New Tech, Old School: Turn your Smartphone into a Retro Arcade Console

Donkey Kong on Phone

What was the first gaming device you’ve used as a kid? For me, it was a ZX Spectrum that I alternately used to write BASIC programs and play one of the many ugly, hard but insanely entertaining games I could get my hand on.

For others, their first gaming experience might have been completely different: I have friends who owned Nintendo consoles back in the day, Commodore 64 or even Amiga personal computers, and whatever else was available at the time.

All of these computers and consoles have become obsolete over time, being replaced by a variety of increasingly flashy and high-tech generation of consoles, PCs, laptops, and smartphones.

But what if I told you your smartphone could do more than just give you the news, social media updates, videos, music, or real money gambling online casino games? Because it can double as a retro video game console with a handful of accessories.


MHL is a standard built into pretty much every major Android smartphone manufacturers’ devices today. It stands for “Mobile High-Definition Link”, and it is an interface that allows users to connect their smartphones to HDTVs, audio receivers, and projectors.

Connecting your smartphone to an MHL-compatible display will allow you to mirror its screen contents to the bigger one. Depending on your devices, you’ll need an HDMI-to-MHL adapter or a direct MHL cable.

Pro tip: try to find an adapter that allows you to also connect your phone to a charger – you don’t want it to discharge right in the middle of Super Mario, after all.

A game controller

A game controller is arguably the best way to play video games (PC gamers can’t shut up about their keyboards and mice, though).

But for the experience to be truly memorable (and retro), you will need a game controller. Bluetooth controllers like Microsoft’s Xbox One wireless product might work with your smartphone pretty decently but for the best result, you might want to consider buying one that’s made to work with it.

There are many models out there to choose from, ranging from the XYBA made by Matricom to Razer’s Serval.

An emulator

Last but not least, the one indispensable accessory without which you won’t be able to turn your smartphone into a console: an emulator.

There are, again, many options to consider – some of them are apps that cover a single old school machine, and others that are capable of emulating dozens.

The best example for the latter is RetroArch, a user interface that allows you to easily load one of its cores – it can emulate everything from Nintendo’s GameBoy to Sony’s PSX and PSP, Sega’s Genesis and Dreamcast, as well as DOS, the Sinclair’s ZX 81 and Spectrum, even the Magnavox Odyssey.

And it supports not only multiple emulators but will also automatically configure game controllers and support online multiplayer if needed.

So there you have it…

The foundation of your own retro arcade is already inside your pocket. With a little bit of effort you can be playing some great old retro games in no time.

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