The joys of retrogaming on your Android device

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| August 28, 2013

As many of you know, aside from being a mobile phone fanatic I'm also a pretty avid gamer on the side, at least when I can. Between parenting and work, I don't have a whole lot of time to spend learning and completing new games anymore, but that doesn't stop me from sometimes wanting to occupy my time with some good ol' carefree gaming.

Since I have switched back to Android, the market is absolutely saturated with all types of games. I've dabbled around with the MMORPGs, RPGs, action and puzzle games that the platform has to offer (many of which are offered on other mobile platforms as well) but sometimes you just want to get back to your roots and revisit some of your favorite games of the past, but you would still rather have something that's handheld and convenient for on-the-go gaming. Wouldn't it be great to be able to play EarthBound or Chrono Trigger while waiting at the doctor's office or on breaks at work through something that you're always carrying with you? And then one day it hits you. Your smartphone can already play some pretty graphic-intensive games at this point; surely it's able to play something as simple as Tetris or Super Mario Bros. 3, right?

Of course it is! The only issue, of course, is being able to find a way to emulate the games through your Android device. Fortunately, many developers have already thought of this idea and have come up with plenty of apps that run emulators to revisit games of the past from systems like the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, GameBoy, N64 and even PlayStation. Like many applications in the Android market, you'll find that a lot of these emulators are free, but some of them may cost you a one-time fee, depending on what system you're looking for or if you want premium content like cheats and ad removal. Let's take a look at some of the better emulator finds in the Play Store:

RetroArch Android (Free)

RetroArch is one of the better emulators out there in my opinion, because it's more than just an emulator - it's several emulators that are bundled into one. RetroArch provides emulators from an array of retro gaming systems from Nintendo, Sony, Sega and even games that you would only find in arcades. Although you have to do quite a bit of digging around in your system to find any games you've loaded onto it, it's definitely worth the download if you have ROMs for several different systems that you planned on using. RetroArch has a decent UI for an on-screen controller, but it also supports Bluetooth connectivity to other controllers that can connect through Bluetooth (PS3, Wiimote, XBox 360 remotes) for a more traditional gaming experience if you'd rather. So far, RetroArch has been my favorite all-in-one emulator.


SuperGNES (Free or $3.99 for paid version)

SuperGNES has been one of my favorite emulators since I used my EVO 4G back in the day for emulating my favorite retro gaming system, the Super Nintendo. As you can see here, I'm playing Paper Boy 2, which involves going on an extremely dangerous paper route in the sketchiest neighborhood known to gamers until the release of Grant Theft Auto. The UI looks good both in landscape or portrait mode, and on a larger device using it either way is pretty comfortable. I have yet to experience any hiccups in the three games I play on mine, which is more than I can say for some emulators. I also like that it searches for ROMs for you automatically, which can take a while if you don't remember exactly where you put the ROMs in the first place. This emulator also has thousands of cheats available for various games. Remember the days before the Internet when you had to find out certain cheats from game guides or by word-of-mouth? SuperGNES provides plenty of cheats available for you. Don't worry, we won't judge.


Nostalgia.NES (Free or $2.99)

Nostalgia.NES is a newer NES emulator on the market, but I've been using it for about two weeks and I really enjoy it. Not only does it work well, but it's free and has a pretty sweet TRON-looking theme going on. Some games don't port over so well, such as Duck Hunt, which needs that ridiculous orange gun accessory that I'm sure you've all seen in order to actually shoot any ducks. So, if you happen to have Duck Hunt as a ROM you won't have much fun unless you like getting laughed at by an obnoxious hunting dog every time you let a duck fly away. But for every other game, this ROM does the job. You can either download it for free or get extra goodies (like cheats and ad removals) if you pay for the Pro version.


SuperN64 (Free)

Itching for Zelda, Mario, or even some retro Smash Bros.? SuperN64 is going to be one of the best emulators on the Android market to play these games smoothly. I was surprised at how well this was able to emulate N64 games, and more importantly able to fit all of the buttons from the traditional N64 controller onto the screen in a comfortable manner. For phones with smaller screens, it might be a bit of a stretch as the buttons will take up a good chunk of the screen, but larger devices will likely enjoy this emulator for any N64 games you've been itching to play.


GENPlusDroid (Free)

Aside from RetroArch, this is the next best Sega Genesis emulator I've come across. There seem to be some bugs that users are experiencing lately, but the description says that developers are working on bug fixes. If you want a better Genesis experience, I would recommend RetroArch first, but if that doesn't do it for you or if the UI just isn't your style then GENPlusDroid would be your next best bet for Sega games.

Editor's Note: It's worth noting that while owning and downloading emulator software is not illegal, downloading or file sharing ROMs is, even if you own the game. You need to create the ROM yourself from your own copy of the game for it to be considered legal.

It's good to know that, despite all of the great games that Android devlopers have come out with over the past few years, there's still a group of people dedicated enough to keep retrogaming alive. Even though smartphones are capable of running insanely better graphics, sometimes you just can't beat the feeling of nostalgia.

With that being said, what kind of gaming do you do on your Android? Are you a fan of retro systems? Do you think you'll be trying out any emulators any time soon? Let us know your thoghts in the comments below!

Image via Tech Net Crew