At E3 in 2010, precisely on June 15, the handheld system produced by Nintendo, the Nintendo 3DS, was unveiled for the first time. Although nowadays it has become the norm to use a game console with more than one screen, at that time in history it was considered an exceptional novelty for video game enthusiasts.
With data updated as of September 30, 2020, widespread sales of the console are estimated at 75.94 million units, testifying to its high regard worldwide.
These numbers have also given rise to what are 3DS emulators, a modern tool for playing video games of yesteryear on various devices, the latter being more technologically advanced. In the next few lines we will look at the best 3DS emulators for different operating systems.
3DS emulator: what is it
Before looking in detail at the features and the best 3DS emulators available for download, it is appropriate to give a definition.
The term emulator identifies a tool, usually software, capable of replicating the functions of a specific system that differs from the original one. An emulator makes it possible to run video games from certain systems, as in the case of Nintendo, even from different operating systems, specifically Android, iOS, Window or Mac.
3DS emulator: ideal features
Not all 3DS emulators are identical; these may differ in multiple features. Although all software has the same goal, namely, to enable the use of video games designed for Nintendo 3DS, they can have extremely different specifications. Five main ones can be identified in this context: responsiveness, fluidity, compatibility, storage space, and minimum requirements.
Installing and using 3DS emulation software can present some difficulties, one of them being command responsiveness. Input lag in software of this type is an essential component; the choice of one program over the other can make all the difference in achieving more responsive commands.
The original Nintendo 3DS games were developed to meet the needs of a specific hardware, inducing frame rate limitations on the platform. A very good 3DS emulator, in addition to allowing you to play at the native refresh rate, can optimize it for more modern systems, be they PC or Android and iOS.
When installing a 3DS emulator, it is essential to evaluate the compatibility of the file used. A system set up for proper operation on a PC cannot be used on iOS or other solutions directly. Checking compatibility is the first step in beginning to take advantage of the emulator properly.
In addition to the physical space required for the ISO of the game being used, it is also essential to consider the system resources for storing the emulator itself. Some emulators are extremely light in terms of data transcribed to physical memory, while others require a significant number of gigabytes to run.
This condition may affect the stability and resources of the device being used, a condition that should be evaluated before beginning the installation process.
Every emulator needs minimum requirements to be able to be started and used in the best possible way. Emulation, although done through a software computational process, takes advantage of the hardware power of the reference system to speed up operations.
A performing device allows for more stability, more responsiveness, and of course less heat to dissipate during in-game use.
3DS emulator: the advantages
Nintendo 3DS systems are particularly cheap to find, in the second-hand sale it is not complex to find one to play, so why use an emulator?
The answer lies mainly in the very many benefits that can be derived from a 3DS emulator, compared to an older generation console.
Faithful reproduction of 3DS games
One of the strengths of using a 3DS emulator lies in being able to launch video games from this particular console on screen. In addition to playing the content as it was originally intended, it is possible to benefit from different resolutions and especially from real-time saves.
One of the weaknesses of the Nintendo 3DS system resided in the difficulty of making saves, the latter being possible only at points established by the game. With the emulator, progress can be saved at any time, storing game information directly on the storage system of the device used to play the game.
Portability to smartphones
Those who use emulators, whether for handheld or stationary consoles, can benefit from the portability factor. The Nintendo 3DS system was famous for its ability to be carried anywhere one wished with great ease, a condition that could be replicated with an emulator.
In recent years, more and more Android and iOS emulators make it possible to carry 3DS games with you at all times, occupying those downtime moments by using your smartphone directly.
Those who own a Nintendo 3DS system are well aware of the problems it has in battery consumption. However energy-poor video games can be used, an emulator can handle this much better, relying on a larger battery like that of a smartphone or an infinite power supply like that of one’s PC.
A smartphone, especially those developed for gaming, guarantee so many hours of use, especially for retrogaming.
Contained system resources
Further strength of an emulator lies in its ability to be used on a variety of hardware, including older hardware. It is no accident that gamers who enjoy retrogaming take advantage of particularly obsolete notebooks or computers to recreate a perfect platform for emulating games, whether from the Nintendo 3DS or other consoles.
There is no need to own a system with a lot of ROM memory; ISOs for gaming hardly exceed one gigabyte.
3DS emulator: the limitations
While the benefits of using a 3DS emulator are obvious, both for those who already own a Nintendo 3DS system and for those who have had one, the limitations of using such software should also be noted.
An emulator is legal software designed to reproduce what are the ISOs of the original games produced for the reference console, in this case the Nintendo 3DS. This condition puts video gamers in the position to use only those games of which they have an original copy.
Although it is not essential to create an ISO image directly from your original game, it is essential to understand the difference between licit and illicit downloading.
All Nintendo 3DS system video games in one’s possession, that is, in original copy, can be used without any problem, even by downloading them from unofficial third-party platforms. In case you use an emulator with Nintendo 3DS video games of which you do not have the original physical copy, you incur an irregularity.
3DS emulator: the best ones for PC, Mac, Android and iOS
Having noted what it is, the features and especially the constraints one has in being able to use such a tool, it is worth taking a look at what are the best 3DS emulators available for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS operating systems.
Citra – PC, Mac and Linux
Among the absolute best emulators to replay video games for the Nintendo 3DS is Citra 3DS Emulator. The program allows all games on this platform to be displayed on the screen, on Mac, Windows and Linux operating systems.
From a technical point of view, it features 3D graphics with higher resolution than the console and has been one of the benchmarks for emulation for Nintendo 3DS games since 2015.
Although it is one of the most widely used software, it does not come with a dedicated interface, but must be started using the canonical command line. It turns out to be among the most celebrated because it allows for a great versatility of functions, from simultaneous viewing of multiple displays, to on-screen pressure monitoring.
Those looking for a powerful and feature-rich emulator will find Citra to be the ideal solution, at the expense of a few command lines to memorize in order to run the desired games.
DeSmuME – PC
Another emulator of great relevance to the PC world is DeSmuMe, this software not only allows you to play 3DS game ISOs, but also gives you access to many video games at no extra cost.
From a technical point of view, the emulator uses 32-bit technology that is hardly found in other software of this type. But in addition to absolute technological advancement, enthusiasts use DeSmuMe mainly for the continuous updates offered by the developers.
Until a few years ago, this program was among the least reliable, full of bugs, and in many cases offered a poor gaming experience. It currently represents one of the best software on the web for emulating Nintendo 3DS games on PC, but you must always download the latest update to get the highest possible performance.
Support for 3D and a much higher game resolution have been added in the latest version. Those who like the GPU Scaling Factor feature will find this emulator an important resource.
R4 3DS – PC
Alternative solution for booting on your Windows PC is R4 3DS, although it is not compatible with any video game produced for this console, it guarantees a very high percentage with marketed products. Specifically, titles released in the last few years of the Nintendo 3DS are unlikely to show up on the screen with very good quality.
This software has attracted the attention of many fans as it emulates not only the games of the famous console but also the main interface.
But in addition to graphics that are particularly familiar to users, it guarantees a good replay of games, just like the original platform.
The emulator allows you to load the game’s ISOs and be able to change the keyboard buttons to adjust them to suit your needs. A definitely good solution for those looking for an emulation aimed at the first games presented for Nintendo 3DS, while not advisable for all those who want to emulate the most recent titles.
3DMOO – PC and Linux
Among the most interesting open source emulators for emulating Nintendo 3DS games is 3DMOO. Although the software allows games to be emulated with great ease and visual quality, this has strengths and weaknesses to be evaluated.
Within the software you can search for ISOs by taking advantage of GitHub, but you cannot download them directly in an official way.
Sudden crashes of the program on both Windows and Linux operating systems have also been experienced in recent months. It may not be the ideal solution for those who are looking for a reliable emulator, but it is a very important resource for those who need to find games from this platform in a matter of seconds.
The developers have promised updates that will breathe new life into this program; their capabilities have proven themselves over time.
The interface may not be ideal for those looking for a versatile emulator; 3DMOO does its job straightforwardly, with no special customizations.
NO$GBA – PC
Among the best Nintendo 3DS emulators is definitely this freeware, capable of playing not only 3DS games, but also those of the Gameboy Advance.
The initial interface, already divided into two screens, allows for exemplary replication of the gaming experience present on the original console.
This software has become particularly popular among fans of the platform, as it also allows emulating games in local multiplayer mode. Such a feature also allows you to play with your friends without any problems on the computer keyboard.
Although it is necessary to start the compatibility mode with Windows Vista and XP, it remains a viable alternative to the programs analyzed above.
In the basic freeware version it allows you to play with peace of mind, but if you want to get additional features you need to buy the paid version. The paid software constantly receives updates to optimize Gameboy Advance and Nintendo 3DS games.
Drastic DS Emulator – Android
Not everyone likes to play with a PC emulator, pointing directly to mobile device versions. One of the most famous emulators for Android is definitely Drastic DS Emulator, celebrity given the ease and immediacy of use.
Features that make this software an excellent solution include fast data processing and excellent graphics when viewing games on the screen.
The features allow for the best possible management of hardware and software, while also interacting with other applications for saving progress, such as Google Drive and the like.
Also interesting is the ability to start multiple games at once and to change the buttons for the game depending on the title being used.
Also added to these features is synchronization with Google Play, which allows games to be restored if unexpected technical problems occur.
A top-notch emulator for an Android smartphone that every Nintendo 3DS fan should install.
NDS Emulator – Android
Alternative emulator for one’s Android operating system is definitely NDS Emulator. In its free version it allows you to start console games, with the appearance of a few banner ads.
From a graphical point of view, it is presented with an extremely simple and responsive interface, capable of adapting to even the sizeable displays of high-end smartphones.
Interesting features are multitouch and compatibility with external controllers and keyboards. Unlike so many other emulators, it also implements vibration for the controller, ensuring the ultimate gaming experience, just like on Nintendo 3DS.
Key customization is very simple and intuitive, this allows you to boot formats not usually found in other software, such as compressed ones. Those who want to minimize ISO space can use .ZIP files for their favorite games.
Some gamers also use this software on tablets, although it can be done with excellent results, the developers recommend using it on mid- to high-end smartphones.
Pretend NDS Emulator – Android
Another interesting emulator for Android is definitely Pretendo NDS Emulator. This allows 3DS games to be emulated not only on smartphones, but also on large tablets.
With compatibility with RAR, ROM, DSOR and many other formats, it is possible to emulate many games by downloading them from different web platforms. It is recommended to always legally purchase the games to be started, as specified in the previous lines.
But in addition to the ability to emulate any type of Nintendo 3DS game, it also allows you to instantly save game progress.
So many gamers prefer this software because of its speed-boosting feature, the latter of which is possible by turning off music or certain graphics.
Pretending NDS is a solution that requires no special skills for initial configuration, even a neophyte will be able to approach emulation without consulting specific guides.
iNDS – iOS
Analyzing Apple’s counterpart emulators, among the best software is iNDS. Although compatible with most iOS devices, the operating system must be based on iOS 9 or later versions.
In addition to this specification, it is appropriate to require the device to be jailbroken in order to run the emulation software. In the condition that you did not own a jailbroken iPad or iPhone, you would not be able to use it.
Getting more specific about the features of this emulator, there are similarities with the NDS4iOS emulator, in fact, it is its worthy successor.
The program allows games to be displayed on the screen at 60 frames per second, providing automatic saving. A great many users benefit from this program because of its ability to turn the touchscreen on or off in favor of their preferred game controller.
In order for the emulator to be downloaded, it is essential to take advantage of TweakBox or Cydia Impact; it is not available either in Apple’s App Store or in traditional web-based formats.
A complete emulator, definitely reliable for iOS owners.
RetroArch – Android, iOS and PC
When you have a need for game emulators, whether they are for Nintendo 3DS or other platforms, RetroArch is almost always the best and most recommended solution.
Its ability to run on almost any platform gives an idea of what a benchmark it is for gaming enthusiasts.
As much as this software is not exclusively a Nintendo 3DS emulator, it provides excellent performance for this platform.
The development of the program focuses on simplification of use; in fact, it will be possible to better manage ISOs through automatic game recognition. Compatibility with gampads is also excellent; most marketed controllers are quickly recognized by RetroArch. In fact, there is no need to have to configure the gamepad, just plug it into the device and start playing once automatic recognition occurs.
On the web you can download it from many websites, but we recommend downloading from the official platform so that you always get the latest available and updated version.
NDS4iOS – iOS
The last recommended iOS emulator is NDS4iOS, classically styled software that allows most 3DS games to run without any problems.
Notable features include its ability to synchronize with Dropbox, a cloud platform made for data storage. Thanks to synchronization with Dropbox, ISOs can be uploaded directly from the cloud, instead of from your smartphone, reducing file transcription time.
Like most emulators, this program also allows progress to be saved in real time, giving players a way to start the game whenever they wish. Interesting functionality is also to be found in frame skipping, which is useful for overcoming more complex areas of the game.
TVs with Airplay can be synchronized to the software at the same time as the mobile device, splitting the usual two screens of the Nintendo 3DS system between smartphone and TV.
Excellent emulator, but not so easy to find.
iOS emulator: the limitations of the Apple platform
The distribution of emulators for Android and Windows operating systems is much wider, so many developers every year present software capable of playing Nintendo 3DS games on your PC or Android smartphone, but why does this happen?
The answer to this question lies in the constraints of Apple, which is not particularly keen on applications that can reduce system security.
Android systems, given the ease of access to root and other internal functions, allow developers easier and faster programming, freed from often frustrating limitations.
The best iOS emulators, although they succeed on a jailbroken device, are usually restricted after a few months, effectively losing developer attention.
Emulation on iOS and Mac systems is possible, but it is complex to use software capable of being effective over time. Buying a used Nintendo 3DS might be an easier and more functional solution.
3DS emulator: how to choose
As can be seen from the above lines, not all emulators are identical; many of them have different functionality. But how to choose an ideal emulator, considering one’s gaming needs? To get as detailed a picture as possible of the software to be used, let us look at the basic parameters to be evaluated.
Installing an emulator on a low-end smartphone certainly does not guarantee the same performance as software installed on a high-end model. Although this type of program does not require excessive resources for proper operation, it is essential to evaluate the resources available.
Some emulators are particularly lightweight, while others require dedicated hardware and video conversions to work best. Software with so many functions, if not optimized to the fullest, must be installed on a performing system.
Many users make the mistake of wanting to install an Android emulator on iOS systems. To the extent that you cannot even begin the installation, you should download the most suitable software for the device at hand.
This condition is evident not only in mobile devices, but also for Windows and Mac, some emulators require specific editions or operating system updates to run.
Evaluating the emulator based on the operating system is a good way to eliminate most of the technical and compatibility problems. Some gamepads work only on certain gaming machines with updated operating systems.
The choice of emulator is also constrained by the game you prefer to play. Although every Nintendo 3DS emulator allows a good gaming experience on most of the titles marketed, some of them have more fluidity on specific emulated codecs.
Opting for the best emulator will result in more satisfactory performance. To find the right emulator for your favorite game, it is smart to consult the community, which is always very active for retrogaming and compatibility.
In addition to the main interface, which may come with different graphics or completely without them, one of the most important aspects to evaluate in an emulator is the real-time 3D rendering.
Nintendo 3DS games are certainly not outstanding from a graphical point of view, considering the screen size of the system and the time of use. An excellent emulator allows the game’s graphics to be improved, ensuring that they look good even on larger screens such as those of a PC or a smartphone of more than 6 inches.
It is recommended to avoid emulators that render opaque images, better to opt for solutions with bright colors.
One of the most interesting aspects of emulators is the ability to save the started game at any time. As much as this functionality is present in almost all software, most of them only allow local saving.
The best emulators offer cloud saving and synchronization with other platforms, ensuring the gamer can access favorite games at any time. Synchronized saving can greatly help those who play constantly with their emulator.
The music and sounds of Nintendo 3DS games are unforgettable, being able to reproduce them in the best possible way on your device would ensure greater immersion.
You need to make sure that the emulator is compatible with speakers and headphones so that you get clean sound that is synchronized with the images on the screen.
Not all emulators allow you to choose the resolution at which to run the Nintendo 3DS game. Some software is characterized by playing games in native resolution without making any changes to the screen image.
As much as purists of the genre appreciate this feature, it is very important to make use of a program capable of adapting the resolution to the device and the needs of the user. Being able to achieve a higher resolution usually guarantees a better result, but you should not overdo it if you do not want to get images that do not conform to the original format.
3DS PC emulator: how to install it
The list just made of emulators, as much as it may define the functionality and features of a software, do not give an idea of how to install it. Let’s look at the steps you need to take in order to benefit without unexpected issues.
First of all, it should be noted that we will only consider emulators that run on Windows 7/8/8/8.1/10 and 11 operating systems. With this in mind, it is appropriate to consider the minimum requirements that a computer must possess to meet the demands of an emulator. The PC should have a good integrated graphics chip or a dedicated graphics card, support for GL 3.2, and an Intel i3 or slightly lower processor.
Having evaluated these parameters, the first step lies in downloading the emulator, we will take Citra as an example, which represents one of the most popular ones. Once you have downloaded the software, you need to extract the folder and its contents wherever you want. Opening the folder you must necessarily install the BIOS and execute the instructions within the file.
A great many users prefer to use Android software to emulate 3DS games on their PCs, this is possible thanks to an additional Android emulator called Bluestacks.
You have to download this application and install it, and then use it as an Android device on your Windows. The only note to keep in mind is access to the Google Play Store; in fact, Bluestacks allows you to download all the Apps from this online store.
In this specific case, Citra is not available for Android systems, but you can download those listed above.
3DS Android emulator: how to install it
Alternative solution to PC is definitely emulation on Android, but how to install the emulator without particular inconvenience and malicious files?
First, it is essential to find the platform that has the emulator, that is, a website that provides verified software capable of emulating Nintendo 3DS games on the smartphone. It is recommended to opt for known platforms or draw the .exe files from the emulator’s official website.
Although there are several reliable emulators on the Google Play Store, the best ones are usually available on third-party platforms with APKs to install.
Once the secure platform has been identified, the software can be downloaded; once it is finished, the folder must be opened and the program started.
In case you do not have the permissions for unknown sources, it would be wise to open the Settings and go to the Security section and then immediately to the Application Manager. From here select the Enable unknown origins option.
Reopening the download folder will allow you to start installing the file. Usually the installation time involves a few minutes of waiting, a condition due to the amount of compressed files inside the.exe file.
Once the installation is complete, the emulator will appear with its canonical icon inside the application drawer. From here you will be able to start it and proceed to load the game and the settings for controls and graphics resolution.
3DS iOS emulator: how to install it
As pointed out several times in the previous paragraphs, an iOS operating system is particularly constraining for emulator developers. This condition induces multiple installation systems for this type of software. Let us analyze the two most commonly used systems: with Cydia and without jailbreak.
To provide for installing an emulator with Cydia, it is important to start with an operating system running iOS 11 or 12. Having verified the type of operating system, it is appropriate to use the tool called LiberiOS in order to activate the jailbreak.
Once the jailbreak procedure is finished, you can start Cydia and search for what are the desired 3DS emulators. Once the desired emulator has been found, it can be installed.
Once the installation process is complete, an emulator icon will appear on the main screen of the device, from which you can start the software and begin using it.
In case you do not want to use a tool to unlock the jailbreak, you would have to adopt this second method.
We will take the case of the Nintendo 3DS emulator to circumvent the jailbreak; in fact, such a program does not require forced unlocking, but you will need an iOS 11 or iOS 12 operating system.
The process is to download and install AppValley, an application with which one can search for various interesting software, not only for emulation.
Starting AppValley you should search for the Nintendo 3DS emulator and install it. Once the installation phase is complete, it will be necessary to restart the smartphone.
By initializing the emulator, it will be possible to load ISOs or compressed files and start the desired game. Such an application works not only on iPhone, but also on iPad Air, and iPad Mini.
In recent years, the development of emulators for the Nintendo 3DS has been on the rise, and the passion for this historic console and its games is still very strong among those who lived through this golden age of video games.
Choosing an emulator, however, is not as simple as one might think; in addition to the compatibilities to be evaluated, one must also pay attention to the functionality made available and the ease of use.
Although a quality emulator does not require high-level computer skills to be used, those who want to get the most out of them will necessarily have to work their way through settings, resolutions, and hardware. The emulators listed in the previous lines are among the best, but over time other developers will come up with even better and less demanding projects for their game systems.