There’s a new free emulator collection on the Android market, Retroarch Android. The UI is confusing and has some flaws, but overall I like it.
If you like emulation and retrogaming, that’s a strong reason to pick Android over the iPhone. The iPhone has a strict “no 3rd party runtimes” rule, which has prevented most emulators from being approved. Someone snuck MAME into a Gridlee app, which hasn’t been pulled yet.
On Android, there’s no ban on emulators. There are multiple emulators for every popular system. However, many of them are closed-source ports of GPL code, a violation of that license. Some people took an open-source GPL emulator, put an Android wrapper around it, and then started selling it without disclosing the source code. Retroarch is 100% open-source.
Retroarch already existed for other platforms. People use it to play old games on their PS3, Xbox 360, or Wii. (You may need to hack or mod your console to run Retroarch.) Now, there’s an Android port.
Retroarch uses a different “core” for each system. That’s the reason many different emulators are packaged as one.
Retroarch covers a lot of systems:
- Playstation (via PSXReArmed)
- Super Nintendo (via SNES9x Next)
- NES (via NESTopia)
- Game Boy/Game Boy Color (via Gambette)
- Game Boy Advance (via GBA Next)
- Sega Genesis/Master/Game Gear (via Genesis Plus GX)
- and quite a few others!
The only major omission is MAME, but it does have Final Burn Alpha.
I had already bought fpse, and compared it to Retroarch. I compared 3 games, and I’m surprised that Retroarch emulated them better! For example, Pro Pinball Timeshock on fpse leaves ball trails as it moves, but it works on Retroarch. Unfortunately, Devil Dice neither works in Retroarch nor fpse. Now, I feel silly buying fpse, but that was before Retroarch Android was released.
I compared SNESoid and NESoid to Retroarch. Retroarch is better. SNESoid and NESoid can’t handle when you have multiple simultaneous keypresses, like run+dash+jump in Super Mario Brothers. I thought it was a problem with my phone, but Retroarch handles it perfectly!
There are minor annoyances with Retroarch. It doesn’t support analog controls, for the few PS1 games that use it. You have to use the overlays to access the “quck menu” for saves; there’s no option to map a key to the quick menu. For some bizarre reason, the overlay opacity was too much in NES; it worked with other cores. If you have a physical keyboard, you have to disable controller autodetection, so you can map keys yourself.
I still haven’t found a good Android emulator for Atari 800. The two I tried didn’t work well.
Overall, I like Retroarch. It’s better than the other emulators I tried. It’s open source, so it should continue to be upgraded. It has some minor UI flaws, but they should be fixed soon.