In the months since our initial release of the Most Hardcore Emulators on Earth, there has been a plethora of Android emulator releases, and so our emulation-meister, Travis Fahs, decided that it an ideal time update and augment his epic list, and so we present to you The Most Hardcore Emulators on Earth 2.0. ~ed.
We all love our Androids, but let’s face it. We still have a way to go to catch up to iOS’s massive library of games. But Google’s permissive market standards and Android’s ease of side-loading (installing non-market apps) makes it the king of emulators, opening up tens of thousands of games that iOS users can’t play without having to jailbreak their phones.
Those same lax approval standards that allow emulators to run rampant also mean there’s a lot of garbage to filter through. Many emulators on the market are just clones or hacks of others’ work, while others are overpriced compared to more robust alternatives. It can be tough to pick the right one for your favorite system, so Hardcore Droid is here to share our picks for each of our favorite systems.
RetroArch is an effort to bridge the gap between PC and Android emulation, by offering a very powerful, accurate emulator that supports more than a dozen systems, and by doing it all for free. With such broad support, it’s pretty much a must-have for any emulation fan. It’s the only way to play Virtual Boy games or Cave Story, and it offers the best Sega CD emulation you’ll find on the Android. While it’s a bit lacking in terms of interface and usability, and some of the cores are pretty slow, it offers some of the most accurate, high-quality emulation around, and support for more systems is on the way.
The MSX probably isn’t nostalgic for many English-speakers, but the 8-bit computers had some of the best Japanese computer games of their time. Home to many Konami classics, including the original Metal Gear, Metal Gear 2, and Snatcher, the MSX came in a variety of flavors, and quite a few add ons. MSX.emu is based on BlueMSX, arguably the best emulator for the system on PC, so expect nearly flawless compatibility and support. As an added bonus, there’s also support for the ColecoVision, which featured very similar hardware. The price tag may be enough to scare some away, however.
Marat Fayzullin is one of the godfathers of the emulation scene, developing some of the very first multi-platform emulators in the world, establishing many of the cores that would be used by others, as well as creating some of the file formats still used today. He began fMSX 20 years ago, and amazingly enough still finds time to work on it. There are a number of appealing features here, including interesting video filters, music recording, and touch screen mouse support. Best of all, it’s available in an ad-supported free flavor, as well as a paid app.
For kids who grew up in the UK in the early ‘80s, the ZX Spectrum conjures as many memories as the NES does for those of us in America. Uncle Clive’s 8-bit computer led the charge of inexpensive PCs that parents were scooping up for their “educational value.” Of course all most kids wanted it for was to play games. The primitive graphics and sound haven’t aged well, but that doesn’t make Jetpac or Knight Lore any less of a blast. Marvin is a genuinely great little emulator, and one of those that is completely free, so even if you’re a newbie to the system, you might want to dive in. Lots of great control options and speedy performance make this a stand-out, even with other options available.
Any discussion of 8-bit computers would be incomplete without some love for the Commodore 64. There are a few options out there, and none of them are perfect, but Frodo 64 offers solid emulation in a free, open-source package. Those SID tunes still sound great with a pair of headphones. Juggling keyboard and joystick controls can be a bit of a bear, but maybe that will finally justify that iControlPad 2 purchase.
Arcade emulation has always been tricky, since it’s really a collection of hundreds of different pieces of hardware that may or may not share some components. MAME is one of the most important emulators of all time because it manages to cull all of these into one package, and for broad compatibility, it is the only option. But MAME was built for accuracy, not speed, and even high-end PCs can struggle with some games. As a result, most versions of MAME made for less powerful or portable systems have been based on a version of MAME released in 2000, back when speed was more of a priority, and this is the case with the classiv version of MAME4Droid as well. This means it runs a tiny fraction of the games its PC counterpart does, and features many bugs that have since been squashed.
Seleuco’s Reloaded release puts Big Boy MAME in the palm of your hands for the first time. Based on a relatively modern build (0.139, released in 2010), it features accurate emulation and broad compatibility. The downside, of course, is that it requires a monster CPU to run, and anything past the 16-bit era is still probably too choppy to be worth playing, but we can’t wait to see what it can do on the Nexus 4. Alas, both versions of MAME are badly crippled by poor control options, and an inability to save these options on a per-game basis, so it’s not recommended unless you have a good control pad.
MAME may be the all-in-wonder, but there are better options when it comes to specific systems. NEO.emu offers fast, accurate Neo Geo emulation for both the console and arcade versions. As the most popular arcade hardware of all time, this opens up quite a few options for classic 16-bit action. Bonus points for making sure the touch screen controls support four presses at once, for those bold enough to attempt King of Fighters without a controller.
Capcom’s CPS2 was their go-to 16-bit machine from Super Street Fighter II all the way through Marvel vs. Capcom and beyond. Although it’s mostly of interest to fighting game fans, a few oddballs like Progear and Super Pang buck the trend. This emulator is available completely for free from XDA, and is not currently available on the Play Store.
Robert Broglia’s work is going to come up a lot in the feature, because every one of his emulators is top-notch. They share a common framework and feature set, which includes excellent external controller support and robust video options, but they also go the extra mile for their individual systems. Not only does NES.emu support a wide range of mappers for broad compatibility thanks to the FCEUX codebase, but it also supports the Famicom Disk System, which opens up a sizable library of imports, as well as the famous zapper, so you can play Duck Hunt on the touch screen.
Nesoid was one of the first emulator casualties of the Android Market. At Nintendo’s request, a small handful of emulators were permanently banned from the market, including Nesoid. That hasn’t stopped it though, as you can still download it and side-load it manually, or nab it off of an alternative market app. Nesoid isn’t quite as polished as NES.emu, but it is available for free now, which might make it an attractive alternative. It’s also very fast, for those still rocking a G1.