Retrogaming allows players to relive the glory days of classic gaming consoles, as well as fan favorite classics and critically acclaimed cult hits in the history of computer games. Critical to a great retrogaming experience is the use of emulators — software that can replicate the performance of old hardware and software environments. Console emulators naturally made the leap to mobile platforms, allowing you to experience some of gaming's greatest hits on your mobile device. If you're ready to travel back in time, here are some of the best retrogaming console emulators for Android tablets and smartphones. (Credit: Shutterstock)
First, some U.S. specific legal bits (be sure to check your local legislation): It's not illegal to have and run an emulator. The trouble is in getting the ROMs for games that you want to run on the emulator. While it's legal for game owners to create an archival backup copy of a game, it's illegal to download or distribute ROMs or image files from the net, even if you legally own a copy of the game. You have to own the game and make the copy yourself.
Another consideration is that some emulators require the console BIOS to run. Again, it is illegal to distribute this, and though it's possible to dump the console BIOS onto a memory card, downloading or distributing the BIOS file is illegal.
It's only legal for you personally to make ROM or image copies of a game you own. It's illegal to download, share or host ROM or image files of the games themselves. (Credit: Analogue)
RetroArch isn't so much a single emulation as it is a package of emulators. Nearly every classic gaming console, whether produced by Sega, Nintendo or Sony, as well as more specialist platforms such as the SNK NEO GEO, NEC Turbografx and the Bandai WonderSwan is emulated by RetroArch. It even handles special personal computer environments for Doom WADs and SCUMMVM.
Quite simply, RetroArch is a great place to begin when looking for that one program to run a whole pile of games you're looking to revisit. Support is included for Bluetooth or USB controllers and configurable touch controls, in addition to standard features such as save states and rewind and fast forward options. Best of all, RetroArch is free, giving most other emulators a run for their money.
Another solid all-in-one option is Classicboy, an app that emulates the PSX, N64, the NES, and other classic consoles. Classicboy uses configurable touchscreen controls, but also supports external controllers and keyboards and experimental profiles for more modern controllers. A neat feature is that touchscreen controls are pretty configurable, with users able to set up the layouts, and an in-app upgrade unlocks the ability to configure gesture and sensor tilt controls.
Robert Broglia's ".emu" series of emulators are among the best available in Google Play if you're willing to pay. 2600.emu takes on the Atari 2600 and not only does it bring smooth, playable emulation, but also a variety of great extras that are a hallmark of Broglia's other emulators. These include configurable virtual controls, as well as support for external gamepads and keyboards so that your thumbs don't get in the way of the screen.
C64.emu is another Broglia emulator, this time designed for the Commodore 64. First released in 1982, the Commodore 64 was an extremely popular office and personal computer that also featured groundbreaking gaming titles across a variety of genres, such as Elite, Pool of Radiance and Archon. C64.emu supports a variety of C64 ROM formats, such as .bin, .crt and .t64, and features configurable touchscreen controls and support for a variety of external peripherals and controllers.
Nostalgia.NES is a capable, free emulator for the Nintendo Entertainment System that packs in solid emulation features and hardware support. It is designed to work in portrait and landscape orientations with configurable on-screen buttons (or controller support), as well as emulation for NES peripherals like the Zapper light gun. The app comes with a save support, as well as a cool rewind feature. Nostalgia.NES is ad-supported, and though ads will never appear in-game, some features lake saving, loading and rewinds are only available if you're online for ads. The paid version of Nostalgia.NES removes this restriction.
Snes9x EX+ is another top notch emulator, this time for the Super Nintendo series of consoles based on the desktop Snes9x emulator. The app comes with a wealth of features, such as save support, configurable virtual gamepads, support for Bluetooth and external controllers such as the Wiimote, and a screen capturing function. Rock solid emulation and broad support for a variety of ROMs in both .smc and .sfc formats make Snes9x EX+ a great free option.