3DS Emulators: The Nintendo 3DS is one of the most popular handheld gaming consoles ever made. With an extensive game library featuring titles like Animal Crossing, Pokémon, Mario Kart, and The Legend of Zelda, the 3DS has something for everyone. While the 3DS is designed as a portable device, many users wish they could play their favorite 3DS games on their iPhones or iPads. This is where 3DS emulators for iOS come in.
3DS emulators allow you to play 3DS games on your iOS device. By emulating the 3DS operating system and hardware, these emulators provide a bridge between the 3DS game files and your iPhone or iPad. With the right emulator, you can enjoy the entire 3DS library on your Apple device.
In this guide, we will cover the best 3DS emulators currently available for iOS. We have selected emulators based on performance, compatibility, features, and overall user experience. Whether you’re a Pokémon fan who wants to play X and Y on your iPhone, or someone looking to replay classics like Ocarina of Time 3D, these emulators will have you covered.
What Are 3DS Emulators and How Do They Work?
Before we get into the top emulators, let’s discuss how 3DS emulation works. 3DS emulators enable you to play 3DS games on devices other than the 3DS, such as your iPhone or iPad. They work by imitating the 3DS hardware and software to “trick” the game into thinking it is running on original 3DS hardware.
Several different components make up a 3DS system that must be emulated:
- CPU (Central Processing Unit): The 3DS uses two ARM processors. The emulators imitate these processors.
- GPU (Graphics Processing Unit): The GPU renders the graphics and visuals. Emulators recreate the GPU in software.
- Memory: The 3DS has separate memory for various tasks. Emulators allocate equivalent memory to your device.
- Firmware and OS: The 3DS operating system and system firmware need to be mimicked.
- Sound: The 3DS has multiple sound processors, which are recreated in the emulator.
- Input: Emulators map touch screen and button inputs from your iOS device to 3DS controls.
By replicating all of these components and running the encrypted 3DS game files (ROMs), emulators can convincingly recreate the 3DS experience on your iPhone or iPad. It takes a lot of software optimization and computing power to accurately emulate advanced hardware like the 3DS.
Top Emulators for 3DS Emulation on iOS
Let’s get into the specifics of the best 3DS emulators available for iOS devices. We’ve compiled this list based on emulator performance, game compatibility, reliability, ease of use, and special features.
NDS4iOS is one of the most popular Nintendo DS and 3DS emulators for iOS. It’s an open-source project that receives frequent updates for improved compatibility and bug fixes.
- High game compatibility and good performance.
- Supports gyroscope controls by mapping motion data from your iOS device.
- Customizable button and touch screen overlays. You can edit the position and appearance of on-screen controls.
- Supports cheats and save states to make gameplay easier. You can return to save states if you lose a life.
- Cloud syncing of saves between devices via Google Drive and Dropbox. Share your saved files across all your iOS devices.
- Supports local wireless multiplayer by emulating DS Download Play and DS wireless chat.
In terms of raw performance, NDS4iOS performs very well. Games run at full speed with sound emulation. The iOS gyroscope allows you to accurately aim and play shooting games that make use of 3DS motion controls. The emulator fully supports Retina display rendering for improved visuals at high resolutions.
NDS4iOS boasts high compatibility with the 3DS library. It can run most games without major graphical or performance issues. There are some exceptions such as games that make heavy use of augmented reality and face-tracking features. But all the most popular titles should work fine.
Ease of Use
This emulator couldn’t be much simpler to use. Just download the emulator, add ROMs to your library, and start playing. Customizing the overlay controls is easy with the intuitive editor. Save states and the Rewind feature make playing through challenging games less frustrating. And cloud syncing ensures you can continue games across all your devices seamlessly.
With great performance, high compatibility, and user-friendly features, NDS4iOS is one of the best 3DS emulators available for iPhone and iPad. If you want an all-around excellent emulator, NDS4iOS is a great choice.
Citra is an open-source emulator project focused on 3DS emulation. Built from the ground up with 3DS games in mind, it offers high compatibility with good performance.
- Specifically designed for 3DS games. Optimized for this hardware rather than a general-purpose emulator.
- High level of compatibility with few game-breaking bugs.
- Solid performance and accuracy thanks to various code optimizations.
- Supports the camera, gyroscope, microphone, and touch screen of iOS devices. Maps these inputs to 3DS controls.
- Can output graphics at very high resolutions by upscaling 3DS rendering. Makes games look much crisper and detailed.
- Built-in cheat code support and screenshot capturing.
The development team behind Citra has worked extensively to eliminate emulator lag and achieve full-speed gameplay. Performance continues improving with each update. The accuracy of graphics and audio emulation is also excellent.
By leveraging the power of iOS devices, Citra can run 3DS games at quadruple the native resolution or higher. This massively improves visual fidelity while retaining the original art style.
Citra has high compatibility and can run almost all mainstream commercial 3DS titles with very few issues. There are still some minor graphics glitches or sound problems in certain games, but developers frequently squash bugs with new versions.
Ease of Use
Using Citra is straightforward, but the process has a few more steps compared to other emulators. You need to enter some configuration settings the first time you run it. The touch screen and motion controls also require manual mapping to your iOS device’s inputs. These extra steps are worthwhile for the excellent results, but they involve slightly more effort than some competitors.
If you want an emulator laser-focused on accuracy and performance for 3DS games, Citra fits the bill nicely. With great optimization and an active development team, it’s one of the best-performing 3DS emulators for iOS.
Delta is a multi-system emulator for iOS that includes support for Nintendo DS and 3DS games. It uses cores from other open-source emulators to bring multiple console libraries to your iPhone and iPad.
- Support for dozens of systems including Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, Game Boy Advance, SNES, Nintendo 64, PlayStation, and more. An all-in-one retro game emulator.
- Online library for easily finding and downloading game ROM files to import into the app.
- In-app purchases for donating to support the project and unlocking additional features like fast-forward.
- Automatic cloud syncing and backup of saved files across your iOS devices.
- Hardware controller support. Pair a Bluetooth gamepad with your iPhone or iPad for easier control.
The Nintendo 3DS core performance is quite good, providing full-speed emulation for most titles. The graphics and audio accuracy are very solid. Delta provides various display options like higher resolutions and texture filtering to enhance the visuals.
The 3DS compatibility is decent but lags slightly behind focused emulators like Citra. Most major commercial games are playable but Delta may encounter performance dips or graphical issues compared to a specialized 3DS emulator. The automatic updating of cores and ROMs helps improve things over time.
Ease of Use
Delta simplifies a lot of emulator functionality into an easy-to-use interface. Features, like save syncing, integrated game downloads, and controller support, make it convenient. However, filtering through the multi-system game library can be cumbersome compared to a 3DS-only emulator.
Delta is a great all-in-one retro gaming emulator for iOS. While it may not match specialized emulators for 3DS accuracy, its convenience and all-around performance make it an excellent choice.
- Happy Chick
Happy Chick is a full-featured emulator that includes support for a wide range of systems old and new, including the Nintendo 3DS. It’s not available on the App Store but can be downloaded from third-party stores.
- Supports dozens of consoles in a single app, like Sega, Sony, Nintendo, and arcade systems.
- Automatic game scanning and downloading from within the app. Easily find and add new ROMs without web browsing.
- Intuitive on-screen multi-touch controls. Customize and rearrange the button overlay.
- Controller support for gamepads over Bluetooth.
- Cloud syncing of saves between devices. Share and save data across all your iOS gadgets.
The 3DS performance is quite good, with the emulator utilizing dynamic recompilation techniques to optimize gameplay. There can be occasional frame rate issues in more demanding 3D titles, but 2D games emulate accurately. Graphics rendering and audio are solid.
Most popular Nintendo 3DS games are playable on Happy Chick, but compatibility lags slightly behind other specialized 3DS emulators. Some games suffer from performance drops, graphical glitches, or control issues. Frequent updates help solve problems and improve support.
Ease of Use
Happy Chick makes it very easy to start playing games. Automatic game downloads, cloud saving, customizable touch controls, and controller support simplify the emulator experience. The downside is you have to download outside the App Store.
Happy Chick is a good jack-of-all-trades emulator for iOS. It may not have the deepest 3DS support, but convenience features like game downloads make it enticing for casual play. Just be aware it involves downloading from third-party stores.
What to Look for in a 3DS Emulator for iOS
When selecting a 3DS emulator for iPhone and iPad, keep these factors in mind:
- Performance: Full-speed framerates without lag or stuttering audio. Look for dynamic recompiler features.
- Game compatibility: Make sure popular 3DS titles fully load and run without crashing or major glitches.
- Actively developed: Choose emulators with engaged developers releasing frequent updates and fixes.
- Hardware support: Motion controls, touch input, and controller support for a natural feel.
- Visual enhancements: Higher rendering resolutions, texture filtering, and other graphics options.
- Features: Conveniences like save states, control overlays, cloud syncing, and cheat codes.
Prioritize performance and compatibility first. Other features are nice extras, but a stable and smooth experience is most critical. Avoid emulators that are outdated or no longer seeing improvements.
iOS 3DS Emulation – Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some common questions about running 3DS games on iOS devices using emulators.
Is 3DS emulation on iOS legal?
Emulator apps themselves are legal. However, downloading commercial ROMs you don’t own is technically illegal in many regions. For legal emulation, you’ll need to create your own ROM files (“dumps”) from games you physically own.
How do I add ROMs to iOS emulators?
Most emulators have built-in browsers for downloading and importing ROM files. You can also connect to your computer to transfer files via iTunes. Some emulators let you play ROMs directly from cloud storage like Google Drive.
Can I trade Pokémon between iOS and 3DS games?
Unfortunately, you cannot directly trade Pokémon between a real 3DS and an emulator. However, emulators like NDS4iOS do support local wireless multiplayer between instances of the emulator. So you can potentially trade Pokémon between two games running on iOS devices.
Which is better for iOS emulation: iPhone or iPad?
iPads are generally better due to their larger screens and faster processors. iPhones still work well but may encounter performance issues in more demanding 3D games. Make sure to get an iPhone with at least an A9 chip or newer.
How do I map iOS touch and motion controls to 3DS controls?
Most emulators will handle input mapping automatically. But some allow you to manually configure touch overlays and controller connections in settings. Tweaking these yourself can provide a better gameplay experience tailored to your device.
Can I play online multiplayer with 3DS games on an iOS emulator?
Unfortunately, the 3DS emulators do not support online connectivity and multiplayer components of games. Only local wireless features like DS Download Playwork when emulating on iOS. You are limited to single-player offline gameplay.
From classics like Super Mario 3D Land to the vast Pokémon RPGs, there are thousands of incredible games in the Nintendo 3DS library. iOS emulators make these beloved handheld titles easily playable on your iPhone or iPad.
Top options like NDS4iOS, Citra, Delta, and Happy Chick provide the best performance, compatibility, and features for 3DS emulation. Each has advantages depending on your priorities like accuracy, customization, or simplicity. With the right emulator, you can dive into the amazing 3DS catalog anywhere on your Apple mobile device.
iOS 3DS emulation empowers you to revisit childhood favorites or experience must-play Nintendo games for the first time. So get started downloading ROMs of legendary 3DS titles to finally play the portable classics on your iPhone or iPad. Just be sure to own the original game copies for legal compliance. With some of the best emulators available, iOS is now a premier platform for handheld gaming.