While there is a huge selection of excellent games available for Android phones and tablet, as you can see in our list of the best Android games of all time, it’s also possible to go back to classic platforms of the past and enjoy some retro action.

Game emulators can allow players to relive old Nintendo, PlayStation, and even 8-bit titles, all without the need to find a working RF lead or VGA connector. We show you the quick and easy way to emulate games on an Android device.

Are game emulators legal?

While the majority of emulators that you’ll find on the Google Play Store are all legit and above board, games themselves are more problematic. Most emulators use ROMs of games, which are usually illegally copied from originals.

Some games have long since fallen out of copyright, as the owning companies have gone out of business, but as with any digital rights area it’s something of a minefield.

If a game has been made open-source, or put in the public domain, then it’s presumably fine to use, but you would be wise to check with the copyright owner.  In short, the only sure way to know about the legality of a game is to thoroughly research it before you download anything. Caveat Emptor, and all that.

Just know that emulator apps don’t come with games, so for any of those mentioned below to work, you’ll first need to acquire the titles and have them on your SD card or internal storage.

How do I find an emulator?

There is a surprisingly rich selection of game emulators on the Play Store. So, it’s probably best to decide on which system you want to revisit before you begin searching for an app.

If classic Nintendo games are your jam, then you’ll want to check out some of these fine options.

Nintendo N64

MegaN64 is a simple, well-designed app that runs N64 titles easily on most Android phones. For fans of the console that boasted Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Mario Golf, Perfect Dark, Super Mario 64, and others, this is an easy choice.

how to emulate games on android

SNES

Another firm favourite with retro gamers is the classic Super Nintendo Entertainment System (or SNES).

It’s not surprise, as the platform was a vehicle for all-time greats such as Metroid, Chrono Trigger, Super Mario World, and many others.

Go get a flavour of the SNES experience, download Snex9x EX+, which alongside its snappy and easy to remember name, is actually a very good emulator.

Game Boy?

MyOldBoy is a very popular Game Boy and Game Boy Colour emulator. The full version costs £3.37 to buy at the moment, but there’s also a free version available, although the latter doesn’t allow you to load save games.

The same developers also have a variant for the Game Boy Advance, called My Boy! This is a bit pricier at £4.59, but again there’s a free version you can try out.

Sega Mega Drive / Genesis

If your allegiance is more on the Sega side of town then MD.emu is a fine place to start. This comprehensive app can play games from the Genesis, Mega Drive, Sega CD, and Master System.

how to emulate games on android

MD.emu costs £3.49 to buy, and comes Robert Broglia, the same developer responsible for Snex9x EX+ and a number of other very popular emulators on the app store.

PlayStation

The final member of the classic console triumvirate is Sony’s original PlayStation, and there is no shortage of emulators currently available for the little grey box that took the world by storm when it was launched in 1994.

One of the best rated ones on the Play Store is ePSXe which started life on the PC until it was rebuilt with mobile devices in mind.

how to emulate games on android

Currently available for £2.37, it’s a great way to see how the PlayStation empire was built.

Atari 2600

No list of this kind would be complete without an emulator for the console which started the whole gaming thing for many people: The Atari 2600.

2600.emu is one of the best on offer, especially at the low £1.99 price.

how to emulate games on android

While the Atari graphics are frankly comical by even mobile game standards these days, there’s still fun to be had with these titles. Just make sure you avoid Custer’s Revenge. Seriously.  

Can I still use my old console instead?

If the emulator route isn’t quite what you’re after, especially with the questionable legality of many games, then you can either hunt down the original tech (use our Where to buy old games and consoles in the UK guide to get you going), or opt for one of the new ‘retro’ consoles that have begun to appear.

Pick of the bunch is the Nintendo SNES Classic Mini, which was a huge hit at Tech Advisor when we reviewed it recently. 

how to emulate games on android

It comes with 21 games preloaded, including Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, Mega Man X, Super Mario Kart, Super Metroid, and plenty of other great titles.

At £69.99 it’s not cheap, but there’s no doubt this is the best way to enjoy retro games on a modern device.