Before the smartphones we know today were staples of mainstream culture, mobile phones, and their technology were pretty rudimentary and often relied on apps made in Java seeing as the language was designed to be portable (though Windows Mobile and Symbian were also somewhat popular as proto-smartphone platforms of choice). This didn't keep games from being developed for these platforms. Casual simplistic games and rip-offs of retro franchises thrived, but it attracted some genuinely fun games that forever remained obscure, such as those from Gameloft.
The situation is quite different in Japan where mobile hardware was much more developed, only loosely Java-based, and major video game developers were much more invested in creating unique and high-quality content that's most obscure and unpreserved, let alone emulated, today. Those are the very different Galapagos mobile phones (like DoCoMo i-mode, DeNa, RoID...). Some of these games got ported to the inferior Western hardware but these are in the tiny minority.
- 1 Dark Age of Monochrome Mobile Phones
- 2 J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition)
- 3 ExEn (Execution Engine)
- 4 Mediatek Runtime Environment (MRE)/MAUI
- 5 Mophun
- 6 Symbian and N-Gage (Nokia)
- 7 Japanese i-mode (DoCoMo)
- 8 Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW)
- 9 Danger OS
- 10 Windows Mobile
- 11 Read More
- 12 References
Dark Age of Monochrome Mobile Phones
Earlier black-and-white cell phone games (both in Japan and worldwide) didn't get as much love either when it comes to emulation and preservation of game binaries. There were, however, recreations of Snake and Space Impact for Nokia phones on their website at one time, along with remakes of the aforementioned games for Android and iOS. There are several Nokia phone models with MAME support, though they are preliminary at best with most models displaying a "CONTACT SERVICE" error if not a white screen.
J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition)
A free cross-platform language capable of working in devices with highly reduced capabilities. It was basically Java stripped down to the bare essentials.
While originally not intended for games (until its more advanced game-oriented API came), it became the de facto market standard for cell phone gaming - due in no small part to the SDK being free and without licensing costs.
|PC / x86|
|Nokia SDKs||Part 1 Part 2 Part 3||Mid (Nokia-only)||~|
|Sony Ericsson SDKs||22.214.171.124||Mid||~|
|Siemens SDKs||Site 1 archive Site 2||Mid (Siemens-only)||~|
|Motorola iDEN SDK||Mirror||Mid (Motorola-only)||~|
|N-GAGE COOL!||1.2.1 (Trial)||Low||✗|
|Mobile / ARM|
|Java J2ME Runner||126.96.36.199||Low||?|
|PSPKVM||0.5.5 Final Edition||Mid||✓|
|Pstros NDS||0.7.2 r6||Low||✗|
- Has more features and compatibility than other ones, as well as 3D emulation. Has support for custom resolutions and full screen (View/Options). You can even set a proxy server for mobile Java apps that connect to the internet under options. Requires Java Runtime Environment installed. It is the recommended emulator if you're on a Windows PC, although some games (such as Wolfenstein RPG and Doom 2 RPG) freeze indefinitely on the loading screen. Last update was in 2012, closed-source.
- Has fewer features than KEmulator, but better compatibility. It is recommended for games that don't work with KEmulator. It has an optional libretro core and development is active. Games that freeze on KEmulator, such as Wolfenstein RPG and Doom 2 RPG, run on FreeJ2ME with no issues, although compatibility and accuracy are not as good as J2ME Loader on Android. Some games run too fast and require tinkering with the frame rate options. Open source.
- Nokia SDKs
- A set of different device emulators released by Nokia along with their J2ME SDKs. Keyboard bindings are not friendly for playing games. Some of them are buggy. The Nokia 3410 SDK emulator is capable of running some ancient b&w J2ME games no other emulator can.
- Sony Ericsson SDKs
- Device emulators released by Sony Ericsson along their J2ME SDKs. Some of them have support for MascotCapsule V3 3D APIs. Can run some games at better framerates than the original devices
- Siemens SDKs
- Device emulators released by Siemens along their J2ME SDKs. Can run some older games that depend on old Siemens APIs
- Motorola iDEN SDK
- J2ME development kit released by Motorola. Can run some older games that depend on iDEN-specific APIs
- Haves support for some obscure vendor-specific APIs that other emulators don't support.
- More compatible than MidpX. Can take snapshots. More resolutions (but still buggy). Appears to run correctly some older games FreeJ2ME and KEmulator don't.
- Experimental emulator from the SjBoy authors. Appears to properly emulate transparency on older games making use of Nokia APIs. To open a game, drag and drop the JAR file onto the MiniSoyo window.
- One of the older emulators. Fixed low resolution (176x220) and compatibility, no handler app support. The installer may contain adware.
- Emulator from a company that used to develop solutions to allow users to try J2ME game demos on their computer before purchasing them. Haves not any known advantageous feature.
- Project developing a full JVM implementation + Java ME 8 APIs. Full compatibility with old J2ME software and high portability are among its main goals. Under heavy development.
- J2ME Loader
- This is currently the highest-compatibility J2ME emulator available. Converts .jar files offline using its own resources. Easily launches both 2D & 3D apps. Samsung & Nokia API implemented. Supports different keyboard layouts and customization. It is highly accurate, with the right frame rate for each game, as well as vibration. Has slightly improved performance through hardware acceleration, but games won't run too fast. Runs almost every Nokia game, even ones that don't work with KEmulator or FreeJ2ME, but fails with Sony Ericsson 3D engine (Mascot Capsule), due to the fact that the mascot capsule is almost impossible to port. This is common with most of other emulators as well.
- This is the experimental mod of the J2ME Loader app with Mascot Capsule 3D support. Has some new and experimental features. Converts .jar files offline using its own resources. Easily launches both 2D & 3D apps. Samsung & Nokia API implemented. Supports different keyboard layouts and customization. It is highly accurate, with the right frame rate for each game, as well as vibration. Has slightly improved performance through hardware acceleration, but games won't run too fast. Runs almost every Nokia game, even ones that don't work with KEmulator or FreeJ2ME, as well as Sony Ericsson 3D engine (Mascot Capsule).
- Java J2ME Runner
- Old tool, launches Java Applications on Android using native library. Apps have to be converted first, using Netmite Website. Overall 2D stability is acceptable, but 3D support almost does not work. Different types of keyboard & screen stics are included. Unfortunately, often experiences troubles with *jar conversion.
- Available for cell-phones. Might be the first one that's open-source. Last update was in 2009.
ExEn (Execution Engine)
A freeware solution developed by French mobile game developer In-Fusio around 2000. It was a Java-based solution presenting itself as an alternative to the limitations of J2ME's game development (offering missing feautures like sprite zooming, parallax scrolling, rotations...).
It achieved relative success and widespread hardware support in Europe, and was also used in China.
|PC / x86|
|EXEN-V2 Generic Simulator||?||Low||✗|
- EXEN-V2 Generic Simulator
- A very old dead emulator for ExEn software. While many games will go in-game, they'll crash at various points.
Mediatek Runtime Environment (MRE)/MAUI
Being the turnkey solutions firm that they are known for, as their chips are used on millions and millions of el-cheapo "Shanzhai" devices all over the world (especially counterfeit Nokias and Goophones among other things), Mediatek has also come up with their own mobile platform and API known as the Mediatek Runtime Environment, aka MAUI. It is targeted for so-called "smart" feature phones, i.e. those that offer similar functionality to standard mobile operating systems like Android, but are watered down for entry-level users. An SDK is available on their developer site for members, and
VXP files for games and other applications appear to be available on the usual WAP sites.
|PC / x86|
|Mediatek MRE SDK||3.0||?||✓|
Mophun was an even more hardware-efficient free European-centric mobile gaming solution developed by Swedish company Synergetix. It was supported on various devices, such as the Sony Ericsson T2xx, T3xx and T6xx series, Symbian S60v1, S60v2, S60v3 and UIQ3 phones, and Windows Mobile Smartphones running at a resolution of 176x220 or 240x320. There are 303 known games, of which 255 have been released, 41 are unknown to have been released, 3 are demos and 5 are unreleased. It was later overtaken by advances in J2ME that came with the MIDP 2.0 framework.
|Mophun Games Launcher||1.01||?||✗||✓|
- Mophun Games Launcher is only compatible with 13 games, all of which use the 3D engine and were released for Symbian. The emulator is available for S60v3.
- 4Mophun does not work with games that are locked (e.g. have a predefined IMEI recognition algorithm) or do not use the 3D engine.
- mophun is an official emulator, designed for development and demos. As such, encrypted or compressed games do not boot. However, this has been worked around, both by decrypting the files and decompressing them (except for compressed resources), and modifying the emulator to perform decryption on the fly, albeit only when opening them via the Open menu. Exile is not known to work in any found version of the emulator.
Symbian and N-Gage (Nokia)
Originally a joint Nintendo-Nokia cellphone handheld hybrid project slated for 2005, Nintendo backed away from the project (and its plans for NES/Game Boy ports for mobile were repurposed for their Virtual Engine project). Nokia continued the project on their own anyways and released N-Gage on October 7, 2003, for $299 as the most powerful handheld of its time, that is up until the DS and PSP came along and ended Nokia's hopes at dominating the handheld gaming market. It had an ARM920T CPU at 104 MHz.
However, while gaining support through GBA/PS1 ports (including the only English version of the JP-only Xanadu series until 2016) and a few original exclusives, the thing suffered from huge design flaws, from the button layout to the display and cell phone functionality.
Has a revision called the QD which was unveiled on April 14, 2004, with an ARM9E CPU. ROM dumps of Symbian and N-Gage games are available.
|PC / x86|
|NGEmu||Git||None||✗ (see below)||✗|
|Mobile / ARM|
- A Symbian OS emulator with high-level emulation, 25 Symbian games (6 N-Gage Games) have been labeled In-Game, 9 have been tagged Playable, and many more have yet to be tested.(Note: The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey and Ashen are among 6 N-Gage Games that go In-Game.)
- An Android version is also being made but unlike the other versions, it's not recommended as its early in development.
- A Nokia N-Gage focused emulator with low-level emulation.
- The first known Nokia N-Gage emulator (with high-level emulation), although it is currently on hiatus due to a lack of information required to further development. Linux support is planned for the future.
- A dead payware emulator for Windows. It only partially emulated the J2ME-based Nokia N-Gage exclusives and nothing else from the rest of the bunch.
Japanese i-mode (DoCoMo)
Japanese mobile manufacturer NTT DoCoMo released its own profile for J2ME developers to use when programming for the phones. This profile is known as i-mode Java - also called by its nickname DoJa (DoCoMo's Java). It's quite different from regular J2ME applications.
While i-mode phones were made available in a limited fashion in Europe, the game apps weren't exported, the i-mode specific features were mainly used for enhancing web pages for mobile browsers and even the Java API is the different more limited "Overseas Edition". The main reason behind this was the fierce push back by Nokia and other western mobile hardware manufacturers refusing to support the DoJa software standard until very late.
DeNa (Mobage), Namco (Tales of Mobile) and Level-5 (RoiD) set up Steam-like game distribution portals specific to some cell-phone models yet i-mode based. The different names are to confuse dirty gaijin, probably.
|PC / x86|
|Jade||0.1.7||Low (DoJa 1.5)||✗|
Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW)
A mobile development platform by Qualcomm, originally intended for CDMA handsets such as those sold by Verizon. Unlike Java ME, applications and games for BREW use native code as opposed to running in a virtual machine in the case of Java ME. Also, BREW development has a higher barrier to entry due to stringent certification requirements, which led it to be significantly less popular than Java ME even in markets where CDMA has a significant market share, such as in North America. To top it all off, downloaded BREW apps are tied to an individual handset via a digital signature, making piracy or sideloading difficult if not impossible; it is however possible to unlock certain BREW-enabled CDMA phones to run backups and pirated apps, though downloads for BREW apps and games are rare and hard to find compared to Java ME.
The Zeebo, a video game console and online distribution platform developed and released with developing markets in mind, also runs on BREW. Dumps of the Zeebo and its games exist, and gameplay footage of them have been uploaded on YouTube.
|Infuse||Windows Mobile||? (POC)||Low||✓||✗|
Developed by Danger Incorporated, Danger OS was a Java-based OS used on phones that Danger designed themselves. These devices were sold under many names such as Hiptop, Mobiflip, Sharp Jump, and (most notably) T-Mobile Sidekick. While it could run some J2ME apps (from version 2.3 onward), it also used its own proprietary J2SE-based APIs and SDK; for this reason, anything built using these APIs won't run on a standard J2ME emulator.
THERE ARE CURRENTLY NO EMULATORS FOR THIS OS. ANY YOUTUBE VIDEOS CLAIMING TO OFFER THEM ARE SCAMS!
Released in 2000 by Microsoft as their first mobile OS, originally called "Pocket PC" and made to run on PDA's, the name changed to Windows Mobile when the PDA market began to shrink. WM was initially based on Windows CE before evolving into something unique. It was mainly designed for business users, so it didn't have a lot of games for it.
|PC / x86|
|Microsoft Device Emulator||3.0||?||✓|
- Micro Java Game Development, mentions Japanese i-mode emulators that are currently dead, like i-tool.
- A 2003 article from GameDev.net about the major Western mobile phone systems
- Article about DoCoMo Java programming