Buckle up for a short ride into the world of the best 3DS emulators of 2021. It might not be the longest list in the world, but at least we’ve cut to the chase and told you the two that actually work and saved you a bunch of time!
Spend that time doing something fun instead, like replaying BOTW for the 100th time!
The Nintendo 3DS will always have a special place in my heart for bringing Ocarina of Time into the 3D realm. This console had a tonne of great games, both physical and downloadable, and my XL unit is still going strong today.
Ok, so there are only 2 emulators in this list, but that’s because emulation for this console is still in its infancy. That includes the first program in our list, and that began work in 2013!
Of course, we’ll update this article as-and-when more programs arrive, but for now, these are the only two worth looking at. Don’t waste time with the other knock offs; you’ll just be disappointed!
- Open Source
- Windows, Linux, Android
Citra is the best Nintendo 3DS emulator on the scene. That might not seem like such a big deal considering there’s only two reputable choices, but this emulator is a seriously impressive program.
Not only that, but Citra has recently released an Android version of their emulator that works perfectly. It’s capable of playing all of the greats from Mario Kart to A Link Between Worlds and more!
Everyone want’s to play Mario Kart and Pokemon on the go. I know they have their own mobile apps, but they’re nowhere near as good as the Nintendo 3DS offerings.
Citra are also the brains behind Yuzu, the best Nintendo Switch emulator. They’ve been working on their 3DS emulator since 2013, continuously perfecting the formula and making tweaks to ensure the best possible results.
This open source software has had over 150 people working on it over the years. It’s licensed under the GPLv2 and pays homage to the 3DS’ original model number – CTR.
In terms of how it plays and how it looks, Citra is the real deal. Bear in mind that there might be some lag and a few glitches here and there, but the overall gameplay experience is a pleasurable one.
Citra don’t claim that this is the finished article either. They know that there’s work still to be done, but just like Yuzu, the gaming community is behind them 100% and supporting them wherever they can.
Check out Citra and see how your favourite games run on it. They have a full compatibility list on their website, and the good news is that Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright plays perfectly!
- Open Source
- Multiple Platforms
RetroArch takes the second and final position in this short list of the best Nintendo 3DS emulators of all time. Not only is this program one of the best in the business and highly revered, but it also comes with bad-ass overlays that give your PC screen a specific theme.
Remember how Toys ‘R’ Us used to have everything under one roof? Well, RetroArch has every console under one digital roof. It’s a one stop shop for emulators and saves users having to search for multiple emulators for their different retro consoles.
If you’ve read our articles on the best Gameboy emulators or the best N64 emulators, then you may well have come across RetroArch before. Instead of focusing on just one emulator, it uses ‘cores’ to call upon all the emulator.
It’s like Captain America shouting ‘Avengers Assemble’, but the avengers are emulators.
And the core that RetroArch uses for its 3DS emulation… Citra!
So, basically there is only one great Nintendo 3DS emulator, and that’s Citra.
Glad we sorted that one out then!
How Do Emulators Work?
You know how Darth Vader’s helmet makes him act and sound all scary, but underneath it he’s just a misunderstood guy who wants to hang out with his son? Well, an emulator makes your chosen device act and sound like a games console, and they’re simple to download and use.
Jeez… that was a tenuous link even for me!
Emulators make any device run like a games console, digitally recreating all the wires, chips, and processors found inside your favourite retro machines.
The best way to describe how an emulator works to someone who hasn’t used one before is to think about a music player. Think about iTunes or Windows media player and how they play MP3s. Emulators are basically the same sort of program, but they play ROM files.
What Are ROMs?
ROMs are digital images of your favourite games. More and more players are using software to rip the game data files from their existing carts and discs in order to play them on handheld devices or PC emulators.
Ripping your own games is fine, but sharing them online or downloading other peoples ROMs is a no-go. Gaming companies are continually shutting down ROM library sites, and you may be fined for uploading or downloading them.
What Are The Benefits Of Using The Best Nintendo 3DS Emulators?
While there are only a couple of Nintendo 3DS Emulators on the scene, they prove that people just enjoy gaming on their laptop or PC, and that mobile gaming is bigger than ever.
I know the 3DS is a portable console, but how many of us want to carry around any other devices than our phones these days, especially since phones now resemble bricks once again.
Using Nintendo 3DS emulators allows us to play on the go without carrying multiple chargers. They also have extra features which help gamers get into the finer details of emulation and settings for speed runners etc.
Why Is Emulating A Nintendo 3DS So Difficult?
Nintendo 3DS Emulation is so difficult because the games are so massive. It’s not like we’re talking about successfully recreating Asterix and Obelix for the Master System; we’re talking about playing games like A Link Between Worlds and Luigi’s Mansion 2.
A laptop and a 3DS have very different innards too. The processing power required to successfully make some emulators work is insane. Mobile phones are closer to handheld consoles, and Citra’s new Android app proves that the process is possible with enough hard work.
Plus, how many other handhelds or PCs do you know of that have 3D functions without wearing those stupid glasses?
How Do I Download The Best Nintendo 3DS Emulators?
We’ve linked you to both Citra and RetroArch in the article above. Don’t worry, neither downloading emulators or adding your services as a coder to help keep them updated is illegal.
ROM sharing and uploading is, however, so stay outta jail and game legally, ‘ya here?
Seb Santabarbara has bought every Nintendo console that has ever been released in his 31 years on Planet Earth. His favourite game franchise is Zelda, and he’s patiently waiting for Banjo-Kazooie to come back to the fold. When he’s not playing games, he’s travelling the world in his self-converted camper van.