Dolphin is an open source Wii and GameCube emulator that supports the majority of games for both consoles. Dolphin can run your collection of Wii and GameCube games very well at 1080p on most new PC’s, and even older systems still can crank out playable speeds in standard definition 480p (which is the GameCube’s native resolution). Installing Dolphin is easy, and you can even rip your own games from a Wii if you’re willing to homebrew it.
Why Dolphin Is Better than a Wii
Why do this if you already have a Wii? Let me count the ways:
- If you have good hardware, you can crank up the graphics settings on older games. In fact, even games for the GameCube, which had a maximum of 480p and were stuck at a 3:4 aspect ratio, upscale very well to full widescreen HD or even 4K. There are hacks that let games run at 60 frames per second. There are also many community made texture and shader packs which improve the look of the game substantially.
- All your games will be in one place and load extremely fast. This can also be done by installing USB Loader GX on the Wii, which is actually required anyway to legally get your game disks to play on Dolphin, but it is still an advantage over a regular Wii.
- You can use Wii Remotes with Dolphin, along with any other gamepad, including Xbox 360 and One Controllers. You could also use a GameCube Controller, but you will have to buy a USB adapter.
- It’s compatible with Windows and macOS, with an older release available on Linux.
Dolphin is not without its problems; there are still games that do not emulate properly and have bugs or glitches, but there is excellent community support in their forums, and new releases come out every few weeks which include bug fixes.
Dolphin is open source and is available at their download page. The latest official version is 5.0, and it’s quite stable on most PCs with discrete graphics cards (some integrated graphics can run it, but you’ll have to try it out to see). All versions support the vast majority of Wii and GameCube games, though newer versions fix a lot of bugs in older versions and run better on current hardware.
How to Get GameCube and Wii Games Legally
Emulators are commonly used to pirate games, but they can be used without downloading ROMs, too—and in the case of Dolphin, you can rip your own games to your PC using a Wii. The process is a little complicated, and involves installing the Homebrew channel on your Wii. This is worth doing anyway, as it lets you turn your old console into a DVD player, run emulators, and install games to a hard drive. In the case of emulation, homebrewing allows you to install games to a hard drive, which can be then be connected to a computer to be used with Dolphin.
To go this route, first homebrew your Wii, and install USB Loader GX. These can both be long processes, and may differ depending on what system version you have. After that, you can use USB Loader GX to rip your game disks to an external hard drive. Each game can take up to an hour to rip, and can be anywhere from 1GB to 5GB, though double-layer disks like Super Smash Bros: Brawl can be 8GB in size. Even still, a 1TB external drive can store over 300 games.
It is worth pointing out that some DVD drives can actually rip Wii and GameCube games without the need for a Wii, though it only applies to a few specific drives.
Getting the Best Performance Out of Dolphin
As an emulator, running Dolphin on a PC will give take a performance hit versus the original GameCube and Wii hardware. But the good news is that those consoles are now so old, and new computer hardware is so powerful, that games can generally be run at full speed without issue. If you’re using an older or cheaper PC, you might only be able to play games at their original 480p resolution, but gaming PCs should be able to render GameCube and Wii games at 60 frames per second at 1080p, or even 4K—and they look fantastic.
Before you begin a game, you’ll want to click the “Graphics” button on the main menu. There are four tabs here full of options:
- General: here’s where you select your adapter (graphics card), your main resolution and aspect ratio (use whatever’s default for your monitor), and a few other tweaks. The Aspect ratio is particularly important: most GameCube games default to 4:3 (for “square” TVs), but some Wii games can display natively in widescreen 16:9. You may need to switch between them for the best results. Enable the “Use Fullscreen” option to show the games like a television, and disable V-Sync if you’re seeing slowdown.
- Enhancements: this tab lets you add some cool extra effects, if your computer is powerful enough. If your computer doesn’t have a discrete graphics card, you’ll want to set the Internal Resolution setting to either “Auto” or “Native.” If you have a more powerful graphics card, you can try 2x or even 4x for sharper, clearer graphics. Anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering will help with “jaggies,” visible edges of 3D models, and the levels at which they’ll affect graphics performance go up as the variables increase. Click “disable fog” if you’re having trouble seeing in-game objects at long distances. Sterescopy is only necessary for users with 3D monitors.
- Hacks: this tab is mostly for adjusting settings based on performance for individual games. You’ll use it if a specific game is having trouble—the Dolphin Wiki can instruct you on the necessary settings. Most games won’t need them.
- Advanced: this tab has a few more options for advanced uses. The “crop” and “Borderless fullscreen” options are probably the only ones most users will want to try, but “Show statistics” is useful if you’re looking to benchmark your system or diagnose a problem.
Once you’ve figured out the right settings for your game, it’s time to get playing.
Connecting a Controller
One of the benefits of Dolphin is that you can play with any controller you like, including controllers from other consoles and third-party gamepads. If you don’t have a controller, you can use the keyboard and mouse, which is fine for GameCube games but isn’t that great for Wii games.
If you have a Wii controller, you can connect it over Bluetooth. The same goes for Xbox One controllers. GameCube controllers require a USB adapter like this one, and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 controller can connect over USB or with a wireless adapter. If you have any other Xinput controllers, you can use them too
Once you’ve connected a controller, open Dolphin’s “Controllers” panel. You can see here which controllers are connected.
If you’d like to connect a real Wii controller, choose “Real Wiimote”, hold down 1 and 2 on your controller, and click “Refresh” under “Real Wiimotes” until you see your controller. You can connect up to 4 Wii remotes to Dolphin.
You can also edit the controls very easily. Click on one of the buttons in the menu and press the button on the controller that you want to use. Once you’re all set, you’re ready to start playing!