Here’s How To Play Retro Nintendo Games On Apple TV, iPhone Or iPad

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Hey there friend, did you hear? Apple's now allowing retro video game emulators on the App Store. This has been a little controversial in a few different ways, but undeniably the star of the show is quite-mature libretro frontend Retroarch. It's right there on the App Store now; you can just go search for it and download it.

If you're not familiar, Retroarch is not an emulator unto itself. Retroarch is a frontend for the open-source project libretro, which basically presents a common API for retro game emulators. Instead of having to worry about coding their own video, audio, and input methods, retro game emulators can focus on the actual emulation, and just send their audio and video output to libretro. Retroarch itself then handles the process of translating the standard libretro functions into native functions for the operating system you're using.

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The iPhone Retroarch home menu will be familiar to Android and PC users.

Retroarch has been available for dozens of platforms for more than a decade, but the most popular are obviously PCs (using Windows or Linux) and Android devices. Now, it's available on the Apple App Store, so you can simply search it up and download it for free. That's unfortunately only the first step, though.

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There are many types of interface skins and controller overlays available.

Once you have Retroarch on your device, you'll need to open the app and open the Core Downloader. From there, you can download "cores", which are the actual emulators. This can be a little overwhelming, as there are sometimes many different emulators available for a given game system. For the Nintendo NES, we recommend Mesen, for the Super NES you'll want bsnes, and for the Sega Genesis, we recommend picodrive. For Nintendo 64, use Mupen64Plus, and for PlayStation or Saturn, we recommend the "Beetle" emulators.

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It's possible to enable widescreen hacks and other mods, but they'll require some tweaking.

Once you have the core downloaded, you can simply load your game ROM and begin playing. Most games should work just fine with the default settings, although there are literally dozens of options you can tweak for a given core. It's completely fine to download different cores and try them out, too, although generally speaking once you find one that works there's usually not going to be a lot of benefit from trying another one.

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There are various customizable controller overlays, like this arcade one.

If you said "what's a game ROM" (or "how do I get ROMs"), then you're probably not the target audience for this app. However, it must be said: retro game emulators are only for playing your own backup copies of your games. Under U.S. copyright law, downloading game ROMs from the internet is piracy, even if you own the game. However, dumping your own games isn't actually that hard.

open source cartridge reader
The Open Source Cartridge Reader is easy to build, even for novices.

For CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray games, you can dump those relatively easily with a compatible drive. For cartridge games, we can recommend the Open Source Cartridge Reader, an Arduino project you can build yourself for about $80 of parts that will dump game cartridges from all of the most common game systems—and even more systems if you use physical adapters. You can find the build guide for the OSCR over here.

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The Retroarch logo button in the bottom right opens the menu.

Once you have your ROMs, simply put them on your iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV—see Apple's guide for doing that here—and you're good to go. Retroarch has functional or complete cores for almost literally every single game system that has ever existed, so you can go wild with obscure PC-98 games or replay your favorite Atari 5200 titles.

backbone one game controller
BACKBONE ONE Apple Gamepad (Lightning): $99.99 on Amazon
BACKBONE ONE Mobile Gamepad (USB-C): $99.99 on Amazon
Razer Kishi Mobile Gamepad (Lightning): $99.99 on Amazon

However, you'll definitely want a game controller for any serious playing. Something like an 8bitdo pad will work, but the best option is a controller that attaches to your iPhone like Switch joy-cons. We've dropped some links for proven examples of the form above; let us know if you have another recommendation!