Nintendo 64 is kind of an anomaly in the emulation world. It managed to achieve playable status back when N64 games were still on shelves, but it hasn’t evolved as much as I’d like since then, and we still don’t have a real option for accurate, low-level N64 emulation. Both of the decent options on Android are based on the PC emulator Mupen64Plus, and they’re honestly pretty similar, although N64oid seems to run a few more games and run a little faster. N64oid, like the other “oid” emus, has been banned from the market, but you can still purchase it elsehwere. For those who chose not to, or just want another option, there’s the official port, available for free on the Play Store, which is nearly as good.
If you’d have asked me about emulating the Saturn on the Android, I’d have laughed at you. Saturn is infamously demanding to emulate because of its complex architecture, and there are very few viable options, even on the PC. But earlier this year Yabause, the lone open-source Saturn emu capable of running commercial games, made its way to the Android, and Robert Broglia built on this code base further with Saturn.emu. Sure, it’s too slow to be worth playing right now, and the compatibility is even lower than the PC version, but it’s not hard to imagine this becoming playable on high-end handsets in the next year or so.
There have been plenty of Android ports of DosBox over the past few years, and most have found themselves lacking in terms of interface. DosBox Turbo has been evolving quite a bit lately, and with the recent addition of very robust control options, support for Xperia Play and external controllers, as well as a sleek graphical front-end (DosBox Manager) that allows for multiple configurations, we finally have a complete solution. DosBox Turbo is also somewhat faster than the other ports we’ve tested. Getting your games set up may take a little time, but once you do, it’ll be easy to grab a game of Commander Keen or Populous.
SCUMMVM is not exactly an emulator per se, it’s an interpreter that supports a wide range of old PC games, mostly point-and-click adventures. Many of these games are perfectly suited to the portable touch screen experience, and there are tons of them. SCUMMVM has great video and sound options, and is the perfect excuse to fire up that copy of Sam & Max or Space Quest V for a long flight. Don’t forget to load up on plug ins, as the Android version doesn’t have them built in.
The Ubiquitous Amiga Emulator certainly lives up to its name. Since its release, it’s been practically the only serious option for those hoping to relive their memories of the 16-bit monster. Amiga’s library tended to feature simpler control schemes than their PC contemporaries, which make a lot of these games fun to pick up and play on the go, although Turrican and Shadow of the Beast are certainly no more forgiving with virtual controls than it was on the original.
Game Boy/Game Boy Color
Handheld games are still some of the best to play on the ‘droid, since they have simple controls and easy pick-up-and-play gameplay, much like some of the better games you’d get now. On the PC, most GBA emulators will also support older Game Boy games, but alas this is not the case with their Android equivalents. Game Boy is an easy system to emulate and there are a few good options, but of the ones we’d actually recommend, GBC.emu is both the cheapest and the best.
Game Boy Advance games are genuinely great to play on the ‘droid. Simple controls and an aspect ratio that fills most of the screen make your phone feel like a new Game Boy. GBA.emu is a relative newcomer, based on Visual Boy Advance-M, a modernized version of the popular PC emu. It has all the control and graphics options you could hope for, and except for a lack of backward compatibility with old Game Boy games, it’s just about perfect.
The Lynx has always been plagued by a lack of quality emulators, with the utterly ancient Handy serving as the lone stand-alone emulator worth bothering with. It’s no surprise, then, that aLynx is based on that decade-old code, and at first it left a lot to be desired. But aLynx continues to update with much improved controls. There’s a free version for those on the fence and the Lynx’s unique library is well worth taking with you.
Nintendo DS emulation is still not very mature, so don’t expect much just yet. But if you’d like to follow it as it develops, nds4droid has made good progress, with hardware accellerated rendering, and emulation that can play commercial games at playable speeds, if not ideal framerates, on a high-end handset. It proves that DS emulation can be viable on the phones, but unfortunately it’s not there just yet.
PSP emulation is, as you’d expect, very early and not really ready for prime time just yet, but the progress that has been made so far is very impressive, especially in terms of performance. PPSSPP is capable of playing a small handful of commercial games, but we’ve seen it get some very impressive speeds on high-end Androids. It’s certainly not the ideal way to experience these games – at least not yet – but we’ll be keeping an eye on their progress.