I've played an early Nintendo 3DS emulator for iPhone — light on features but games run perfectly, even without 3D

Folium playing Minesweeper 3D on iPhone with USB-C Controller
(Image credit: Future)

Unleash the emulation kraken! Now that you can download retro gaming emulators from the App Store, we’re starting to see and hear about more upcoming releases of apps that will be able to run console games from the past.

One in particular is called Folium, developed by Jarrod Norwell. The app emulates three handhelds: Nintendo Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, and Nintendo 3DS. The first two can already be played through Delta, another multi-system emulator that was released on April 17 for iPhone. The 3DS portion isn't currently served anywhere else on iPhone, with its unique hardware making for an interesting emulation exercise.

Nintendo 3DS was the successor to the original Nintendo DS. Released in 2011, the handheld was essentially a faster and more streamlined upgrade to its dual-screen predecessor, but with one key difference — it introduced a glasses-free 3D display. 

At the risk of stating the obvious, you won’t be able to view games in 3D on your iPhone with Folium — the 3DS employed a unique autostereoscopic display with a parallax barrier, adjusted via an intensity slider. Don't expect any accessory hacking that into an iPhone any time soon.

But Folium has still proved a lot of fun from our early testing. The app currently available as a private TestFlight release — Testflight allows developers to distribute apps to select users, in order to be tested before they’re released on the App Store. Norwell is currently planning to sell the emulator for $4.99 once Apple approves it. I've been trying out the upcoming emulator on an iPhone 15 Pro Max this past week, and I’ve come away impressed so far.

Using Folium in 2D

Folium home screen on iPhone

(Image credit: Future)

It should be said that this is a very early version of Folium for now — features like save states and the ability to add cheats that are available in rival Delta aren’t here yet. The first time you boot up, you’re prompted to place the handheld’s BIOS files into the emulator’s folder via the Files app, followed by any gaming ROMs you're looking to play. If you’re not sure what a BIOS file is, do check our iPhone emulation guide, as it covers everything you need to know about what this and other terms mean. If done correctly, the game you’ve put into the folder should appear in the basic user interface, ready to play.

It’s a very barebones appearance compared to Delta, which offers fantastic theming skins to make you feel like you’re playing one of Nintendo’s handhelds. Here, you’re given a simple button layout reminiscent of a Nintendo 3DS. It works well enough, but we do recommend using one of the best game controllers for iPhone for more comfortable play sessions.

You can play a game in Portrait or Landscape orientation, and the dual screens of the handheld will have no problem adjusting to the layout you choose. What would be the lower touch screen of the 3DS can be used with your finger as usual on iPhone — though we did experience some lag at times when switching between items in some games.

In order to see how well the emulator ran, we picked several games to see if there were any incompatibilities. A bunch of homebrew games, such as an unofficial Half-Life port, as well as clones of Minesweeper and Breakout, all ran great with no issues. The sounds of Half-Life's main location, Black Mesa, were very clear and the latency was very low — especially when the explosions and crashing debris occurred in the early chapters of the game.

Again, Folium is a barebones app — but from our testing, it gets the job done when running a game. For what it lacks in features compared to Delta, it makes up for with solid emulation and plenty of promise. We’re hoping to be able to recommend the app once it launches for iPhone soon.

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Daryl Baxter
Features Editor

Daryl is iMore's Features Editor, overseeing long-form and in-depth articles and op-eds. Daryl loves using his experience as both a journalist and Apple fan to tell stories about Apple's products and its community, from the apps we use everyday to the products that have been long forgotten in the Cupertino archives.

Previously Software & Downloads Writer at TechRadar, and Deputy Editor at StealthOptional, he's also written a book, 'The Making of Tomb Raider', which tells the story of the beginnings of Lara Croft and the series' early development. He's also written for many other publications including WIRED, MacFormat, Bloody Disgusting, VGC, GamesRadar, Nintendo Life, VRV Blog, The Loop Magazine, SUPER JUMP, Gizmodo, Film Stories, TopTenReviews, Miketendo64 and Daily Star.