The Best NES Emulators for Android [October 2020]

Thirty-seven years after the release of the NES, it’s easy to see why the system succeeded in the way it did. While the American public may have written off video games as a fad, Nintendo put the focus on the quality of their games in a big way. Many of the games Nintendo and their various third-party development partners created have stood the test of time, and the Nintendo Seal of Quality helped guarantee to buyers that what they were receiving wasn’t a piece of junk. Nintendo knew how to do business, marketing, and game development, and the quality of their system has helped them become the longest-standing console maker in the world, still creating hit consoles today with the recent success of the Nintendo Switch.

Although Nintendo does offer a library of NES games on the Switch to anyone who subscribes to their Nintendo Switch Online program, but it doesn’t have every NES game in existence. With NES cartridges prone to failure, where do you turn if you want to revisit the games of yesterday? Enter emulation. While emulation exists in all sorts of forms, it’s probably best known in the video game world, where classic games can be emulated to be played on all sorts of modern computers. Emulation exists for the majority of video game consoles; everything from the Atari 2600 up to the Gameboy Advance, PS2, and even the Wii U can be emulated in some state, though emulation is often imperfect and flawed in many ways.

Emulation does have a bit of a questionable legal background—we’ll talk about that more later on in this article—but it isn’t just used by unofficial third-parties. Both Nintendo’s Virtual Console platforms and their NES Classic and SNES Classic home console re-releases utilize emulation not only to display the game on your home television, but also to add features like save states that allow you to save your game despite the lack of a save feature built into the majority of NES cartridges.

Of course, emulation isn’t limited to just Nintendo’s official consoles and your computer. Your Android device has the full capabilities of playing plenty of classic games on the go thanks to emulators listed in the Play Store, which can be great when you’re looking for a new game to take on the road with you. We’ve previously covered how to play both DS and PSP games on your Android phone or tablet, but unlike those platforms, the NES actually has a number of different emulators to choose from. There’s no one-size-fits-all emulator like we’ve seen with platforms like Nintendo and Sony’s handheld consoles, where only one truly good app exists to play DS or PSP games. The NES has an abundance of choice, with both paid and ad-supported free applications that make it easy to choose the right app for your budget. There’s a ton of emulators to choose from, and we’ll count them down below.

How to Use NES Emulators on Your Android Device

In order to legally play NES games in an emulator, you must use original NES cartridges to dump the game files yourselves. This means acquiring NES cartridges you already own, which can be difficult if you’re looking for a specific game. It’s possible to purchase games on Ebay, however, and your local indie used games store will typically have something available for you to browse through. If you can’t find the game through legal means, then emulation can unfortunately quickly turn into piracy. That said, there are guides online on dumping your NES cartridges in order to play games the right, legal way, and all you have to do is check out the guide on NeoGAF here. It costs around $20 to buy the necessary hardware, and can quickly allow you to port your NES games into digital versions that you can take on the go on your phone.

With all that said, let’s dive into the world of NES emulation on Android and take a look at the best choices in emulators today.

Everyone else

Retro8 is one of the newer emulators to join this list, but that doesn’t stop it to being an excellent alternative to both John NES and Nostalgia.NES. It’s a great alternative to both platforms, and at just $1.99, is a great middle ground between the $3.99 John NES and the free-with-ads Nostalgia. The app is one of the better-looking emulators we’ve seen on Android, and in terms of pure graphic design, actually looks and feels quite similar to the NES Classic and SNES Classic consoles produced by Nintendo. Like John NES, Retro8 scans your system to find your dumped ROM files on either your storage or SD card, then imports the game list into your device automatically.

Each game is presented in alphabetical order, with automatic box art downloaded to present the game as a tile on the list. To begin playing the game, all you have to do is tap on its respective tile. Both visuals and audio are well-emulated, and the controls are solid for being touch-based. There are some additional options to choose from, including multiplayer, cheats, and turbo mode, and the app even includes a quick shortcut to GameFAQs in the pause menu. Overall, Retro8 is a great NES emulator that anyone would be happy to have in their collection.

NES.emu is one of several well-known emulators from developer Robert Broglia. In addition to his NES emulator covered here, he’s also developed SNES9x, often considered one of the best SNES emulators on the market today, as well as GBA.emu, GBC.emu, and even his Atari 2600 emulator, 2600.emu. He’s well known for making quality software that runs well on nearly any device, and NES.emu is no exception. The menu system, though a bit older in appearance, allows you to control your settings, load games, customize controls both on and off-screen, and even scan automatically for Wiimotes connected by Bluetooth nearby.

Controls are solid on this one, though the graphics are a bit outdated as well, but everything runs as smooth as you would expect from a popular NES emulator on Android. The emulator is one of the highest-rated on this list, and it’s easy to see why: it just works, and it works well.

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