Retro gold rush: which emulators are on the App Store, and what's coming

Posted:
in iOS edited June 4

Apple is allowing emulators on App Store. Here's what's arrived, and what's on the way to play your favorite retro games on your iPhone, updated on May 30.

Emulators can bring retro gaming to the iPhone
Emulators can bring retro gaming to the iPhone



The early April changes to the App Store Review Guidelines reversed a rule that practically banned emulators from the App Store. After the rule was removed, it was expected that there would be a sudden rush of emulators being submitted to Apple for inclusion in the digital storefront.

Emulators for the iPhone have existed for a while, but outside of the App Store as a side-loadable app. With Apple's changes, some of the projects are making the transition, and potentially gaining more traction from a larger user base in the process.

We've already seen the likes of Delta transition over, but there are a lot more emulators on the way. With more emulators, there are more potential options for users to emulate older consoles.

Here's what stands a chance of being included in the App Store for retro gamers to enjoy soon. This post is current as of June 4, 2024.

Delta



Delta was one of the first emulators to make it to the App Store. As a Nintendo-centric emulator, it offered support for many game consoles from the company.



The list included the GameBoy Advance, GameBoy Color, Nintendo DS, NES, Super NES, and Nintendo 64. However, there are two elements that are still on the way.

While the emulator doesn't have an iPad-specific version, that is on the way. And, Sega Genesis support is being tested in beta, which will get a wider release in the future.

eNES



eNES: NES Emulator Retro Emu to give it the full name, is a lightweight NES retro emulator by Mattia La Spina. It's especially lightweight, as it's less than 2MB in size.

Free in the App Store, it is capable of automatic saving, complete with an auto-loading last save function. It has external support for two controllers, an on-screen controller skin, audio filtering, scanline visualization, and automatic .nes file opening and importing. .

Emu64 XL



Emu64 XL is a Commodore 64 emulator by Raffaele Amuso. Based in Vice, the Versatile Commodore Emulator, it includes a variety of programs written in CBM64 Basic, and allows for users to create their own.

It is also capable of loading .T64 files and .D64 files as virtual floppy disks. There's also a keyboard with the same layout as the original machine.

Emu64 XL is free in the App Store, supporting iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Vision Pro.

Folium

Folium

is an emulator that can play games for Nintendo's Game Boy Advance, Nintendo 3DS, and Nintendo DS. Support for the PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2, as well as the Sega Genesis are currently under development.



In an X post, the developer confirmed that it was tested on TestFlight, and hoped for imminent inclusion on the App Store itself. As of June 4, it has now made it to the App Store, priced at $4.99.

Gamma



Gamma is an emulator that arrived on the iOS and iPadOS App Stores on May 11th. It is a free download with no in-app purchases.

A single-console emulator, Gamma can play back games made for the original Sony PlayStation, or PS1. Its features include save states, save synchronization with the cloud, hardware controller support, and controller skins.

iDOS



This is a complicated saga. iDOS existed once on the App Store, and was stricken from it. The iDOS emulator is an x86 emulation project, made to play games and run software that uses DOS.

In an April 14 blog post, it is explained that iDOS was resubmitted for review following the policy change. After some issues with the submission because Apple blacklisted iDOS 2, the submission has been performed under iDOS 3.

After an attempt was made to explain the situation, it was rejected again as "Design Spam," due to there being many recent submissions using the same design. The developer is continuing to fight the rejection and is hopeful that it will proceed eventually.

As of May 30, it is still not included in the App Store.

Ignited



A multi-core emulator, Ignited provides an emulator that improves on the UI of each of the core emulators.



Its support is chiefly Nintendo-centric, including the NES, the Super NES, Nintendo 64, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS. It also supports some Sega consoles, including the Genesis, Master System, and Game Gear.

Ignited does have a TestFlight build in testing, but only for patrons of the project. As of May 30, it is still not in the App Store.

iMSX2



iMSX2 is an emulator designed to play classic MSX and MSX2 games on an iPhone. Published by Enrique Enguix, it can run both games made for the platforms as well as a user's own BASIC programs.

The App Store currently lists iMSX2 as priced at $1.99. It requires iOS 15.0 or later, to run on an iPhone, with it also including support for Apple Vision Pro and an Apple Silicon Mac running macOS 12.0 or later.

MAME4iOS



The mobile counterpart to the well-known MAME emulator, MAME4iOS focuses on arcade gaming, rather than home console games.

In a post to Reddit, maintainer Harakari said they have submitted the app to the App Store for review. However, as of May 30, there has not been any further progress, and it's not listed in the App Store.

uoYabause



uoYabuse is a port of the Yaba Sanshiro Sega Saturn Emulator. It has historically been targeted at Android, but it also has iOS builds available.

A tweet by the Yaba Sanshiro emulator developer on April 6 mentions that the emulator was submitted to the App Store for review. However, there were no updates following the tweet.

As of May 30, it has yet to be listed in the App Store itself.

PPSSPP



As the name suggests, PPSSPP is an emulator specializing in Sony PlayStation Portable games. It is already available on PC and Android, with an "unofficial" installation guide available to get it working without App Store access.



A project blog post from April 6 discused Apple's emulator rule changes, but there was confusion over lines where links "must be provided to all downloadable software."

On May 15, PPSSPP arrived in the App Store. A free download, it requires iOS 12.0 or iPadOS 12.0, or an Apple Vision Pro.

Provenance



Another multi-emulator frontend, Provenance offers extensive support for a wide variety of game platforms. The list includes many from Nintendo, including the NES, Famicon Disk Sistem, Game Boy, SNES, Game Boy Color, Virtual Boy, Nintendo 64, Game Boy Advance, and Pokemon mini.

There are also support for Sega consoles including the Genesis, Mega-CD, and Saturn, the Sony PlayStation, Bandai WonderSwan, NEC TurboGraphix systems, and others from Atari, Bandai, and SNK.

Provenance EMU
Provenance EMU



The emulator is already available as a side-load but it is planning to launch onto the App Store soon. On April 19, the team confirmed that it was working on a release.

In a Patreon update on April 23, the team discussed the use of TestFlight for betas, but also that there was no "exact ETA" due to needing to stay within the App Store's rules for the review process. The team also planned to remove anything that could trigger a reaction from Nintendo, such as logos and system branding.

In a May 28 update, the team discussed the progression of converting C-based cores to Swift, as well as Metal and OpenGL view controllers. On X, it is explained that the coding for the App Store release is ongoing, but that it's intended to maintain the "same standard" as previously created commercial work, hence the legacy code rewrite.

"The release will be delayed longer than I originally hoped," they added.

RetroArch



A frontend for emulators and game engines, RetroArch handles emulation for a large number of platforms. Both what it can emulate and what it can run on.

For iOS and Apple TV, there are already downloads available to run games via sideloading, but not an App Store-compatible version yet.

Developer hizzlekizzle confirmed on Reddit on May 7 that the emulator has been submitted for App Store Review. However, they had yet to hear back from Apple about it passing at the time.

On May 15, Retroarch appeared on the App Store as a free emulator.

SameBoy



SameBoy by Lior Halphon is an emulator for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color from Nintendo. It claims to be user friendly and open source, and it's free in the App Store.

The emulator description says it uses the "world's most accurate Game Boy emulation core," with it having Rumble support, save states with gesture support, a wide range of scaling filters, and MFi hardware support. It even emulates a Game Boy Camera when required.

ScummVM



ScummVM from Eugene Sandulenko is a very niche emulator, in that it is intended to play classic point-and-click adventure games. For example, "Day of the Tentacle" or the "Monkey Island" series.

It is available on the App Store, for free.

Not all emulators



While the rule changes did open up the possibility of more emulators arriving in the App Store in the future, it doesn't allow every type to appear.

One of the problem areas is Apple's recent prohibition of Just In Time (JIT) compilation. This is the compilation of code while a program is running, rather than before the software is run in the first place.

Apple considers this a security issue, despite using it for Safari itself. Due to Apple's limitation, some emulators cannot be submitted to the App Store for review, since they will fail automatically.

For example, the DolphiniOS emulator for emulating Nintendo Wii and Nintendo Gamecube games requires JIT, due to having to translate PowerPC code to run on Apple's ARM-based chips.



Read on AppleInsider

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    M68000M68000 Posts: 770member
    Would be nice to still have the classic text adventure games from Infocom available.  I have an old iphone 5c that has them.  For some reason, they no longer seem to be available.
    watto_cobraldenning
  • Reply 2 of 22
    jimh2jimh2 Posts: 639member
    MAME is where it is at!
    watto_cobrazeus423
  • Reply 3 of 22
    bloggerblogbloggerblog Posts: 2,475member
    Will any of those run C64 or Amiga games?
  • Reply 4 of 22
    hexclockhexclock Posts: 1,272member
    Will any of those run C64 or Amiga games?
    Virtual64 would be great. 
  • Reply 5 of 22
    ScummVM is available too. 
  • Reply 6 of 22
    Will any of those run C64 or Amiga games?
    Retroarch would if Apple ever approved it.
    zeus423
  • Reply 7 of 22
    tieboytieboy Posts: 5member
    Is there anything stopping these developers for also submitting versions of these emulators optimized for iPadOS and tvOS?

  • Reply 8 of 22
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,886administrator
    ScummVM is available too. 
    Yup, and has been for about a decade. Doesn't technically count as an emulator, because it isn't running code. It is, however, parsing text files.
    Alex1N
  • Reply 9 of 22
    danoxdanox Posts: 3,043member
    When does Sony and Nintendo sue Apple?
  • Reply 10 of 22
    M68000 said:
    Would be nice to still have the classic text adventure games from Infocom available.  I have an old iphone 5c that has them.  For some reason, they no longer seem to be available.
    If you search for online inficom games you'll find them on the web. I still love Suspended. One of my favorites ever. 
    M68000
  • Reply 11 of 22
    bluefire1bluefire1 Posts: 1,304member
    Did someone say Donkey Kong.
  • Reply 12 of 22
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,886administrator
    tieboy said:
    Is there anything stopping these developers for also submitting versions of these emulators optimized for iPadOS and tvOS?

    Nothing. Delta is coming for iPad very soon.
    lolliver
  • Reply 13 of 22
    Delta certainly has scratched my itch for NES, SNES & N64 games. Once the iPad app is available, it will be retro-game nirvana with a controller!
    I'm waiting for a nice Sega Genesis emulator. 
    lolliver
  • Reply 14 of 22
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,886administrator
    Delta certainly has scratched my itch for NES, SNES & N64 games. Once the iPad app is available, it will be retro-game nirvana with a controller!
    I'm waiting for a nice Sega Genesis emulator. 
    Delta is adding Genesis soon. No idea on timetable.
    bestkeptsecret
  • Reply 15 of 22
    Will any of those run C64 or Amiga games?
    There is vAmigaWeb and vc64web which emulate Amiga and C64.  They use vAmiga and virtualC64 emulation cores.

    With the safari share button you can install/add them both as iOS/iPadOS home screen apps.

    https://vamigaweb.github.io/

    https://vc64web.github.io/

    vAmigaWeb and vc64web are sandboxed in WebKit, offline capable, no ads, no tracking, full featured, solely done by enthusiast :-)
    edited April 29
  • Reply 16 of 22
    OferOfer Posts: 259unconfirmed, member
    What is it about JIT compilation that makes it a security issue?
  • Reply 17 of 22
    Will there be an emulator for old Macintosh games? 
    Games that ran on System 6 or System 7 or System 8 or 9?

    That would be great! 
  • Reply 18 of 22
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 15,374moderator
    Ofer said:
    What is it about JIT compilation that makes it a security issue?
    Technically anything that gets compiled after the App Store review can have malware in it e.g an app downloads a bytecode payload and compiles it, now it's native malware. Removing the rule would allow using Java apps and they've had many security vulnerabilities:

    https://cve.mitre.org/cgi-bin/cvekey.cgi?keyword=java

    Java and Flash have been major sources of malware on desktops.

    They allow Javascript code in the App Store. According to this, some apps convert to Javascript to get round this limitation with compilers:

    https://stackoverflow.com/questions/5054732/is-it-prohibited-using-of-jitjust-in-time-compiled-code-in-ios-app-for-appstor

    Some apps are getting round it in other ways like embedding scripting code inside binary files then extracting them at runtime. The reality is a lot of apps need runtime scripting and JIT compilation to work. Games are often using scripted languages for their missions.

    Apple could ease up a bit on this rule for trusted app developers and provide a warning that the app contains some runtime code that could be malicious and to make sure to download files from trusted sources. As long as they avoid opening the system up to generic bytecode compilers like Java VM, it should be safe enough. Maybe they can have an extra restrictive sandbox for these apps.

    The Dolphin emulator would be good to get running as it plays more modern Wii games:

  • Reply 19 of 22
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,829member
    Somebody is going to produce an emulator that has the games all licensed and legal embedded in them. They will make a mint because there are IMO a lot of people who would like to play these old games, but no longer have copies. I want to try a number of them, but downloading a sketchy ROM from somewhere on the web is just something I’m not going to do. 
  • Reply 20 of 22
    mpantonempantone Posts: 2,092member
    DAalseth said:
    Somebody is going to produce an emulator that has the games all licensed and legal embedded in them. They will make a mint because there are IMO a lot of people who would like to play these old games, but no longer have copies. I want to try a number of them, but downloading a sketchy ROM from somewhere on the web is just something I’m not going to do. 
    Not a snowball's chance in hell.

    There is zero chance of Nintendo licensing their first-party IP to some emulator. They make money for Switch Online which has a bunch of games from older Nintendo platforms. And Switch Online only had a small handful of these old titles. There are plenty of them which will never ever make it.

    Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, Pikmin, none of these are ever going to be licensed to Retroarch, Delta, Dolphin, Project64, whatever. Nintendo is even unenthusiastic about selling their first-party IP on the iOS App Store.

    The legal way to do this is to purchase the Nintendo game and extract the software yourself. From a practical standpoint, they can't come after anyone who does that. They can (and have) gone after people who illegally distribute ROMs.
    edited May 16
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