Best Game Console Emulators
Ever wished you could replay an old video game like "Chrono Trigger," but don't have a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) on which to play it?
Emulators are software products that can make one kind of computer "emulate," or act like, another type of computer. A PlayStation 1 emulator for your Android, for example, will allow you to play PlayStation 1 games on your phone or tablet.
It's important to note that while emulators are legal, most often the games played on those emulators are not, because transferring a game's data from its CD or cartridge to a file you can store on your phone breaks that game's copyright.
The Google Play store has emulators for all the biggest gaming consoles, from the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo 64. Here are the best ones.
Colecovision emulator: ColEm Deluxe ($1.99)
One of the many home gaming consoles that didn't make it out of the '80s, the ColecoVision came out in 1982, and housed classics like "Centipede" and the first "Dukes of Hazzard" video game.
Like all the other emulators on this list, the ColEm Deluxe doesn't come with games, but it plays ColEm game files with on-screen touch buttons or via most gaming attachments. You can play with friends over Wi-Fi, too. You can also get a free version of ColEm Deluxe, which lacks networked play and some other features, but is still fully playable.
Intellivision emulator: jzintv4droid (free)
Another long-dead relic of '80s gaming, the Intellivision was an American home gaming console that first appeared in 1979 and had games like "Beauty & the Beast" and "Astrosmash." If you're on the hunt for an Intellivision emulator, jzintv has versions for multiple platforms, and its Android version is free on the Google Play store. This app lets you play Intellivision games in the most common file formats with an on-screen, touch-based joystick and a tappable keyboard. Unfortunately, there's no support for peripheral controllers. It may not be as flashy as some of the other emulators on this list, but neither was the Intellivision itself!
Arcade games: MAME4droid (free)
The Android version of the well-known Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) project brings games from the classic arcade consoles of the '70s, '80s and '90s like "Galaga," "Double Dragon" and "Contra" to your smartphone.
MAME4droid is pretty straightforward as far as emulators go: with it, you can play compatible arcade games stored on your phone, but remember that these files often break copyright laws. Without support for peripheral controllers, you'll have to use the on-screen touch controls that emulate a joystick and buttons. This app doesn't support save states, either — which, as the developers point out, is just like the original arcade games themselves.
Atari 2600 emulator: 2600.emu ($2.99)
First released in 1977, the Atari 2600 was home to tons of classic games, from "Pac-Man" (which was first released on arcade machines) to "Raiders of the Lost Ark." To replay those old games on your Android, we recommend an app called 2600.emu, which has on-screen touch controls and is compatible with a range of Bluetooth controllers, as well as Wiimotes if you're running Android 4.1 or lower.
Groundbreaking when it first came out, today the Atari 2600's processing power is far outstripped by your Android phone. So you'll have no problem loading up plenty of games. What's more, a good many Atari 2600 games are in the public domain, so it's perfectly legal to download ROMs of them to your phone.
DOS OS: DosBox Turbo ($3.49)
The IBM computer operating system DOS was home to many games through the '80s and '90s, including "Legend of the Silver Talisman" and "The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall." Some of these games aren't copyrighted, which makes it easy to pair them with an emulator such as DosBox Turbo for Android.
You can play DosBoxTurbo with on-screen buttons or taps that emulate mouse-clicks, or with most gaming attachments.
SNES Emulator: SuperGNES (free)
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES, first came out in 1991 (1990 in Japan), supporting games like "Super Mario World," "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past" and "F-Zero."
There are many SNES emulators to choose from, but for Android we like SuperGNES Lite, a free app that plays SNES ROM files. A paid version, which costs $3.99, also supports saving at any point in the game, instead of simply when the game itself allows you to save, as well as the ability to play with others over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
Sega Genesis: MD.emu ($4.99)
The Sega Genesis is a game console first released in 1989 (1988 in Japan, where it's called the Mega Drive) and the original home of the "Sonic the Hedgehog" franchise. Though a real Sega Genesis is very difficult to find nowadays, you can play ROMs of its games on your Android with an app called MD.emu. This high-quality emulator supports a variety of different ROM files, and has features such as connectivity to Bluetooth controllers as well as Wiimotes on Android 4.1 or lower. This all makes it well worth the $4.99 price tag.
PlayStation 1: FPse for Android ($2.99)
The PlayStation 4 came out last November, but that doesn't make the original PlayStation any less valuable as a console. To play games such as "Final Fantasy VII" and "Metal Gear Solid," check out FPse, a popular PlayStation emulator for PCs that is now available on Android for $3.63. FPse's great features include the ability to save your progress at any point in the game, and support for a number of other controllers including MOGA and Xbox 360 controllers.
Nintendo64 Emulator: Mupen64 Plus AE (free)
Given the N64's notoriously weird-shaped controller, you might actually prefer playing games such as "Super Mario 64" and "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" on your Android phone. Mupen64 Plus AE is a work in progress, so you might see more stutters or hiccoughs in the visuals and music, and it doesn't yet have peripheral controller support. But this is the best Nintendo 64 emulator on the Google Play store right now. If your phone supports it, this app can even emulate the infamous Rumble Pak!
Game Boy Color emulator: Gameboy Color A.D. (free)
If you played video games in the mid to late '90s, it's almost certain that some of your favorite video games were for the Gameboy Color. The Android app Gameboy Color A.D. lets you play those beloved games, including "Pokemon Silver" and "The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages," on your smartphone.
Not only is this app free, it also supports portrait and landscape modes and multiple save slots. There's no support for peripheral controllers, however, so you'll have to make do with the on-screen, tappable D-pad and buttons.
GameBoy Advance Emulator: My Boy! (free)
After the GameBoy Color came the GameBoy Advance, home to such titles as "Golden Sun," "Fire Emblem" ("Fire Emblem 7" in Japan) and "Metroid Fusion."
To play these games on your Android, we recommend an app called My Boy! The free version of My Boy! is perfectly playable, but the paid version, which costs $4.99, offers a few neat tricks that even the GameBoy Advance itself didn't have. Those include the ability to save at any point in the game, and the ability to emulate a link cable to connect to other devices running My Boy! via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
Nintendo DS Emulator: DraStic DS Emulator ($5.99)
The Nintendo DS is a two-screen, hand-held console that first came out in 2004, and one of the best-selling game consoles of all time. Its games include "The World Ends with You" and "Pokemon HeartGold."
To play these games and more, we recommend DraStic DS Emulator, which comes in a free version or sells for $5.99 on the Google Play Store. With support for most add-on controllers and a function that lets you store saved game data to Google Drive, DraStic DS Emulator has just about everything you need to play DS games. If you're not sure, check out the free demo version first.