Nintendo strikes a massive blow to the emulator scene for Android

Tears of the Kingdom on AYN Odin 2
(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Companies like Sony and Nintendo have been diligent and downright ruthless when it comes to emulators over the years. However, it was nothing like what recently took place when Nintendo sued the parent company of Yuzu and Citra. The latter has been a staple since 2014, while the former hit the scene in 2018.

In late February, Nintendo filed a lawsuit against Tropic Haze LLC., claiming that it was "secondarily liable for the infringement committed by the users to whom it distributes Yuzu." The official documents go on to claim that The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom "were successfully downloaded from pirate websites over one million times before the game was published and made available for lawful purchase by Nintendo." Nintendo put the onus on Tropic Haze because people could download and play TOTK before it was officially available.

Tears of the Kingdom on Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Just a week later, a settlement was reached with the terms being that Tropic Haze LLC would have to pay Nintendo $2.4 million in damages, Yuzu and Citra would cease to exist, and the Yuzu website was "handed over" to Nintendo. We haven't seen anything quite like this before, as usually Nintendo can just threaten developers, and they will close up shop. It happened last year as a DMCA takedown was filed against "Lockpick," which was a tool that could be used to bypass Nintendo's Switch encryption.

(Image credit: Yuzu / Twitter)

What made this so much different is everything that has happened since then. Not only are Yuzu and Citra gone, but other emulators such as Pizza Boy GBA/GBC have been removed from the Play Store. DraStic, a popular Nintendo DS emulator, is now free on the Play Store to avoid any potential litigation. Although likely for different reasons, AetherSX2 for PS2 emulation has also been de-listed from the Play Store.

Where the likes of Yuzu and Citra made their biggest mistake, in my opinion, was putting certain builds behind a paywall. There were both free and paid versions available on the Play Store, but with Yuzu specifically, you could subscribe to Patreon and get an "Early Access Build." This could then be used to play Switch games on various devices ranging from the Pimax Portal to your Windows PC and more.

Nintendo 3DS Emulators

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Not to mention that Yuzu provided some rather in-depth and detailed instructions on everything you needed to do to get Switch games running on the best Android gaming handhelds. It also doesn't help that Yuzu is an emulator for a "current-gen" console. That said, it's pretty absurd when you consider that it's been seven years since the original Switch was released.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this is the end of the dominos falling and there isn't more fallout from this. However, I can't help but be worried, not because I pirate games (I don't), but because of what it means for the future of emulation.

The world of retro game emulation already lives within a rather large gray area. Some think it should all be illegal, and if you want to play those games, you should only do so using original hardware. Another side of the argument is in favor of game preservation, especially when it comes to consoles like the NES which will be 40 years old next year.

Game preservation is a real problem, and it's only getting worse, thanks to the digital age. Games, no matter how old, are being removed from various platforms, with these corporations giving us no other way to keep playing. The secondary market for retro games and consoles is getting worse by the day.

Playing Zelda through an emulator on the Fire TV Stick 4K Max

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Companies like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft would rather re-package a game and throw it on an online service, essentially making you pay again. At the same time, they're telling you that you can't play your games on hardware other than the original console with the original cartridge or disc. It's really not all that different than the never-ending onslaught of "remakes" that Hollywood continues to produce because it rarely can come up with an original idea.

With a "fresh-out-of-the-oven" newborn, I want him to be able to enjoy the games and consoles that I grew up on. And yes, that includes the Switch. But if Nintendo has its way, the only option I'll have is to hope that it gets added to the Switch Online service, provided that Nintendo has managed to keep that around and hasn't given up on it.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder running on Pimax Portal

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Not all hope is lost for emulation, as Nintendo didn't go through and get rid of all of the different emulators out there. One could even argue that the case being settled is a good thing, as it wouldn't have set a legal precedent for future emulators that might crop up. Plus, just days after the settlement was reached, open-source projects appeared that are now trying to pick up where the likes of Yuzu and Citra left off.

There's no telling whether these emulators will stick around, but it's a situation that I'll be paying close attention to. 

Andrew Myrick
Senior Editor - Chromebooks and tablets

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.

  • zdanee
    Joke is on them, I wouldn't have bothered checking out yuzu or citra if not for this as I always considered emulating inferior to the real hardware. Well imagine my surprise when I found out my phone runs games better than Nintendo's own hardware.
  • cribble2k
    People need to stop being poor and just buy the games.
  • Michele Beccalossi
    cribble2k said:
    People need to stop being poor and just buy the games.
    Can't tell if you have a horrible sense of humor, a complete misunderstanding of emulators or if you're just absolutely insane.