Android Emulation: Nintendo
Nintendo Enterraintment System (NES)
The good old Nintendo Enterraintment System, or as often abbreviated NES. It was the first home video game console from Nintendo (except for the Color TV-Game), originally released in Japan in 1983 (known as Famicom) and two years later introduced in the US as the famous NES. Europe and rest of the world got their version even later in 1986 and 1987 respectively.
A little known fact about the original NES is that back in the day, there were couple of peripherals bundled with the system, at least in Japan, including BASIC cartridge, full add-on keyboard and tape drive to record the programs you create. But what really stands out in the whole console gaming saga is that Nintendo established the concept of console licensing, to avoid the “video game market crash” from 1983 that over-saturated the market with all kinds of software from third party companies. Of course this whole licensing concept, involved a chip that later caused trouble, especially in the NA version of the console.
Beside the problematic launch, by the end of the 1988 Nintendo reported 7 million units sold and the game library was still growing. Many classics were born in that period. The first Super Mario Bros. game, successor of the famous arcade game Mario Bros., Contra, Punch-Out!!, Zelda and many more.
As the original NES was running on a pretty dated Ricoh 2A03 8-bit CPU, it had to be retired by the end of 1995 and replaced by something newer as the competition and their consoles (SEGA) were pushing the limits at that time. Still, the original NES laid the foundation of the modern game consoles and it will always be remembered.
NES Emulation on Android
Similar to any older system, emulation of the NES console on modern Android devices is not only possible, but nearly perfect. The thing about any kind of emulation on portable devices such as Android smartphones and tablets, is that faster emulation leads to less CPU cycles and more battery life. Luckily we have couple of options here and I am going to list my personal recommendation. Feel free to search for other apps on the Play Store, surely you can find your favorite. I will only recommend one emulator, mainly because of the support it receives and the clear origins of the software.
Nostalgia.NES is a project based on the famous FCEUX core. Not only that, but the developer keeps it up to date by releasing new version of the app almost each time FCEUX’s core is updated. There are two version, lite and pro. The difference is that the lite version is free, but contains ads when trying to use some of the advanced features such as manual progress saving/loading and game rewinding that are enabled only when ads are displayed (ie. when you are connected to the internet). Furthermore, Nostalgia.NES supports emulation of the lightgun, external controllers (Moga and generic HID Bluetooth), cheat codes, transferable save states etc. Try the lite version for free and if you like it, purchase the PRO version to remove all ads. Nostalgia.NES is GPLv3-licensed and you can download its source code here.
Super Nintendo Enterraintment System (SNES)
As SEGA was pushing their 16-bit Genesis/Mega Drive in North America, it was time for Nintendo to push back. They came up with the successor of the original NES by adding one more letter in front of the name and basically making it a NES on (S)teroids. Albeit late to the party, the SNES was a huge success. It had a brand new Ricoh 5A22 16-bit CPU, extended color palette, improved sound and re-designed controller that now had 6 buttons.
However, all the bells and whistles were not the only reason the SNES became so popular. By loosening up their strict licensing policy, Nintendo enabled many developers to release their hit games on the console. Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development, backed up by their partner company RARE enabled Nintendo to directly support their product by releasing high quality software, exclusively available only on the SNES platform. Many iconic games were born thanks to this practice, including the Super Mario World franchise, Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct, Battletoads & Double Dragon, Yoshi’s Island, Super Mario Kart and many more.
SNES Emulation on Android
Same as with the original NES, there seems to be quite a lot of software on the Play Store, claiming to be “the best” emulator available. I narrowed my choice down to two emulators that I believe are truly supported and actively developed.
Snes 9x EX+
This is the first SNES emulator I am going to recommend in this article. Based on the real Snes9x 1.53, this Android version is completely free (with no ads), but requires an Android device that rocks at least 1Ghz CPU. Many users consider it to be the SNES emulator everyone should have. An older version based on Snes9x 1.43 is also available, but you will have to download it directly from the developer’s website and sideload the APK yourself.
As an alternative, this emulator developed by Neutron Emulation was built from the ground up to maximize performance and compatibility on Android devices. It supports plenty of features, including save states cloud syncing and external controllers. It comes in two flavors, the popular ad supported Lite variant (with limitations regarding save states) and the paid full restriction free version. You can try the SuperRetro16 lite for free and if you like it, purchase to full version later.
Bit wars were raging across the globe. Both Sony and Sega already had their 3D consoles fighting for a piece of the market share and Nintendo was late yet again. They were already working on the N64 (code name Project Reality), but they needed more than a mere 3D graphics. They needed a miracle. And that “miracle” was provided by SGI (Silicon Graphics, Inc) in form of a co-processor chip called Reality, one of the two main chips inside the Nintendo 64.
That chip alone gave the N64 the ability to render astonishing 3D graphics at that time (perspective correction, bilinear filtering, translucency, Z-buffering, mipmapping, fog), leaving the other competitors far behind. When finally launched in 1996, the audience was left speechless when Mario’s head was blobbing on the screen. However, Nintendo had problems supplying games and the console itself upon the initial launch. Nevertheless, it eventually became one of the most recognizable video game consoles ever made and it will be remembered as such.
Nintendo 64 Emulation on Android
It seems that N64 emulation was never really on par with other systems, not only on Android, but in general. Possibly the hardware used in the console proved to be more difficult to emulate. Or perhaps the lack of skilled developers left all known projects outdated and incomplete. Playing N64 games on Android is possible, but far from perfect. Only kept alive because of projects like the Mupen64+ and PJ64. Sadly, all available N64 emulators on the Play Store are derivatives from those two projects. As such, they provide limited game compatibility and emulation accuracy. I will provide one suggestions that I personally think is slightly above the rest, but feel free to try other apps as well.
As the name suggests, this emulator is built upon the Mupen64 core (the AE stands for Android Edition). The developer is not charging for the port, but there is a donation version available if you would like to support his work. Sadly, it appears that development has halted as the last update was in 2014. Newer versions are available on the developers website, but remain incomplete.
Gamecube, Nintendo WII and further development
We hit a brickwall here. The highly successful “Dolphin Emulator” on PC seems to be having a lot of problems on the android platform. There is no “stable” version released yet, but if
you like you can try the development versions. Compatibility is very limited and the emulation speed is quite low. Dolphin is not available on the Play Store yet, but you can download the APK files on the official website and side-load them manually (make sure you check Unknown Sources in Settings>Security first).
That’s it for now. Until further progress has been made regarding the compatibility, we are stuck right here when it comes to Nintendo emulation on Android devices.