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The best iOS emulators you can get your hands on
Modern games are great, but nothing beats the classics. Emulators make it possible to play retro games using our smartphones. And don’t think they are exclusive to Android; you can also use them on iOS, even if it takes some tinkering. Let’s go over the basics and then move on to the best iPhone emulators around.
Important: What you must know about iOS emulators
You can find many apps in the Apple App Store, all of which are safe and have undergone a rigorous filtering system to ensure quality and security. This is why you won’t find emulators in the Apple App Store.
This is because emulators are in a bit of a gray area in terms of legality. While using emulators isn’t necessarily illegal, you need ROM files of the games you will be playing. Creating or distributing ROMs can essentially count as pirating. Some believe it’s legal if they’ve purchased the titles and digitalized them into ROM files for personal use, but Nintendo would beg to differ. We’re no legal advisors, so do your legal research before proceeding to use emulators and ROMs.
Emulators are in a bit of a gray area in terms of legality.
Additionally, because emulators aren’t on the Apple App Store, you often need to download them from third-party sources. This represents an inherent risk, and you should be careful about what you download off the internet. Do your research on any website you deal with.
You’re now probably wondering why we’re talking about downloading apps for iOS from other sources. Many don’t know this, but it’s possible to sideload apps on iOS. It’s not meant for ordinary users, but for companies to provide internal apps to their workers without the need to list an application publicly. Companies need approval from Apple, which the manufacturer calls an “enterprise certificate.”
iPhone emulator providers will work around Apple’s limitations and obtain these certificates to share apps with you. The issue is that, since Apple is still battling emulators, the company will often revoke these certificates. The emulator will stop working if this happens, and you’ll have to wait for the developer to obtain access again.
How to pick the right iOS emulator
With the disclaimer out of the way, we must highlight some factors you need to consider before picking the best iPhone emulator.
- Do you need to jailbreak?: Jailbreaking is the iOS equivalent of rooting. It gives you complete access to the device’s system files, allowing you to manipulate the OS and unlock capabilities that would be strictly blocked using the stock software. Emulators used to need jailbreak to work on an iPhone. This is no longer the case. Try to pick emulators that can be sideloaded to an iPhone.
- Can you get the emulator from a trusted source?: Grabbing your web files from the internet can be dangerous, especially if you’re going to install it on a personal device with all your essential apps and files. Grabbing the IPA files from a trusted source is paramount.
- Multi-platform vs single-console: We grew up using emulators that would only emulate a single console. So we had to download multiple emulators if we wanted to play games from different consoles. This is no longer necessary. Some iPhone emulators support ROMs from various platforms. You need to check the compatible consoles emulators can emulate to ensure you can play your favorite games.
- Gamepad support: Most of the best iPhone emulators support controllers, but some don’t. Controller support is important for avid gamers, so this is something to watch out for.
The best iPhone emulators
It’s time to talk about the available options. By the way, most of these are available for download from the AltStore, which was created by Delta, one of the most popular emulator developers out there. You can learn how to install the AltStore app here.
Eclipse: No jailbreak or sideloading required
You no longer need to jailbreak your iPhone to play most emulators. And with Eclipse, you don’t even need to sideload it! The Eclipse emulator works straight from your browser, and it is pretty awesome for an online emulator.
For starters, it supports a wide variety of systems, including Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, NES, Super Nintendo, Sega Master System, and Sega Game Gear. It also supports touch, keyboard, and gamepad input.
All of these benefits make Eclipse our very favorite iPhone emulator for most users.
Delta: The most versatile emulator
Delta is a favorite among iPhone emulator gamers, and for many reasons. The UI is among the best, and comes with plenty of features. These include multi-system support for NES, SNES, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 64, and Sega Genesis.
It also supports a nice variety of controllers, such as Cboc controllers, PlayStation pads, and even Nintendo Switch peripherals. As the creator of the AltStore, Delta is available straight from there.
Retro Arch: The emulator with the best availability
Retro Arch is unique in that it’s so widely available. You can use it on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. Additionally, it’s available for Linux, Raspberry Pi, Apple TV, Xbox, PlayStation, PS Vita, PSP, PS3, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, Steam, browsers, and even GameCube. You can run Retro Arch on pretty much anything!
It can also emulate a plethora of consoles. These include PS, PS2, PSP, Sega Saturn, Sega Dream Cast, Sega Game Gear, NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, GameCube, Nintendo Wii, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, Atari, and many others.
Provenance: A great multi-system emulator
Provenance is another great multi-system emulator with plenty of support for all kinds of consoles. These include various Atari systems, NES, SNES, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, GameCube, Wii, Nintendo 64, GBA, Sega Saturn, Sega Game Gear, PlayStation, and even SNK Neo Geo Pocket/Pocket Color.
The iPhone emulator is also readily available straight from The AltStore. It also supports MFi, Steam, and iCade controllers.
DolphineiOS: The best for GameCube and Wii
We gave you plenty of iPhone emulators with wide console support, but maybe you don’t care about all those. If all you want is to emulate GameCube and Wii games, DolphiniOS will serve you just right.
The emulator has plenty of nifty features, including integrated cheat support, online gaming, texture packs, and more. It’s available from the AltStore, as well as the official website.
Play!: The best PS2 emulator
The PlayStation 2 reshaped a generation, and it’s time to relive the golden gaming days with Play!. This emulator only supports PlayStation emulation. It is simple, can be easily sideloaded, and works without complex configurations.
iPhone emulators are available, but you won’t find them in the Apple App Store. You will have to either sideload the app, jailbreak your iPhone, or use a web-based emulator.
Apple isn’t very clear on its reasoning, but the community believes Apple doesn’t allow emulators on its app store because of the likelihood people are using them to play illegally distributed games.
We can understand why you would be wary of tinkering with your iPhone and getting away from Apple’s protective arms. Thankfully, running an emulator without jailbreaking or sideloading is possible. Eclipse is a great emulator, and it runs 100% from your browser. So far, cloud emulation is the only way to accomplish this.
We don’t know of any paid iPhone emulators so far. Because these can’t be listed in the Apple App Store, it’s hard to monetize emulators. Most developers take donations, though.