How to Play Retro Games on a Wii
Nintendo recently announced that it would be shutting down the Wii U eShop and, with it, the last place where fans could legally purchase retro games on any Nintendo system. Sure, you can subscribe to Nintendo Online to access a few dozen older games, but those could be gone anytime.
So it’s only natural for some Nintendo fans to take matters into their own hands, such as setting up a Raspberry Pi to run emulators. There is, however, a simpler option: the Nintendo Wii. (If all you have is a Wii U, its built-in Wii mode is basically a full Wii, and most of the information here applies to that as well.)
The Wii is readily available, compatible with thousands of games, and can be quickly hacked to run emulators for the NES, SNES, and even Nintendo 64. It may be the best way to play retro Nintendo titles, both that you know how to operate emulators.
How to Play Wii and GameCube Games Without Emulators
But before we get into the details, let’s talk about the easiest way to play retro titles on Wii. The Wii can, of course, run Wii games, which are solidly in the “classic” category at this point. In 2022, the console is 16 years old, the same age as the Super Nintendo when the Wii launched in 2006. Time flies.
Almost any Wii can also play GameCube games, provided you have a GameCube controller and a memory card. This gives you access to classic games such as Super Mario Sunshine, Luigi’s Mansion, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
It’s not an emulation, and you don’t need any mods: there’s basically an entire GameCube built into the Wii, meaning it can play those games natively. Now, there are benefits of playing Wii and GameCube games using an emulator on a modern and powerful PC. You can improve the graphics, for example, and save your game without using in-game save points. But there’s something satisfying about playing games on the hardware they were designed for, and with the Wii, you can do this for the complete catalog of the two classic 2000s systems.
Just note that the Wii U cannot play GameCube games from disc. Neither the Wii Family Edition, which doesn’t have sockets for GameCube controllers, nor the Wii Mini, which doesn’t have a disc drive at all. The quickest way to find out if your Wii can load GameCube games is to look for the controller jacks on the top of the device, they’re hidden under a flap.
Installing emulators is quick and (relatively) painless
OK, we’ve traveled back to 2001 when the GameCube was released, but we can go back further. At the time, Wii owners could purchase Virtual Console games, which meant you could purchase games originally released for the NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, and N64 systems.
These games are no longer for sale, but it’s fairly easy to get them thanks to the still-active Wii homebrew scene. It’s a community of people who have run all kinds of software on the Wii, including emulators for just about any system you can think of. Emulators, of course, only work if you have digital copies of the games (ROMs), and those are legally questionable if you don’t own the original game. Keep that in mind.
[Related: How to run Android apps and games on your computer]
The easiest way to get started is to go to Wii.guide and click on the start here link above. It’s the best guide on the internet at this point, and (most importantly) is kept up to date. But here’s a quick rundown of the LetterBomb hack, which is by far the most common way to set up homebrew and install an emulator on your Wii:
- Go to please.hackmii.com on your computer and enter your Wii’s MAC address, which you can find by opening the Wii Settings under the Internet > Console Information. You will end up with a ZIP file.
- Extract the ZIP file to an SD card.
- Put this SD card in your Wii. Open the Wii Message Board by clicking on the envelope in the lower right corner. You will see an envelope with a bomb icon. Click on this envelope. Note that if the date on your Wii is wrong, you may have trouble finding the bomb. If this happens, correct the date on your Wii in the settings.
- Follow the onscreen instructions to install Homebrew Channel and BootMii.
It’s a good idea to back up your Wii at this point – Wii.guide has excellent instructions. Once done, you can install emulators. Again, here’s a quick overview:
- Load the Homebrew Channel, just to make sure it’s working. Remove the SD card from your Wii and plug it into your computer.
- Download the Homebrew Browser to your computer. Extract the ZIP and copy the folder homebrew_browser to the /apps directory on your SD card, then unmount it.
- Plug the SD card into your Wii and load the Homewbrew Channel. You should see the Homebrew browser, which you can use to install the software.
Now you have everything you need to recover emulators. Here are a few you’ll want to grab from the Homebrew Channel:
- FCE Ultra GX for NES
- SNES 9x GX for SNES
- VBAGX for Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance
- Genesis Plus GX for Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Sega Master System and Sega Game Gear
- No64 for N64
- DOS box for old PC games (but be sure to plug in a USB keyboard or you won’t get far)
That’s a lot of retro gaming features packed into a system that you probably forgot about!
There are many controllers available
One good thing about the Wii is that all sorts of controllers work with it, which means you have plenty of options for playing classic games. Here is a brief summary:
- The Wii Classic controller works well for most games you can emulate and is fairly easy to find on the used market.
- The WiiMote works well enough for NES games – just hold it aside.
- GameCube controllers work with most emulators and are a great layout for the N64 in particular.
- The controllers that come with the NES and SNES Classic work on the Wii, just plug them into a WiiMote.
With all of these options, you should have a controller that works for just about any game you can load up, and most emulators make it easy to customize button mappings.
The Wii easily connects to CRT TVs
Old games simply look better on older cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions because they’re designed with those screens in mind. The Wii uses an easy-to-plug RGB connection to these TVs. It also supports 4:3 aspect ratio, which means you don’t need a widescreen TV to play games. This is crucial if you’re looking to fully recreate the retro experience.
Emulators are just the start
You can do so much more with the Wii if you’re willing to learn. There’s WiiMC, which is a media player that can also play DVDs. There are a variety of homebrew games. Enthusiasts have built replacements for old online services. And more advanced users can even configure their Wii to play saved Wii and Gamecube games from an external hard drive.
It’s remarkable how useful the Wii is all these years later, and I hope this guide will give you a starting point. If you have an old Wii or have access to one, dig it up. He has a lot of potential.