If there is one thing the iPad doesn’t lack for it’s games. Unfortunately if you’re in love with retro games from a bygone era, you’re largely out of luck. Today we take a look at how you can play SNES games on your iPad (and iPhone too!)
What You’ll Need
You’ll only need a few things for this hack and you won’t even need to break anything open or solder any connections. Round up the following before we begin:
- A jailbroken iPad or other iOS device (we’ll be using the iPad for this tutorial as the bigger screen makes gameplay more fun)
- A sync cable for your iOS device
- A Wiimote
- A copy of snes4iphone ($5.99)
- SNES ROMs (more on this later)
We’ll show you how to get copies of the last two items during the tutorial so don’t panic if you don’t have a pile of ROMs on hand. Also, this tutorial will not cover how to jailbreak your iOS device. The current iOS version is 4.3.3 and the untethered jailbreak created for 4.3.1 still works fine. We’d suggest visiting the iPhone Dev-Team blog here to read the latest and greatest on iOS jailbreaking. Again, we’re not covering the jailbreak here but it is necessary to continue.
Installing and Configuring snes4iphone
Once you’ve secured the necessary equipment (including that all important jailbroken device), you’re ready to get started. Open up Cydia on your iPad and click the search button on the bottom toolbar. Search for snes4iphone. Click on the entry and you should see something very similar to the screenshot above. Click on the Purchase to buy a copy ($5.99). You can checkout using either PayPal or Amazon Payments.
You’ll note that snes4iphone isn’t free. There are several SNES (as well as NES, N64, etc.) emulators in the Cydia, some of them are free. While some of them have some pretty neat features (SNES A.D. for example supports the classic controller) snes4iphone is by far the most refined and the one least likely to give you problems. Feel free to experiment with the other emulators but if you want to get right to playing games with minimal fuss, it’s worth the $5.99 snes4iphone purchase price. The only complaint we can log against snes4iphone is that we wished an HD version was available. Still, given the low resolution of SNES games the only thing the HD version would really improve upon is the user interface.
Once you’ve installed snes4iphone and run it for the first time it will prompt you by saying “No ROMs found. Would you like to find them?” If you click Yes you’ll be taken a Google search for legal ROMs and a listing of places you can download them (specifically a search for the site DopeROMs). More on this later. Click No, so we can do a little configuring. Tap on the Options button in the lower right corner; toggle WiiMote Support on. Once you’ve toggled that on close snes4iphone and launch it again.
Once relaunched, snes4iphone will prompt you to sync your Wiimote. You’ll be prompted every time you launch the app if you want to use your Wiimote. Fortunately syncing it is super simple. Just press the 1 and 2 buttons simultaneously to sync the Wiimote to the iPad.
Before we leave the configuration section, a quick overview on the other toggles you can tinker with. In the options menu you’ll find the following options that do the following things:
- Skin: allows you to change the application skin.
- Scaling: Scales the game interface up to the size of the device’s screen.
- Autosave: automatically saves the game in the background (even when the game itself doesn’t support saving).
- Framerate Counter: if you’re having issues with a game seeming to run too slow or too fast, you can diagnose it by turning on the framerate counter to see what is going on.
- Transparencies On: If you’re having trouble with a particular game, toggle this. You’ll lose some of the graphical richness but, in the process, stabilize many games.
- Smooth Scaling: Essentially a nearest-neighbor scaling technique that rounds out the pixels in older games. We were pleasantly surprised by it. The game looks a little fuzzier but a lot less jagged.
- WiiMote Support: Toggles the Bluetooth connection to the Wiimote on and off.
At this point—with whatever additional configuration tweaks you’ve toggled on—you’re ready to play, you just need some games. On to the next step!
Loading up ROMs
There are two methods for loading game ROMs onto your device. The first method is the easiest, although it does involve a lot of pecking away at your touch screen. With snes4iphone loaded click the search button in the upper right corner. From within the app a web browser pane will open with the search query “doperoms legal backups” loaded. You can navigate to the DopeROMs website from the first link or click the second (which should read “Super Nintendo – Snes – DopeROMs”). From there you’ll find a list of hundreds of SNES game ROMs available for download. The only hassle here is that you’ll need to click through the listing for each game you want to load.
Alternatively, if you’re comfortable connecting into your device’s system folders, you could download the ROMs you want on your primary computer (either individually from sites like DopeROMs or via entire ROM packs found at the usual sources) and then dump them into the /var/mobile/media/ROMs/ on your device. The easiest way to do this is to use an SSH client like WinSCP (Windows) or CyberDuck (Mac). You can read up on using them both here.
For our demo we opted to use the first method and grabbed a copy of Secret of Mana via DopeROMs to try things out. Let’s see how it runs.
Once you’ve attached the Wiimote and stocked your device with games, you’re ready to go. Navigate back to the main menu by tapping the Browse button in the lower left corner. Find the game you want to play, in our case Secret of Mana, and tap it. When you tap on it you’ll get four options which are a mix-match of portrait/landscape and sound/no sound. We’re going with Landscape & Sound. Be forewarned that sometimes the sound in emulation can be garbled and other times leaving the sound on can cause the emulator to crash. This isn’t an snes4iphone issue but an issue with almost all emulation programs we’ve ever tinkered with—sometimes unexpected quirks pop up when you emulator closed hardware on devices it was never intended for.
You’ll notice when you load up the game that there is a faint overlay of the SNES controller on the screen. snes4iphone allows for play without a Wiimote attached by using the screen itself as a controller. It’s functional but certainly not as fun as actually holding a controller in your hands. We thought, at first, it would be an annoyance while playing but after a few seconds it becomes practically invisible. Our test with Secret of Mana was a huge success and took us back to summers spent playing the epic early 1990s RPG on the SNES.
If you enjoyed your taste of SNES retro gaming on the iPad make sure to hit up the Cydia repositories for other emulators. Although we liked snes4iphone the best in terms of stability, you’ll find emulators for everything from the NES to the N64 and more. Have experience with alternative emulators? Let’s hear about it in the comments.
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 Google+ if you'd like.
- Published 05/31/11