How to Emulate Nintendo 3DS Games on Android

Emulation gives you an accessible and affordable way to play older games that can be hard to get your hands on these days. Your Android phone is capable of emulating most home and handheld consoles up to the fifth generation of consoles, but even Nintendo’s latest handhelds are no slouch for a modern smartphone.

Let’s talk about setting up and using a Nintendo 3DS emulator on your Android phone.


The best Nintendo 3DS emulator on Android

The first step is of course to choose an emulator. There are a surprising number of options, but the differences between the best ones come down to personal preference.

Citra and RetroArch are widely advertised as the best 3DS emulators. Both are open-source and available on most platforms.

RetroArch Emulator

RetroArch is capable of emulating a plethora of consoles, including 3DS, Wii, Wii U, GameBoy, PlayStation 1, PlayStation 2, SNES, Sega Genesis, and more. This is possible because RetroArch works as a kind of hub, consisting of many emulators designed for different consoles.

It’s available on Windows, Linux, Android, macOS, and iOS, but it’s also capable of running on some consoles, like the GameCube. RetroArch provides a complete list supported platforms on its website. For more details on its customization, our RetroArch Windows installation guide dives into its extensive configuration options.

To download: RetroArch (Free)

Citra emulator

Citra was the very first 3DS compatible emulator, designed for PC. It is currently available on Windows, Linux, macOS and Android. The Citra team has a wonderful game compatibility list which even ranks supported games on a scale from “untested” to “perfect” so users can see the progress of a game’s compatibility testing.

Although RetroArch has the advantage of wider availability and more supported platforms, we’ll be using the 3DS-focused Citra for this article. The Citra team has maintained consistent and substantial support over the years, and the Android app is well optimized, it even includes gamepad support!

To download: Citra emulator (Free)

Warning! About ROMs

It is our responsibility to remind you that it is illegal to obtain ROMs by any means other than extracting them from a disc or cartridge that you own. You may only extract ROMs entirely for your own use, not for distribution, from games you own. Nintendo is particularly strict when it comes to sharing and downloading their ROMs, so be careful.

However, as long as you’re not selling ROMs, you should be safe from legal trouble. When getting ROMs from online databases, make sure the source is reputable and the files are safe before downloading them. ROMs will never be EXE files and will never request better access to your device.

How to Set Up and Use Citra on Your Android Phone

Once you have downloaded Citra on your Android phone, you are just a few steps away from playing your favorite 3DS games.

Prepare your games for emulation

Before launching the app, you may want your game files to be stored in a suitable folder on your Android device. It may even be better to create a new folder titled something like 3DS Games or Citra Games.

This does not need to be prepared before launching the application, but it will make your first setup easier – when you first launch Citra, you will be prompted to select the folder from which your games will be launched. This can be changed at any time by tapping the folder icon in the top right corner.

Games on the Nintendo 3DS use a CIA extension, but must be decrypted before use – this extracted file will use the 3DS extension. You can extract the files using a tool like WinZip, but Citra also lets you extract a 3DS file from the CIA directly on the app’s home screen. Just tap the file icon, choose Install CIA, and choose the CIA file from your downloads. The rest is easy.

How to Play Games on Citra

With a small library of 3DS games ready to go, you’re ready to start playing.

  1. Launch Citra and accept the requested permissions. It can request access to the microphone, this is for DS games that use the microphone for gaming purposes.
  2. Select the games folder you prepared earlier, then press Select this directory.
  3. Once your directory of decrypted games has been selected, the home screen will list all your games, along with an icon.
  4. Tap the game of your choice to launch it. A small loading box will appear when the emulator loads the necessary shaders. After that you are good to go.

The best 3DS emulator for Android

When testing Citra, we picked two games from their compatibility list, New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Resident Evil Revelations. The first was marked “excellent” and the second was labeled “poor” on the compatibility list. We found Super Mario to be an overall enjoyable experience, with only the occasional stutter. Resident Evil, on the other hand, had some texture and model errors, as well as a crash.

We have no doubt that Citra is a great way to enjoy compatible games, and the team’s perseverance assures us that they will only continue to develop and improve the compatible games available. Citra is a simple recommendation, perhaps the best way to emulate 3DS games.

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