Switch hacker KapuccinoHeck—who has previously shared mods and hidden data for Splatoon 2 and other Switch games—used Twitter to link to the text of a file full of internal string variables purportedly stored in the NES Online’s file system. Fellow modder OatmealDome confirmed that file’s authenticity via Twitter. Though Ars has not been able to independently verify the file’s existence in the Switch’s NES Online app, the information comes from hackers who have provided reliable data-mining information from Switch games in the past.
In addition to information about the current NES Online software selection, the shared file also includes references to the following Super NES games, many of which include extensive descriptions of those games in Japanese and/or English:
Fans of the early-2000s era GameCube version of the original Animal Crossing likely remember the game including a handful of emulated NES titles that could be played by obtaining in-game items for your house. What players back then didn’t know is that the NES emulator in Animal Crossing can also be used to play any generic NES ROM stored on a GameCube memory card.
The key to opening Animal Crossing‘s NES emulator is the game’s generic “NES console” item. Usually, this item simply tells players who try to use it that “I want to play my NES, but I don’t have any software” (separate in-game items are used to play the NES ROMs that are included on the Animal Crossing disc).
This weekend, Switch owners learned their consoles are apparently holding a hidden copy of the NES game Golf, along with a built-in NES emulator designed to run it. But Switch hacker yellows8 and others who have been able to run that emulator say they’ve only been able to do so via “unofficial” methods that let them run jailbroken Switch binaries independently.
Now that the emulator is widely known to exist, a few diehards and hackers are engaged in an obsessive quest to discover if there’s an “official” way to launch that emulator on stock hardware. While that quest hasn’t borne fruit yet, the search itself is a fascinating look into the subculture of console hacking and the fast-moving world of rumor and conspiracy theory that often surrounds it.
Surprisingly enough, yellows8 probably wasn’t the first person to launch NES Golf on the Switch. That title likely goes to Setery, a user on the GBATemp console hacking forums who posted about the game mysteriously appearing on his system back on July 22. As Setery tells it:
Well this is a bit odd. Attorney Lisa Schifferle writing for the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer & Business education division issued a warning on April 18 titled “There’s no Nintendo Switch emulator.” That has been, and as far as I can tell continues to be, a true statement, though the FTC isn’t generally in the business of issuing warnings about video games.
There’s apparently a noteworthy scam making the rounds, wherein people are either going looking for counterfeit software on dubious websites, or being approached by scammers peddling nonsense in the guise of a Nintendo-fied simulacrum.
In a blog post that seems at time to knowingly wink at readers amidst its stern language, Schifferle acknowledges the Switch’s supply scarcity at the moment. It’s a problem. Buyers have either been paying ridiculously inflated scalper prices off auction sites for Nintendo’s mobile-TV hybrid game system, or paying retailers like GameStop exorbitant sums for “bundles” with take it or leave it bric-a-brac.
Thus the impatient (or just plain mischievous) may be lured by promises of software that runs Switch games on a computer. “But there is no legit Nintendo Switch emulator. It’s a scam,” writes Schifferle, noting all the other nefarious things that can install themselves surreptitiously if you download fake software and give it carte blanche. (Not to be confused with fake fake software, which, like fake fake news, would in fact be real.)
Don’t be deceived by stories you may have seen about people running The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at ultra-high-definition resolutions. There are two versions of Breath of the Wild, one for Wii U and one for the Switch. That’s because a Wii U emulator exists; a Switch emulator doesn’t. (To say nothing of the grayish legality of emulators in general, which is another matter.)
Here’s the FTC’s list of guidelines to avoid the scam, all arguably obvious enough not to bother repeating, but presented here because that last one made me smile.
Don’t download anything that says it’s a Nintendo Switch emulator.
Don’t complete a survey to get an “unlock code.” That’s a red flag for a scam.
Keep your security software current. Set it to update automatically. Installing unknown programs can lead to malware.
Play Nintendo Switch at your friend’s house until you’re able to buy the real one yourself.
A short video explains the new functionality that lets the Dolphin emulator access the official Wii Shop Channel.
Perfect accuracy is an extremely ambitious goal for any console emulator to shoot for, and it’s one that many emulators never come close to achieving. The team behind the open source Dolphin emulator took a major step closer to reaching that goal last week, though, releasing a new version that can actually purchase and download games legitimately from the Wii Shop Channel.
Accessing Nintendo’s Shop Channel servers from the PC-based emulator isn’t exactly a plug-and-play affair. For one thing, you’ll need to use some homebrew software on an actual Wii to dump the contents of the system’s NAND memory. From there, you have to use some special software tools to extract the certificates and keys that Nintendo uses when validating connections to its online servers.
With all that in place, though, Version 5.0-2874 of Dolphin can now connect to the Wii Shop Channel servers to download WiiWare and Virtual Console games. The emulator will even let you re-download games that were previously purchased on the original Wii itself and let you enter a valid credit card to purchase new games. (This is why people use emulators, right?)
Developer Gabriel O’Flaherty-Chan recently shared a project where he managed to get a Game Boy emulator he dubbed “Giovanni” running on the second-generation Apple Watch, allowing it to play Game Boy and Game Boy Color games.
According to O’Flaherty-Chan, it was a challenge finding the right balance “between framerate and performance,” but he says the end result is a “surprisingly usable emulator.” In GIFs shared in a blog post, the Apple Watch is displayed running Pokémon Yellow.
The Giovanni emulator, named after the villain in Pokémon Yellow, was built using open source code from Gambatte, an existing iOS emulator. It uses the Digital Crown and gestures for control purposes.
By allowing the user to pan on screen for directions, rotate the Digital Crown for up and down, and tap the screen for A, I was able to eliminate buttons until I was left with Select, Start, and B.
Touching the screen for movement isn’t a great interaction, but being able to use the Crown worked out a lot better than originally anticipated. Scrolling through a list of options is basically what the Crown was made for, and if the framerate was even slightly higher, the interaction could almost be better than a hardware D-pad.
As Ars Technica points out, Giovanni is not something you should expect to see in the App Store — it’s more of a proof of concept than anything else. Apple does not allow emulators on the App Store, and O’Flaherty-Chan himself says it is afflicted with bugs due to the “constraints of watchOS,” including the lack of support for OpenGL and Metal.
The Giovanni source code is, however, available on Github for anyone to download, and the blog post behind the creation of Giovanni is worth reading for anyone interested in the development process.
Developer Riley Testut has begun teasing the launch of a new emulator, called “Delta,” coming this December in beta form, presumably for iOS devices. On Delta’s teaser site, hazy images of controllers for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Nintendo 64 are shown alongside the Game Boy Advance and Game Boy Color. Testut tweeted out the information for Delta yesterday, while also saying goodbye to his previous emulator GBA4iOS.
Users were able to get GBA4iOS onto their iOS device without jailbreaking it by setting the iPhone’s date back to 2012, but even a 2.0 update to the software made it easier to install the emulator and removed that requirement. A built-in web browser allowed users to install and play original Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, and Game Boy Color ROMs right on their iPhone or iPad. Although the platform has yet to be confirmed, Testut’s mention of GBA4iOS alongside the Delta teaser suggests that the new emulator will be for iOS devices.
The new website for Delta doesn’t confirm how the emulator will handle downloads yet, but will likely be in a similar vein to Testut’s previous software emulators. Responding to a few user questions in the original Twitter thread, Testut mentioned that tvOS support is something he wants, but “there are some technical issues right now standing in the way,” so the launch is expected to focus on iOS.
Apple often takes a stringent approach to emulators that appear to download on its devices, but it was Nintendo which filed a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown request against GBA4iOS in 2014, leading to the shut down of that emulator. Similar ends met emulators like iDOS and iMAME in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
After months of fakes, a proper Wii U emulator is finally available for download—even if it is still rather janky. According to the developer, Cemu contains “basically no optimizations whatsoever,” no proper controller support, and no audio. For the time being, it’s only for Windows x64, although other platforms might eventually be supported. Ignoring all these caveats, it’s actually quite impressive if these videos are any indication of how far it’s come already.
Cemu, which is currently in what has been termed as its “proof-of-concept release” stage, requires OpenGL 3.3 to operate. It has an internal resolution of 1920×1080, and can run encrypted Wii U images (WUD) and RPX/RPL files. If you want to launch a game, it will need to be in raw dump format (WUS or ISO). There are plans to release updates on a fortnightly basis, although nothing has been set in stone as of yet. Interestingly, Cemu defies current emulator trends by not being an open-source project.