How to play Nintendo games on your iPhone or iPad

Yesterday, Viticci posted a tweet showing Metroid Prime running on his iPad. Metroid. On his iPad. Yes, I know!

Of course, I had to dig deeper. What he was playing was Metroid Prime for GameCube running on DolphiniOS on his iPad Pro. To install it, he used this alternative "App Store "conveniently called AltStore that lets you sideload IPAs (that's what the iOS app-files are called) on your devices.

Thanks to that app you can install DolphiniOS, a port of the official Dolphin project, on your iPhone or iPad and play old GameCube and Wii-games1. That you legally own and made a copy of. Of course. I am definitely not doing anything illegal, ever!

So, I had to try that. And then I remembered that Dolphin isn't the only emulator on iOS. There are also RetroArch and Provenance2. These are emulator-collections supporting many old platforms, like PS One, Gameboy Advance, and the N64.

I have tried both before: RetroArch on the PC, and believe me, it is powerful. But on iOS, the app is a very bad Android-port, UI-wise. Provenance, however, is a first-class citizen. It is less powerful than RetroArch but way more at home on the platform

Back when I installed Provenance for the first time, you had to go through Xcode and sign the app, then compile and install it on your iOS-device. Now, it's way more straightforward and much more accessible. Here is how.

What do you need

Before we start, you have to have a few things:

  • An iOS-device at or below iOS 13.4.1. If you run the 13.4.5 beta, DolphiniOS won't work until it gets updated.
  • An iOS-device with at least an A9. So everything released after 2015 should be fine.
  • A PC or a Mac.
  • An Apple ID. If it is a paying developer account, even better. I'll explain below why.
  • Working internet connection and a cable to connect your iOS-device to your computer.

What to do

Did you get all this? Great! Let's start:

  1. Download the AltStore Server for your operating system.
  2. Install it. If you are on macOS, drag the app into your Application-folder. This is important because of permission-reasons.
  3. Start the app. On macOS, it lives in the menu bar, on Windows in the notification bar.
  4. On Windows, you have to install iCloud and iTunes from Apple‘s website. Not from the Microsoft Store.
  5. Connect your iOS-device. Open Finder, or iTunes, click Trust on your desktop and your iOS-device and click the option to show your device when on Wi-Fi. Here your mileage may vary. I can't get the AltStore to run without a tethered connection.
  6. Click on the AltStore icon, and install. Now come the weird parts:
    1. You have to sign in with your Apple ID. Why? Because AltStore uses it to sign the apps. If you are a developer, you understand all of this. The app is open-source, and apparently, there is no way for the AltStore to read your credentials. If you are a paying developer, the apps will be signed for 365 days. If not, the apps will be signed for seven days. That's where the next step comes in.
    2. On macOS-only, you have to install a Mail-plugin. Why? Let me quote the developer: "This is necessary to retrieve certain information about your computer that's required when using Apple's new authentication servers". This step is not needed on Windows.
  7. Now, click the installation process again. After a while, the AltStore should appear on your iPhone or iPad.
  8. Download the emulator-IPA of your choice to your iOS-device: DolphiniOS, Provenance, RetroArch. Save it somewhere in the Files-app.
  9. Open up the AltStore on your iOS-device, go to "My Apps ", click on the plus icon on the top left corner and open up your IPA- or zip-file.
  10. If your Wi-Fi-connection to your computer works, it will install the emulator wirelessly. Mine didn't, so my iPad was connected to my Mac with a cable. This whole process takes a few minutes and sometimes asks for permissions. Read them, decide if you want to accept them 3, and do so.
  11. You should be done. If your apps are saying that they will expire in 7 days, let the AltStore do its magic and renew automatically. Or do it by hand in the app.
  12. Load ROMs into the Files-app, open up your emulator and play games!

That's it. 12 steps. But these are all straightforward things to do. Most emulators support a Bluetooth-compatible Xbox One or Playstation 4 controller, which makes this a great experience.

If you have a reasonably recent iOS-device, you can even use upscaling to run games at 4K, which is insane. Not even my Windows gaming-PC can do that properly for some GameCube titles. That makes me want an ARM-based Mac even more. It runs smooth like butter on my iPad. But now, I kind of regret getting a 128 GB iPad Pro. 😬

If you have any questions, ping me on Twitter before you spam the developers of the different apps. I might be able to help you, or will try to point you towards a solution.

And what will I be playing now? Wind Waker!

  1. Theoretically. iOS doesn't know what to do with the Wii-remote. Thus, you can only play Wii-games that support the "Classic Controller ".  

  2. There are, in fact, many

  3. If you don't, we're done here, because you can't install the emulators.