iPhone game emulation is off to a fantastic yet confusing start — Why some developers are struggling with Apple’s guidelines

Pips and Pixels emulators
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Pips and Pixels

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Pips and Pixels is a new column from James Bentley, iMore's resident gaming expert, discussing all things gaming in the Apple ecosystem. Pips and Pixels explores the latest news, accessories, and titles you might have missed out on, and brings you commentary from the leading developers in the app market. As recent advancements in the Apple Silicon M processors and the brand new A17 Bionic chip show, Apple is becoming more serious about gaming. James looks to the rest of the games industry to see what could be next for Apple gamers.

Game emulators have finally been given the go-ahead to launch on Apple’s official App Store. As a result, Delta has arrived, from the creator of GBA4iOS, one of the original GameBoy emulators. It’s a genuinely great emulation experience and the inclusion of emulators on the App Store is a huge step for its users.  However, some developers are unsure how Apple will enforce its guidelines, with some strange and unclear wording. There are some definite growing pains here that might take a while to get hammered out. 

Not the only interesting game emulation story this week, Apple Vision Pro is getting the ability to play Nintendo’s biggest failure. If you want to test out a piece of VR royalty, you will have the chance soon. 

Finally, iOS 17.4 has broken one of the best iPhone games and, despite the developer knowing about it for a month, it hasn’t been fixed. This week has been a weird one for Apple gamers. 

Read on for the rundown.

This week's Apple gaming news

1. Apple approves Delta game emulator for release on the App store — no third-party store required

Apple has changed its rules to allow emulators and Delta, a fully-fledged gaming emulator app, has launched on the App Store. This means you can play NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, GameBoy, GameBoy Advance, and Nintendo DS games wherever you bring your iPhone. 

It's hard to understate how big of a deal Delta, and all subsequent emulators launching on iPhone, will be. With them being banned for years, this change will allow for a totally different way to use iPhones in the future and further bridges the gaps when it comes to Android application stores and Apple's own App Store. 

However, some developers have had some problems with Apple's wording in its guidelines. The creator of PPSSPP, a dedicated PSP emulator, has got it ready for launch on iPhone but has not yet committed to applying for App Store inclusion. In the blog post from developer Henrik Rydgård, they spot that Apple allows emulators but “links must be provided to all downloadable software”. This caveat implies that developers can not make their apps compatible with files received from other means. This is an attempt to stop users from illegally downloading roms and putting said roms in their emulators. 

That said, Delta emulator is technically compatible with roms sourced from outside the app and has been live for a handful of days now. It seems like Delta was the canary in the coal mine in relation to iPhone game emulation and, if it stays live, others will soon follow. Many developers are worried about punishment from Nintendo, an infamously litigious entity, and how this might affect their livelihood as app creators. 

2. Apple Vision Pro will soon be able to emulate Nintendo’s biggest failure — enjoy the best Wario Land game that no one has played

Have you heard of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy? I wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t. This relatively niche failure is a tabletop VR console from the ‘90s that was discontinued in less than a single year. The Virtual Boy used nothing but red and black colors to trick the user into believing it had depth, quite impressive for the 1990s. There are only 22 games you can play on it, yet Virtual Boy Wario Land is widely considered to be one of the best Wario games to this day. 

Soon, you will be able to play the console Nintendo wants you to forget about. Adam Gastineau, the software’s developer, has said a memory bug is currently holding back their Virtual Boy emulator and it will be ready for download when that is fixed. With the announcement of official emulation support from Apple, Gastineua has stated it could take a month to launch the application with sound. 

3. The latest iPhone and iPad update breaks one of the best iPhone games ever — and there’s no fix in sight

Civilization VI, a free-to-try port of Firaxis’ excellent civilization simulator game, has been nonfunctional on iPhones and iPads running the latest version of Apple’s OS. This means that even if you have the beefy specs of the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the best iPhone right now, you can’t even open the game. 

Despite being made aware of this over a month ago, developer Aspyr has not yet fixed it. This is particularly a problem for players who have paid for the full game or any of its DLCs. Hopefully, we see a fix soon. 

Gaming news from our friends

Baldur’s Gate 3 leads feel “closure” after the RPG’s victory lap: “I’m crazy hyped about what’s next but it’s going to take a while” from GamesRadar

Baldur’s Gate 3 is one of the best Mac games out there right now, thanks to an engrossing world, excellent story, and a whole host of well-written characters. Being “the first game in history to win gold at The Game Awards, the D.I.C.E Awards, the Game Developers Choice Awards, the Golden Joysticks, and the BAFTAs”, the developers are celebrating the end of Baldur’s Gate 3’s development cycle. Given Larian, the developer of Baldur’s Gate 3, won’t be back to lead development on Baldur’s Gate 4, the developer is taking a well-deserved victory lap. 

Five years after its announcement, The Wolf Among Us 2 is still “in production” and gets four new screenshots from GamesRadar

Though The Walking Dead is the popular choice for the best Telltale Games title, my favorite has always been The Wolf Among Us, and it even has a Mac port you can play right now. Announced half a decade ago, we have finally received an update on this fairytale-based noir crime narrative game, with a few new screenshots to celebrate. Hopefully, we’ll get a fully-fledged Mac port when The Wolf Among Us 2 arrives. 

Calendar: April's Big Game Releases

Sand Land

(Image credit: Sand Land)
  • A soulslike from the point of view of a crab just trying to get his shell back from a literal loan Shark, Another Crab's Treasure launches next week. It not only looks fun but has one of the more unique aesthetics of all of April's games. it is not confirmed to be coming to Mac but may work with Parallels. 
  • Sand Land is a brand new action RPG from the late Akira Toriyama, the renowned mangaka known for creating the Dragon Ball series. Set in a cruel desert world with nothing but your party and a mech, it's a story about survival against the odds and friendship — just two of the things Toriyama was known for.
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GamesRelease DatePlatformsPlayable on Apple?
Throne of BoneApril 8PCYes
Children of the SunApril 9PCNot natively
Harold HalibutApril 16PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo SwitchNot natively
No Rest for the WickedApril 18PC, Xbox, PlayStationNot natively
Sker RitualApril 18PC, Xbox, PlayStationNot natively
Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred HeroesApril 23PC, Xbox, PlayStationNot natively
Another Crab's TreasureApril 25PC, Xbox, PlayStationNot natively
Sand LandApril 25PC, Xbox, PlayStationNot natively
Stellar BladeApril 26PlayStationNo

Level Up — Gaming accessories on our radar

$299 is certainly a lot for a dock, but the BenQ 13-in-1 USB-C docking station makes up for that price and will make sure you will never need to buy one ever again — It’s just that good. 

BenQ 13-in-1 USB-C Docking Station | $299 at Amazon

BenQ 13-in-1 USB-C Docking Station | $299 at Amazon

BenQ’s awesome 13-in-1 dock is absolutely perfect for a gamer who has both a Mac and a dedicated gaming console, as it can swap between inputs in a second. In our recent review, we said “The BenQ beCreatus DP1310 ticks nearly every box and has a magical button that lets you switch inputs from USB-C to HDMI 2.1 with just one click.” It’s a fantastic choice for any gamer. 

Hitting the Arcade — What to play on Apple Arcade

Pips and Pixels Hitting the Arcade

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Arcade is filled with tons of exclusive experiences and fantastic games. However, with so many out there, it can be hard to decide what to play. Here are a few choices I've been testing out this week:

Sonic Dream Team has just received hundreds of new challenges and a unique new area in its latest update. It’s a surprisingly fun and joyous Sonic experience that harkens back to the golden age of 3D Sonic platformer whilst also being very much its own project with a striking aesthetic. If you are a fan of Sonic or just feel a little nostalgic, it’s worth a… spin.

Japanese Rural Life Adventure has also just received an update, with a seaside area. It’s a very cute game that fans of Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing would love. Tasking you with building up a rural Japanese house and ingratiating yourself into the local community, it’s one of those games that is perfect for a quiet Sunday night.  

Have you played any great games this week or seen some interesting Apple gaming news we've missed? Let us know in the comments!

James Bentley

James is a staff writer and general Jack of all trades at iMore. With news, features, reviews, and guides under his belt, he has always liked Apple for its unique branding and distinctive style. Originally buying a Macbook for music and video production, he has since gone on to join the Apple ecosystem with as many devices as he can fit on his person. 

With a degree in Law and Media and being a little too young to move onto the next step of his law career, James started writing from his bedroom about games, movies, tech, and anything else he could think of. Within months, this turned into a fully-fledged career as a freelance journalist. Before joining iMore, he was a staff writer at Gfinity and saw himself published at sites like TechRadar, NME, and Eurogamer. 

As his extensive portfolio implies, James was predominantly a games journalist before joining iMore and brings with him a unique perspective on Apple itself. When not working, he is trying to catch up with the movies and albums of the year, as well as finally finishing the Yakuza series. If you like Midwest emo music or pretentious indie games that will make you cry, he’ll talk your ear off.