Turn your smartphone into a portable "retro video game"

Here in Brazil Tectoy is going this way, with portable versions of Mega Drive and Master System, and desktop consoles like Atari Flashback (with several Atari games) and Mega Drive relaunch.

But you don't have to buy a handful of consoles to remember your favorite games. With a Bluetooth control and the right apps, you can turn any Android smartphone, even the oldest one against the drawer, into a portable video game full of classics from various consoles and generations. Let's get our hands dirty?

Choosing a Control

The first thing you need to do to set up your own portable console is choose a Bluetooth control. Yes, most modern games are controlled with touch screens, and all emulators offer the option of virtual controls, but nothing replaces the need for a directional pad and a handful of buttons.

There are many models and brands of Bluetooth controls for Android, and the best for you is a matter of taste. They can be grouped into basically two types, one of which mimics an XBox or PlayStation controller, with the smartphone strapped above the controller in a plastic arm.

Exbom Control
Smartphone stuck in control with a plastic "arm" / AndroidPIT

Personally, I don't like this style very much. I think the smartphone + control set gets too big. But for those who are used to modern consoles, it may be the best option. And not only expensive: the photo control, an Exbom model, was bought at Mercado Livre for R $ 50.

The other style is the retractable controls. They fit to the sides of the smartphone, making a sandwich with the device in the middle. The result is something reminiscent of a traditional console such as a PSP or Nintendo Switch.

An advantage of these models is that they can house the smartphone both lying down and standing. You may find that playing with the smartphone on its feet makes no sense, but this is the ideal orientation for spaceship games, and also for emulating systems like the Nintendo DS, where one screen is above another.

MarioDS Console
Handle control great to emulate the Nintendo DS / AndroidPIT

Pega, a brand known for its Bluetooth controls, produces some models in this style. My current choice is 9087, also known as Red Knight. Lightweight, compact, has good battery life (over 6 hours) and can also be used on PC or Playstation 3. It costs about $ 90 on average on sites like Mercado Livre.

RetroArch, the king of emulators

Emulators are programs that simulate, in software, the hardware operation of a real video game console. Think of them as a virtual console inside your smartphone, capable of running games designed for the original hardware.

On Android, there are emulators for every type of console and computer you can imagine, from Atari 2600 to more modern consoles like the Nintendo 64, Playstation and PSP. The level of accuracy of the emulation varies: some are indistinguishable from the original console, others are more proof of concept that they cannot play commercial games.

Performance also varies: some emulators require a more powerful smartphone, others run well even on modest handsets. Older generation 16-bit consoles (Mega Drive and SNES) or earlier are the easiest to emulate. I can play Mega Drive, Gameboy and NES games on an old Motorola RAZR, a smartphone with a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor released in 2011.

But instead of dropping individual emulators on Google Play, better install RetroArch. This modular app allows you to emulate various consoles, performing well and accurately. And, besides, free. Only that's not the easiest thing in the world to set up.

RetroArch Colors
In RetroArch, each system is emulated by a core / AndroidPIT

After installing RetroArch, you need to install the colors. Think of RetroArch as an interface, and colors as plugins that really make the emulation. To do this open the App, go to Online Updater> Core Updater. You will see a list of various consoles, and in parentheses the name of the core that emulates that console. Tap what you want to download, and it will be installed on RetroArch

Yes, there are multiple colors per system. To make life easier, here is a table of the systems and colors I recommend:

Atari 2600 Stella
Atari Lynx Handy
Arcadian MAME 2003 or 2010
Odyssey O2In
PC engine Beetle PCE
Gameboy Gambatte
Gameboy Advance gpSP
NES (Nintendinho) FCEUmm
Super nes SNES 9x 2010
Master System, Mega Drive, Mega CD, 32X PicoDrive
Playstation PCSX ReARMed
Nintendo 64 Mupen 64

With the colors installed, I need to configure the controls. Connect your controller to your smartphone, go back to RetroArch's home screen and click the gear icon in the bottom right corner of the screen. Select Input> Input User 1 Binds> User 1 Bind All. When the emulator prompts you to press a button, press the corresponding button on the control.

From here you can play games. Go back to the main screen and tap Load Content. Navigate to the folder with the ROMs you want to play, tap one and it should run. If you have installed more than one core for a system, RetroArch asks which core to use.

RetroArch Input
The configuration of the controls is also not very obvious / AndroidPIT

Install on Google Play

A word about ROMs

Emulators are useless without ROMS, which is basically a copy of the contents of an original cartridge in a file. The distribution of ROMs is a rather complicated matter, with companies on the one hand claiming to be software piracy, and fans on the other saying it is about preserving games that companies no longer care about.

Therefore, emulators do not include ROMs, and you will have to find the ROMs of your favorite games yourself. I can't give you the stone path, but it only takes a few minutes and two or three keywords on Google to find them. Good hunt!

Extra Emulators

The versatile RetroArch, but not perfect. In fact, it is a Swiss army knife, and has many options and tools that you will never use. Therefore, in some cases you may want to use a console-specific emulator, either because it is easier to configure, faster or more compatible.

For those who like Classic or Color Gameboy, I recommend My OldBoy !. For Gameboy Advance, the best option is My Boy !. For Master System, Mega Drive and Mega CD MD.EMU, which costs about $ 12, one of the best options outside RetroArch. Those who like SNES can install SNES 9X EX, by the same author, as free.

Sonic Classic v2
Companies like SEGA are adapting and relaunching their classics for Android / SEGA

To emulate the Nintendo DS, use DraStic. It costs $ 16, but has excellent performance and compatibility. For PSP the best option is PPSSPP. It's free, but it requires a powerful smartphone to run heavier games like God of War, no problem. The Gold version is just a way to reward the developer for the work, without extra features.

My OldBoy! Free – GBC Emulator
Install on Google Play

My boy! – GBA Emulator
Install on Google Play

Install on Google Play

Snes9x EX +
Install on Google Play

DraStic DS Emulator
Install on Google Play

PPSSPP – PSP emulator
Install on Google Play

Making some adjustments

There are a few more things you can do to make your portable console experience even better. The first is to put the smartphone in airplane mode while playing, or enable No Disturb mode. So you will not be interrupted by notifications or calls while playing.

Airplane mode also disables internet connections, which prevents Google Play from updating apps or other apps from downloading background data while you play, which can degrade performance, especially if you have an older smartphone.

Speaking of performance, some smartphones allow you to choose battery management profiles, with options such as economical, balanced and performance. If your smartphone has this option, choose performance.

You will probably play indoors, so reduce the screen brightness to save power, or leave auto brightness on. Finally, if using an old smartphone just as a console, I recommend not installing anything other than emulators and games. Thus, background apps will not require power or processing power.

Screenshot 20190322 180855 Google Play Store
Double Dragon IV is a modern sequel to the classics, with a retr / DotEMU look

Classics on Google Play

You may not need to install emulators to remember your favorite games. Many companies are relaunching their classics in Android versions through Google Play. SEGA is one of them, with several Mega Drive games available for free download from the Sega Classics collection.

DotEmu is another company surfing this wave, and offers games like Another World, R-Type 1 and 2, Double Dragon Trilogy and even the recent Double Dragon IV. Taito adapted Darius Burst (from PSP) and the Ray trilogy (Rayforce, Raystorm and Raycrisis). Capcom brought in 1942, Commando, Ghosts & Goblins and the first six Megaman from the NES.

Even SNK, the queen of the arcades, repackaged some Neo * Geo hits such as The King of Fighters 97 and 98, Samurai Shodown II, Fatal Fury Special, Garou: Mark of the Wolves, and much of the Metal Slug series. , Metal Slug 2, Metal Slug X and Metal Slug 3). With so much available, fun will not be missing.

And you, do you like to remember the games of the past? What is your favorite way to play them?

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