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You Can Now Play Old-School Nintendo Games on Your Apple TV, iPhone or iPad


How long has it been since you played Frogger, or leaped into battle in the original Final Fantasy VII? Apple users now have the chance to relive such glories, with the release of RetroArch in the Apple App Store. RetroArch has the ability to emulate dozens of game consoles. As of March 15, it’s available in the Apple App Store for iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, giving Apple fans a massive cache of retro consoles to choose from. 

You can download it for free directly through the App Store. Though RetroArch is already available on MacOS as a third-party download, the developers say they’re also working on an App Store version for MacOS, but an ETA isn’t available at this time. 

Apple allowed emulators back in the App Store earlier this year. The very first one was thrown out because it was a knockoff. Delta, the second emulator launched on the platform, also came with Apple’s first authorized third-party app store. There have been some scattered emulator releases since, but RetroArch is the biggest name in console emulation to hit the App Store so far. 

The big benefit is the ability to play a ton of old games, including many classics that helped shape the gaming industry, such as Atari 2600 games. Whether it’s Frogger, the original Mario games, Spyro the Dragon, Sonic the Hedgehog, or even older classics like Pac-Man on the Commodore 64, there are no shortage of options if you feel like going back in time, gaming-style. 

To run the app, you’ll need to be on iOS, iPadOS or TVOS version 14.2 or higher. It’s also available on the Apple Vision Pro running VisionOS 1.0 or later. That should support most iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs on the market, along with all Apple Vision Pros. 

How to get started

To be precise, RetroArch isn’t technically an emulator. It’s a front-end where users can download emulators for use through the RetroArch app. The front-end uses Libretro cores, which is a fancy way of saying emulators.

On first installation, RetroArch won’t be able to play any games right away. But say you want to play a Super Nintendo game. Open RetroArch, download an SNES Libretro core, and then use that core to play your SNES game. A good example of this is the Sony PSP. You can download PPSSPP on the Apple App Store to play Sony PSP games. However, the PPSSPP emulator is also available as a Libretro core in RetroArch. 

Because of the Libretro core system, the learning curve for RetroArch can be daunting at first. But once you learn how to download and access cores — which is all done through the RetroArch app — the rest of the app is easy to use, even if the UI is a little bit dated. And the app contains cores for dozens of systems, including Atari, Commodore, Nintendo, Sega, Sony and more.

RetroArch’s other features

On top of console emulation, RetroArch has additional features to make playing games better. It supports Bluetooth controllers, a boon for Apple TV owners looking to play old games on their modern TVs. You also get emulation staples like save states, where users can save a “snapshot” of where they are in the game for instant reloading. Users can fast-forward or rewind gameplay in real-time to make some segments faster, or rewind to fix a mistake. 

RetroArch also supports multiplayer play with the use of Netplay. It emulates having two controllers plugged into the same console but lets you use two different devices to play. So, if you wanted to play Mario Kart 64 with a friend, you could play on your separate iPhones and use Netplay to play together as though you had two controllers plugged into the same Nintendo 64. 

RetroArch also has graphical tweaks to improve how games look, cheat code support, and its own built-in achievement system. 

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