How to emulate Nintendo 3DS games on Android

How to emulate Nintendo 3DS games on Android

Emulation offers an affordable and affordable way to play old games that can be hard to come by these days. Your Android phone is capable of emulating most handheld and home consoles up to the fifth generation of consoles, but even Nintendo’s latest handhelds aren’t a sweat for a modern smartphone.

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

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The best Nintendo 3DS emulator on Android

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

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

RetroArch emulator

RetroArch is capable of emulating a large number 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 created for various consoles.

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

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Citra Emulator

Citra was the first 3DS compatible emulator, created 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 “not tested” to “perfect” so users can see the progress of a game’s compatibility testing.

While RetroArch has the advantage of higher availability and more supported platforms, we’ll be using 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, even including gamepad support!

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Caveat! Regarding the ROMs

It is our responsibility to remind you that obtaining ROMs by any means other than extracting them from a disc or cartridge you own is illegal. You may only rip ROMs from games you own for your own use, not for distribution purposes. Nintendo is especially strict about sharing and downloading its ROMs, so be careful.


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

How to set up and use Citra on your Android phone

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

Prepare your games for emulation

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

It is not necessary to prepare it before launching the application, but it will make your first setup easier: when you launch Citra for the first time, you will be asked to select the folder from which your games will be launched. This can be changed at any time by tapping on 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 with a tool like WinZip, but Citra also allows you to extract a CIA 3DS file directly from the app’s home screen. Just touch the file icon, choose Install CIAand choose the CIA file from your downloads. The rest is easy.

How to play games on Citra

With a small library of 3DS games out of the box, you’re ready to hit the ground running.

  1. Start Citra and accept the requested permissions. You can request microphone access; this is for DS games that use the microphone to play.
  2. Select the game folder you prepared earlier and tap Select this directory.
  3. Once your cracked games directory is selected, the home screen will display a list of all your games, accompanied by an icon.
  4. Tap on the game of your choice to launch it. A small loading box will appear when the emulator loads the required shaders. After this, you are good to go.


The best 3DS emulator for Android

When testing Citra, we chose two games from its compatibility list, New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Resident Evil Revelations. The former was marked as “excellent” and the latter as “poor” in the compatibility list. We found that Super Mario offered an enjoyable experience overall, with only an occasional stutter. Resident Evil, on the other hand, had some texture and model bugs, as well as a crash.

We have no doubt that Citra is a great way to enjoy compatible games, and the persistence of the team ensures that they will continue to expand and improve the compatible games available. Citra is an easy recommendation, perhaps the best way to emulate 3DS games.

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