The Nintendo DS was a beloved system, so it only made sense for Nintendo to release a follow-up to the handheld gaming system. In February of 2011, the Nintendo 3DS was released. Unfortunately, the 3DS didn’t quite get as much love and attention from fans, but it still got tons of fun and amazing titles during its almost ten-year lifespan.
If you want to give 3DS games a try, you may feel as though you’re out of luck given that Nintendo discontinued it in 2020. However, you might be able to find a secondhand one for sale somewhere. You may even still find a brand new one with some luck, considering it’s only been two years since the system was discontinued. However, at this point, the best way to actually play 3DS games might just be by using an emulator.
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These days, there are 3DS emulators for both PC and Android. However, if you’re interested in giving emulators a try, it’s worth noting that 3DS emulation is still somewhat in its infancy. This means that the emulators available are not perfect and may, at times, provide a sub-par experience. The good news is that there are still quite a few emulators that are still worth looking into, such as the ones on this list!
Best 3DS Emulators
- Citra – fan favorite
- Pretendo NDS Emulator
- R4 3DS Emulator
- RetroArch – best for compatibility
For Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and Android
If you’re looking for the best of the best, Citra is certainly up there on the board. Citra is an open-source emulator available on Windows, Linux and Mac computers, and Android devices. It’s one of the few fully-functional 3DS emulators around.
Citra has been in development since 2013, and to this day it is still a work in progress. That’s just how it is in the world of emulation — the work never stops. It’s worth noting that although it began development in 2013, Citra wasn’t released to the public until 2015, when it was launched as experimental software. Citra is a labor of love, with more than 150 people have contributed since it was founded.
Devs designed this emulator to run its games with at least 60FPS, which is pretty good considering — although the resolution of the games is also relatively low. Currently, Citra is capable of running homebrew apps and commercial games, but with varying results. Some games are extremely compatible and work flawlessly, while others may give you a hard time. If you want to know more about which games are compatible with this emulator, check out their compatibility list here. Luckily, there appears to be tons of games emulating at “Perfect” and “Great” scores.
If you’re having trouble with Citra, you can check out their FAQ, which helps with some troubleshooting.
Pretendo NDS Emulator
Pretendo is another well-known emulator for the 3DS, but it’s only available on Android. However, if you want to use this emulator, use it at your own risk — according to the website, the latest version was released in 2015, which means this emulator has gone un-updated since.
If you do get this emulator to work (perhaps on an older Android device), you might enjoy the fact that it allows. you to load your ROMs in different formats, such as .ds, .rom, and even in .zip or .rar compression. The controls are also quite simple and are even customizable. Finally, another great feature is that it saves your game progress automatically, so you can leave and come back whenever you please.
R4 3DS Emulator
For Windows PCs
Back in the day, R4 cartridges were the best way to play ROMs on your actual 3DS. It was a flash card that you could load with ROMs, music, and other content to your heart’s desire.
R4 cartridges were fantastic and many remember them fondly for helping to make 3DS games more accessible. However, R4 cartridges won’t help you much these days if you don’t really have a physical 3DS unit. This is where the R4 emulator comes in.
The R4 3DS emulator is a handy piece of software that can allow you to run 3DS games on your Windows PC. The app itself allows you to play a large selection of 3DS games right on your desktop. However, because this emulator is pretty old and most likely has gone without any recent updates, you probably won’t be able to run any of the more recently released titles.
For Windows PCs
No$GBA is another fantastic option when it comes to the best 3DS emulators for Windows computers. Although it’s only available for Windows, it does have a fair advantage over the other choices on this list — it’s been recently updated. Like Citra, No$GBA’s most recent update was in 2020.
One of the best things about this emulator is how well-documented it is. The No$GBA website is a wealth of information — there, you can find everything from tips on setting up to frequently asked questions. If you run into any issues, you might also love the fact that the No$GBA website includes just about everything you need to know to help you troubleshoot. If you don’t find your problem on the website at all, you can also contact No$GBA (however, you are recommended to first ensure your question has not already been answered somewhere).
For Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, iOS, and Android
Also runs on Consoles (full list here)
RetroArch is another emulator that’s widely considered to be one of the very best. If you’re looking for compatibility, RetroArch is the answer — it runs on just about any system imaginable. This highly revered emulator runs on an incredible number of systems, including old versions of Linux, Windows, and various consoles. Not only does it run on all of those systems, but it also gives your screen a unique and specific theme.
If you’re looking for a one-stop emulation shop, RetroArch is it. Not only is this emulator compatible with many systems, it’s also capable of emulating a ton of them, too. It’s capable of running games from the N64 and the Gameboy, for example.
RetroArch works by combining various emulators into one. It calls on a specific emulator “core” on-demand, which means if you want to play 3DS games, RetroArch will summon its 3DS emulator core. Here’s the fun part — the 3DS core on RetroArch runs on Citra. Yes, the same Citra on the top of this list!
So, if you want to play 3DS games and other games too… The RetroArch is a good pick all around.
When it comes to 3DS emulation, there are few solid options. Some of the emulators are relatively old and haven’t been updated in quite some time, but are still worth a look. With 3DS emulation still kind of in its infancy, there’s certainly room for growth. But, if you’re looking for the very best, try Citra or RetroArch!
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