Best gaming emulators for iPhone and iPad 2022

Oceanhorn 2 on iPad mini 6
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It's crazy to think that our thin iPhones and iPads are capable of so much when it took an entire room to run a computer only a few decades ago. But thanks to years of innovations and the help of the best emulators for iOS, you can play several classic games from your childhood all from one device without needing the original consoles. You often don't even need to have the most up-to-date iOS devices for this to work. But you should be aware of any risks or legal complications associated with downloading ROMs before doing so.

Emulators and ROMs 101 Risks and benefits

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An emulator is a device or program that imitates another computer or program. For example, a PSP emulator mimics the PSP and can play compatible PSP games on whatever device it is on. The second half of an emulator is the ROMs. A ROM is the downloadable version of the game necessary for playing said game. So, you can think of the emulator as a digital console while the ROM is a digital game.

Users often need to jailbreak their iOS device in order to run emulators and ROMs, which can open the device to some security risks. Only do so if you know what you are doing and are ok with the possible consequences. Emulators can be very helpful for game preservation and allow you to run apps you usually couldn't on the device that hosts them. However, they also tend to run slower than the device they're mimicking since they're reproducing a behavior rather than having been built for it.

Users need to be careful when downloading emulators and ROMs since it is possible for a virus or malware to pretend to be either one of these things. Only download from sources you've researched and trust. Additionally, while emulators are mostly legal, the ROMs or programs you download to use on said emulators are often illegal copies making you party to pirating. You should look into any ROM you plan on downloading along with regulations in your area before downloading anything. Because of this uncertain background, Apple does not allow many emulators on the App Store. So you'll need to download many of them from their own sites.

Delta

Delta is a very popular emulator designed to emulate retro gaming systems like Nintendo 64, NES, SNES, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Color, DS, and more. It also offers support for PS4, PS5, Xbox One S, and Xbox Series X controllers for more comfortable play. You'll just want to choose the best iPhone or iPad controller that works with these emulators. Among its many convenient features, it automatically saves as you progress and supports quick saves if you're using a controller. What's more, even cheat codes are made accessible through various Game Genie and Game Shark programs.

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Delta 

Check out the Delta emulator for iPhone and iPad. It works with a number of controllers and offers compatibility with several ROMs. 

Download from: Delta (opens in new tab)

DolphiniOS Emulator

This emulator is "based on an open-source Dolphin emulator for Desktop." It's specifically designed to be able to run Nintendo Wii and GameCube ROMs on compatible iOS devices. Users must first jailbreak the iOS device and then download the emulator. Once it's running, players can access their ROM library from within DolphiniOS or can easily add more to the library by pressing the plus button in the upper right-hand corner.

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DolphiniOS Emulator

The DolphiniOS Emulator is capable of playing Nintendo Wii and GameCube ROMs. It works with several iPhone and iPads without needing you to have the most recent generations. 

Download from: DolphiniOS (opens in new tab)

Provenance

The Provenance emulator works incredibly well on iOS and mimics programs for Nintendo, Sony, Sega, and more. The program allows you to save whenever you'd like so you can pick up wherever you left off. Plus, it's compatible with the iCade, MFi, or Steam controllers if you happen to have any of those. You will need to go to the Provenance Wiki to download and install it.

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Provenance Emulator

Get your Apple device to mimic classic gaming devices from the past. You can download Provenance for iPhone and iPad here.

Download from: Provenance (opens in new tab)

Eclipse

Eclipse is built for ROMs from NES, SNES, Game Boy Color, Sega Genesis, and Sega Game Gear. It's a relatively new multi-emulator and totes itself as being unrevokable. The interface is smooth, allowing you to simply tap on an icon to open any given ROM you've previously downloaded. You can save or fast forward through long cutscenes whenever you'd like. Users can also get access to a large library of games by downloading them from Game Hub.

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Eclipse

With its intuitive interface and wide compatibility, this emulator is a popular choice. Check out the Eclipse gaming emulator and see what options are available.

Download from: Eclipse (opens in new tab)

Happy Chick

Happy Chick is built to run 18 gaming systems, including PlayStation 1-3, Nintendo 64, DS, Game Boy, PSP, and more. It is compatible with a large list of ROMS and even supports online multiplayer for compatible ROMs. Players can use the GameSire G3s or the GameSir G4s controllers to play more comfortably. Instructions for downloading and installing the emulator on iPhone and iPad are available on the official website.

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Happy Chick

Check out this gaming emulator from your iOS device. It works with iPhones and iPad while offering controller compatibility and a vast number of compatible ROMs. 

Download from: Happy Chick (opens in new tab)

Retro Arch

Retro Arch is yet another multi-emulator that is compatible with several older platforms. Downloading it on your iPhone or iPad can allow you to access ROMs for several gaming systems like Sega Genesis, Atari, DOS, Neo Geo Pocket, and more. Save when you want, rewind to play through a section better, and much more with its convenience features.

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Retro Arch

Retro Arch works with ROMs for a number of older platforms. Improve the classic playing experience by fast forwarding or rewinding when it's convenient to do so. 

Download from: Retro Arch (opens in new tab)

Where to find ROMs

Simply performing a Google Search for ROMs isn't the best way to go about it since you're never quite sure if you're landing on a safe downloading link or not. Instead, you should only download from trusted locations. Archive.org is a great choice. Just remember that you should only download ROMS from files and games you own. Doing otherwise is considered pirating and violates intellectual property laws.

To better keep track of your ROMs, we suggest making a new folder and keeping them all within it. It can also make it easier to access them from the emulator if they're all in one place.

Best controllers for iPad and iPhone

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Many emulators also offer gaming controller support on iPhone and iPad to make playing more convenient. However, you'll need to check with each emulator to see which controllers are compatible with both the emulator and your device. Some of the most common controllers to support are the Xbox controller or a PlayStation controller.

Plenty to choose from

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There must be hundreds of gaming emulators out there, but not all of them are created equally. To get the best experiences and avoid malicious viruses we recommend sticking to the ones we've listed. If you're only going to do one, we recommend Delta. It works with a number of different controllers and ROMs and has several convenience features.

Another popular choice is the DolphiniOS. Before being able to use it, users will need to jailbreak their iPhone or iPad. However, it has a good interface and works very well. Lastly, the Eclipse emulator offers an intuitive interface and is easy to use. It allows players to fast forward through slow bits of games and save whenever they want to. 

Rebecca Spear
Gaming Editor

Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.