Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

iPhone game emulators will never replace retro handhelds for me

Published Apr 17th, 2024 7:16PM EDT
Ayn Odin 2 retro gaming handheld.
Image: Ayn

If you buy through a BGR link, we may earn an affiliate commission, helping support our expert product labs.

When Apple announced it would finally allow developers to launch retro game emulators on the App Store earlier this month, I was thrilled. After several false starts, the iOS emulation era truly kicked off on Wednesday with the debut of Delta on the App Store. The all-in-one emulator can play virtually every SNES, N64, and GBA game flawlessly. But as exciting as the iPhone game emulators are, I’m not sure they can pull me away from my retro handhelds.

In recent years, a new trend has dominated the retro gaming scene. Affordable, handheld game consoles have made it possible to bring tens of thousands of classic games with you anywhere you go in a comfortable, convenient, and nostalgic package.

We covered a few of those handhelds last fall, and in the months since, probably half a dozen more have hit the market. While the budget options can typically only run games from up to the fifth game console generation (PS1 and below), some of the pricier devices can easily run PS2, GameCube, and Wii games at 2x or 3x the original resolution.

I’ve owned a few of these over the years, but my latest is the Retroid Pocket 2S. It’s an Android device that retails for less than $100 and plays everything up through N64 and Dreamcast like a champ. I’ve even been able to get some of my favorite PS2 games up and running.

With these devices at my disposal, I’m not sure I ever see myself turning to an iPhone as a retro gaming solution. Delta is among the most polished emulation apps I’ve ever seen on any device, but the on-screen controls are never going to replace a real, physical controller. As a result, the best way to play games on Delta will be with a Bluetooth controller or one that attaches to the phone, like the genuinely stellar BackBone One mobile controller.

There are exceptions to the rule, especially turn-based RPGs that only require one button input at a time, but just try playing Mario Kart 64 on Delta with the on-screen controls.

I remain elated and somewhat shocked by the fact that emulators are now on the App Store, but for me, they missed the boat by a few years. For countless others, this will be their first foray into retro emulation, and there’s no question that Delta is one of the best ways to experience classic games on a smartphone. But if you ever get sick of charging and connecting a controller every time you want to play, remember that there’s a whole world of retro handhelds out there.

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.