Let's face it: as gamers, some of our best memories come from our earliest days with the medium, whether you were playing on cabinets at the arcade or on your Atari at home, whether you were a Nintendo child or a Sega child. So sometimes you can't help but get the craving for some old-school gaming, and that can pose a bit of a problem if your old console (and/or your games) has been lost, died, been given away, or, in the case of you arcade rats, you simply no longer have anywhere to go.
That's where emulators come in. Emulators let you run (or, you know, emulate) digital versions of some of your favorite old games without the necessary hardware, from the NES to Genesis to MAME (multiple arcade machine emulators) and everything in between. And now, emulators are available for Android tablets, letting you take your trip back in time on the go, something that wouldn't be possible even if your trusty SNES were still kicking. Here are a few tips on how you can get your tablet all set up for emulating so you can get to gaming in no time.
But before we get started, one quick disclaimer: the use of emulators and the digital versions of the games (ROMs) falls into a bit of a moral gray area. After all, it's basically a free way to play games that you would have originally had to pay for (or, in the case that you pay for an emulator or a ROM, someone else besides the original creators of the products are making money). So the general rule of thumb is that you should stick to the platforms that you own, and the same goes for the ROMs of the games. We do not, in any way, endorse copyright infringement.
In order to emulate old-school games on your Android tablet, you're going to need two things: an emulator, which is basically the digital equivalent of the console on which you wish to play, and a ROM, which is essentially a digital copy of whatever game you want to play.
In terms of what's floating around out there on the internet, there are tons of options for you to choose from when selecting an emulator, so downloading one directly through your browser is probably your best bet. On Android devices, your first instinct may be to hit up the official Android Market or Google Play Store to see what emulation apps are available, but this isn't the best choice in terms of selection.
The Android Market/Google Play Store is a little hit or miss in terms of what it can provide in the way of emulators, because Google has a tendency to yank such apps due to the aforementioned legal issues. App developer Yong Zhang, for instance, provided a slew of emulator apps to the Store -- including those for NES, SNES, N64, and Genesis games -- but in May of last year, they were all pulled and Zhang had his developer rights revoked by Google. Since emulators have a tendency to vanish, selection is limited.
That said, some of the better emulators I found were SuperGNES (a Super Nintendo emulator), a MAME emulator called MAME4droid, and FPse, a PSOne emulator. But again, after seeing what happened with the high-profile works of Mr. Zhang, it remains to be seen how long they'll be available.
There's also the issue of paid versus free apps; most of the emulators that are available in the Play Store have a free ("Lite") version and a paid version, with the free version often sporting ads and usually lacking in both quality and features. Super GNES had a "Lite" version, for example, which did not have the crucial feature of save states. That's bad news, because unless you're willing to shell out $4 for the full version of SuperGNES, you're going to have to make plans to hunker down and beat Super Mario World all in one sitting.
I recommend just poking around the internet through your browser for emulators. You're more likely to find free emulators that are both full-featured and generally work better than what you can find on the Market. Usually, you can just search for and pull down APK files for the different emulators (though you will need one of the many free APK installers from the Play Store, like Apk Manager, to install an emulator from an APK file).
When choosing your emulator, you're not just looking for a good quality program that supports a wide selection of ROMs and can run them without crashing. You also want to keep in mind that the best ones have desirable features like save states and support for third-party controllers, "turbo" buttons, and cheats. You can still get some of the best emulators from Yong Zhang, who, after having all of his material pulled by Google, posted the APKs for his emulators on SlideME. These include free copies of Gensoid, SNesoid, and Nesoid (emulators for Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Nintendo Entertainment System, respectively, for those who couldn't tell), all of which are excellent choices. But there are obviously plenty of solid choices from other developers; in fact, my preferred option for SNES emulation is SNES9X, which can be found with a quick Google search.
There are a handful of paid options out there that are certainly worth your while, including Zhang's Nintendo 64 emulator N64oid, which will run you $5, or the aforementioned FPse.
Keep in mind the inherit risks of downloading installing any old APK file you find online on your tablet. While we encountered no issues with malware, installing from unknown sources always poses some risk.
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