Best Emulators for Android 2021

Pizza Boy GBC LifestyleSource: Andrew Myrick / Android Central

Playing games that were made more than 30 years ago on smartphones more powerful than the computers that sent men to the Moon is simply incredible. That’s exactly what’s possible with the help of the best emulators for Android, as you can fire up those classics you played as a child without the need for the old consoles.

Take advantage of the big and gorgeous displays with the best hardware and fastest software while experiencing the good ol’ rush of nostalgia for a few hours at a time. Even if you don’t have the latest and greatest smartphones, these emulators will still perform admirably, as the games being emulated are not exactly the most graphic-intensive ever.

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The top 3 apps

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Where to find emulators?

Find the right controller

These are the best emulators for Android

ClassicBoy is an easy pick for those looking to find the best overall emulator for Android. The emulator includes support for many different gaming platforms, starting with the Atari 2600 VCS, and includes the SNES and even the PS1 / PSX. Just load up your ROMs and start playing away.

While ClassicBoy features a one-size-fits-all approach, GBA.emu is designed for those who want to turn their smartphones into a Game Boy Advance. In addition to supporting traditional ROM files, GBA.emu also makes it easy to load up ZIP, 7Z, and RAR files, depending on the file format of your games.

We have a soft spot for the NES, so we would be remiss to not mention John NESS when it comes to the best emulators for Android. John NESS is a regularly-updated NES emulator with support for multiple save states, Bluetooth controllers, and providing a fun and enjoyable experience.

1. ClassicBoy

If you’re looking for the best emulator for Android overall, then you can’t get much better than ClassicBoy. This emulator features support for a mulitude of platforms, ranging from the Atari 2600 VCS all the way to the Nintendo 64 and everything in between. Loading your ROMs is a pretty straightforward process, and then you can jump into whatever games you have.

Controller support is onboard. You can use just about any of your favorite Xbox or Sony controllers, along with the likes of MOGA and 8BitDo if those are your jam. If you don’t want to use an external controller at all, ClassicBoy offers on-screen touch controls, including the ability to set your settings between video games.

The app is free to download, and is pretty feature-rich as it is, but there are a few more valuable reasons to spring for the full version. If you plan on using ClassicBoy to run back through one of your all-time favorite games, the full version can autoamtically load that game so that it’s the first thing you see when you open the app.

Just the best

ClassicBoy App Icon

ClassicBoy

The best emulator for Android

ClassicBoy may not be the most aesthetically pleasing app of the bunch, but it’s one of the best and most robust available. You can play games from consoles going back to the Atari 2600. You can take advantage of touchscreen input or you can connect a controller if you want.

2. GBA.emu

GBA.emu Lifestyle

Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central

With many of the other emulators on Android, you’ll need to provide your own ROMs in order to start playing. But GBA.emu does things a bit differently since MotoCross Challenge is included. This can give you a feel for how the app performs before deciding whether it’s time to load up your own library of ROMs. Plus, you’ll be able to customize the on-screen controls in order to fine-tune everything to your liking.

In addition to supporting standard .gba files, GBA.emu also supports ZIP, RAR, or 7Z files so you won’t have to extract files and overload the storage on your Android phone. Save states are available, and if you use VBA-M, you can transfer those saves from your PC to GBA.emu in no time. Plus, you can connect a Bluetooth controller and create custom key profiles, which is something that isn’t available with all emulators. Finally, you can also use cheat codes, giving you a close-to-real experience.

Best for the GBA

GBA.emu App Icon

GBA.emu

Play those GBA games in style

GBA.emu is arguably the best emulator for those who want to play GBA games on their smartphones. The app features all of the expected features, such as save states, customizable touch controls, and controller support.

3. John NESS

John NESS Lifestyle

Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central

If you’ve ever looked into the best emulators for Android, there’s one name that likely appears at the top of many lists. John emulators has various emulators avaialble for the likes of the NES, Game Boy Advance, and Game Boy Color. Our favorite of the bench is John NESS, which provides a clean interface to play our favorite NES games on the best Android phones available today.

As is the case with many of the emulators on this list, you can switch between using on-screen touch controls or take advantage of a Bluetooth-connected controller. It also supports save states and even makes it possible to customize your keys and button layout so you won’t have to worry about your hands getting cramped. John NESS doesn’t try to do anything over-the-top; just provide a solid way for you to play your favorite ROMs. The only problems that you may run into come when you try to enter any cheat codes since it doesn’t seem the app supports them.

Perfect for NES

John NESS App Icon

John NESS

Play those old NES games

Not only can you use John NESS to play your favorite NES games on your smartphone of choice, but you won’t have to worry much about any extra frills or a confusing interface.

Other great options

Though they didn’t quite make it into our top three, here are some other excellent emulators for Android for you to try out.

EmuBox

EmuBox Lifestyle

Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central

This was one of the first emulators released on the Play Store with Google’s now-defunct Material Design look and feel. It’s true that EmuBox would be higher up on the list, but it hasn’t been updated over the past two years. However, EmuBox hasn’t stopped working. You can still use it to play a myriad of games from the NES, PS1, GBA, and more.

Other than being able to play some of your childhood favorites, EmuBox supports up to 20 saves per ROM, along with the ability to quickly take a screenshot in the middle of a game. You can even ramp up the speed of the game so you don’t have to sit through long and annoying dialogs anymore. And those who want to use a Bluetooth controller are in luck, although you may run into compatibility issues with the most recent DualSense and Xbox controllers.

It still works

EmuBox App Icon

EmuBox

Classic look and feel all around

Despite not being updated since 2018, EmuBox is still a viable option for those looking for the best emulators for Android. The app supports up to 20 saves per ROM, along with the ability to speed up game play and use an external controller.

My Boy!

My Boy! Lifestyle

Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central

My Boy! is one of the more robust emulators for Android, with more features than you can shake a stick at. There is a free version of the emulator, but this is really just there for you to determine whether the full version is worth it for your needs. Truth be told, if you do a lot of mobile gaming with GBA emulators, you’re going to want to spring for the full version simply for the ability to sync your saves over Google Drive. Being able to store your save states to Drive instead of to the onboard storage of your device can come in extremely handy, especially if you plan on playing GBA games across multiple devices.

The full version also includes support for entering multiple lines of cheat codes, along with speeding up the game from 2x all the way up to 16x. Plus, you can enable gyroscope/tilt sensor emulation, which uses the built-in sensors on your smartphone. And those who want to play some games with your friends will thoroughly enjoy being able to set up a server for your friend to join. Or maybe you’ll want to create a custom screen-layout based on the type of game you are playing.

Sync across devices

My Boy! App Icon

My Boy!

You’re going to want the full version

While the free version of My Boy! is likely sufficient for many, the full version is the way to go with all of the features you would want in an emulator, including the ability to save your game states to Google Drive, speed up the game, and even create a server to play with your friends.

Dolphin Emulator

Dolphin Emulator Lifestyle

Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central

While there are a lot of options for emulators that can play games from the original NES or even the Atari, but there are many more newer consoles to cover. Dolphin Emulator ignores all other consoles, focusing only on the Nintendo GameCube and Wii. The biggest of screens will come in handy, as you’ll want the most screen real-estate possible to house all of the buttons and controls from the GameCube controller.

The developers are releasing monthly updates to Dolphin Emulator, attempting to create one of the best emulators for Android despite a focus on only two consoles. The only potential frustration comes with the inability to move the on-screen buttons around or even change the size of those buttons. Nevertheless, if you want to load up your favorite Wii or GameCube games, Dolphin is the best way to go.

For Wii and GameCube players

Dolphin Emulator App Icon

Dolphin Emulator

For those with a niche focus

If you don’t care about having a universal emulator, but want the best GameCube and Wii emulator, then Dolphin is the way to go. The app is still being actively updated with monthly updates, and the only frustration is the lack of customization options for the onscreen buttons.

DraStic DS Emulator

DraStic DS Lifestyle

Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central

There are some emulators available that ignore the original games’ resolutions, potentially leaving you feeling as though your game is nothing but a blurred mess. DraStic DS takes this into account and will automatically enhance and double the resolution of your game, providing a bit more clarity than you might find from other emulators. There’s also support for Bluetooth controllers of all shapes and kinds, which makes sense since the emulator has been around long enough to remember the old Xperia Play days.

Not only are you able to create save states for your various games that are stored right on your smartphone but DraStic DS also allows you sign into your Google Drive account to save those states to the cloud. This is perfect for those who use and play Nintendo DS emulators on multiple devices and want to be able to pick up and play from anywhere. The app even has a database of cheat codes so you won’t have to worry about trying to remember or look up a cheat code while in the middle of the game.

Best for DS

DraStic DS App Icon

DraStic Emulator

You’ll want a larger screen

If you’re looking for a fantastic Nintendo DS emulator, then check out DraStic DS Emulator. The app is only designed for DS games, but you can use third-party controllers, save your games via Google Drive, and take advantage of the vast library of cheat codes (if that’s your thing).

ePSXe for Android

For those who are new to PS1 emulators, you may not have heard of ePSXe, but this app has been around for years. Originally, the app was available on PC before being ported for Android users. With ePSXe, you can take advantage of the normal features like multiple save states and external gamepad support. But the awesome thing with ePSXe is that you are also able to port your save states from your computer and load them with the ePSXe app on your Android phone.

Another rather nifty feature allows for split-screen mode, for those times where you and a friend want to go head-to-head with some of the greatest PS1 or PSX games. Perhaps the best reason to use ePSXe over another PS1/PSX emulator, however, comes down to its reliability. The developers claim this emulator is compatible with up to 99% of ROMs, meaning that you should be just fine with practically any game. While the UI itself is a bit outdated, the app still functions just as you would expect for one of the best emulators for Android.

99% compatibility

ePSXe For Android App Icon

ePSXe for Android

Classic emulator for classic games

ePSXe has been one of the best emulators for playing PS1 or PSX games, even before it was cool on Android. The app was ported from the PC, and can even be used to bring in save states from your computer to your smartphone.

Pizza Boy GBC

Pizza Boy GBC Lifestyle Alt

Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central

It’s really useful to have an all-in-one emulator, but sometimes you don’t really care about extra settings or features geared towards other platforms. With Pizza Boy GBC, you can turn just about any smartphone into a vastly-upgraded Game Boy, with support for either Game Boy Classic or Game Boy Color ROMs. The developers also guarantee 60FPS in games, regardless of how old the hardware is, so you’ll always get smooth gameplay.

Many emulators already offer built-in screenshot capabilities, but Pizza Boy GBC takes this a step further with its ability to create animated GIFs from your gameplay. Then, you can save the GIF directly to your phone before sending it over to some friends to show off your new-old Game Boy. Pizza Boy provides complete control over on-screen buttons, including the ability to change the size and position, so you can avoid hand cramps during those long nostalgia sessions.

Best for Game Boy

Pizza Boy Free App Icon

Pizza Boy GBC

As good as pizza

If you’re looking for the perfect Game Boy emulator, Pizza Boy GBC is about as close as you can get. The app includes many features that you expect, such as multiple save states, the ability to speed up or slow down gameplay, and more. But the app also guarantees 60FPS for all of your games, regardless of how old your phone is.

RetroArch

Instead of sporting built-in support for various gaming systems, RetroArch does things a bit differently. This emulator treats those systems as “cores,” which are essentially downloadable plug-ins, and the regular version of RetroArch supports up to 50 cores. There’s another app on the Play Store, called RetroArch Plus, which allows for you to download up to 127 cores for even more emulation options.

As for what the app offers, RetroArch allows you to remap your buttons and controls, so you can get as close to the real thing as possible. With NetPlay, you can enjoy multiplayer games with great matchmaking capabilities so you can find some new competition or play around with your friends. Plus, since RetroArch is open source, there are regular updates being pushed to keep the app working great and reliably.

Another all-in-one

RetroArch App Icon

RetroArch

Ad-free retro gaming

RetroArch is another great option for those looking for an all-in-one emulator on their Android phones. The app supports up to 50 “cores,” which can be easily downloaded, while the Plus version supports up to 127 cores.

Where can you find the ROMs?

It’s all fine and dandy if you find the perfect emulator for your awesome Android phone, but the truth remains that you can’t even use them without some games. While there are emulators that include one or maybe two games, that’s going to get repetitive quickly, and they might not even be the games you want to play. Luckily, there are a couple of ways that you can take advantage of in order to make good use of these emulators.

Archive.org

Archive.org Lifestyle

Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central

For years, there has been a back and forth argument between the companies that created the games and the users who purchased them but who were unable to use them on a smartphone or computer. It’s also not exactly recommended to perform a basic Google search for ROMs.

However, you may be surprised to find that there’s a rather robust library of games available from Archive.org. The only catch is that you should only download the ROMs and files from games that you own. Doing otherwise could get you into some trouble with copyrights since they technically fall under intellectual property laws.

After finding the ROMs for the games that you own, you can download them directly from Archive.org, and load them up into your emulator of choice. We recommend you create a new folder on your smartphone so that it’s easier to locate the ROMs when trying to load them in the emulator.

Dump your cartridges

Flash Boy Cyclone Lifestyle

Source: Amazon

If you’ve managed to hold onto those Game Boy cartridges, you can actually “dump” them onto your computer. Then, after they’ve been successfully downloaded to your PC, you can then transfer the ROM files from your computer to your Android phone of choice.

However, since those older devices don’t have any ports that are compatible with modern computers, you’ll need to take advantage of a cartridge reader. This allows you to plug-in your cartridge on one end, connect the reader to your PC and transfer the files. It can be a strenuous process if you’ve never done it before, but it’s extremely common if you want to play older games on something like a Raspberry Pi or on your phone with an emulator.

Download your games

Flash Boy Render

Flash Boy Cyclone

From the cartridge to your phone

If you’re looking to use an emulator on your phone, you might want to invest in something like the Flash Boy Cyclone. This little device makes it easy to plug in those old game cartridges and move them to your hard drive before being transferred over to your Android phone.

Find the right controllers

While all of the aforementioned emulators feature support for on-screen touch controls, that’s not always the best way to experience the classic games. Whether you’re trying to play a Nintendo GameCube game with all of the various onscreen button, or just prefer to not have your fingers in the way, you’re going to want to pick up a controller. These are some of the best controllers that will work great with your favorite emulators, and other Android games.

Razer Kishi

There’s a reason why the Razer Kishi lands on the list of best Android controllers. Mobile gaming is more popular than ever, thanks to game developers bringing the likes of Call of Duty and PUBG to our smartphones, so we can join in on the fun even if we don’t have a console or PC. The Kishi turns your smartphone into an Android-powered Nintendo Switch, and is compatible with many of the best Android games, including the best emulators for Android.

Razer actually offers two versions of the Kishi — a standard version and one with Microsoft’s Xbox branding for the launch of Project xCloud (Xbox Cloud Gaming). You don’t have to do anything special with the Kishi in terms of installation since you can just plug your phone in, and start playing away to your heart’s content. Although, you might want to head into your favorite emulator just to make sure that the key bindings are correct.

The best controller

Razer Kishi Android Render

Razer Kishi

Works with most smartphones

The Razer Kishi is arguably the best controller for smartphones since there are versions available for both iOS and Android. Just plug your phone into the USB-C port, fire up your emulator of choice, double check the key bindings, and enjoy.

8Bitdo SN30 Pro

8Bitdo SN30 Pro On Pixel

Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central

Whether you’re looking for the best Raspberry Pi accessories or just want a retro-looking controller for PC gaming, 8BitDo is always at the top of the list. The company has brought some classic controllers back to life with modern functionality like Bluetooth, rumble, motion controls, and multi-platform compatibility. The SN30 Pro is our current favorite due to how comfortable it is in the hand and our own SNES nostalgia, but the truth is that all of 8BitDo’s controllers are fantastic options for those who want to take advantage of emulators.

The company even offers a gaming clip that attaches to your 8BitDo controller so you can place your phone on the mount and game from anywhere. Do you have a few spare minutes on your lunch break? Grab your 8BitDo controller, snap your phone into the mount, and play a few levels in your emulator of choice before the clock strikes and it’s time to get back to work. The quality and reliability of these controllers cannot be understated enough, and 8BitDo is releasing new versions, or at least new color options, on a seemingly-regular basis.

Old but new

8Bitdo SN30 Pro Render

8Bitdo SN30 Pro

Retro controllers with new technology

8BitDo has taken the greatest retro controllers and upgraded them with all of the features you want in a modern controller. From Bluetooth connectivity to the classic D-Pad and multi-platform support, the 8BitDo SN30 Pro is simply one of the best controllers you can get.

Sony DualSense

Ps5 Dualsense On

Source: Jennifer Locke / Android Central

Ever since the PS5 launched, Sony has had enormous problems keeping up with the demand. Luckily, one new product that hasn’t seen any stocking issues is the all-new Sony DualSense controller that ships with the PS5. Thankfully, you don’t have to buy the console to get the controller, so you can grab one of these and connect it with your Android phone to enjoy some retro gaming on a next-gen controller.

Even with the complete redesign for the DualSense, the pairing process between the controller and your Android phone is the same as it’s always been. Then, you can fire up your favorite emulator, double check the key mapping, and start gaming with one of the best controllers that we’ve ever seen.

With the PS5

Dualsense Ps5 Transparent Render Large

Sony DualSense

Sony’s latest and greatest

Sony’s all-new DualSense is like a combination of the Xbox controller and PS4 DualShock controller. It offers the perfect combination of ergonomics and comfortability while being a great controller for those who want to game on their smartphones.

Xbox Core Controller

Xbox Series X

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central

With the all-new Xbox Series X and Series S available, Microsoft decided it was time to bring everyone a new controller. The Core Controller is not an extremely drastic upgrade over its predecessor, with the key difference being the improved D-Pad for more fine-tuned controls. Just like the DualSense, nothing has changed in the Android compatibility department so you can fire up the Settings app, put your controller in pairing mode, and get everything rolling.

If you don’t already have an old Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller hanging around the house, or plan on using Xbox Cloud Gaming along with your emulators, then the Core Controller is perfect. Microsoft went the route of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” with the design, and it’s a welcome mindset since the Xbox controller’s design is already a favorite for many.

Classic design, upgraded D-Pad

Xbox Series X Controller Transparent Render

Xbox Core Controller

Slight upgrades, same design

Microsoft didn’t change too much when it unveiled the new Xbox Core Controller, keeping a familiar ergonomic design. But the D-Pad has been upgraded, and the texture on the controller feels a bit better than the old version. Nevertheless, the Core Controller is a great pick for those who want to fire up some emulators.

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