I’ve recently found myself hooked on watching the Classic World Tetris Championships on YouTube. Here’s the CTWC 2016 Final between Jonas and Jeff. It’s completely mesmerizing, and it’s amazing to me that anyone can play Tetris consistently at that level.
The Championship is played on an NES, and it inspired me to dust off my old consoles and bust out a copy of Tetris. Sure, I could run it in OpenEMU, which is a fantastic piece of software, but there’s something to be said about running on a real console. The problem that I found though was two of my NES consoles didn’t want to boot (yay red blinky light) with either of the copies of Tetris that I have. I did finally manage to get one to boot on my Retro Duo, but it got me thinking that I wanted something better than to have to keep cleaning out all of my old cartridges.
One solution would have been to just break down and buy one of those bootleg multicarts that you see all over Amazon and Ebay. At least I wouldn’t have to keep switching out the cartridge every time I wanted to play another game. The problem from what I’ve read though is that many of them are of dubious quality, and ethically they seem even more dubious. I suppose I could also have bought one of the new NES Classic Editions, but they don’t even come with Tetris!
Instead, I opted for the Everdrive N8, which is essentially a Nintendo cartridge with an SD card reader on it that can play ROMs directly off of an SD card. It also adds some neat features like being able to save your games, and allows you to use Game Genie cheats. It’s essentially like OpenEMU except that you get to play on real hardware. Pretty slick!
Getting the Everdrive N8 to work was, admittedly, a bit of a challenge. The first problem is that it doesn’t ship with any kind of instructions. You need to prepare an SD card (one between 4GB and 32GB apparently. I had an extra 8GB SD card lying around), and it has to be formatted with FAT/FAT16/FAT32 with a copy of the Everdrive N8 OS unpacked on it.
For whatever reason the SD card reader on my ancient Macbook Pro didn’t initially want to let me write to the card. It turns out you need to set the silly plastic lock about halfway between locked and unlocked positions (!) in order to get diskutil to work correctly. I managed to repartition and format the SD card after a few dozen attempts, and found v16 of the NesOS on the Interwebs. My first attempt at loading the N8 on the Retro Duo ended up with some strange behaviour with it ultimately hanging on a screen saying “OS init”, but after reformatting the SD card yet again everything worked.
Using the N8 is pretty straight forward, but the various buttons used for selecting things is counter intuitive. Once you do select a ROM, load times with my SD card were blisteringly fast. It really only takes a half second or so for a game to load up. NES and Famicom ROMs are pretty tiny, so my 8GB SD card can easily hold my entire collection of games, plus probably every game ever created for the NES ever. I tried out about a dozen or so and all of them loaded without any issues. That’s pretty amazing given the flakiness that the NES can have with dirty cartridge contacts.
So why use the N8 over the new NES Classic Edition? Well, if you can manage to get a Classic Edition, it suffers from some real problems. The controller cables are short and you’re locked into the 30 pack-in games. The most egregious thing for me though is that it runs an emulator instead of running the ROMs on real hardware. For that, you either need one of those janky knockoff multi-carts, or something slick like the Everdrive N8.