We've already written about some of the best video game emulators for Android, but DOS emulation is a bit more complicated than copying ROMs and pressing play. Taking your favorite old PC games on the go can involve anything from setting up virtual drives to running command-line programs.
That's why we've decided to create this tutorial, which guides you through picking an emulator and how to install your favorite games on both Android devices and Chromebooks. We'll also give you some tips for how to get the best experience.
This story was originally published and last updated .
Emulating games isn't exactly a new thing, but emulating on your smartphone has caused the hobby to enter something of a renaissance in recent years. With many of us sitting around at home (and not wanting to break the bank on Hot New Games), there's never been a better time to crack into the mountain of classic (or not-so-classic) games available online. Getting started with emulating video game consoles on Android can be a bit dizzying, so we're going to break down the tools and resources you'll need to get up and running, be it with some old school Mario or a relaxing afternoon of Pokémon in the backyard.
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).
There's a huge emulator community on Android, helped in no small part by the fact that modern smartphones can handle older game console software without breaking a sweat. But 3D consoles and newer portable machines are harder to emulate - they require more power and more complex software to get bigger, more demanding games to run well. The PPSSPP emulator (for PlayStation Portable games) has been in development for a variety of platforms for several years, but now the 1.0 release is available for Android via an easy Play Store download.
PPSSPP has just about all of the standard emulator bases covered.