Prior to smartphones gaining mainstream acceptance, mobile phones were quite rudimentary and often relied on Java applications as a primary programming language (though proto-smartphone devices using Windows Mobile and Symbian were also somewhat popular). 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 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 mostly 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.
.JAR files of Java-based non-Japanese cell phones can be still found online with some effort, namely on WAP sites offering (pirated) mobile content e.g. Peperonity.
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.
J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition)
A free cross-platform language capable of working in devices with highly reduced capabilities, Java stripped down to the bare essentials.
While not intended originally for games (until 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.
|Nokia SDKs||Windows||Official||Mid (Nokia-only)||✓|
- MidpX is one of the older emulators. Fixed low resolution (176x220) and compatibility, no handler app support.
- Sj-Boy-JavaEmulator is more compatible than MidpX. Can take snapshots. More resolutions (but still buggy).
- KEmulator has even more features and compatibility (even 3D emulation) than other ones. Has support for custom resolution 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. Is the optimal recommended solution. Last update is 2012, closed-source.
- SDKs for certain Nokia platforms e.g. Series 40 and S60 may still be available, and while the emulators that come with them are made with development in mind, they can also be useful for playing most Java games and Symbian applications.
- PSPKVM is available for cell-phones. Might be the only one that's open-source. Last update is 2009.
ExEn (Execution Engine)
Properitary free solution developed by French mobile game developer In-Fusio around 2000, a Java-based solution presenting itself as an alternative to the limitations of J2ME in game development (offering missing feautures like sprite zooming, parallax scrolling, rotations...).
Achieved relative success and widespread hardware support in Europe, and was also used in China.
|EXEN-V2 Generic Simulator||Windows||(will upload later)||Low||✗|
- EXEN-V2 Generic Simulator is 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 those 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 aimed for those so-called "smart" feature phones, i.e. those that offer functionality similar to advanced OSes 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.
|Mediatek MRE SDK||Windows||3.0||?||✓|
An even more hardware-efficient free European-centric mobile gaming solution developed by Synergetix, it wasn't supported widely (Ericsson T300, T310 and T610).
WGE (Wireless Graphics Engine)
By TTPCom. Has even fewer support by videogame developers and phone hardware manufacturers.
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 it as the most powerful handheld of its time.
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. Rom dumps of N-Gage games are available.
- N-GageCool is a dead payware emulator for the N-Gage. It only partially emulated the J2ME-based N-Gage exclusives and nothing else from the rest of the bunch.
- No real emulation solution exists yet for the N-Gage as a whole.
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.
?????????? unknown, none in English-speaking web
Japanese mobile (Other)