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How to download and play Nintendo 3DS games on Android using the Citra Emulator

Relive your childhood!

The Nintendo 3DS is a handheld gaming console released by Nintendo in 2011. It quickly became popular for its glasses-free 3D display, a wide selection of games, and iconic characters like Mario and Pokemon. Some of the most beloved games for the 3DS include Super Mario 3D Land, Pokémon X and Y, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Here we go through each of the steps to set up Nintendo 3DS games for free to play right from an Android.

For many people, playing their favorite 3DS games brings back a sense of nostalgia and fond memories. However, the 3DS has been discontinued, and while there are newer Nintendo consoles available, they may not have the same games or features as the 3DS. Fortunately, there are ways to play 3DS games straight from Android devices. In this article, we will guide you through the process of playing Nintendo 3DS games on your Android using the Citra emulator.

How to play Nintendo 3DS games on Android for free

An emulator is just a bit of software that can virtually simulate another device. They are completely safe to download and can be found straight from the Google Play Store. On an Android device, the emulator will be nothing more than just another app.

Step 1: Download a Nintendo 3DS Emulator (Citra Emulator)

There are a few different Nintendo 3DS emulators from different developers available on the Google Play Store. The one we will be using in this article is the Citra Emulator. It has amassed over 1 million downloads and is reliable particularly because it is an Android port of the popular PC application of the same name, meaning the code is proven to work.

Citra Emulator Nintendo DS
Image via Google Play Store

The emulator has a premium paid service called “Citra Premium” which includes cosmetic features such as the dark mode theme and additional settings options. This is definitely worth considering, mainly because this is a way of giving back to the developers who have spent hours of their time working on the project.

Step 2: Download some Nintendo 3DS games

The emulator will not come pre-installed with games. One option is to take a physical copy of the game and dump it to make a digital copy (ROM), there are guides on this available online. Alternatively, you could download the file from a website. From a legal perspective, just ensure you own a physical copy of the game before obtaining a ROM file of that game. It is easy to get tangled with shady websites so make sure to only use those that are reliable.

For any emulator, the game files to download are called ROMs which stands for Read-Only-Memory. Put simply, an emulator ROM is just a digital copy of one of those physical game cartridges you would put into the console to play the game. Each ROM could range from around 100 MB to up to 2 GBs so ensure there is sufficient storage available before downloading each game.

Step 3: Extract and Organise the game files

When downloaded the file will be in an archived format, so we need to extract the file first. To do this, first, download a file explorer app such as ZArchiver. Your device may already have one pre-installed as well. Navigate to the archived file on the explorer app, then click it, and select the option to extract.

Nintendo 3DS Emulation Files
Image via Citra Emulator

The file of interest is the one ending in the file extension “.3ds“. Some ROMs come with the “.cia” extension, however, these will not work in the Citra emulator immediately. In the emulator, click the folder icon in the top right and click the install CIA option. Then, navigate to the “.cia” file to install it. If that doesn’t work, try finding the “.3ds” file of that game instead.

It is a good idea to create a folder on your Android phone specifically for Nintendo 3DS games. This makes it easier to locate where Nintendo 3DS games are stored when needed later and keeps these games separated from other ROMs you might have for other emulators. After extracting the required file, it’s fine to then delete the archived one as that is no longer needed.

Step 4: Loading up the games

Nintendo 3DS Emulator Citra Main Menu
Image via Citra Emulator

Now back onto the emulator, the app will prompt the user to pick a directory from which games will be taken. This is where having a folder for just Nintendo 3DS games comes in handy. All games from the folder will be placed in the main menu list as shown below. To run the game, simply tap the game icon in the list.

Step 5: Getting familiar with the controls and settings

The Nintendo 3DS had the classic double-screen format which is emulated here. The controls are spread across the screen and are fairly easy to use. It’s also possible to connect a Bluetooth controller as well. To change key bindings, head to the settings page on the main menu of the emulator and click the settings cog in the corner, and find the relevant tab.

Citra Emulator Game Running
Image via Citra Emulator

There are also other settings to tweak, such as graphics and system performance. Be careful when tweaking these settings as they can quickly alter the game experience.

Did you find our article on how to play Nintendo 3DS games for free on Android useful? Do let us know in the comments below!

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