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The best Nintendo 3DS emulators for PC and Mac

Citra Emulator really is a beast.
April 18, 2023
Citra Emulator screenshot

The Nintendo 3DS was a super popular console. It sold over 75 million units during its run, and housed some iconic titles. Some of the titles include several Pokemon games, the Etrian Odyssey series, Kid Icarus, Radiant Historia, and various Mario, Zelda, and Kirby games. The handheld system is discontinued as of September 2020, and the Nintendo eShop as of March 2023. Thus, emulation is the only way to enjoy some of these old favorites. Here are the best Nintendo 3DS emulators for PC and Mac.

There are a couple of 3DS emulators that we're not listing for various reasons. 3dmoo, for example, hasn't been in active development since 2015. Others, like R4 3DS Emulator, aren't trustworthy, so we don't recommend them. Some other sites like to pad their numbers by adding regular Nintendo DS emulators like DeSmuME. We are avoiding that practice as well. As of this writing, there are only two competent 3DS emulators. Even then,  RetroArch uses a Citra Emulator core, so there is actually only one competent Nintendo 3DS emulator.

The best Nintendo 3DS emulators for Mac and PC

  1. Citra Emulator (recommended)
  2. RetroArch

Read more:

Citra Emulator

Citra screenshot 2023
Joe Hindy / Android Authority

The single best Nintendo 3DS emulator, without a shadow of a doubt.

  • Pricing: Free
  • Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android (Downloads)

What we like:

  • Easy to use and configure.
  • Works on PC, Mac, Android, and Linux.
  • Actively developed.
  • Decent compatibility. Over half of 3DS games play either perfectly or very well.

What we don’t like:

  • With no natural competitors, if Citra doesn’t do it for you, you have no other options.

Citra Emulator is the best Nintendo 3DS emulator for a variety of platforms, including PC, Mac, Linux, and Android. It features good compatibility, hardware controller support, and the usual emulator stuff like savestates and built-in cheat support. Since most games are single-player, we don’t think anyone will mind the cheat support.

In any case, the emulator is pretty easy to use in day-to-day use. Our test games worked fine, although you may need to decrypt some games. It’s quite a process for the uninitiated, but not terribly difficult once you get used to it. Our test games played at good performance with no tinkering necessary, but we are testing on a fairly powerful PC. Other platforms may need some extra love.


RetroArch Citra core screenshot 2023
Joe Hindy / Android Authority

RetroArch is an excellent all-in-one emulator that includes Nintendo 3DS support via its Citra core.

  • Pricing: Free
  • Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS (Downloads)

What we like:

  • It’s available everywhere.
  • It uses Citra as its core, so it has the same compatibility as the standalone emulator.
  • You can play a variety of other consoles with RetroArch, making it a good all-in-one option.
  • There are enough configuration options to work for most people.

What we don’t like:

  • The setup has a learning curve.

RetroArch is the best all-in-one emulator on most platforms. It’s an easy recommendation for PC, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS users since it can do Nintendo 3DS games as well as dozens of other consoles. Setting it up is a bit of a pain. You have to download the core, load the core, load the game, and then you can play it or configure your experience from there. It’s not bad at all once you get used to it, but it may be a bit intimidating for people who are new to the emulator experience.

RetroArch uses cores to play games. Think of each core as a console that you can load in like a plugin. Thus, you only have to download the cores you want for the consoles you’re interested in. The creator of the 3DS core is Citra, the same developer as the standalone Citra Emulator. Thus, your experience should be the same with RetroArch. We recommend Citra if you only want Nintendo 3DS emulation. However, if you’re looking for multiple consoles, RetroArch is worth a shot.

If we missed any great Nintendo 3DS emulators, tell us about it in the comments.