The recently officially discontinued (September 2020) Nintendo 3DS handheld gaming console has received much love and praise during its 9-year-long lifetime and was also hailed as the last great portable console. Although emulation has been around for about two decades, 3DS emulators have never really stuck to PCs, probably due to the portable nature of the original console, and they had a much bigger user base on smartphones. We’ve curated a list of some of the better Nintendo 3DS emulators for Android phones, so, without further ado, let’s get right into it!
DraStic 3DS emulator is most likely the best out there; we only say most likely because it’s not free to use – it costs $4.8 on Google Play, and there is not a free demo version, so it might turn away people who would only play a couple of games, and those who are making their baby steps in the world of emulated gaming. Also, it might be off-putting to those who aren’t sure if their phones can actually support it since it does require some midrange to high-end configuration with a quad-core processor.
However, do not let these couple of small cons hold you back from trying this amazing piece of software – it has overwhelmingly positive reviews on Google Play for a reason! Provided the phone is strong enough, it has amazing graphics settings, which make the game seem much more modern, smooth, and appealing (unless you specifically want the original old-school graphics); it also offers six different screen layouts, both in portrait and landscape mode, which are useful when you don’t want to see dual-screen at all times.
Some other useful features it has is controller support, for when you don’t want to mess with iffy touchscreen controls, a huge base of cheat codes, when life gets too hard, as well as optimized battery usage, just so you don’t have to sit attached to your charger all the time. The feature that sets it apart from other emulators for Android is that it’s saving your progress and synchronizing it using the space on your Google Drive, so you can continue where you left off from a different device. Another interesting detail is that has a “Fast Forward” option, which lets you skip long dialogues and cutscenes.
I’m going to refrain from saying the name is the absolute best thing about this emulator, but, seriously, the wordplay is top-notch. Aside from that, it might be one of the better-performing on some weaker configurations, as it has the option to lower the graphics as well as disable sound in favor of more frames per second and smoother gameplay. It also has the self-guard feature, which means it’s an autosave happening in set time intervals, so you don’t need to worry about losing your progress. The most important feature is that Pretendo can read not only .rom files but also all other types you might find, such as .ds, .zip, .rar, .exe, etc.
Now, onto its bad sides: it seems it has been revoked from Google Play, so you will most likely have to find and install the APK file to use it. It’s also overwhelmed with ads popping up all over the place, which might ruin your gameplay experience and even cause instability and crashes. However, if you can get past this, this might be the perfect emulator of choice for you.
Now, Citra is the absolute reigning champion in the Nintendo 3DS emulators for PC category, and while it’s not the best on Android, taking into regard how recently it was released (in May 2020), it’s already running pretty well and is capable of playing quite a lot of games. Despite the constant flow of demands by Citra’s community for developers to make an Android version, the dev team was hesitant at first, due to the huge number of new features and changes they would have to make in order for it to work, the first, albeit an unofficial, version of Citra for Android was made by a developer SachiVin. It was plagued with various types of issues and Citra’s team couldn’t respond to the growing support requests, since it wasn’t made by them. However, soon they invited SachiVin to collaborate with them, and together they made the official Citra for Android, avoiding unnecessarily doubling the workload and doing things that might already have been done.
Keep in mind it’s still in beta, so it naturally has issues, but it also has some features other emulators might not have, such as support for tilt controls, since most of the smartphones from newer generations have motion sensors. It’s also capable of increasing the resolution and making old games look way better in the process. The minimum requirements for using Citra is 64-bit Android 8 with support for OpenGL 3.2, as well as Snapdragon 385 CPU and newer. Like the PC version, Citra is free, and donations are always possible through the developer team’s Patron or via Citra Premium for Android, which grants the Dark Mode feature, a personal favorite of many computer and phone users nowadays.
There are some other 3DS emulators for Android phones that weren’t included in the list, and we’ll give them honorable mentions here, such as RetroArch, about which we’ve talked in a couple of different instances, and it’s more-or-less the same as with the PC version – it’s not the simplest to use, unlike others on the list, but it’s also ad-free because it’s open-source. We’d also like to mention nds4droid, another open-source emulator based on DeSmuMe, which is completely free and has a decent game pool, but it’s also quite slow, even on newer phones. If you don’t mind paying, you might want to go for DraStic; if you already have Citra and you trust its dev team, you might opt for that one. We suggest you try all of these, provided your phone is strong enough to support emulation.