iOS Has a Jailbreak-Free Game Boy Emulator, and It’s Better Than Ever

GBA4iOS exploits a loophole to avoid the App Store.

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Classic Nintendo emulators have long been forbidden for iPhone and iPad users. While emulators aren’t explicitly banned, only those with tightly-controlled game selections and appropriate licensing are allowed into the App Store, limiting the selection to older consoles such as Atari and Commodore 64.

But there is one exception to the rule, and it’s called GBA4iOS. This isn’t some wonky, browser-based Game Boy and Game Boy Advance emulator (though we’ve seen one of those pop up recently). It’s a full-blown app that you can easily install from outside of the App Store without jailbreaking your device.

While GBA4iOS isn’t new, the latest update to version 2.0 has some major enhancements, including Game Boy Color support, iPad optimization and file syncing with Dropbox. Best of all, it works with official iOS controllers, so you can play with a real D-pad and buttons. The app is a must-have for classic gaming fans who have no qualms about the legally questionable nature of classic game emulation.

Here’s how to get it:

  1. Visit this from your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, and press the download button. Select “Install” in the box that pops up.
  2. Before opening the app, go to iOS Settings > General > Date & Time.
  3. Set the date on your device to February 18, 2014 or earlier.
  4. Open the app.
  5. Return to iOS Settings > General > Date & Time and set the date back to normal.

If you restart your device, you must dial back the date to February 18 or earlier before running the app again.

The app works well, has configurable buttons for controller users and allows you to download new skins for the touchscreen controller. It also provides a link to a certain ROM download site for acquiring games–though it amusingly reminds you that it doesn’t condone piracy. (As Nintendo notes, it’s illegal to download copies of games from the Internet even if you own the actual cartridge already.)

How can GBA4iOS exist outside of Apple’s walled garden? It’s all thanks to a loophole in Apple’s iOS Developer Enterprise Program, which is supposed to let companies easily test their apps among a wide base of users. As ReadWrite explained last year:

Because the program is designed for effortless app downloads, it imposes few restrictions—sidestepping, for instance, the requirement in regular iOS developer program that limits downloads to 100 devices—and no requirements on the user end at all.

Using this program requires an enterprise certificate from Apple, and according to TouchArcade, developer Riley Testut managed to get his hands on one. Although Apple has already revoked the certificate, setting the date back on the device fools iOS into allowing the installation to go through. Testut even claims that he can update the app in the future.

So far, the new version of the app already has over a million downloads. Barring a change of heart by Nintendo about supporting Apple’s platform, this is your best option for playing any kind of Nintendo games on iOS for the foreseeable future.