Until recently, the Nintendo 3DS was the fourth best-selling handheld console of all time. Now that the Nintendo Switch has been around for a few years, it's taken over the 3DS, but there's no denying that the 3DS isn't still a great console.
But for those that no longer have their 3DS and want to play some of those classics, you'll need one of the best Nintendo 3DS emulators for Android. Unlike Game Boy or NES/SNES emulators, there just aren't as many good Nintendo 3DS emulators available. Nevertheless, we've rounded up the best of the best.
These are the best Nintendo 3DS emulators for Android
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Although Citra Emulator has been around for PC and Mac users for years, it's still a relative newcomer to the Android emulation space. The app was officially released in 2020, and has been seeing regular updates to bring all (and more) of the features you would expect.
On the other hand, DraStic DS reigned supreme for years until it was recently displaced. For many, though, this is still the best Nintendo 3DS emulator for Android, as there aren't many limitations when it comes to what phones can use it.
If you're into emulating on Android and don't want to have a bunch of different apps installed, then RetroArch is the way to go. The app can be used to emulate a wide-variety of different consoles, including the 3DS thanks to the different "cores" that can be downloaded and installed.
1. Citra Emulator
Those who want to experience the best that Nintendo 3DS emulation has to offer will want to give Citra a shot. The app has been around since April 2014, but it only started out as an emulator for your PC. Since then, we've seen releases made available on macOS, Linux, and finally, Android. It may not be official support on a Nintendo Switch, but it's pretty good all the same.
The Android app was officially made available in May 2020, and since then, has become the de-facto choice for 3DS emulation. There is a free version available, or you can purchase Citra Premium for $5, which unlocks extra features like Dark Mode. Just like other emulators, Citra scans your phone for any ROMs that have been saved so you can start playing easily.
There are a few sticking points, with the largest being that Citra won't run smoothly on just any Android device. The rule of thumb seems to be that your phone should be running a flagship processor from the last two or three years. Otherwise, the gameplay just won't run smoothly, and you'll be left looking for another emulator to use.
Raw 3DS power for flagships
Citra may be a relative newcomer to the Play Store, but this emualtor has been around for years on other platforms. After the unofficial Android port fell to the wayside, Citra picked up the slack and is the best Nintendo 3DS emulator for Android.
2. DraStic DS Emulator
For years, DraStic DS was the best choice for those looking at 3DS emulators on the Play Store, but it hasn't received updates in a while. Although Citra may be the newer fan-favorite, DraStic is still one of the best emulators for Android today. The app automatically enhances just about any game you throw at it, along with providing support for some of the best game controllers for Android.
Those who don't want to deal with Bluetooth controllers can customize the on-screen interface. Creating Save States is a breeze, but one nifty feature with DraStic is the ability to link your Google Drive account for cloud storage. This makes it so that you can start your game on one device, then pick up right where you left off on another.
And if cheat codes are your style, DraStic has you covered there too. There are a number of cheat codes available within the app, making it easy to load the code in the middle of the game. As is the case with many of the best Nintendo 3DS emulators for Android, you might want to make sure you have a larger screen so your hands don't get cramped.
Still one of the best emulators
DraStic DS held the title of best 3DS emulator for quite some time. The app hasn't seen regular updates in a while, but it still works just fine with most of your ROMs and works on more devices than options like Citra.
Whether you're looking for the best 3DS emulators or if you're wondering how to emulate NES, SNES, or Nintendo DS on Android, RetroArch offers a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead of focusing on emulating just one console, there are different "cores" that can be installed within RetroArch. These cores act as the consoles you're trying to emulate, meaning that you can use this app with just about any platform imaginable.
RetroArch also makes it easy to remap controller button placement and provides weekly updates. There is a bit of a learning curve, as the app can be a bit difficult to navigate when trying to find certain features. But once you get everything up, running, and customized to your liking, then it's full-steam ahead.
Use this for more than just your 3DS ROMs
Instead of focusing on just a single console, RetroArch has the distinct advantage of being able to emulate a wide array of consoles. This works admirably for the Nintendo 3DS, but if you want to emulate other consoles, this is the way to go.
Some more solid Nintendo 3DS emulators for Android
Though they didn't quite make it into our top three, here are some other excellent Nintendo 3DS emulators for you to try out.
Lemuroid is a solid alternative to RetroArch since it's based on the same Libretro APIs. The biggest difference here comes down to the interface; Lemuroid is much easier to customize and interact with compared to other, older emulators. Late last year, the developers implemented quite a few requested features that were available in other emulators, including the ability to fast-forward automatically, change the resolution for certain games, and implementations to improve audio quality.
Like RetroArch, Lemuroid also makes it possible to play an array of emulated games. But it's clear that the developers have some magic on their hands, as this is quickly becoming one of the best Nintendo 3DS emulators for Android.
Since there aren't too many differences in the functionality between Lemuroid and RetroArch, you might be wondering why Lemuroid is not included in the "big three." Well, despite having a more user-friendly interface, RetroArch is still the better option since it can emulate more platforms.
Much more user-friendly
Like RetroArch, Lemuroid offers the ability to emulate a variety of different consoles, including the Nintendo 3DS. The biggest difference here is that the interface is much more user-friendly compared to other emulators.
Lying in the weeds, there's another Nintendo 3DS emulator looking to take the crown for being the best. melonDS is another emulator that got its start on Windows, and has recently been released for Android. Unlike others on this list, you won't find this on the Play Store.
The developers are still working on the beta version, and that's why it's currently hosted on GitHub. There also seem to be almost weekly updates to melonDS. The biggest reason for seeing regular updates is that unlike other options on this list, melonDS is open-source. There's no paid version available, so if you download this, you're not missing out on any features. It may not be as fully-featured as Citra or DraStic, but it's definitely on the right path.
Open-source development at its finest
As is the case with many emulators, melonDS Emulator derives from a desktop client, and is still being actively developed. The app is available in a beta status from GitHub and works surprisingly well.
Plenty of options
Emulation can be a mixed bag, but with a little bit of work, you can find a ton of fun experiencing older games for the first time or all over again. Many of these apps are continuing to be improved, so check back frequently to see if the developers have any big updates to share.
If you're new to emulation, don't be intimidated. We recommend starting with something simple like Citra. It's easy to use and, despite its (relative) early stage of development compared to other apps, is perfectly functional and receives regular support.
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Andrew Myrick is a Senior Editor at Android Central. He enjoys everything to do with technology, including tablets, smartphones, and everything in between. Perhaps his favorite past-time is collecting different headphones, even if they all end up in the same drawer.