Like any other game console developer, Nintendo is not in favor of emulators. But unlike other game console developers, it actually uses emulators for its own benefit. The NES/SNES Classic, for example, is practically a Linux SBC running an emulator and the Nintendo Switch even had one as a tribute to the late Satoru Iwata. Apparently, this love-hate relationship extends way back to the early 2000s, when it used a NES emulator in the GameCube Animal Crossing which, it turns out, is an emulator that can actually load and run NES ROMs just like any normal NES emulator.
OK, it’s not really a secret because how else would a GameCube game be able to play NES games inside the game (gameception!). Animal Crossing, however, had a fixed number of NES games you could play, like Excitebike and Golf. The game, however, also had a rare unmarked NES Console that didn’t do anything. It turns out, it just couldn’t find the right games.
Security researcher James Chambers discovered that the Animal Crossing NES emulator was actually looking for ROMs stored on the GameCube’s memory card. Not just any ROM, mind, but specially formatted ROMs that the emulator would recognize. Being a hacker, it didn’t take too long before he cracked the code and mixed it up with normal NES ROMs to allow Animal Crossing (running on an emulator) to load up any NES game.
Of course, it’s a rather convoluted way to run a NES ROM these days but what’s more interesting is what Nintendo may have actually planned nearly 20 years ago. The NES emulator in Animal Crossing itself was left untouched and only the ROMs have been modified, which hints that Nintendo may have intended on making that a feature of the game. Of course, given the company’s stance on emulation, it was obviously shot down, so we’re left wondering “what if”.