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How to Play Retro NES and SNES Games on Your Nintendo Wii

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If you’re looking to relive the classic titles of yesterday on the console you have today, the Nintendo Wii makes a perfect platform for emulating older Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System titles—read on as we show you how.

We love retro games and we love squeezing extra value out of the hardware we already have—see, for example, our guide to setting up your Wii to play awesome 1980s and 90s retro point-and-click adventure games. In that vein, we were thrilled to discover how easy it was to set up our Wii to play our favorite old Nintendo titles. Follow along and within the hour you’ll be plunked down in front of your Wii playing your favorite titles, too.

What You’ll Need

For this tutorial you will need the following items; read over the list below and then check out the notes following for additional details.

First, this project requires a soft-modded Wii unit that can run homebrew software. While we have shown you how to hack your Wii for homebrew before, new editions of the Wii operating system software require different techniques for soft-modding. Therefore, we strongly suggest you read over The Complete Softmod Guide to ensure you are performing the correct mod technique for your particular Wii. Make sure to install the Homebrew Browser while you’re at it. This tutorial will not walk you through the soft mod process.

Second, the regular Wiimote works awesome for NES emulation (as, held sideways, it is essentially a thick NES controller). For SNES games, however, the Wiimote is a poor fit as you need to do some pretty fancy fingering to use the SNES X and Y buttons.

For SNES emulation we strongly recommend either using the Wii Classic controller (offers a perfect 1:1 fit for the SNES’s A, B, X, Y configuration) or a GameCube controller (the right-hand button layout is slightly different than the SNES controller but it’s close enough that you should have no problems using it).

Finally, you need game ROMs to make this work—without them you’ll have an awesome emulator setup with no games to actually load in the emulator. We’ll go over where you can dig up ROMs in the first section.

Locating Game ROMs

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If you’re a long time retro game fan there’s a good chance you already have a pile of ROMs sitting around waiting to be loaded into the newest emulator to come across your work bench. If not, don’t worry—it’s nearly impossible to even search for “emulator ROMs” without practically falling into a giant pile of them.

The following sites maintain extensive catalogs of retro gaming ROMs for everything from the Atari to the Playstation. Grab a few ROMs to test your system before proceeding:

EmuParadise:

CoolROM:

DopeROMs:

Armed with a few ROMs to make testing easier, it’s time to setup and configure the emulators. Let’s start with setting up NES emulation.

Installing and Configuring Your NES Emulator

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The first order of business is to grab the NES emulator and start copying files to your Wii’s SD card—the place where all your homebrew software and ROMs will end up.

Installing the Emulator: First, eject the SD card from your Wii and hook it up to an SD card reader attached to the computer you’re working on. Next, download a copy of FCE Ultra GX—a port of the really polished FCEUX NES emulator to the Wii.

For this tutorial we’ll be using the most current version FCE Ultra GX 3.3.4.zip. (While you’re grabbing files you may also wish to grab a copy of the Cheats file and the Channel Installer file for use later in the tutorial.)

Inside the .ZIP you’ll find the following folders:

/apps/

/fceugx/

Go ahead and simply extract the entire archive to the root of your SD card—it will place all the files where they belong. Once the archive is extracted, you’ll see the /fceugx/ folder in the root of the SD card, open it up and navigate /fceugx/roms/. This is the folder where FCE Ultra GX will look for your games; take a moment now to load it up with your test ROMs. Make sure you’re copying your NES ROMs (.NES files), not your SNES ROMs (.SMC files).

Launching and Learning the Emulator: After loading up the emulator software and the ROM files, it’s time to take it for a test drive. Safely eject your SD card from your computer and insert it into your Wii.

Navigate to the Homebrew Channel and look for the FCE Ultra GX entry:

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Launch the app; it will immediately dump you into the ROM selection screen which displays all the ROMs you put in the /fceugx/roms/ directory.

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In the settings menu you can tweak various aspects of how FCE Ultra GX works (both the menu system and the way the emulator interacts with games). Here are the relevant sub-menus:

  • Saving & Loading: You can change the default folders for ROMs, saved games, and cheat files here.
  • Menu: Here you can tweak how the FCE Ultra GX menu looks and functions (turn the background music off, change the orientation of the Wiimote from vertical to horizontal, etc.).
  • Network: FCE Ultra GX supports loading ROMs from network shares. If you wanted access to a very large ROM collection without having to store them all permanently on the Wii SD card, this might be worth configuring.
  • Game Genie: This allows you to use the Game Genie ROM (available at the ROM sites listed above) to load old-school Game Genie codes into the game.

A note on the last entry, the Game Genie—other than setting this up for the sake of nostalgia there is little reason to use the Game Genie to enable cheats in NES game ROMs because you can easily use cheat files with the emulator (more on this later).

Once you’ve checked out the menus and made any tweaks you’d like to make, it’s time to test out our first game. Go ahead and select one from your list. We’re taking Super Mario Bros. 2 for a test drive:

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Weird wavy hills, fat mustachioed protagonist, magical door to another realm? Looks exactly how we remember it and sounds good too—sound effects and soundtracks are often the most difficult part of emulating old games, so we’re excited to hear our old games without any strange audio artififacts.

Now at this point you could simply play the game without any problems, but there are a host of settings and cool features hidden away in FCE Ultra GX it would be a shame to not take advantage of. At any time during play you can press the Home key on the Wiimote (or press Left on the GameCube controller’s right analog control stick) to access the emulator’s in-game menu like so:

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The in-game menu is downright magical, here you can perform all sorts of handy tricks that playing-the-NES-in-1988-You only wishes they had been able to do.

  • Save: Here you can save your game at any time. Whether or not the game you’re playing actually supports game saving or not is irrelevant, FCE Ultra GX will take a snapshot of the game at the exact moment you paused it. This is a fantastic feature to take advantage of when faced with really difficult portions of games.
  • Load: Loads the previous saved states you have created.
  • Game Settings: Here you can change button mapping, adjust the video output, change controllers (this tells the emulator if you want to mimic using 2 NES controller, 4 NES controllers, or the NES Zapper gun), and allows you to toggle cheats on and off.
  • Reset: Functions like the reset button on the original NES console.
  • Main Menu: Returns you to the original game ROM selection menu.

Cheat Codes: At this point we’ve mentioned the Cheat codes section in multiple sub-sections of the tutorial and you’re probably more than a little bit curious about it—who wouldn’t like to cheat their way through some of the more difficult passages in Super Mario Bros. 2, for example.

In order to take advantage of cheats you need appropriately packaged .CHT files that correspond to the game in which you wish to enable cheats. The creator of FCE Ultra GX has already done the leg work of packaging up hundreds of cheat files for us, so that’s a good place to start. Grab a copy of his collected cheats in the download directory here.

To use the cheat files you need to do two important things: First, they need to be extracted to your Wii SD card /fceugx/cheats/. Second, the name of the .CHT file must match, exactly, the filename of the .NES file in the /roms/ directory. Whether you change the name of the .CHT file to match the .NES file or vice-versa, it must be exactly the same. We’re going to edit our ROM titles to match the .CHT titles since the .CHT titles are much cleaner. Take a moment to extract the cheat files now and clean up any file names if necessary.

Start up one of the games you have a cheat code set for and, once in the game, press the in-game emulation menu (the Home button on the Wiimote). Select Game Settings, then Cheats, and you’ll be greeted with a laundry list of cheat codes like the following:

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In our test game Super Mario Bros. 2 there are cheat codes for just about everything: infinite health, infinite lives, and even fun in-game tweaks like allowing all characters (not just Princess Peach) to float about when they jump.

A word on cheat codes: they’re super fun to play with but they can be really finicky—you’ll find that many cheat codes have one or more alternates and that often times enabling multiple cheat codes will sometimes lead to codes canceling each other out. That said it’s a lot of fun to mess around with them.

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Channel Installation: Now that you’ve installed the emulator, installed your games, and acquired some cheat codes to mess around with, there’s only one last tweak you can squeeze in. If you want to faster access to your emulator, you can install a channel for it—one of the shortcuts found on the Wii’s main system menu as seen above.

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To do so, visit the FCE Ultra GX download page and grab a copy of the Channel Installer. Extract the contents of the .ZIP file to the root of your SD card. Run the Homebrew Channel and then launch the FCE Ultra GX Channel Installer. A new channel with the FCE Ultra complete with a spiffy launch animation will be added to your Wii’s main interface.

Installing and Configuring Your SNES Emulator

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For this portion of the tutorial you’re going to, again, require your Wii’s SD card. We know it’s hard to put down the NES emulator from the last section of the tutorial, but peel yourself away from all that retro gaming goodness in order to install more retro gaming goodness.

Installing the Emulator: First, let’s grab a copy of the actual emulator from the Snes9xGX download directory here. We’ll be using the most current release, Snes9x GX 4.3.2 for this tutorial. While you’re in the download directory, we would also recommend grabbing a copy of the Cheat Files archive and the Channel Installer (if you would like to follow along with the cheats and Wii menu shortcut portion of the tutorial later on).

Inside the .ZIP you’ll find the following folders:

/apps/

/snes9xgx/

Go ahead and extract the archive right to the root of your Wii’s SD card. After the extraction is finished, go ahead and check out the /snes9xgx/ folder on the root of the SD card. Here you’ll find the same folder structure as you did in the NES emulator: one folder for cheats, ROMs, and saves.

Select your test ROMs and place them into the /roms/ directory now.

Launching and Learning the Emulator: Now that you have your emulator installed and ROM files dumped to the SD card, it’s time to eject the SD card so we can try everything out.

Navigate to the Homebrew Menu again and look forSnes9x GX. Click on the shortcut to launch the application.

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At this point, you might be thinking “Hmm, that looks suspiciously like a blue version of the red FCE Ultra GX menu we were just messing around with…” That would not be an unfounded suspicion. Not only is the Wii port of Snex9x managed by the same guy that managed the Wii port of FCE Ultra GX but both are laid out using the same icon/GUI library and designed to have nearly identical menu layouts for ease of use.

That said, we’re still going to go through all the major menus both for the benefit of those only using the SNES emulator in this tutorial and to highlight the relevant SNES-only features.

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Here are the relevant sub-menus:

  • Saving & Loading: You can change the default folders for ROMs, saved games, and cheat files here.
  • Menu: Here you can tweak how the Snes9x GX menu looks and functions (turn the background music off, change the orientation of the Wiimote from vertical to horizontal, etc.).
  • Network: Snes9x GX also  supports loading ROMs from network shares.

You will notice that unlike the main settings menu for the FCE Ultra GX, there is no Game Genie entry in the settings menu for the Snes9x GX. You can still use cheat codes, more on that later, but there is no SNES Game Genie implementation.

Once you have checked out the menus and made any tweaks you would like to make, it’s time to test out our first game. Go ahead and select one from your list. We’re taking The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past out for a spin:

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Our Uncle Alfon ran off to heed the call of a maiden in distress, it’s storming, and the guards of Hyrule can’t figure out what a little kid is doing out of bed at this hour wandering around—it’s just as awesome as we remember it. Just like our NES test of Super Mario Bros. 2 this test has perfect sound. We’ve been disappointed by various SNES emulators over the years when it comes to quality sound playback so we’re pleased to see this one handles it so well.

Now, just like in the previous tutorial you could just dig right into the game but there are a pile of neat features in the emulator’s in-game menu.

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At any time during play you can press the Home key on the Wiimote (or press Left on the GameCube controller’s right analog control stick) to access the emulator’s in-game menu like so:

Much like in FCE Ultra GX we can do all sorts of neat things, including:

  • Save: Save your game at any time using the snapshot feature—doesn’t matter if the game supports saving or not you can always create a save point using this menu. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve used the snapshot feature on particularly difficult dungeons in A Link to the Past.
  • Load: Loads the previous saved states you have created.
  • Game Settings: Here you can change button mapping, adjust the video output, and change controllers. Unlike the relatively simple controller selections available for the NES, the SNES emulator includes settings for 2 and 4 SNES controllers, the SNES mouse (used for games like Mario Paint) and the SuperScope and Justifier (two different light guns available for the SNES).
  • Reset: Functions like the reset button on the original SNES console.
  • Main Menu: Returns you to the original game ROM selection menu.

Cheat Codes: After reading over the NES section of the tutorial you’re familiar with the concept of emulation cheat codes. The cheat codes are implemented in Snes9x GX.

You’ll need the cheat code pack from the Snes9x GX download page, so if you haven’t grabbed it already so so now. Extract it to the root of your SD card so that all the .CHT codes end up in the /snes9xgx/cheats/ folder. Again, like with the NES emulator, you need to ensure that the .CHT file names are a perfect match to the .SMC SNES roms—whether you match the cheat to the game or vice-verse is irrelevant, they just have to match.

Once you have the cheat codes copied and the file names match up, accessing them is as simple as opening the in-game menu (via the Home key), navigating to Game Settings and selecting Cheats:

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Infinite rupees and infinite bombs? We’ll take ten. Jest aside, we’ll offer the same caution we offered with the cheat code system for the NES emulator—enable too many cheat codes and all sorts of weird things can happen, if you’re having trouble using the cheat system try starting off with your must have cheats and adding them in one-by-one.

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Channel Installation: It can be a hassle to hop into the Homebrew menu every time you want to launch your emulators (and if you have little kids using the system you may not even want them in the Homebrew menu). This is where installing the custom channel for your SNES emulator is handy.

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If you haven’t already grabbed it, hit up the downloads page and grab the Channel Installer. Extract the contents of the archive to the root of your SD card and then run the installer once from the Homebrew menu. You’ll be rewarded with a sweet custom channel that, just like the NES channel, sports custom graphics and a slick startup animation.


That’s all there is to it—install the emulators, dump over some ROMs and cheat codes, do a little minor channel installation to give yourself super-fast access to your favorite games, and you’re in business.

The next time friends are over and you suggest firing up the Wii you can steam roll their protests over yet another round of MarioKart Wii by interjecting “Uhh, no. We’re playing The Secret of Mana… with multiplayer support.” Maybe you’ll be able to successfully parlay their shock at being able to relive such an awesome title into them not noticing you grabbed the first player controller.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 03/6/13

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