Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Snes8x Super Nintendo emulator for Windows Phone review

Windows Phone platform has a surprising number of working emulators. The first released was vNES, an emulator for the Nintendo Entertainment System also known as the Famicom in Japan, a relatively old console and hence easy to emulate. There are also emulators for the Sega MasterSystem, Sega GameGear and Nintendo Game Boy Color. For a walled garden platform, Microsoft has been surprisingly lenient when it comes to allowing such apps on their Marketplace. Perhaps this is Microsoft's way of compensating and apologising for the severe lack of Windows Phone Xbox Live games...
Chrono Trigger, still one of the best Japanese RPGs
One of the newer and perhaps more impressive emulator on the platform is Snes8x, an emulator for old time gamers who wishes to relive their favourite childhood SNES games, many of which rivals even modern gaming. What is a SNES? Well any self respecting gamer will know about the SNES, Nintendo's second home console. The Super Nintendo is known to have created a whole new generation of gamers - in fact its influence can be felt up to now. Many of today's famous franchises such as The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Final Fantasy and Street Fighter flourished on it. It isn't a surprise that the SNES became the dominant 16-bit home console to own in the early to mid 1990s.
RPGs like Final Fantasy VI plays well on a touchscreen display
Snes8x code is based on Snes9x, a popular free SNES emulator that works on a variety of platforms including Android and Windows. For a freeware app, Snes8x features a high list of features including options of import and export both game and save states via SkyDrive and portrait/landscape mode. The app also supports full screen mode, but this stretches the game to fill the display, ruining the aspect ratio. ROMs have to be uploaded to a SkyDrive account, of which every Windows Phone users will have one anyway, before being downloaded via the Snes8x import utility app. Update: with the latest version, Snes8x now allows you to import ROM files via e-mail attachments or direct download from a webpage - awesome! It's a painless process. Individual games can even be pinned onto the start screen.
Expect hassles with button mashers like Street Fighter II
Every single ROM I've tried with worked amazingly well. There were no frame rate dropouts or sound issues. It was smooth. I am sure there are some games which will give the Snes8x a good workout, particularly those games which cartridges required special chips such as additional supplemental chips or DSPs, but games like Final Fantasy IV, VI, Dragon Quest and Super Mario will run just fine. Big kudos to the developer m.k for getting it right.
Twenty years on A Link to the Past is still one of the best Zelda games. Onwards!
Perhaps the biggest issue with such emulators is you can't emulate real buttons on touchscreen displays. Certain genres such as RPGs will work better than others, but games that require fast reflexes like F-Zero and Super Mario Kart will no doubt be difficult. Even side scrolling action games like Super Castlevania and Super Metroid are just too cumbersome to control comfortably using a touchscreen. Games that utilises the L/R shoulder trigger buttons regularly are even worse, making them almost impossible to play.
Mother / EarthBound
Perhaps one day support for bluetooth controllers will arrive or at least the ability to button map to the volume and camera shutter keys (both are excellently placed to double as shoulder trigger buttons), though I suspect this will require hardware or API support from Microsoft first. It is difficult to complain about any issues with Snes8x when the problem is the hardware itself, not the app. But the best news of all, Snes8x is free, so legality questions aside, there really isn't any excuse not to go get it. Now we only need some enterprising developers to port a N64 and FPSE PlayStation emulator and we are set to go.

Tested on the HTC 8X and the Nokia Lumia 920.

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