Popular Delta Game Emulator Lands on the App Store

Nintendo Fans Rejoice
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The recently launched AltStore PAL app marketplace has become the new home for Riley Testut’s well-known Delta NES emulator, but the good news is that those of us outside of the European Union haven’t been left out in the cold.

For years, Delta fell into a class of apps that were entirely unwelcome on the App Store: game emulators. From the beginning, Apple set strict rules prohibiting apps that could download and run code from elsewhere, which is precisely what most game emulators do.

Those have been relaxed in recent years, opening the door to OS-level emulators like iDOS and iSH, but it’s always been a gray area at best, and most developers of full console emulators gave up on fighting with the seeming capriciousness of the App Store review team in enforcing these policies.

The only retro game emulators that have made it onto the App Store have been those that are entirely self-contained, with both the emulator and the games all in the same package. That’s fine for companies like Atari that own all the intellectual property rights, but it falls apart for NES emulators since Nintendo has no interest in building retro iPhone apps and isn’t about to stand idly by while somebody else publishes its games.

Nintendo took umbrage at apps even linking to repositories of its game ROMs, which was what happened with Delta’s predecessor, GBA4iOS. Riley Testut’s first project came along in 2013 and was an overnight sensation due to how easy it was to use and install. However, it also raised the ire of Nintendo, which promptly issued a DMCA takedown notice, shutting the whole thing down.

However, despite Nintendo’s copyright concerns, GBA4iOS still had to deal with Apple’s rules for the App Store. Knowing that GBA4iOS had no chance of being approved through the usual channels, Testut took advantage of an Enterprise Developer certificate — the method companies use to distribute apps to their employees. This technique has often been used for other questionable apps, not to mention “market research apps” by Facebook and Google. The catch is that Apple can revoke the certificate for these apps, and that’s precisely what it did in the case of GBA4iOS.

So, when Delta came along to replace GBA4iOS, Testut had to find a new way to get it onto people’s iPhones, and AltStore was born.

So, What’s Changed?

Earlier this month, Apple officially changed its stance on emulator apps when an update to its App Review Guidelines added a new clause explicitly permitting “retro game console emulator apps.”

Other developers wasted little time in taking advantage of this. Over the weekend, it looked like iGBA had returned to the App Store, but when it disappeared a few hours later, many feared that perhaps Apple’s new policies weren’t as relaxed as they had first hoped.

However, it turns out that iGBA’s removal had nothing to do with being a game emulator. It didn’t even raise the hackles of any big gaming companies. Instead, it was a simple matter of violating someone else’s intellectual property — in this case, Riley Testut’s.

As it turns out, the iGBA app was a knockoff of the original GBA4iOS. Apple told MacRumors’ Joe Rossignol that the app’s functionality was approved, but it was later pulled for copyright and spam violations. While GBA4iOS was open-source, iGBA didn’t include the necessary GNU GPLv2 license references and was packed with ads and trackers.

At the time, Testut expressed frustration on Threads that Apple had approved iGBA while his own AltStore PAL had been pending since March 5. However, the complexities of alternative app marketplaces suggest that Apple likely has a different team looking at those. He expressed similar sentiments in a statement to The Verge, promising that Delta would be coming to the App Store soon.

I’ve been working with Apple to release AltStore as an alternative app marketplace for over a month now, and I’m disappointed to see that they’ve approved a knock-off of AltStore’s flagship app Delta in that time. However, we’re still planning to launch Delta ASAP, and we’ll have more to share on that very soon.

Riley Testut

As of today, Delta is officially available on the App Store, and Testut has posted on Twitter/X to confirm that it’s the real deal.

Naturally, Delta doesn’t include any game ROMs or even any links to them, so you’ll have to ferret those out yourself. Once you’ve found some, they can be loaded directly from iTunes/Finder or the Files app. Supported game systems include the GameBoy Color and GameBoy Advance, as well as the Nintendo DS, Nintendo 64, Super NES, and the Nintendo Entertainment System. There’s also controller support for Nintendo Switch controllers and just about anything else supported by iOS, including PlayStation and Xbox controllers and Bluetooth and wired keyboards.

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