Adorable, hackable NES and Super NES Classic
October 10, 2017 12:36 PM   Subscribe

If you're stymied by the limited number of games on the NES Classic and Super NES Classic (both prior posts), the hacker community has your back. For the original NES Classic, it’s not as simple as drag-and-drop, but no screwdriver or hardware mods needed to load ROMs of almost any of the official NES catalog, and Super NES Classic hack is similar, plus you can load custom backgrounds and tweak the "scanline" feature via telnet operations. But because of more custom chips and other irregularities, to play all your SNES backups, you will have to increase the versatility of the SNES model by loading a different emulator, like RetroArch. And yes, these run on Linux builds that you can download for free, and as such, you can load your own (custom) distro.

This all requires that you can get your hands on either the discontinued NES Classic or the hard-to-get Super NES Classic. If that's not realistic, or you're upset that you're paying for Linux in a pretty case, or you're not as interested in hacking an existing system when you could build your own, here's an extensive write-up on how to build a Raspberry Pi 3-based emulator with RetroPie.

If you want to see inside a NES Classic without having to track one down, JerryRigEverything has a teardown video for you, and he has a new teardown of the Super NES Classic. Spoiler: on the inside, the two systems are exactly the same, at least in regards to the core hardware.
posted by filthy light thief (41 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I did a RetroPie setup with a Pi 3 last year and was shocked it was up and running on the first attempt.

It's not perfect but it's a lot of fun. One recommendation is to not cheap out on the controllers - I got a really cheap set of SNES-style gamepads and they feel a little mushy.
posted by thecjm at 12:45 PM on October 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

Hey, what do you know! A device with an open-source OS running an emulator can be attacked by methods that amount to "normal use of the underlying OS."

Yes, (essentially) running a local boot server and repacking the kernel might be fiddly, but if there's instructions at the 24-hour mark, then I am confident that there'll be a shabby GUI in another day, and a slick tool in under a week.

Surprise, no-one-but-Nintendo!
posted by wenestvedt at 12:46 PM on October 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

This will end up being Nintendo's retroactive justification for artificial scarcity and cessation of production.
posted by kewb at 12:54 PM on October 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Has anyone ripped the final StarFox 2 ROM out of the SNES Classic?

I mean, not like I expect it to fall off a truck or anything. And if it did, I certainly wouldn't take it, because that would be wrong. Of course.

*nervous, shifty eyes*
posted by SansPoint at 12:57 PM on October 10, 2017 [8 favorites]

This will end up being Nintendo's retroactive justification for artificial scarcity and cessation of production.

Yeah, but they've been actively fighting against selling the (retro) thing their customers want for about 2 decades now, so in that case what's new?

(I say this as someone who hasn't owned a non-Nintendo console since the PS2; I love Nintendo, but they've got some weird-ass block around NES / SNES games. Their handling of the various Virtual Console iterations has been an exercise in actively refusing oodles of cash because getting it would somehow not fit how they imagine people should use it)
posted by tocts at 12:58 PM on October 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

This all requires that you can get your hands on either the discontinued NES Classic or the hard-to-get Super NES Classic

If you're looking for an NES Classic, hit me up on MeMail. I'm selling mine and it's pre-modded with about 1,000 NES games. I didn't have any luck posting on Craigslist (maybe people are scared that it's hacked - that's a bonus, folks!).

I absolutely love it, I'm just not a collector and don't see a compelling reason to own both the NES Classic and SNES Classic. Especially when the SNES classic can load NES games and accepts NES controllers.
posted by naju at 1:04 PM on October 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Has anyone ripped the final StarFox 2 ROM out of the SNES Classic?

I thought I read that Nintendo just grabbed the weirdo half-finished ROM that fans have improved, and then shipped that?

(But anyway: just set up RetroPie and buy a cool 3D-printed case off the Internet.)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:12 PM on October 10, 2017

I was lucky enough to snag a unit on release morning. I really enjoy the device and that SNES feel is spot on. Twenty one mostly amazing titles, two fairly authentic controllers, usb/hdmi, 4 save states/demo mode per title. It's a good deal, if you are in the mood for some classic gaming.

As far as modding goes, the SNES has a fairly legendary and expansive catalog that fan translators have been working for decades to adapt. Nintendo opened up their vault to include a pretty swell Star Fox 2. But the enterprising can look forward to Secret of Mana 2, Treasure of Rudras, Marvelous, Detective Club, Front Mission, Live A Live, Hourai High, Final Fantasy V, Clock Tower, Fire Emblems, and dozens of others.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 1:13 PM on October 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm not 100% clear on this but it sounds like there are two levels of modding I can do to my SNES Classic? One is just dumping games that already work with the existing emulator, and the second is replacing that emulator with a more robust one...?

1. The SNES just has tons of unused storage space?
2. Does the GUI otherwise remain the same? Boxart too?
3. Will all the existing features (rewinding, save states) work?
4. Do I need to replace the emulator to load NES games, or will the existing one work?
posted by danny the boy at 1:27 PM on October 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I was unable to get a NES classic, but I was in Yodobashi Camera in Tokyo last weekend and somehow managed to arrive at the videogame section just as they started opening boxes of Super Famicon minis... so I did manage to get one of these. I had assumed it would be impossible / too difficult but when it was _right there_....

I may end up adding more games or something at some point, but it basically has the highlights already IMO.
posted by thefoxgod at 1:33 PM on October 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I take it someone already tried to find some IO port on the board that could be used to read games from a cartridge with an off-market cartridge slot, right? Because while understanding that yeah, it would hike the production cost a lot, it's something that would be more of interest to hardcore fans (who likely already have a HDMI-modded SNES), it's something that could be an incredible project.
posted by lmfsilva at 1:52 PM on October 10, 2017

The Starfox 2 ROM in the SNES Mini is not the same as the beta that's been floating about. There's at least one article out there about the differences, I seem to remember. Ah! Here's side-by-side video, at the very least the title screen is different.
posted by JHarris at 1:56 PM on October 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was unable to get an NES classic, so I got a real NES and a Everdrive instead. Much better way to go, if you ask me.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:57 PM on October 10, 2017

danny the boy, if you stick with the stock software on the thing then you'll be limited to SNES games, but if you repace it with RetroPie then the world opens up before you, I believe.
posted by JHarris at 1:58 PM on October 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

@danny the boy

1. 300 MB, the latest version of Hakchi works some magic to free up more space. That SAID, you can't fill all the space with games, there still needs to be free space for the SNES mini extra features like save-states and rewind.

2. Almost? Any ROM you load you can attach boxart to so it "looks" official. Hakchi also lets you add subfolders if you want to, which are not a feature of the default kernel because it only has 21 games.

3. Anything not using Retroarch gets the existing features.

4. To load anything that isn't SNES OR is a known game with problems, you'll need to add Retroarch. When using Retroarch, you lose all the neat little extra features of the default kernel (rewind, borders).

You only need to add Retroarch if you want to play non-SNES games OR play an SNES game that has problems.

A list of games that have problems with the default kernel (slowdown/missing music/audio distortion) or simply don't work (crash at startup) is here.
posted by Snuffman at 1:59 PM on October 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

wenestvedt: Hey, what do you know! A device with an open-source OS running an emulator can be attacked by methods that amount to "normal use of the underlying OS."

Related: How Nintendo may be encouraging Switch hacking by trying to stop it -- Fans look to hackers for save backup feature that Nintendo blocked to thwart hackers.
More than six months after the Switch's launch, Nintendo still shows no public interest in giving players the ability to externally back up save files on the popular Switch console. "I can’t say there’s a solution coming, but we do hear the message," Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told Kotaku in June, the last time the issue was addressed publicly (Nintendo has yet to respond to a request for comment from Ars Technica).

With no signs of help on the horizon from Nintendo itself, many Switch owners are publicly looking to console hackers to add a feature that Nintendo, ironically, seems to have blocked to help prevent such hacking from happening in the first place.
Who knew that blocking a feature that lots of people wanted would encourage closer investigations into the system? (To be fair, exportable [and then modified] savegames have been a route to software hacking, making it possible to modify systems without cracking open the case.)
posted by filthy light thief at 2:12 PM on October 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Okay, so as has been alluded here, there are really about four good options for having a complete nes/snes catalogue on a console in your living room (assuming that you don't have the tens of thousands of dollars to build a collection of original cartridges):

1. Retropie
2. Modded Wii
3. Original NES/SNES consoles with Everdrives
4. Modded NES/SNES classics

Option number one has the problem of not using official controllers (unless you count rebuilds and are willing to try and find a good one). Option number two kind of has that same problem except that the Wii classic controller is a Nintendo product and it is excellent. Options 3 and 4 are the most expensive, and they (maybe?) require two consoles rather than one to emulate the NES/SNES collection. Option 3 lets you use original hardware, which is cool (whereas option 4 is pretty much a wash with option 2 in terms of controllers, IMO).

Personally, I go with option 2 and am super happy and nothing that has happened recently has made me even think about switching.
posted by 256 at 2:16 PM on October 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

As 256 says, a modded Wii is an excellent way to play all kinds of classic systems, and can be done entirely through software, no need to open up the console at all.

What is amazing about their damaging drive to stamp out piracy by reducing features is that people copy Nintendo's games just to have more fun with them, hacking up wonderful things like versions of Mario Kart with custom tracks or the Project M mod of Smash Bros. Brawl. Embracing modding could potentially be a greatly positive thing for Nintendo, and allow them to strengthen its ability to halt piracy and online cheating by undercutting their motivations. Meanwhile, I have a set up that can play an ISO of just about any Wii or Gamecube disk, but I find I still prefer to have the actual disk.

P.S. Newest identified cliche to avoid in my own writing is "Here's the thing:"
posted by JHarris at 2:31 PM on October 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just want to give my girlfriend something for Christmas that allows her to play Donkey Kong Country. Why is Nintendo making this so hard? I want to give them my money!

Here's the thing, I don't want to have to go the emulatorz route, but DKC is Ms. shapes' favorite game, and I'm tired of waiting for them to get over their false scarcity bullshit. I'm probably just going to go the RPi3 route out of necessity (good to know about the value of a good-quality SNES controller, though).

P.S. I just realized I never say "here's the thing," so it's the newest identified cliche to add to my own writing. Did I do it right?
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:37 PM on October 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's worth pointing out that, even though you're replacing the default emulator with RetroArch, the super cute user interface still looks basically the same (see this video, for example).
posted by naju at 4:49 PM on October 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

As someone who has a modded Wii, I think that's a great option too - but be aware that Wii's native resolution is far below 1080p, the result is an unpleasant fuzziness that I'd rather leave behind... ymmv (I think there are various workarounds for this)
posted by naju at 5:01 PM on October 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

If I get this, I will almost certainly add to it the SNES games that I own physical cartridges of, and the games I own on Virtual Console. Legal nuances aside, I feel I'd be 100% morally in the clear to do so - the end result would be indistinguishable from having dumped the roms from my own cartridges anyway (heck, I'll even make sure to match the version number. And maybe figuring out how to transfer the roms from my Wii would be an interesting project.)
posted by NMcCoy at 5:09 PM on October 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hard Times gets it
posted by naju at 7:01 PM on October 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

A . . guy I know, uh, Joey Jo Jones, Jr.-Shabbadoo? Got a loaded SD image off ebay and a RasPi3, plugged it in, turned it on and played thousands of games. He, uh, said it was super easy and great. Be, uh, he said that to be sure and follow all In-ter-state commerce regulations and, like, laws and things.

Also the GameBoy classic has an ungodly, infinite library.

He said.
posted by petebest at 7:34 PM on October 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

The thing about limiting yourself to physical cartridges and VC-owned games is, that only goes so far. Huge swathes of both console's libraries will never be on Virtual Console, including every Rare game for either system that doesn't have the words "Donkey Kong Country" in the title. To get Rare Replay for (only some) of those, for many, means buying a console for a system one doesn't want, or at least having an expensive, useless disk for it.

If you have a used game store, you can get lots of NES and SNES era titles for not much money, except for the few that have become collectables or highly sought by other players. But then, what does that really do except reward used game stores and/or eBay sellers? (I am not generally opposed to used game stores, but still.) Many of the games from that era, the publishers aren't even in business any more.
posted by JHarris at 8:38 PM on October 10, 2017

I would love to know which SNES clone USB game pad y’all recommend.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:25 PM on October 10, 2017

Polygon has been enthusiastically praising 8bitdo's SNES-style controllers.
posted by naju at 10:41 PM on October 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

By the way, Nintendo announced a while ago that they'll be resuming production of the NES mini. Considering the SNES mini has the same innards, it's not very surprising.

What's surprising is that my proficiency with the D pad has fallen precipitously. Super Mario World with a proper SNES pad is still nothing sort of fantastic though.
posted by ersatz at 12:40 AM on October 11, 2017

I managed to get both and I'd love to do this, but I'm afraid of bricking them.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 6:54 AM on October 11, 2017

Yeah, I like my 8bitdo n30pro, but it is a little small and there were some annoying bluetooth issues that caused Playstation games to crash in retropie. They have a new one coming out that looks like maybe the best of all worlds - the sn30pro. Proper d-pad and buttons with analog sticks hanging down there for the later generations that can use them. But, and importantly, snes-pad sized, not cellphone sized. It's a subtle difference, I'll admit.

And it looks like they have some emulator-specific feature buttons, which are otherwise sort of annoying-to-remember chords in retropie.

I mean, the downside is they also have a premium price, so if the hope was to get away with spending < $20 on controllers....
posted by Kyol at 7:01 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing: the thing is that Amazon took preorders back on August 22 and then, on release day, didn't fulfill those preorders, but instead sold that stock on their traveling treasure trucks around the USA. All of us who preordered from are still waiting for shipments and there is no estimated date for those. Amazon tried to auto-cancel my order this morning unless I logged into my account and clicked the button that said "Yes, I still want one of these." Very frustrating.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:59 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Aaaand as soon as the edit window expired, Amazon sent an e-mail projecting delivery next week.
posted by Servo5678 at 10:09 AM on October 11, 2017

BTW, if you find you're not as good at classic games as you once were, there are more issues involved than decaying reflexes and game memory. All flatscreen TVs introduce some amount of input lag into the game. This is different from response time, and reported less often by manufacturers. A lot of classic games test reaction speed pretty sharply, and even a single frame of introduced lag can cause you to play worse, especially at the king of reflex testing games: Punch-Out.
posted by JHarris at 11:25 AM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

For all of those recommending RetroPie, let me strongly recommend recalbox instead. Much simpler to set up, and "just works".
posted by namewithoutwords at 11:26 AM on October 11, 2017

modded Wii

My... good friend... Astrid Asterisk gave this a shot this afternoon, and found it pretty straightforward to set up, despite not being the techiest techer who ever teched.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:23 PM on October 11, 2017

petebest: "A . . guy I know, uh, Joey Jo Jones, Jr.-Shabbadoo? "

Simpsons pedantry: It's just "Joey Jo-Jo Junior Shabadoo."
posted by Chrysostom at 8:09 PM on October 11, 2017

BTW, if you find you're not as good at classic games as you once were, there are more issues involved than decaying reflexes and game memory. All flatscreen TVs introduce some amount of input lag into the game.

Thanks John, it's obvious now that the input lag is not letting me be all I could be ;) My game memory is still fine, but I still need some time to get used to moving around before the hardest worlds. The emulation and the pad are the best I've seen* though; I hadn't been able to use the cape properly since the original Super Mario World.

*Haven't tried Higan
posted by ersatz at 11:21 PM on October 11, 2017

The lack of input lag is turning out to be a major plus in SNES Classic's corner. For example. Not to be overlooked when thinking about bluetooth controllers and the like. Those corded SNES controllers the Classic ships with were a good choice over wireless, it seems, even though every reviewer mentioned how annoying they are (I'm not an electrical engineer, but I don't think the short cord makes much of a difference in input lag over a longer one).

I finally modded with the latest version of the hack today. The 300mb of available storage turns into about 224mb when you opt to set aside a partition for extra save space. 224mb can hold a decent amount of games, but actually not as many as you would want for a properly massive retro library. Figuring out what to include was an interesting challenge. I've narrowed my selections down to 150 SNES games (plus the 21 originally included), 200 NES games, and about a dozen Gameboy Advance games. I'd planned to include Genesis games as well, but there was simply no space - guess it's a pure Nintendo machine for me, which is just fine given the looks.

Last night I played some Magical Quest 3 starring Mickey and Donald. It was only released in Japan, but there's an English fan translation floating around. Super fun and best-of-console Capcom production values!
posted by naju at 1:42 PM on October 18, 2017

Here's the list of 174 SNES games I picked out to include in addition to the 21 originally included games. In case anyone is figuring out their own list and wants inspiration.
posted by naju at 3:09 PM on October 18, 2017

Is there a non-image version of the list for the Iltwitted?
posted by petebest at 2:52 PM on October 24, 2017

There isn't, and I'm not eager to type it all out manually or figure out the right terminal commands to print it out to a text file.
posted by naju at 3:47 PM on October 25, 2017

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