Retro Gaming on Android (2024 Complete Guide)

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Forget owning tons of retro gaming consoles and hardware. You can play all your favorite retro video games right on your Android device using RetroArch while connecting any Bluetooth gaming controller and casting to your TV.

Your Android phone will basically become a Nintendo Switch, with you now being able to game on the go with on screen controls, or connecting it to your TV to play with a controller.

Basically, all of your retro games and consoles and progress made all in one convenient place.

This guide will show you how to access classic video games from iconic gaming consoles such as the SNES, Atari, Gameboy, N64, PS1, Sega Genesis, NES, Sega Master System, Neo Geo, and more, all right on your android phone in one single app.

With this setup you can access 48 retro gaming consoles right from your phone.

These retro consoles & games run smoothly on modern smartphone chips since they are much more powerful than necessary to handle them.

Below you will find our step-by-step guide to walk you through the process of installing the free and open-source RetroArch app, setting up your preferred virtual consoles, and adding your favorite games.

We'll also guide you through the simple process of connecting any wireless Bluetooth controller to your device and casting to your TV to play on the big screen.

Whether you're a seasoned retro gamer or new to the retro gaming with Retroarch scene, we've got you covered.

So grab your Android device and follow along.

Download & Install RetroArch on Your Android Device

RetroArch is a free and open-source application that supports 48 virtual gaming consoles and platforms. This includes iconic systems such as Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64 (N64), Sony PlayStation (PS1), Game Boy Advance (GBA), Game Boy, Sega Master System, Atari 2600, Nintendo DS, Sega Game Gear, TurboGrafx-16, Atari Lynx, Sega CD, Sega Saturn and many more.

With RetroArch's extensive compatibility, users can enjoy a vast library of retro games spanning several decades of gaming history.

This will be the app of choice, as it is safe, free, open-source and the most widely used retro gaming application in the world with over 20 million users globally across many different devices.

Step 1: Click below to download the RetroArch APK file onto your Android device.

*The button below is a direct download link pointing to the official retroarch.com download repository.

Step 2: Once prompted from the pop-up menu, click on Download.

Step 3: Go to your Downloads folder in you browser, then click on the RetroArch.apk file.

Step 4: When prompted from the pop-up menu, click on Install. RetroArch will then install onto your Android device.

Step 5: Once it is done installing, click on Open to open RetroArch.

Awesome! We're already halfway there into turning your Android device into an all-in-one retro gaming console.

Update RetroArch & All Assets

Once you've installed RetroArch, we'll now update all settings to ensure we load in the consoles without issues, controller profiles, databases, cheat code options and more.

Step 1: Open RetroArch on your Android device.

Select OK to grant access to RetroArch to Read External Storage, Write External Storage.

Select Allow to Allow RetroArch to access photos, videos, music, audio, and other files on the device.

Step 2: Click on Online Updater. This will bring you to the section where you can download and install any available updates to ensure RetroArch is running up-to-date.

Once you are in the Online Updater section, scroll down until you see the list of Update Core Info Files, Update Assets, Update Controller Profiles etc.

Go ahead and click each of the following to install all necessary updates:

  • Update Core Info Files
  • Update Assets
  • Update Controller Profiles
  • Update Cheats
  • Update Databases
  • Update Overlays
  • Update GLSL Shaders

Once you have updated all of the options, click on the Home Button icon at the bottom to go back to the Main Menu of RetroArch.

Install Cores onto RetroArch for the Gaming Consoles You Want

A core in RetroArch is like a virtual console that allows you to play games from different old gaming systems on your device. These are typically referred to as Cores or Emulators.

For example: In order to run a SNES game, you need to install the SNES Core on RetroArch first. This is easy and is done with the click of a button. Once installed, you can then launch SNES games and play them within RetroArch.

So let's go ahead and install the cores you will need to start retro gaming on the consoles you desire.

Step 1: From the Main Menu of RetroArch, click on Load Core.

Step 2: Click on Download a Core to see the list of Cores readily available within RetroArch for easy download with the click of a button.

Step 3: Once you click on Download a Core, you will see the list of Cores that you can download in RetroArch.

Below is our list of recommended Cores to install onto RetroArch for whichever gaming console you want to play on your device.

For example: If you wanted to install SNES on RetroArch to play SNES games – you would simply install the SNES – Snes9x Core from the list of Cores within RetroArch (Our recommended Core list is below).

All Cores are free to install with the click of a button in RetroArch. Once you click on the Core file, it will download and install the Core automatically on RetroArch. This means you now have your virtual console setup within RetroArch ready to game on.


RECOMMENDED CORE LIST

  1. 3DO – 4DO
  2. Amiga – PUAE
  3. Amstrad CPC – Caprice32
  4. Arcade (MAME) – MAME
  5. Atari 2600 – Stella
  6. Atari 5200 – Atari800
  7. Atari 7800 – ProSystem
  8. Atari Lynx – Handy
  9. Atari Jaguar – Virtual Jaguar
  10. Atari ST/STE/TT/Falcon – Hatari
  11. ColecoVision – ColEm
  12. Commodore 64 – VICE
  13. Commodore Amiga – PUAE
  14. Daphne – Daphne
  15. Doom – PrBoom
  16. FinalBurn Neo (Arcade) – FinalBurn Neo
  17. Game Boy / Game Boy Color – Gambatte
  18. Game Boy Advance – mGBA
  19. Game Gear – Genesis Plus GX
  20. Intellivision – Bliss
  21. MAME – MAME
  22. Neo Geo – FinalBurn Neo
  23. Neo Geo Pocket / Neo Geo Pocket Color – Beetle/Mednafen NGP
  24. Nintendo 64 – Mupen64Plus
  25. Nintendo DS – DeSmuME
  26. Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) – Nestopia UE
  27. Odyssey²/Videopac+ – O2EM
  28. PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 – Beetle/Mednafen PCE FAST
  29. PC-FX – Beetle/Mednafen PCFX
  30. PlayStation 1 (PS1) – Beetle PSX HW
  31. Pokémon Mini – PokeMini
  32. SAM Coupé – SimCoupe
  33. Sega 32X – Picodrive
  34. Sega CD / Mega CD – Genesis Plus GX
  35. Sega Genesis / Mega Drive – Genesis Plus GX
  36. Sega Master System – Genesis Plus GX
  37. Sega Saturn – Beetle Saturn
  38. SG-1000 – Genesis Plus GX
  39. Sharp X68000 – PX68K
  40. Sinclair ZX Spectrum – Fuse
  41. Sony PSP – PPSSPP
  42. Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) – Snes9x
  43. Thomson MO/TO – Thom
  44. TurboGrafx-16 / PC Engine – Beetle/Mednafen PCE FAST
  45. Vectrex – Vecx
  46. Virtual Boy – Beetle/VB
  47. WonderSwan / WonderSwan Color – Mednafen Cygne
  48. ZX81 – EightyOne

Go ahead and click on the Core that you want to install from the list in RetroArch to install it.

Once you've install the Cores that you want, you can now click on the Home Button of RetroArch to go to the Main Menu of RetroArch again.

Install Retro Game Files to Play on RetroArch

Now that you have your Cores loaded in for the consoles of your choice, you now need game files in order to play games within RetroArch.

Game files are typically referred to as ROMs, which stands for Read-Only Memory.

Basically once you have the ROM file of a video game, you just load that file from RetroArch on your Android device, and the game will launch so you can play it and save progress.

For example: If you wanted to play a video game on SNES in RetroArch, you would first need to install the SNES Core in RetroArch, then you would download the SNES ROM file (PURCHASED LEGALLY OR FREE ON THE PUBLIC DOMAIN), which would be a simple .sfc or .smc or .zip file, then you would load that file into RetroArch to play it. Typically you can just load in the downloaded .zip file to play the game.

Each console has different file extension types for their ROMs, so here is a list below for reference. When looking for ROMs, they typically are just referred to as ROMs. Typically, you will just need to load in the .zip file you have downloaded on your Android device which will contain all necessary files to play the game.


ROM FILE EXTENSIONS FOR EACH CONSOLE

  1. 3DO – .iso, .cue
  2. Amiga – .adf, .uae
  3. Amstrad CPC – .dsk, .sna
  4. Arcade (MAME) – .zip
  5. Atari 2600 – .bin, .a26
  6. Atari 5200 – .bin, .a52
  7. Atari 7800 – .a78
  8. Atari Lynx – .lnx
  9. Atari Jaguar – .j64, .rom
  10. Atari ST/STE/TT/Falcon – .st, .stx
  11. ColecoVision – .col
  12. Commodore 64 – .d64, .t64, .tap
  13. Commodore Amiga – .adf, .uae
  14. Daphne – .daphne
  15. Doom – .wad
  16. FinalBurn Neo (Arcade) – .zip
  17. Game Boy / Game Boy Color – .gb, .gbc
  18. Game Boy Advance – .gba
  19. Game Gear – .gg
  20. Intellivision – .int, .bin
  21. MAME – .zip
  22. Neo Geo – .zip
  23. Neo Geo Pocket / Neo Geo Pocket Color – .ngp, .ngc
  24. Nintendo 64 – .z64, .n64
  25. Nintendo DS – .nds
  26. Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) – .nes
  27. Odyssey²/Videopac+ – .bin, .rom
  28. PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 – .pce, .cue
  29. PC-FX – .cue, .ccd
  30. PlayStation 1 (PS1) – .cue, .bin, .img, .iso
  31. Pokémon Mini – .min
  32. SAM Coupé – .dsk
  33. Sega 32X – .32x
  34. Sega CD / Mega CD – .cue, .iso, .bin
  35. Sega Genesis / Mega Drive – .gen, .smd
  36. Sega Master System – .sms
  37. Sega Saturn – .cue, .iso, .bin
  38. SG-1000 – .sg
  39. Sharp X68000 – .dim, .m3u
  40. Sinclair ZX Spectrum – .tzx, .tap
  41. Sony PSP – .iso, .cso
  42. Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) – .sfc, .smc
  43. Thomson MO/TO – .m10, .m11
  44. TurboGrafx-16 / PC Engine – .pce, .cue
  45. Vectrex – .vec
  46. Virtual Boy – .vb
  47. WonderSwan / WonderSwan Color – .ws, .wsc
  48. ZX81 – .p, .tzx

Install IPVanish VPN

Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) before downloading ROMs is a smart move for several reasons.

A VPN protects your privacy by encrypting your internet connection, ensuring that your download history remains private to your internet service provider and other prying eyes.

It also blocks the possibility of malware from entering your device as well to ensure you are safely downloading the ROM files you desire.

IPVanish VPN has a zero-log policy and can be used on unlimited devices. They also have a 30 day money back guarantee so you can try it risk free.

PLEASE STAY AWAY FROM FREE VPNS, THEY WILL HARVEST AND SELL YOUR PERSONAL DATA. THEY ARE FREE FOR A REASON!!!

Step 1: Click below to download the IPVanish VPN APK file onto your Android device.

If you want to download IPVanish VPN from the Google Play Store instead, you can click here.

Step 2: Once prompted from the pop-up menu, click on Download.

If you get a pop-up saying the file might be harmful, click download anyway. (The IPVanish APK file was downloaded directly from IPVanish VPN with a confirmed signature to make installation easier).

Step 3: Go to your Downloads folder in you browser, then click on the ipvanish.apk file then click Install. IPVanish will then install onto your Android device.

Step 5: Create your username & password for IPVanish VPN. Once you create your account, you will get an activation link sent to your email account. Make sure to click the link to activate your account!

Step 6: Open IPVanish VPN on your android device. Once opened, login with your username & password.

Step 7: Go to Country and select United States, then click Connect.

Congratulations, you are now connected to the zero-logs IPVanish VPN server so you can surf the internet safely and securely.

Best Places to Get Legal and Public Domain ROMs

Always make sure to check that an ROM files you download are on the Public Domain before downloading and using.

One of the best place to download free and legal retro games on the Public Domain is MAMEdev.org. They provide a list of verified Public Domain ROM files for legal retro games you can download and use with RetroArch.

Another place to find Public Domain ROM files zophar.net. Just double check that it's on the Public Domain before downloading.

We recommend creating our own ROM files from physical cartridges and games that you own. This is a fun process and can become a fun hobby with collecting retro games from different consoles, and aggregating them all in one location in RetroArch.

As long as you strictly are using it for personal use you are likely in the legal boundaries depending on your jurisdiction.

Here is a quick guide to get you introduced to the process of creating your own legal ROM files from games that you own:

This is a fun rabbit hole to go down but is well worth it as you build your awesome personal library of your favorite retro game files.

How to Load Your ROM Files into RetroArch

Once you have obtained your ROM files, either from Public Domain downloads or making your own ROMs with your owned games, it's time to load them into RetroArch to start playing.

In the case of this example, I've create a ROM file of Super Mario World for SNES for personal use from the cartridge that I own. The next step is to load it into RetroArch.

Step 1: Download the legally acquired ROM file onto your phone. When downloading from the internet or a file you sent yourself, the ROM file (likely a .zip file) will end up in your Downloads folder. We'll need to make note of where we place our files so we can access them easily within RetroArch.

Step 2: Open RetroArch then click on Load Content.

Step 3: Navigate to /storage/emulated/0 then click on that folder to open it. This is where your Android files should be stored locally.

Step 4: Navigate to Download. This should be where your downloaded files are stored locally on your Android device.

Step 5: Select the ROM file that you want to load into RetroArch to start playing.

Step 6: Select Load Archive to load the ROM file in RetroArch to start playing the game.

Step 7: Play the game! You can play vertically on Android if you prefer, or just tilt your android device horizontally and it will play in landscape with more space for the on screen controls.

Connecting a Bluetooth Controller

Connecting a Bluetooth controller to your Android device for gaming in RetroArch is a straightforward process.

First, ensure that your Bluetooth controller is in pairing mode. This usually involves holding down a specific button combination until the controller's LED indicator flashes or changes color. Check the manual of the controller you want to connect, or use an online search engine to lookup how to put the device in Bluetooth pairing mode.

Then, on your Android device, navigate to the Bluetooth settings and search for available devices. Select your controller from the list of available devices, and follow any on-screen prompts to complete the pairing process.

Once your controller is paired with your Android device, open RetroArch and navigate to the “Settings” menu.

In the settings, select “Input” and then “Input User 1 Binds.” From here, you can map the buttons on your Bluetooth controller to correspond with the controls in RetroArch. Simply select each input option (e.g., “Up,” “Down,” “A Button,” “B Button,” etc.) and press the corresponding button on your controller to assign it.

If you need to update the button map or make changes to the controller configuration later on, you can revisit the “Input User 1 Binds” menu in RetroArch's settings and adjust the button mappings as needed. This allows you to customize the controller layout to suit your preferences and ensure a comfortable gaming experience across different games and consoles within RetroArch.

With your Bluetooth controller connected and properly configured, you're ready to enjoy your favorite retro games on your Android device with RetroArch.

Casting Android to TV to Play on the Big Screen

Casting your Android device to your TV for gaming while maintaining the Bluetooth controller connection offers a revolutionary gaming experience. With this setup, you essentially transform your TV into a retro gaming station connected to 48 gaming consoles. The best part is you can take your phone on the go like a Nintendo Switch and continue playing the games with all progress saved.

By mirroring your Android device's screen onto the TV and using a Bluetooth controller for gameplay, you gain access to a vast library of retro games and consoles on your TV, all from the comfort of your living room, without having to deal with dozens of retro consoles, wires and the mess. You can even connect multiple controllers for multiplayer gaming as well to have an amazing experiences with friends and family right on your TV playing retro games together.

The convenience of this setup is unparalleled. You no longer need multiple physical consoles cluttering your entertainment center; instead, you have a compact Android device that can hold an unlimited number of games and consoles. Whether you're in the mood for classic NES platformers, SNES RPGs, or N64 adventures, your entire retro gaming library is at your fingertips.

Moreover, the versatility of RetroArch allows you to customize your gaming experience to suit your preferences. With its extensive collection of emulation cores and customizable settings, you can fine-tune the visuals, controls, and audio to recreate the authentic retro gaming experience on your TV screen.

Overall, casting your Android device to your TV while maintaining the Bluetooth controller connection revolutionizes retro gaming, offering endless entertainment possibilities in a compact and portable package.

Whether you're gaming solo or hosting a retro gaming night with friends, this setup ensures that the fun never stops.

Wrapping Up

From discovering RetroArch and retro gaming on Android to now, you've embarked on a journey that has unlocked a world of nostalgia, convenience, and endless gaming possibilities. What started as a curiosity has evolved into a comprehensive understanding of how to transform your Android device into a powerful retro gaming console.

Throughout this guide, you've learned how to set up RetroArch on your Android phone or tablet, download and install game emulators, connect Bluetooth controllers for seamless gameplay, and cast your gaming experience to the big screen for an immersive retro gaming experience.

With RetroArch, you've discovered the convenience of having a vast library of retro games and consoles right at your fingertips. No longer constrained by physical consoles or limited game collections, you now have the freedom to explore and enjoy a wide variety of classic games from multiple platforms, all from the comfort of your living room.

Whether you're reliving cherished childhood memories or discovering retro classics for the first time, RetroArch on Android offers a gateway to a world of timeless gaming experiences. With its user-friendly interface, customizable settings, and extensive library of emulation cores, RetroArch empowers you to create the ultimate retro gaming setup tailored to your preferences.

As you continue your retro gaming journey, remember to embrace the nostalgia, appreciate the timeless gameplay, and cherish the memories that these classic games evoke. With RetroArch on Android, the adventure never ends, and there's always a new retro gem waiting to be discovered. So, grab your controller, fire up RetroArch, and let the gaming nostalgia take you on a journey through gaming history.

Happy gaming! 🙂

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