The SNES Classic has been eagerly anticipated since it was announced. The preceding NES Classic was a runaway success and set the stage for any following retro game consoles. Limited availability hampered the NES but also made it extremely desirable. Has Nintendo learned their lesson and accounted for a high level of demand? Probably not, but don’t worry.
You can build your own version of the SNES Classic for much less than the $80 retail price. And the word “build” is used in the loosest sense. You can achieve all of the functionality of the SNES classic (and more) with a simple Android TV box and some USB controllers. It’s as simple as ordering some stuff from Amazon and plugging in a few cables.
The key here is emulator software written for the Android OS. An emulator is basically a virtual software version of a game console. It’s an app that acts like a SNES. The virtual console runs virtual game files called ROMs.
There are plenty of free SNES emulators available for Android and ROMs can be easily found for free. ROMs exist in a bit of an ethical grey area, they’re essentially copies of game cartridges that may or may not be covered by copyright that’s nearly 30 years old. If you want to feel better about the situation, only download ROMs for cartridges you own.
Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
Android TV Box
This is the key part in this whole equation, it’s essentially a tiny computer running a version of the Android phone OS. The box plugs directly into your TV and will run any app you download through the Google store. People typically use these to stream Netflix but in our case we’ll use it to run a SNES emulator.
There are many different varieties and versions of these boxes from different vendors but they’re all pretty much the same. They’re all made in China, come with a remote, have WiFi , and cost between $30 and $50. Make sure yours has two USB ports. Some have Bluetooth, some don’t. A lot of these fall out of stock quickly and a new one will take its place.
This is the magic in the whole setup, you can buy SNES controllers that come with a USB plug. And they work with Android! Plug them in and they work!
SNESDroid is a free SNES emulator and perfect for everything we need to do! Highly recommended. There are plenty of other emulators out there so choose your favorite.
Search Google for SNES ROMs and you’ll be all set. Wait until you actually have your device setup to start downloading.
Set Up Your SNES
First thing to do, plug in your box. Should be a simple setup, just power to the box and HDMI to your TV.
Protip for the next few steps, if you have a USB keyboard and mouse, plug them in now! The input through the remote keypad is a little slow, especially when dealing with the on screen keyboard.
The next few steps will be initializing the box. Each unit will be a little different but you’ll likely connect to your WiFi network and connect your Google account. Don’t try to skip this step, you’ll need to connect your account before accessing Google’s app store.
When everything is setup you can access the Google Play Store and download SNESDroid.
While the app is installing you can go ahead and find some ROMs. Again, a quick Google search should be all you need. Downloading the files on the box should be simple, the default directory will be fine and the emulator can play zipped files.
We’re almost there. Load up SNESDroid and go to the Options menu.
Disable “Show touch input.”
Next, go to “Configure Key Gamepad Input.”
You’ll need to select each button on the screen (A, B, Start, …) and then press the same button on your controller. There’s a chance each button is set correctly when you plug the controller in but probably not.
That’s it for setup, time to load your ROMs! Go to the “Load ROM” screen and navigate up a few levels to find your Android’s “Download” folder. Pick your game and play!
Overall the Android box was a little slower than I expected but still very functional for emulation. Much of the slowness was due to the poor android launcher and overall software bloat of the box. Next time around I would try to find a better performing unit.