4 Best 3DS Emulators, Ranked (2023)

None of the 3D, but all of the fun!

Milan Zagorac
Milan Zagorac
8 Min Read

Nintendo has a history of making great portable consoles, from the GameBoy, to the DS, 3DS, and nowadays, the Switch. Of these, the 3DS is one of the most popular ones, and rightfully so. With a plethora of exclusive titles, playing 3DS games can be difficult if you dislike the small screens. This is where emulation comes into play and the best 3DS emulator or four of them, can help you.

3DS has been successfully emulated, to the point where playing exclusive titles does not have to be a portable nightmare for desktop gamers.



Citra, a 3DS emulator.

Emulating: Nintendo 3DS
Platform: Windows, Linux, and macOS
Download Citra

Citra is a lovely, open-source project that aims to emulate the 3DS as well as it possibly can. It is the best available 3DS emulator and it is a joy to use. Not many emulators straight-up tell you what you need to do, guiding you through the process. Citra has complete documentation that can help newcomers, as well as seasoned emulator users.

Citra has a well-polished user interface, very similar to that of Yuzu, a Switch emulator, and that is because the same team works on both emulators. Available for Windows, Linux, macOS, and Android, it is a project that covers most platforms other than iOS. iOS should be fine through RetroArch and Citra’s libretro core.

Using the emulator is simple, once you read the FAQ and realize that because of legal reasons, you cannot simply load a 3DS file. Other than the start, the process is straightforward and Citra does everything to help you organize your library of 3DS titles.



RetroArch, a multi-system emulator, with the Citra core for 3DS highlighted.

Emulating: Multiple platforms
Platform: Windows, Linux, and macOS
Download RetroArch and on Steam

RetroArch is a frontend for the libretro cores. In this case, the only available core for RetroArch is that of Citra. They work well together to bring you 3DS emulation on platforms that would otherwise be unavailable. That being said, your mileage may vary depending on the platform and whether the 3DS core was made available for that platform.

3DS is a bit more difficult to emulate than most older emulators because it has various parts that are not simply a CPU doing physics calculations and the GPU rendering the result. There are other elements that make the 3DS special.

RetroArch can successfully run 3DS titles on desktop platforms, but also on Android and iOS. The Citra core is available on some mobile platforms, making RetroArch the go-to solution (there is no other choice, among other reasons).



Kirby Triple Deluxe running on emuThreeDS, a 3DS emulator for iOS.

Emulating: Nintendo 3DS
Platform: iOS (Apple TV is planned)
Download emuThreeDS

It is rare that Apple gets its own dedicated emulator, but there are apparently some developers that favor the platform and want to give it the attention it deserves. EmuThreeDS, as the name suggests, is a 3DS-only emulator, and it could be the best 3DS emulator for Apple devices if Citra and RetroArch weren’t already available for the Apple platforms.

It is largely based on Citra’s code, which is a good foundation. However, choosing it over Citra has fewer benefits than cons. The thing to look forward to is support for Apple TV. 

Apple Vision Pro might be supported, though the developer has put in parentheses that they would rather not sell their kidneys (due to the Apple-like ridiculous price).

It is still an emulator that works, and open-source development, forks, or continuation of existing projects can only help the emulation ecosystem.



One of the 3DS loading screens, running in Mikage, a 3DS emulator.

Emulating: Nintendo 3DS
Platform: Windows, Linux, and Android
Download N/A Official Site

It is unfortunate when one of the most promising emulators is yet to have a release. This is currently a closed-source project. There are plans to make it an open-source project, though when that will happen, is yet to be determined.

Mikage has gone through a couple of starts and stops in its development, currently being in development. The developer has updates when they make breakthroughs. They have made a couple of breakthroughs that other emulators could not do.

They were the first emulator to be able to power off the virtual device. Power cycling might not seem like a big deal, but everything should be emulated for 100% accuracy. They were also the first to emulate the 3DS home screen, as well as 3DS-related features that others do not bother emulating.

Those who are looking forward to the complete 3DS experience on a larger screen should follow the development of this emulator.

Running 3DS Games

Citra should be used as the primary emulator to run games, as it is currently the best 3DS emulator available. RetroArch is a close second, but it uses Citra logic, so that makes it similar if not identical, but with an additional layer.

Citra requires you to own a 3DS and then dump your games, as well as all of their updates and DLCs in order to play them. You have to own the games and then dump them, any other way to play the games using Citra is considered illegal.

There are two ways to run games on Citra, using the 3DS file format, or the cia file format. The first one immediately runs the game, the second one requires you to install the game. A decryption key is necessary to be able to run encrypted games. Citra has a guide that goes through the process step by step.

Angry Birds running in Citra, a 3DS emulator.

Once everything is in place, running the game is as easy as loading the 3DS file or clicking on the installed game in the library.

Performance Expectations

The Citra developers themselves say that your performance may vary depending on the hardware and game. Not all games are equal. Regarding the hardware, you need a single core that performs well, as the 3DS uses only a single core. Referring to PassMark for single-core performance should give you an idea of what to expect. Citra says that below 1800 points is far from good.

Graphics cards need OpenGL support directly from the drivers. By performance, cards are listed from top to bottom by manufacturer, Nvidia first, AMD second (Polaris and later), and Intel third.


3DS emulation still has a long way to go. Citra successfully does what we want it to, making it the best 3DS emulator. RetroArch and emuThreeDS also do what we want them to. Mikage is getting better, though being closed-source, we have only the updates that the developer posts.

With all of that said, Citra and RetroArch should be your primary choices, followed by emuThreeDS if you are using iOS.

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With over 1650 hours of Apex Legends, and 2100 of League of Legends, Milan is an avid gamer. When he's not indoors, he climbs mountains or does urban acrobatics. Add a passion for writing to the mix and you get a hopefully interesting broth.
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