Turning My Amazon Fire HD 8 Tablet Into a Retro Gaming Machine

Fire HD8 + 8Bitdo NES30

Back in college my friends and I would pass the time during class by playing classic NES, SNES, and SEGA Genesis games with emulators on our laptops. The recent popularity of the NES Classic Edition has resulted in a revival of classic 8 bit and 16 bit emulation. I’ve long kept emulators on my Android phones (I prefer the ones made by Robert Broglia), but after purchasing my Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet last year I got the idea that I would really enjoy being able to play games on the larger screen. Add in a gamepad and I’d have a pretty sweet portable gaming machine.

That sounds great, except that the Fire OS is totally locked down. There aren’t emulators in the Amazon app store, and the OS doesn’t support bluetooth gamepads. A challenge to work with? Yup. Impossible? Not at all! After some trial and error, I finally got it working, and it was worth the effort. For me, this very much enhances the value of this sub-$100 product that’s already a great value. The Fire HD 8 is a wonderful travel device for reading books, watching movies, and – with a gamepad and 15 minutes of work – playing retro games. All without an internet connection.

What You’ll Need

  • Amazon Fire HD 8 Tablet
  • Bluetooth gamepad that can be used in keyboard mode – I like the 8Bitdo NES30, available on Amazon
  • Bluetooth keyboard for setup, a lot of options available on Amazon for under $20

Step 1 – Install RetroArch for Android

RetroArch is open-source software that uses a single graphical interface to integrate a bunch of different emulators. So instead of downloading one emulator for NES, another for SNES, SEGA Genesis, Atari, N64, and so on, RetroArch can run them all from a unified interface. It’s available on a ton of different platforms, including Android, and the Android APK is available to download outside of an app store, which is key for us.

Before installation though, you’ll need to allow third party apps to be installed on your Fire tablet by checking the box under Settings > Security > Apps from Unknown Sources. After you’ve done that, download the RetroArch APK and follow the prompts to install it.

Step 2 – Configure Your Gamepad

Since Fire OS doesn’t support bluetooth gamepads, you’ll end up connecting your gamepad as a bluetooth keyboard. Unfortunately, RetroArch already has some shortcuts assigned to keyboard keys that will interfere with your key mapping, so before getting started we’ll need to map those to other buttons.

  • Make sure that bluetooth is enabled on your tablet.
  • Connect your bluetooth gamepad based upon the instructions provided by the gamepad manufacturer.
  • Click every button on the gamepad and make note of each key that it’s mapped to.
  • Connect the bluetooth keyboard. In RetroArch navigate to Settings > Input > Input Hotkey Binds and change any key mappings that would interfere with the gamepad.
  • Reconnect the gamepad and (finally!) map your keys by going to Settings > Input > Input User 1 Binds

Step 3 – Play Your Games!

Fire HD8 NHL 94

RetroArch takes a bit of getting used to. Each individual emulator is called a core, which you’ll need to download from within the program before using. Check out the Getting Started with RetroArch page from their official documentation and this tutorial on Reddit for more info.

You will, of course, need ROMS to play, which is outside of the scope of this post. I tend to primarily play user-generated ROMS like those available on TecmoBowl.org and NHL94.com, where games like Tecmo Super Bowl and NHL 94 are updated with current teams, rosters, and new features. ROMS of almost every classic game ever made are available online for free, however it’s worth considering that there are some legal/ethical concerns. According to Lifehacker, “[t]he rule of emulator ethics is that you should have a physical copy of a game if you have a ROM.”

Enjoy! If you have any questions leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help.

22 comments on Turning My Amazon Fire HD 8 Tablet Into a Retro Gaming Machine

  1. Peter says:

    Hi Adam, again nice post.

    How is the 8bitdo controller? I have been wanting to pick up their Snes controller (that’s my favorite controller in the 8 bit/16 bit era by far) so that I can use them with my switch once Nintendo decides they want to take my money with the virtual console games on the switch…….The 8bitdo controllers look great, I just don’t know if they feel close to the original thing.

    • Adam McFarland says:


      I really like the 8bitdo controller. It feels close to a NES controller (with additional buttons obviously), but it’s not 100% there. While I’m playing I don’t really notice any issues, the build quality just feels a tad inferior and the buttons are maybe a little less sensitive (require a stronger press). I did a decent amount of research on Amazon and read a lot of reviews. They seem to be the best of the bunch, even though they’re not perfect. I love their website and their company in general, it seems like they’ve really embraced the role of providing retro game pads for reasonable prices. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

      – Adam

    • Sean says:

      Did you ever get the snes controller? how was it?

      • Adam McFarland says:

        Hi Sean,

        I did not, but I have a friend who did and I was pretty impressed by it. I think they’re the next best thing to an official Nintendo controller. Since I wrote this post they’ve been seemingly getting more and more popular.

        – Adam

        • Sean says:

          I have since installed retroarch and it seems to work great so far but when i try to get a rom for say psx the games usually come in an rar file. As retroarch only likes .zip i have tried extracting and zipping the contents to have the rom show up. Upon loading the game it says failed to load content. Is there something im missing here or does psx not work? i tried getting 3 different versions of the same game from different sites. Any insight would be appreciated thanks again.

          • Adam McFarland says:

            Hi Sean,

            I have just used it for NES, SNES, Genesis, TurboGrafix, and a few N64 games so I don’t have any experience with that. I would try the RetroArch forums https://forums.libretro.com/ Sorry I couldn’t be more of a help.

            – Adam

          • tim says:

            dude i dont know why you think you have to have your roms as compressed zip or rar files to play them. i know zip and rar files work as is in retroarch mame cores, but for psx and most others you just need to extract the rar or zip file. do not try to use the zip or rar formats. extract the files first. then use those files to play the game. it may be a .bin and a .cue file or even a .ISO file. etc. I dont know why you are rezipping them lmao

  2. Ari says:

    Would it be possible to use a wired controller hooked in via the micro USB port?

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Ari, that might work. I don’t have any wired controllers to give it a try with, but if you do please report back and let me know if it works. You’ll likely still have to go through some of the input mapping since Amazon doesn’t natively support gamepads.

  3. Rodney McGee says:

    How is Snes emulation on Fire Hd 8, like with Retroarch core Snes9x 2010 (Next)? My snes is in storage with all my games and I was wanting to play some of those games.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Rodney,

      SNES emulation is great, effectively perfect. I highly recommend it, especially if you have one of the 8bitdo controllers to pair with it (they have a lot of great choices with button layouts to match the SNES). I’ve had trouble with anything above 16 bit, so the N64 games are hit or miss, although I think that’s more about the emulation software than the hardware, as I’ve almost never had good N64 emulation regardless of what computer or phone I’ve attempted it on.

      – Adam

  4. Kurt Purpura says:

    Can you use all android emulators on the Amazon fire? I have one that’s a multi emulator called emulation box. ( emu box) I’m just making sure if I get this this will will be able to play emulators on it. I don’t use controllers. I use the screen as a controller. Advice would be appreciated. Thank you

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Kurt,

      I’m not sure about Emu Box. Most APK files do work, however at one point I tried some of my favorite emulators and they did not work on the Fire, so you’ll probably need to test yourself or find someone to test it out. RetroArch definitely does work though (and has similar functionality to Emy Box).

      – Adam

  5. Otacon says:

    I’m pretty stupid need help didn’t work on my tablet fire 7 new at this rom stuff???

  6. MantisX says:

    I’m doing the same thing as I type this but with this:


    I’m hoping it will look/feel like a Nintendo Switch when done.

    • MantisX says:

      it also looks like there are now root options available for the newer Fire tablets. I’m looking into this too. Perhaps a way to debloat and provide even more performance. If interested I’ll share my findings with you.

      • Adam McFarland says:

        Very cool, thanks for sharing. Yes, if you’re able to do anything to improve performance please let me know. I have a similar controller to that one as well, an older Ipega, and it does give it that Nintendo Switch feel.

  7. tim says:

    Hey Adam. I love your post but since i can be a little slow to understand things, could you please elaborate on a couple things for me, #1 what do you mean by click every button to see where they are mapped to? where so we do this? i tried changing a hot key tobsee what came up for each button and i dont see any keyboard buttons labeled the same, which
    eads me to my final question, what do you mean exactly by using the bluetooth keyboard to change any keys that may onterfere? how do i know it would interfere or not? oh and by the way, i,m trying this on a Amazon Fire HD 8 8th Gen (2018) tablet. i would sooo appreciate any elaboration, help or advice on these things. thank you so much fpr your time. i understand you are a busy guy so i understand if you cant reply. keep up the sweet posts brother.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Tim,

      Thanks for reading! It’s been a few years since this post but I’ll do my best to try to explain.

      what do you mean by click every button to see where they are mapped to

      I should say that it’s possible that Fire OS now supports bluetooth game pads and this step is unnecessary. But if not…

      After you connect the gamepad, open up the on-screen keyboard, click the buttons on the gamepad, and note which button is mapped to which key. So, for example, the A button might map out to the Space bar on the keyboard. In RetroArch, the Space bar might have a specific function like closing out a game, so when you connect the keyboard you’ll want to change what the space bar does by going to Settings > Input > Input Hotkey Binds.

      You could try skipping this step and going straight to Settings > Input > Input User 1 Binds. When I did this, weird things happened because the buttons were acting as keyboard keys for those shortcuts.

      Hope that helps!

      – Adam

  8. Pauly says:

    Hi. Let’s say I went on eBay and bought an sd card supposedly preloaded with all the stuff needed to play, could I just plug the sd card into my tablet and get playing?

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Pauly,

      If by “preloaded with all the stuff needed to play” you mean roms, then you’d have to still follow the steps to install RetroArch and configure your gamepad.

      – Adam

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