Perfect accuracy is an extremely ambitious goal for any console emulator to aim for, and it’s one that many emulators never come close to. However, the team behind the open source Dolphin emulator took a big step closer to achieving that goal last week, releasing a new version that allows games to be legitimately purchased and downloaded from the Wii Shop Channel.
Accessing Nintendo’s Shop Channel servers from the PC-based emulator isn’t exactly a plug-and-play affair. For starters, you’ll need to use some homemade software on a real Wii to dump the contents of the system’s NAND memory. From there, you’ll need to use some special software tools to extract the certificates and keys Nintendo uses when validating connections to its online servers.
With all that in place, Dolphin version 5.0-2874 can now connect to the Wii Shop Channel servers to download WiiWare and Virtual Console games. The emulator even allows you to redownload games previously purchased on the original Wii itself and allows you to enter a valid credit card to purchase new games. (This is why people use emulators, right?)
While Dolphin users can now access Nintendo’s Shop Channel servers, the emulator clearly can’t connect to the online gameplay servers that Nintendo unceremoniously shut down three years ago. Efforts are still being made to set up custom servers and workarounds that serve games like Mario Kart Wii and Super Smash Bros. brawl still play online.
The new store channel access comes on top of years of previous work to turn Dolphin, which started as a GameCube emulator, into a full-featured Wii emulator. That effort has led to a maniacal quest for accuracy in the high-level emulation of the IOS core housed on the Wii’s ARM coprocessor, as well as the interprocessor communication protocol that allows the Wii’s chips to work together seamlessly.
That high-level emulation has allowed Dolphin to recreate many very low-level features found on the actual Wii hardware. The emulator can now download the required system update files directly from the Nintendo servers, copy games to and from a virtual SD card, and even install channels and content from games such as Wii Fit and Dragon Quest X (which encode data using a proprietary and little-understood Wii file system). We can’t wait to see how much further the Dolphin team can go in perfectly mimicking the functionality of Nintendo’s most popular home console.