The Game Boy Advance is one of the most popular portable game consoles of all time. Android smartphones take up such a large part of the market, that it’s almost inevitable that Android owners would take an interest in playing their old GBA favorites on their phones. The maturity of the Android platform means there are now a few good Android GBA emulators worth using. We’ve gathered the best of them for you here.
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VGBAnext is not only one of the best GBA emulators for Android, but it’s also an emulator for Game Boy Color, Game Boy, NES, Famicon, DiskSystem and VS System. You can play some really esoteric stuff here.
However, the real reason to install VGBAnext is the plethora of additional hardware for the GBA that it offers. The app emulates tilt sensors, rumble packs, and even light guns! In addition, there are a bunch of skin customization options to better suit your personal aesthetic.
In addition, VGBAnext supports modern gamepads as well as older ones, like Nyko PlayPad and the PS3 Sixaxis controller. Save states can be shared between users, and there is even wireless multiplayer over Wi-Fi. You also get a neat “Rewind” feature that lets you roll back 16 seconds to quickly retry that tricky section. Finally, one of the weirder features of VGBAnext is the ability to record the soundtrack or sound effects of a game and use them as your ringtone!
2. Pizza Boy
Pizza Boy is one of the more recent Gameboy Advance emulators and widely regarded as one of the most accurate GBA emulators for Android. It consistently scores very high results in emulation accuracy tests.
In fact, enthusiasts have tested Pizza Boy’s accuracy against other emulators, and it’s come out on top. In addition to excellent performance, Pizza Boy employs a number of advanced features, like saving files and configuration data back to Google Drive, box art display for ROMs, local and network multiplayer, and emulation of cartridge features, such as the gyroscope and rumble. Furthermore, there are customizable skins that really make Pizza Boy stand out among the competition.
Since Pizza Boy is one of the newer emulators on this list, it’s still very much actively developed. There is a free version of Pizza Boy available; however, many of the features that make the emulator so good are exclusive to the paid version. Both versions support zipped ROM files. The same developer has made a Pizza Boy emulator for Game Boy Color, which is equally impressive.
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RetroArch is the poster child for the world of emulation, namely because it’s not exactly an emulator. Instead, it is best described as a single, unified application that organizes your games and emulators. The game and its corresponding emulator are launched from within RetroArch, so there is no need to mess around with separate apps.
The front-end is compatible with a wide variety of platforms (including Android) and supports a staggering number of systems (including Gameboy Advance).
RetroArch is a very convenient way to play games from a number of consoles; however, there is a significant amount of configuration necessary. For example, you will need to download individual “cores” for each system you wish to emulate. There are multiple cores to choose from for each system. In regard to Gameboy Advance, VBA-M and mGBA are generally regarded as excellent options. Because RetroArch can be intimidating, be sure to read our complete guide for Retroarch on Android to help you get started.
4. John GBAC
John GBAC is the successor to two separate apps: John GBA and John GBC, which are both still available to download on the Google Play Store. However, neither of them actively developed.
Like the earlier apps, the draw of John GBAC is its simplicity. It lacks some more advanced features, but the basics are there. Gamepad support, compatibility with zipped ROM files, and even save file uploading to Dropbox (a separate app called John Datasync is needed to facilitate this) are all available. If you’re looking for a fuss-free emulator for Gameboy Advance, John GBAC is a good choice. Furthermore, John GBAC is completely free to use. Although, if want to get rid of the ads, you’ll need to cough up some cash.
Nostalgia has a number of emulators available, and their Gameboy Advance variant is another solid option. The user interface here is nothing to write home about but is functional. Since the UI is the same across all of Nostalgia’s family of emulators, you know what you’re getting into. If you can look past the lackluster aesthetics, there’s a solid GBA emulator to be found. Nostalgia.GBA is based on mGBA, one of the most accurate and popular open-source Gameboy Advance emulators available.
In addition to accuracy, Nostalgia.GBA enables users to share save states across numerous devices. From within the app, you can send save states via Bluetooth, email, Skype, and more. Nostalgia.GBA also supports Bluetooth gamepads and ROM files in both .GBA and .ZIP formats. In addition, users can implement cheats and even activate a “rewind” feature to retry sections of the game until they “git gud.” The free “Lite” version of Nostalgia.GBA is identical to the “Pro” paid version, only with the inclusion of ads.
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6. My Boy!
My Boy! is one of the most well-known Gameboy Advance emulators on this list. It has earned this popularity with great performance, accuracy, and features. My Boy! boasts high efficiency, ensuring better battery life while using the app. Additionally, My Boy! features BIOS emulation, meaning that games are emulated with incredibly high accuracy. The app can also emulate various cartridge features, like the gyroscope, rumble, and solar sensor.
In addition, My Boy! includes some other useful features, like local and network multiplayer, fast-forward, and slo-mo, as well as save file syncing via Google Drive. There is a free version available; however, it is ad-supported and lacks some of the features present in the paid version. One last thing to note: while My Boy! is accurate and popular, it hasn’t seen any major updates in a number of years. Therefore, if you’re looking for tweaks in performance or additional features, you may want to look elsewhere.
GBA.emu is an incredibly solid, feature-rich option created by Robert Broglia, the developer behind one of the most popular SNES emulators of all time. Based on VBA-M, GBA.emu focuses on low audio/visual latency. It achieves this by offering quality BIOS emulation, meaning games run with high accuracy.
Focusing on performance, GBA.emu employs a very minimalist user interface. In addition, because of the emulator’s focus on performance, you won’t find any flashy extra features. GBA.emu offers controller support, cheat codes, and customizable on-screen controls. And that’s about it. While GBA.emu does what it sets out to do, the price tag is a bit steep – especially for an emulator that doesn’t offer some of the more advanced features.
If you’re planning on running more than just Gameboy Advance on your Android device, you’ll want to check out Lemuroid, an all-in-one emulation solution that runs games from a large number of consoles (including the Gameboy Advance), stretching all the way back to the Atari 2600 to more recent consoles, like the Nintendo 3DS. Lemuroid also supports controllers, customization of the touch controls in terms of size and position on the screen, and syncing save files to the cloud. In addition, there is local multiplayer support through the use of multiple controllers on a single device and compatibility with zipped ROMs. To top it all off, Lemuroid is 100 percent free, without a single ad in sight.
Like Retroarch, Lemuroid is based on the open-source Libretro. However, the big difference between them is their ease of use. Lemuroid is ready to go straight out of the box: simply install the app, scan for your ROMs and start playing. On the other hand, Retroarch requires a bit of fiddling around to get everything to work. If you want to bypass the configuration and just jump straight into gaming, Lemuroid is what you’re after.
9. John GBA
A reasonably accurate GBA emulator with plenty of extra features, the no-nonsense John GBA is a great option for those who want to keep things simple. It has built-in cheats and various options to improve rendering. Particularly useful is the Dropbox support, which allows you to sync your saves as well as configuration data to the cloud. You can then retrieve that data and continue playing on another Android device.
The default virtual gamepad layout isn’t great, yet there are customization options that enable you to change the size and position of the on-screen buttons. In addition, there is Bluetooth controller support. There’s really no reason to use John GBA now that its successor, John GBAC is available, but we decided to include John GBA on this list, as it is compatible with devices stretching all the way back to Android 4.1. To run John GBAC, you’ll need Android 6.0 minimum.
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10. VinaBoy Advance
One of the more barebones Gameboy Advance emulators on the Google Play Store, VinaBoy Advance does what it says it will. You won’t find any advanced features here: no rewinding, transferring save states between devices, and no tweaks. However, what you do get is a simple and easy-to-use GBA emulator that plays .GBA, .7z, and .ZIP GBA ROM files.
VinaBoy Advance does have one major advantage over the competition: it’s totally free. There are no annoying ads, nor are there features hidden behind a paywall. Of course, you’re sacrificing even some of the more basic features present in other emulators, but free is free, and that’s a strong argument in itself. Even so, be aware that VinaBoy Advance’s last significant update was in 2018. Despite that, the app is compatible back to Android 4.0, so if you have an older, low-power device, VinaBoy Advance might be worth an install.
One of the newer options on the list, EmuBox is one of those jack-of-all-trades apps that emulates multiple retro gaming consoles, including the Gameboy Advance, all under one roof. The GBA emulator is pretty bare-bones. It works but don’t expect any advanced features beyond save states and cheats. If you’re interested in tweaking various settings, look elsewhere.
The upside to EmuBox is that the app is completely free, although you’ll need to tolerate a few ads now and then. Furthermore, EmuBox is capable of emulating consoles like the Nintendo DS and the PlayStation 1, provided your device has the necessary power. It’s also important to remember that while EmuBox may not have the same amount of features as other apps, it’s still in the early stages of development. Fingers crossed that in the future we’ll see added functionality.
Honorable Mention – GBAoid
GBAoid (or Gameboid) is the OG when it comes to Gameboy Advance emulation on Android. Compared to the other entries on this list, GBAoid is a dinosaur. It’s basic in every sense of the word; however, it is a lightweight application that takes up very little storage space and requires minimal processing power. Furthermore, GBAoid is compatible with ancient versions of Android. Overall, this makes GBAoid the perfect app to resurrect that old phone sitting in your junk drawer.
Unfortunately, the app has been abandoned by the original developer and hasn’t received any updates in years. As a result, it’s not even available for download on the Google Play Store. However, there are some third-party websites that are hosting the APK if you want to give it a try.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to unzip my ROMs?
IIf you prefer to keep your ROM collection compressed, you’ll need to opt for a GBA emulator that supports .ZIP or .7z formats. Unfortunately, not all of the GBA emulators available on Google Play support compressed ROM files. Double-check the emulator app’s details on the Google Play store to make sure that it explicitly states that it supports compressed game ROMs.
Where do I put my ROMs?
Many of the emulators listed above have the ability to scan your entire device and find ROMs automatically. But you’ll be enjoying your games faster if you tell the app where to look for them. All modern apps will support both internal and external storage. In our tests, we haven’t noticed any performance difference between the internal storage on your device or an external microSD card. Furthermore, if you are planning on running multiple emulators for different consoles on your device, we recommend creating subfolders dedicated to each console.
Do I need a controller, or are the on-screen controls good enough?
Like all consoles, the Gameboy Advance was designed with a traditional controller with tactile buttons in mind. Therefore, to get the best experience, we recommend using a controller. After all, the emulators here support controllers for a reason. If you’re looking for a controller, check out some of the best controllers available for Android.
You can definitely get by using the on-screen controls. Many of the emulators listed above offer on-screen button customization.
Image credit: Pixabay & RODNAE Productions via Pexels.
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