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Best Android Emulators in 2022


There’s never been a better time to tap into the best Android emulators. After all, smart devices are becoming more and more powerful. Lower-end legacy systems like the NES and GBA can run on just about any inexpensive Android phone, but mid-priced and high-end phones and tablets will be able to emulate everything from the PS2 to the GameCube, and even the Wii. Throw in a good Bluetooth or Android controller, and you have the makings of a Nintendo Switch Killer. Okay, maybe not, but you can still pull off some serious retro gaming magic using an Android phone. Here are the best Android emulators  on the market today.

Best Overall: RetroArch for Android
Best for GBA: Pizza Boy GBA Pro
Best For PS2: AetherSX2
Best for PSP: PPSSPP Gold
Best for 3DS: Citra Emulator

How We Picked the Best Android Emulators

Considering how easy it is to program for Android, emulators have been a mainstay of the mobile platform since its inception more than a decade ago. Emulators for Atari, NES, and Sega Master System require little in the way of specs. There are likely some calculators that can run them. Emulating your favorite consoles on an Android device is one of the best places to do so, considering the portability of phones and tablets. Here are some of the things we considered when choosing the best Android Emulators. 

Emulation: When emulating any console, you want to replicate the experience of gaming on the real thing as close as possible. This is easy with older systems, but once you get higher than 64 bits, things can get tricky, though not altogether impossible. The emulation doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be good enough to actually want to play.

Speed: Have you ever played a Nintendo Wii game in 4K? It’s not something you can even do on an actual Wii, which is what makes emulation so fun. Higher-end Android phones are packed with powerful processors that let you overclock everything from speed to resolution. The best Android emulators won’t slow down, even when you max out your settings. Granted, this is mostly dependent on the device you’re using, but good emulators offer much in the way of settings to play with.

Stability: Even the best emulators on PC and Mac will occasionally crash. This isn’t to say Android emulators aren’t worth playing. Even Steam is known for taking the occasional spill. Crashes should be few and far between. Ideally, the emulator will also save your spot in a game so you don’t lose progress if an emulator decides to crap out on you.

Control: Many emulators on Android will provide on-screen touch buttons to play games. This control style may work with some styles of games, but can be absolutely hellish with others. The best Android emulators play well with controllers that connect to your device via Bluetooth, or better yet, through a device’s USB-C port.

Best Android Emulators: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: RetroArch for Android

Jaime Carrillo/Futurism

Why it Made The Cut: RetroArch doesn’t simply emulate one system, it emulates all of them.

Specs: 

Released: January 14, 2014
OS Compatibility: Android 5.0 and up
Latest Version: 1.9.12
Price: Free
Google Play Store Rating: 4.0/5

Pros:

— All-in-one emulation destination
— Cross-platform play
— No ads, no admission price

Cons:

— Cluttered UI

Why emulate one system when you can emulate them all? RetroArch is a fantastic PC app, and much of the stability and reliability can also be found in its Android iteration. 

For the uninitiated, RetroArch consolidates countless emulators across popular systems in one place via cores that you can download via the app itself. This is both one of RetroArch’s strengths as well as one of its weaknesses, considering how many different emulators there are out there. RetroArch compiles them all, from the perfect to the lackluster. Navigating the UI with all this extra clutter isn’t great, but luckily, you won’t be doing much navigating after setting up an emulator for a system for the first time. RetroArch remembers your preferences and settings, even after you exit the app. Not only does RetroArch consolidate all your emulators in one place, but it even has some surprises like cross-platform play. Play with other RetroArch users via WiFi and enjoy some of the same multiplayer experiences from the good old days. All this stability comes free, without an ad in sight.

Best for GBA: Pizza Boy GBA Pro

Google Play

Why it Made The Cut: Pizza Boy GBA Pro isn’t simply a fantastic GBA emulator, it’s a labor of love and constantly updated. 

Specs:

Released: September 29, 2019
OS Compatibility: Android 5.0 and up
Latest Update: June 20, 2022, Version 1.37.4
Price: $4.99
Google Play Store Rating: 4.9/5

Pros:

— Gorgeous and customizable UI
— Gyroscope and tilt-sensor support
— Local and Wi-Fi multiplayer

Cons:

— Paid app

Pizza may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Game Boy Advance, but after a few afternoon gaming sessions with this app, it will be.

Pizza Boy GBA Pro isn’t simply another GBA emulator on Android, it’s a labor of love. Its developer not only takes constant feedback via the Google Play store but works this criticism into firmware updates. Let’s see if Nintendo or Sony do quality control half as good. For Android emulator interfaces, they don’t get more gorgeous than Pizza Boy GBA Pro. You can even customize the interface with different colors, button layouts, and even shaders. Unlike lesser GBA emulators, it offers full integration for gyroscopes and tilt sensors, so you can play games that take advantage of those capabilities like “Drill Dozer” and “Wario Ware: Twisted.” Considering the prevalence of Pokemon Rom Hacks, rest assured that local and WiFi multiplayer is fully supported. While it does cost $4.99 to tap into the app’s features, it’s well worth the price. However, if you want to tap into some of its features, there’s a free version available too. 

Best For PS2: AetherSX2

Jaime Carrillo/Futurism

Why it Made The Cut: AetherSX2 runs fast and stable, whether you’re playing US, PAL, or Japanese games. 

Specs:

Released: December 2021
OS Compatibility: Android 8.0 and up
Latest Update: June 24, 2022, Version 1.0-2233
Price: Free
Google Play Store Rating: 4.2/5

Pros:

— Great upscaling
— Compatible with tons of Bluetooth controllers
— No ads, no payment required

Cons:

— Requires BIOS to run 

The PlayStation 2 library is perhaps only rivaled by the SNES when it comes to its wide array of great titles across just about every genre from RPGs to beat-em-ups, and AetherSX2 emulates them perfectly.

No matter what region you’re playing, US, PAL, or Japan, games will run just like you remember when you played them in the early ‘00s. It’s got everything you want out of an Android emulator including full control pad support, save states, and even upscaling. If your phone can handle it, nothing hits quite like playing a game you’ve played countless times with six times the resolution. Games like “Ape Escape 2,” “Katamari Forever,” and “Dragon Quest VIII” will feel brand new, and better than ever. The level of stability and smooth gameplay is surprising for an app that doesn’t require an admission fee or ads to sit through. Of course, like basically all PlayStation 2 emulation, it will require a BIOS. Scoring one online usually means venturing into websites lousy with malware, more than even typical ROM sites. Still, if you have one handy, the experience is practically pristine, especially if you work with a good Bluetooth gamepad. 

Best for PSP: PPSSPP Gold 

Google Play

Why it Made The Cut: The price of admission is well worth it, for a near-perfect PSP emulation experience. 

Specs:

Released: January 4, 2013
OS Compatibility: Android 5.0 and up
Latest Update: October 18, 2021, Version 1.12.3
Price: $4.99
Google Play Store Rating: 4.7/5

Pros:

— Runs PSP games fast and stable
— Wide support for most games
— Works great even on older Android devices 

Cons:

— Lacks audio options 

When did you buy your Android device? If you purchased a new phone sometime in the last five years, there’s an above-average chance you’ll be able to run PPSSPP Gold and emulate just about every PSP game, with a few exceptions. 

If your phone is a little newer, you’ll be able to get a little more out of this emulator, including running games at higher resolutions. What games are compatible with PPSSPP Gold? Pretty much every game in the PSP library. Of course, games that are harder to emulate like “God of War: Chains of Olympus” will struggle on even some mid-range phones. But rest assured, if your phone’s specs are even a little impressive, there shouldn’t be an issue when it comes to running everything from “Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII” to “Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep.” Have fun upscaling games if you’re on a powerful phone or a sturdy Android TV box like Nvidia Shield. Don’t look for too many audio options though, you won’t find much to play with. 

Best for 3DS: Citra Emulator 

Google Play

Why it Made The Cut: Surprisingly stable Nintendo 3DS emulation is possible with Citra, as long as your phone can handle it.

Specs: 

OS Compatibility: Android 5.0 and up
Latest Update: May 8, 2021, Version N/A
Price: Free, with Optional Paid Features
Google Play Store Rating: 4.7/5

Pros:

— Compatible with hundreds of popular titles
— Support for the camera, touch, and motion controls
— Enhanced graphics 

Cons:

— May only work on higher-end Android devices
— Slow updates

Did you know that 3DS emulation is surprisingly great using Citra Emulator for Android? No, you won’t be able to play using the stereoscopic 3D, but then again, nobody used that feature more than a handful of times. 

While playing Citra on Windows or Mac may offer more in the way of stability, it truly sings on a portable smart device powered by Android. Plenty of popular 3DS titles are totally compatible here, including “Animal Crossing: New Leaf” and “Super Mario 3D Land,” along with deeper cuts like “Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy.” You can even tap into many of the Nintendo 3DS’s natural capabilities including camera, touch, and motion-control integration. Using the touch screen on a phone or tablet feels very similar to the one on the 3DS, and in some cases, is actually a little more user-friendly. In fact, most inputs respond to simple thumb presses, so you won’t have to break out a stylus. That said, don’t even try running the Citra Emulator for Android on a phone with lackluster specs. It will be clunky, unresponsive, and will crash if you even look at it funny. It’s not updated as frequently as other emulators too, but it’s still in a very usable state as it is. 

Things To Consider Before Using Android Emulators

ROM Responsibly 

You can’t mention emulators without also mentioning ROMs. Google Play hosts plenty of emulators for a wide array of consoles. However, sourcing, downloading and playing ROMs, or game files, is not exactly legal. It’s not exactly illegal either. In general, the old rule was to delete a game file 24 hours after downloading unless you own a copy of the game. However, if you want to be totally above board, you can dump your own ROM files. If you do decide to download ROMs (strictly for educational purposes, of course) we recommend masking up with a VPN in case your ISP is watching. 

Optimizing Controls

Jaime Carrillo/Futurism

Do you need a gamepad to play on Android emulators? No, you don’t. Many emulators provide on-screen touch buttons. For emulators for NES or GameBoy, this may be enough to get by with, especially on games that require less precision. However, anyone that’s played with touchscreen buttons knows the experience can be less than ideal. Android devices, whether a smartphone, tablet, or TV box, are incredibly Bluetooth-friendly, so incorporating your favorite gamepad into the mix is easy. 

Considering how popular gaming on Android is becoming, there are devices built just for this purpose. Instead of syncing up via Bluetooth, these peripherals connect via the USB-C port in your device. Any gamer knows that nothing beats a wired gamepad if you’re afraid of latency issues. We like the Razer Kishi because it perfectly replicates a classic 16-button pro gamepad, but the GameSir line of Android controllers is also pretty stellar. As far as good Bluetooth controllers are concerned, almost every model will connect to Android. If you want a dedicated Android controller, we like the PBTails Choc controller, for its great aesthetics and low-profile versatility. 

FAQs

Q: How do Android emulators work?

An Android emulator is a tool that creates a virtual version of a console like an NES or PS2 on an Android platform.

Q: Are Android emulators safe?

Android emulators are safe, as long as you download them via the Google Play store. Downloading APKs from places outside the Google Play store could be risky, as these files are not vetted by Google. 

Q: What are the benefits of using Android emulator software?

One of the benefits of using Android emulator software is that you can emulate consoles on Android devices like smartphones, tablets, and TV boxes. 

Q: Can emulators slow down my phone or computer?

Emulators won’t slow down your computer, but more demanding applications like Citra 3DS may heat up your phone or be more demanding on its specs. ROMs may slow down your computer, as sites that host them often also sport malware. 

Q: Can I use an Android emulator for WhatsApp?

Yes, Android emulators like Andy or BlueStacks let you run WhatsApp from your PC.

Final Thoughts on Android Emulators

Android devices are some of the best places to emulate legacy consoles, from the Atari to the GameCube, and everything in between. RetroArch for Android is a great all-in-one destination that emulates just about everything, even if the menu is a little busy. If you’re on a higher-end device, Citra Emulator will run tons of great games from the 3DS library and even upscale them for you.

This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.



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