A retro game emulator actually stuck around on iOS today, and I tried it

Puzzlequest running on Delta emulator on iPhone
(Image credit: Future)

Just recently, Apple allowed its closed-off App Store to support retro video game emulators. And while the definition of what's retro and what's not can be blurry, an emulator named Delta has made its way onto the App Store — and as of this writing, it appears to be sticking around. 

With Delta's launch, we had to jump in and test it out to see how well it handled games on the various platforms it supports. Apple has already removed the iGBA Gameboy emulator from its store, so there's no guarantee Delta is able to survive the long haul. 

What platforms can you play on Delta?

Delta supports all of the big retro consoles from Nintendo. If you're curious about which consoles you can download ROMs for to play on your iOS device, but here's the complete list:

  • Nintendo Entertainment System
  • Super Nintendo Entertainment System
  • Nintendo 64
  • Game Boy (Color)
  • Game Boy Advance
  • Nintendo DS

If those consoles don't scratch the itch for you (though I don't see how they wouldn't since that list includes all the big ones), the App Store listing for Delta says there are "plenty more to come," so other consoles should be added in the future. Of course, they can only go so far forward, otherwise they'll be stepping into the realm where Apple might consider the games not retro anymore.

How do games play on Delta?

I tested Delta with a few different ROMs to get an idea of how they performed. For reference, I ran the app on an iPhone 14 Pro Max — not the latest and greatest, but still a powerful phone.

It's also important to note that emulating retro games is a gray area. Unless you dump the ROMs from games you own, you're walking a delicate line. As such, we can't provide a guide for installing ROMs or where to find them. The developer of Delta has a guide to help you find ROMs and a step-by-step guide to getting them running in the app. It's quite easy, thankfully.

Delta emulator running on iPhone with a Razer Kishi

(Image credit: Future)

For the first game, I loaded up the beloved RPG Earthbound and played it for a while. I didn't observe a single hitch or stutter while exploring the world. I've never been a big fan of playing retro games with on-screen controllers (though Delta's does offer some nice customization options), but the haptic feedback when pushing buttons does give it a little more tactile feel.

Worth noting is that the app supports all kinds of controllers. Here's the complete list of everything you can play your retro games with using Delta:

  • Nintendo Switch Pro controllers, Joy-Cons
  • Nintendo Switch Online controllers (NES, SNES, N64)
  • PS4, PS5
  • Xbox One S, Xbox Series X
  • MFi game controllers
  • Bluetooth & wired keyboards

With that list, you're almost certain to have something hanging around to allow you play your throwback games the way you're used to — with a controller.

Next, I fired up Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64 using a Razer Kishi. Thankfully, I already had one sitting around from my previous addiction to Genshin Impact, and it did the job perfectly for playing emulated retro games.

Like Earthbound on the SNES, the N64 shooter ran perfectly without any noticeable hitches or slowdowns. Whether the now-dated shooter controls still hold up is debatable, but it played exactly how I remember it.

Puzzlequest running on Delta emulator on iPhone

(Image credit: Future)

The newest console on the Delta platform is the Nintendo DS. It's also the funkiest to play on a phone because of the dual-screen setup, and you have to download some extra files that allow the emulator to run DS games. Like finding ROMs, you can use your Google skills to find these files and get this part of the emulation software working.

Once I had everything up and running, I found playing DS games to be an OK experience that was actually better with the touch screen, since reaching for the second screen while holding the Razer Kishi wasn't ideal. Still, the games ran perfectly, which is the important thing.

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Dave LeClair
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Dave LeClair is the Senior News Editor for Tom's Guide, keeping his finger on the pulse of all things technology. He loves taking the complicated happenings in the tech world and explaining why they matter. Whether Apple is announcing the next big thing in the mobile space or a small startup advancing generative AI, Dave will apply his experience to help you figure out what's happening and why it's relevant to your life.