The Nintendo 3DS holds a special place for every gamer who owns the console. It was backwards compatible with the Nintendo DS, had a pocketable and portable form factor and came in various shapes and sizes (which could be confusing for those uninitiated). It also has Nintendo’s official support with first-party titles like Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn releasing only last year.
But for the tinkerers among us, the 3DS is also special for its ease to load it with homebrew apps, especially emulators. With a homebrew-enabled 3DS, one can have access to libraries of retro games from the NES to the PlayStation. Sure Nintendo’s current console, the Nintendo Switch, also has impressive homebrew emulator abilities; in fact, we shared our 5 best emulators in a previous post. But if you want to give a second life to your 3DS, you can’t go wrong with emulators. And since it’s been a while since the console has been out, support has grown and running emulators has been made easier and better.
As such, we decided to share our picks for the best emulators for the Nintendo 3DS. Let's jump right in!
1. Virtual Console Injection
An interesting fact about the 3DS is that it shares similar ARM architecture with the Nintendo DS and the GameBoy Advance. This means that the 3DS has something of a hidden GBA inside of its hardware and can run GBA games natively. Via the Virtual Console, the 3DS isn’t emulating the GBA but in fact running it on native hardware with the actual performance of a GBA.
By means of Virtual Console injection (VCI), you can play GBA games natively, save for some games that require special hardware like WarioWare: Twisted. Thanks to the 3DS being backward-compatible with the GBA, VCI offers close to 100% speed and accuracy for GBA gaming.
You can also use the same method to “inject” games from other retro consoles including the NES, SNES, GameBoy, GameBoy Colour, SEGA Mega Drive, Game Gear and TurboGrafx 16 into the 3DS but since these consoles run on different architecture than the 3DS, you might face some issues.
To get started with VCI on the 3DS, GBAtemp member @Asdolo created the handy New Super Ultimate Injector (NSUI) tool which you can find out more in our discussion thread below.
New Super Ultimate Injector GBAtemp discussion thread
2. DaedalusX64 3DS for N64 emulation
The 3DS brought some of the N64’s most cherished titles back in remastered form like The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask and Star Fox 64. But these were the few exceptions and gamers would understandably want to play more of nostalgic N64 games on the go. With the DaedalusX64 3DS emulator, what many have awaited for so long is now possible.
This N64 emulator for the 3DS is still a work-in-progress with a lot of the tested games facing performance issues. But only a few years ago, during the 3DS’ prime, many would have dismissed N64 emulation on the device as pure fantasy.
As such, even if it’s not a finished emulator that will play every N64 game, it’s worth a try if you want to play N64 games on your 3DS. You can refer to the compatibility list here which is being regularly updated. The emulator’s developer @MasterFeizz made an official thread with instructions on how to use the emulator and download links.
DaedalusX64 3DS Official GBAtemp thread
3. TWiLight Menu++ for playing DS games without a flashcart
Yes, the 3DS is backward-compatible with the NDS and even packs a slot for its cartridges but what about bypassing the need for a flashcard altogether and play DS games directly from the 3DS’ SD card? This is now possible with TWiLight Menu++ (TWLMenu++) which was developed by GBAtemp member @Robz8.
As mentioned before, the 3DS shares the DS’ architecture and by using TWLMenu++, DS games run natively on the 3DS. Once you have installed the app’s CIA, you can drag-and-drop your ROMs onto the SD card, and play without the need for any additional steps. With this app, some DS games are even playable in 16:10 widescreen on the 3DS.
If you still want to hang on to a flashcard, TWLMenu++ also allows you to launch DS ROMs flashcard as well, via nds-bootstrap which is included in the app.
While it’s a 3DS that can get the most out of TWLMenu++, it also supports the DS Phat/lite. By loading it on a flashcard, TWLMenu++ allows you to bring the DSi Menu to your DS Phat/lite.
If you want to learn more, head to the official thread created by @Robz8 that already has over 2 million views. You’ll find more details as to how to use the app, download links as well as FAQs to help in troubleshooting.
TWiLight Menu++ Official GBAtemp Thread
4. PCSX ReARMed for PlayStation Emulation
You might already know RetroArch as a handy frontend for multi-system emulation and the PCSX ReARMed core now allows for decent PS1 emulation on the 3DS. Emulating the PlayStation on the 3DS would, similar to the N64, also be dismissed as fantasy a few years back. With developments in the scene, it is now possible.
The PCSX ReARMed developers recently changed the 3DS builds to use PCSX4ALL’s Unai renderer, which is less accurate but faster and now allows many PS1 games to run at full speed. This is mostly applicable for the New Nintendo 3DS while the old 3DS won’t be able to emulate many games at full speed.
We have an official PCSX ReARMed discussion thread, complete with download links and compatibility list for you to learn more about.
PCSX ReARMed Official GBAtemp Discussion Thread
That’s it for our best 3DS emulator picks! Are there any other emulators that you use and would recommend?