. Now a new emulator has popped up online that purports to unlock Nintendo Switch gaming capabilities on Android devices — but it pays to look before you leap.
This story was originally published and last updated .
You already probably know about video game console emulators for Android, but what if you want to play classic PC titles originally meant for DOS, like Sim City, or DOOM? Well, it's not quite as simple: taking your favorite old PC games on the go can involve anything from setting up virtual drives to running command-line programs.
While it's not the most complex process in the world, you definitely could be forgiven for not knowing where to start, which is why we decided to create this guide. Emulating DOS on Android and Chomebooks (with Play Store support) is totally doable, and you can be up and running in just a few minutes.
Emulation is key to preserving the history of video games and making them more accessible, so it's always exciting to see emulators make their way to Android. Citra, an emulator for the Nintendo 3DS, has been available on desktop platforms for years, and now the Citra team has finally released an official Android port.
Running Android on your PC can be a surprisingly shady experience with emulators that spam you with ads or try to hide Bitcoin miners on your system. When in doubt, there's always the open source Android-x86 Project. It just so happens that Android-x86 just released a build of Android Oreo.
The Dolphin emulator is an impressive feat of software engineering. Starting as a GameCube emulator, it later added compatibility for Wii games, due to the similar architecture. Over the years, Dolphin has gradually improved game compatibility; they recently reported that every single retail GameCube game boots. Even accessories like the Wii Remote and Wii Balance Board work perfectly, and experimental Android builds of Dolphin have been in development for years.
Dolphin on Android still isn't as usable as other console emulators, but the fault mostly lies with current Android hardware. Even the Nvidia Shield console, one of the most powerful Android devices on the market, can't run games at full speed.
The Android Studio team has been kicking out preview builds at a fevered pace since the first 2.0 preview hit the scene near the end of November, and it's finally paying off as the first real Beta is now rolling out. (The first beta has an issue, so this is actually labeled Beta 2). The jump from v1.5 to v2.0 is enough to suggest that this could be the most ambitious update to the IDE since it was launched, but the feature list confirms it. We've already covered some of the biggest features: instant run, GPU profiling, and a massively faster and more functional emulator.
Microsoft surprised Android developers last year with the launch of a brand new emulator designed for performance and features that aren't available anywhere else. While the initial Preview release only included an image for KitKat, subsequent updates introduced an expanded set of emulator images and some valuable new features. While a high-speed emulator is certainly compelling, many developers still didn't adopt it because it had to be downloaded and installed alongside a very large Visual Studio package, not to mention it was also frustrating to set up for use with other IDEs. Last week, Microsoft unburdened the emulator and released it as a standalone download along with step-by-step instructions to set it up to easily run with Android Studio and Eclipse with ADT.
Today's Android devices are powerful enough to run circles around most game consoles of yesteryear, but that doesn't mean emulating old hardware is easy. 2D games, sure, walk in the park—but replicating the original PlayStation is a different thing entirely. Nevertheless, that hasn't stopped an Android developer from trying to tackle the even more powerful PlayStation 2.
Play!, as the emulator is called, also supports Windows, Mac OS X, and iOS. Here's a video of an Android tablet running Final Fantasy X. Though they aren't demonstrated, we can see that the tester also has Capcom Vs SNK 2, Dragon Quest VIII, Dynasty Warriors 2, Gradius V, Kingdom Hearts, and Space Harrier saved to the device.
In his review of the original SHIELD a year and a half ago, Jeremiah Rice noted that NVIDIA's gaming gadget was amazingly well-suited to game emulators. Combined with a robust emulation scene on Android, especially for older game consoles, it's possible to play a ton of great games on the SHIELD without ever stopping by the Play Store. This morning NVIDIA issued a software update specifically to improve performance for game emulator apps.
Update 101 is tiny, just over 3 megabytes, and in fact NVIDIA's release notes say that the OTA is "optional" (something you don't often hear from manufacturers). Even if you're not an emulation fan yourself, the nature of Android upgrades means it's probably easier to download and apply it than to ignore it (and the SHIELD's unlocked bootloader means that root users aren't inconvenienced).