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The best iPhone emulators

The market for iPhone games has become so wide and diverse that it can realistically compete with most console and PC offerings. Where we once only got cheap time-wasters, we now have complete experiences that don’t feel any less impressive than what the competition offers. In fact, a lot of games made for consoles are appearing on the iPhone now that it is becoming so powerful. However, older games have paradoxically been mostly absent from the app store.

That all could be about to change as emulation is now allowed on iPhone, though with some caveats that any retro fan should know about before getting too excited to play all your favorite NES games on your phone. Here’s what’s up with iPhone emulators, as well as our picks for a few of the best ones you can get right now.

What you need to know about emulation on iPhone

Emulators on iPhone, as well as emulation in general, are in a strange legal gray zone. Previously, the only way to get an emulator on your iPhone was through some workarounds that generally involved jailbreaking your phone. That differs from Android, which has enjoyed native emulators for years. In 2024, Apple updated its App Store guidelines to allow for emulators on its store, but with some important restrictions.

Here’s the exact wording: “Apps may offer certain software that is not embedded in the binary, specifically HTML5 mini apps and mini games, streaming games, chatbots, and plug-ins. Additionally, retro game console emulator apps can offer to download games. You are responsible for all such software offered in your app, including ensuring that such software complies with these guidelines and all applicable laws. Software that does not comply with one or more guidelines will lead to the rejection of your app. You must also ensure that the software adheres to the additional rules that follow in 4.7.1 and 4.7.5. These additional rules are important to preserve the experience that App Store customers expect, and to help ensure user safety.”

What this means is that, as with emulation as a whole, emulators themselves are legal and allowed on iPhone. ROMs, which are the games that emulators run, cannot be used without the owner’s permission. So, anyone could theoretically put an emulator on the App Store, but it would be illegal for them, or you, to put ROMs into it without legally purchasing them. The most likely scenario is that this will allow companies such as Sega and Nintendo to put emulators on iPhone to sell ROMs of their older games.

Best iPhone emulators

The new rules on the App Store have only recently gone into effect, but here are a few of the first and best emulators to hit the iPhone.

Emu64 XL

A commodore 64 game on iPhone.
Emu84 XL

One of the first emulators to hit the App store is taking us way back to the Commodore 64 days. Emu64 XL replicates the original system, with the programs themselves written in the original CBM64 basic programming language. You can play games using the virtual joystick or a keyboard that replicates the one used with the real console, or you can connect your own controller or keyboard to play. Perhaps the most fun part of this emulator is how easy it is to develop your own little games within it if you know some basic programming.

Delta

A collage of the delta emulator.
Delta

While the GBA4iOS was pulled from the store, we thankfully got Delta as a far better replacement. While the former was just a GameBoy Advance emulator, Delta can do so much more. If you’re a Nintendo fan, this one emulator can run NES, SNES, N64, DS, GameBoy, and GameBoy Advanced titles with full controller support. You can also take advantage of handy quality-of-life features like save states, a fast-forward option, local multiplayer, and cheats right within the emulator. This emulator has been supported for years off of iOS already, and promises to keep getting updates and new features moving forward.

RetroArch

The RetroArch logo.
RetroArch

RetroArch is one of the biggest names in emulation so it was only a matter of time before we saw it pop up in the App Store. For anyone who hasn’t heard of this emulator, it is essentially a hub that comes with a massive list of cores that are various established emulators. It comes preloaded with dozens, including several Atari, NES, Game Boy, GBA, SNES, SNK, Genesis, and other classic consoles. In addition to simply running games on those systems, it also adds several new features like netplay, cheats, and even retro achievements.

PPSSPP

The PPSSPP logo.
PPSSPP

Sure, the PSP is already a mobile console, but it is way more convenient to have it on your phone than having to carry around that old device and any UMDs you still have around. PPSSPP already mastered PSP emulation on PC and is bringing all that experience to mobile. The first thing you will notice is how it automatically brings all your games to HD. If you don’t have any of your own ROMs to bring over, it also comes with a built-in homebrew store. Since these games are completely original works, they are totally legal to download and play.

Gamma

A ps1 being emulated on Gamma.
Gamma

Following Delta’s naming convention, Gamma is a purely PS1 emulator. This one isn’t as bug-free at launch as the others, but the creator is still updating and making fixes to improve the experience. In addition to playing your PS1 games, this emulator comes with save states, external controller support via Bluetooth, and the ability to set a game’s artwork as a tile.

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Jesse Lennox
Jesse Lennox loves writing, games, and complaining about not having time to write and play games. He knows the names of more…
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