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The best Nintendo 3DS emulators for PC and Mac

Citra Emulator really is a beast.
November 30, 2023
Citra Emulator screenshot

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

Before we start, it’s worth pointing out that we have excluded a few options from our list due to a lack of active development or untrustworthy development practices. As of writing, there are only two good Nintendo 3DS emulators on PC and Mac. Even then, RetroArch uses a Citra Emulator core, so at the end of the day, performance is identical on both.

The best Nintendo 3DS emulators for Mac and PC

  1. Citra Emulator (recommended)
  2. RetroArch

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 real competitors, 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 great 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. If you are playing on an aging PC, your mileage may vary.


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 one of our favorite emulators on Android, and an easy recommendation for PC, Mac, Linux, and iOS users too 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 the standalone Citra emulator if you only want Nintendo 3DS emulation. However, if you’re looking for multiple consoles, RetroArch is worth a shot.