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Emulation tests: Can the ASUS ROG Phone 3 handle these difficult retro games?

Let's see how the ASUS ROG Phone 3 stacks up when emulating PSP, PS2, 3DS, and GameCube games.

Published onJanuary 1, 2021

ASUS ROG Phone 3 Nest to Xbox Controller
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

The ASUS ROG Phone 3 was one of the best-reviewed phones of 2020 at Android Authority. Not only is it a great gaming phone, but it’s just a great phone in general. Of course mobile gaming only takes you so far. How does the ROG Phone 3 do when it comes to emulating console games? Good question.

The ROG Phone 3 is a specs beast and was the first smartphone on the market with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus. As such, there’s no point in testing out Super Nintendo or even PlayStation emulation. The ROG Phone 3 can handle anything from a fifth-generation console or earlier without breaking a sweat.

Related: ASUS ROG Phone 3 review: A gaming powerhouse for everyone

Instead, we’re going to go after the four most resource-heavy emulators for Android and try to emulate some of the toughest games for those consoles. In our ASUS ROG Phone 3 emulator testing, we’re focusing on the following:

  • Nintendo GameCube games using Dolphin (Vulkan backend)
  • Nintendo 3DS games using Citra (default settings)
  • PlayStation 2 games using DamonPS2 (optimized settings for each title)
  • PlayStation Portable games using PPSSPP (Vulkan backend)

For these tests, we’re using the top-of-the-line ROG Phone 3, which has 16GB of RAM, 512GB of UFS 3.1 storage, and that SD865 Plus clocked at 3.1GHz. Let’s get into the tests!

Dolphin: Nintendo GameCube

ASUS ROG Phone 3 with Xbox Controller Dolphin GameCube
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

For the ASUS ROG Phone 3 emulator tests related to Dolphin, I picked two hard-to-emulate games and one game that’s relatively easy to emulate for higher-end systems. The two tricky games are F-Zero GX and Metroid Prime, while I used The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker as a starter game.

As one would expect, the ROG Phone 3 had no problem emulating The Wind Waker. There were some brief stutters and dropped frames at the very beginning of the title screen animation, but once the game actually started, it was smooth as smooth can be. My FPS counter was essentially locked at 30fps, which is the native frame rate for the game.

The ROG Phone 3 proves that it can handle even the toughest GameCube games.

For Metroid Prime, things didn’t go as smoothly. The game worked just fine and is fully playable, but it’s not perfect. There were some times where the framerate dropped and caused some screen stutters, especially when moving from one room to another. This is a tricky game to emulate, so this is actually a really good result for a top Android phone.

F-Zero GX — which is one of the hardest GameCube games to emulate on any system — was the worst of the three. Dropped frames and audio stuttering happened quite a bit. Still, these issues didn’t mess up gameplay at all, which is definitely impressive.

Citra: Nintendo 3DS

ASUS ROG Phone 3 with Xbox Controller Citra Nintendo 3DS Mario
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

I tested out just two games with Citra: Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D and Super Mario 3D Land. The former is a hard game to emulate but not impossible, while the latter is probably the trickiest of all 3DS games.

Surprisingly, Donkey Kong played perfectly fine during my ASUS ROG Phone 3 emulation test. Yes, there were plenty of dropped frames and even some audio stuttering here and there, but I could play through multiple levels without issue. After a while, my brain stopped even noticing the jitters and I felt right at home.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Super Mario 3D Land. This game was unplayable on the ROG Phone 3. Audio stuttering and dropped frames resulted in Mario hovering in space for sometimes two seconds, messing up gameplay. These issues would cause me to take damage or even die in some cases, which was incredibly frustrating. I saw the same problem when playing this game on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, so it looks like Super Mario 3D Land is still just not ready for Android.

DamonPS2: PlayStation 2

ASUS ROG Phone 3 with Xbox Controller DamonPS2 Sony PlayStation 2
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

Unfortunately, PlayStation 2 emulation on Android necessitates using the DamonPS2 app. This paid app uses code directly lifted from the open-source PCSX2 emulator for Windows. The developer of DamonPS2 refuses to release their version of the code, which violates the GNU General Public License. You might not care about this behind-the-scenes drama, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it for this article.

I played two games for this ASUS ROG Phone 3 emulation testing: God of War and Shadow of the Colossus. The former is a resource-heavy game but still playable on many systems, while the latter is one of the hardest PS2 games to emulate, even on Windows.

See also: 15 best emulators for Android to play old favorites

Unexpectedly, the ASUS ROG Phone 3 absolutely crushed it at emulating God of War. Every now and then there were some weird artifacts on the screen, but the audio and framerate barely ever wavered. Kratos’ movements were smooth and animations looked terrific.

Shadow of the Colossus wasn’t nearly as good. In fact, Wander’s sword was rendered as a weird black blob, and there were similar blobs surrounding the screen. However, the game’s audio and framerates were actually really solid, much better than any Android phone I’ve ever used to test this game. While it would require a lot of compromises, this was the first time ever that I’ve felt I could actually play Shadow of the Colossus on a phone.

PPSSPP: PlayStation Portable

ASUS ROG Phone 3 with Xbox Controller PPSSPP Sony PSP
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

Some of the hardest PSP games to emulate are the two God of War titles: Ghost of Sparta and Chains of Olympus. I tested out both for this article and was stunned to see both of them run nearly flawlessly.

Ghost of Sparta looked incredible and was locked at nearly 60fps for the entire time. I didn’t hear any audio crackling and I didn’t spot any weird display artifacts. It was like playing the game on a real PSP.

Two of the toughest PSP games to emulate worked nearly flawlessly on the ROG Phone 3.

The same thing goes for Chains of Olympus. The game looked and played incredibly well on the ROG Phone 3.

Now, I’m sure an extremely nitpicky gamer would note that there were framerate dips here and there. But the fact that I could barely notice any hiccups playing these two games on a smartphone is pretty incredible.

ASUS ROG Phone 3 emulator tests: The verdict

ASUS ROG Phone 3 with Xbox Controller Citra Nintendo 3DS
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

My ASUS ROG Phone 3 emulation tests prove that this phone is probably the most powerful emulation system in the Android world right now. Sure, it failed to play some of the titles in a capable fashion, but these are the trickiest games for each console. There are literally thousands of other games for these four systems that the ROG Phone 3 could easily handle.

Don’t forget that these are sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-generation consoles, too. The ROG Phone 3 can probably play every game for Nintendo 64, PlayStation, Dreamcast, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and even Nintendo DS without much of a problem. That puts decades of gaming history in your pocket.

ASUS ROG Phone 3 display on table upright
ASUS ROG Phone 3
The best phone for gaming in 2020.
The ROG Phone 3 is a super-powered gaming phone with an overclocked processor, killer battery life, shoulder buttons, and a super-fast 144Hz display.

Still, if you want to know you can play every game possible, the ROG Phone 3 isn’t going to replace a high-end Windows-based PC. If you’ve got a powerful-enough Windows-based system, you can play even the problematic games here from start to finish without any hiccups at all. You can also emulate games from even newer consoles such as the Nintendo Wii U, PlayStation 3, and even the Nintendo Switch.

For now, the ASUS ROG Phone 3 emulation capabilities are probably going to be the best you can get from any Android phone.

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