Why Switch emulation is a bit unique

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

Sean Hollister for The Verge: How Nintendo’s Destruction of Yuzu Is Rocking the Emulator World

Not only did hackers find an unprecedented vulnerability in the original Switch less than a year after release but also the emulator scene managed to develop software that plays Switch games better than the Switch itself within its own lifespan.

One of the great things about emulation is that it allows you to play games in a better way than you ever could on the original hardware. For example, the GameCube released in 2002 and maxed out at 480p with most games coming in under that max resolution. Today with emulation, you can play basically any GameCube game on a PC at 4K (or even 8K if you have a beefy PC) without any issues.

But that’s 22 year old hardware that hasn’t been on the market for 14 years. Typically, good emulation of game consoles doesn’t really kick into high gear until after that console is off the market. Part of this is that it takes time to reverse-engineer the emulator itself and another part is that emulation requires more hardware heft than running native code, so most people’s computers simply don’t have the power to effectively emulate for a while. Neither of those ended up being true for the Switch.

Based on what I’ve seen out there, you can very effectively emulate basically any Switch game with emulators that have been out there for years, and the Switch’s comparatively low specs mean you don’t need the most powerful PC in the world to do it. Hell, people have been hoping for Nintendo to release a “4K Switch” for years now, but if you’re using one of these emulators, you can play Switch games in 4K already. Not only that but gaming on a PC comes with a bunch of other tools that can add features that normal Switch games don’t have. NVIDIA and Microsoft offer auto HDR features that will convert SDR games to HDR and things like Reshade let you add things like screen space reflections/shadows to games that don’t use them by default. Oh, and a properly powerful PC can power through performance issues the normal Switch might experience, so games like Link’s Awakening that have large performance dips can actually run better on a PC through emulation.

So yeah, Switch emulation is a bit unusual in that it’s a reliable way to play games that are currently on the market, often better than the official way you’re supposed to play those games. I’m still not happy with the fact Nintendo goes hard at emulation groups like this, but I did want to point out how unusual a case Switch emulation is compared to most other console emulation out there.

Also, as far as I can tell, there’s no real way to emulate PS5 and Xbox Series games on PC today (emulators exist, but they seem not to be actually usable today).