Play Original NES Nintendo Games on Mac with USB or iPhone Controller

by Matthew Rathbun on December 22, 2011


I Love Retro!

There is something that resonates in us when we’re able to remember a happy childhood memory.  I remember spending countless hours in front of that Nintendo Entertainment System.  I remember reading all of the Power magazines and talking stories and strategies at the lunch table with my friends at school.  So, when I found NES emulators a few years back, I couldn’t resist!  The best part of emulators is that you don’t need to blow into the cartridges, constantly reset the machine or buy games!  I love that I get to now share this with my daughters  and they seem to love the classics too!

Making It All Work

I have a USB Nintendo controller and I use my iPhone as a second controller.  Getting there was easy, once you know how.  There are a few things you’ll need.

The first is an emulator.   I’ve tried a bunch of them and my favorite is Nestopia.  There is a free and registered version.  Most people will only need the free version.  Nestopia is reliable, works on Macs and Windows machines.  Adding USB controllers and/or the iPhone was super-easy.

You’ll also need games once you’ve installed Nestopia.  Games are called “ROMS” and can be found on a myriad of sites.  www.FreeRoms.com is my favorite place to get game roms.  They have a nifty list of the most popular games and an easy navigation system.

USB Controllers

You can play the games using your keyboard, but I find it to be just a little sluggish.  I took a look around and bought a retro controller that I could connect via USB.  The device of choice for me is from Retrolinc.  You can find it on Amazon for about $10.

It’s just like using the original controller and is pretty solid.  You do need to download a free app to help called Emulator Enhancer.   The instructions to add the device onto a Mac is pretty easy, just do the following:

- Open your Hard Disk.
- Open the Library folder.
- Open the Application Support folder.
- Copy the Emulator Enhancer folder (included with this document) into that folder.
- If you double click on the Emulator Enhancer folder the only file within should be “Emulator Enhancer.bundle”.

Enter the iPhone Controller

After introducing my daughters to the NES emulator it became evident that finding my USB controller was a bit more challenging.  On a whim I decided that it would be cool if my iPhone was able to be a controller.  Here’s a surprise… There’s an app for that!

After a brief search in the app store I found JoyPad Elite. Joypad Elite is fantastic!  It’s currently $11.99 in the App Store, but well worth it.  It comes with some built in games and a ton of “skins”, which are graphic overlays that make the controller look like the original.  The controller can be setup to use with a variety of emulators, such as Super NES, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64 and Game Boy.

You’ll need to connect your iPhone to the Mac via Bluetooth of Wifi and then install the (free) JoyPad Connect software.  It’s in the Desktop Client section of the JoyPad website.

Tid Bits

I’ve used them exclusively on my Macbook Pro, but I understand that this works on PC’s too.  I can attest that Nestopia and USB controller working on a Windows 7 machine, but I haven’t tried the rest.

If you have questions about the legality of using ROMS and emulators you should research the legality and stipulations of using them, on your own.

I hope you enjoy playing these games as much as I do!  The top of my list is Mike Tyson Punchout, Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Brothers and Metroid.

What are your favorite retro games?

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Russell December 25, 2011 at 6:04 pm

I have a Macbook pro as well. My girlfriend bought me the Classic NES USB Controller for Christmas. I was pretty stoked, because now I can play the NES games of my youth, however I am having a bit of trouble finding a site to use the controller/play the games. I saw your post and wanted to inquire if I have to download that application and then the roms following your directions to do so… or if there is simply a site I can go to to play the games online? The reason I ask, is that I am leary about downloading anything off of sites I don't know anything about and am not very familiar with this type of stuff.

Reply

Matthew Rathbun January 2, 2012 at 5:48 am

Hi Russell,

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I have some bugs in my comment plugin…

The sites I've mentioned have been pretty solid. No junk, no viruses, etc.. They seem pretty safe. As for online play, I don't know of many. If you're using Google Chrome, there is a Mario Bros. HTML5 game that you can play online.

Reply

John C January 15, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Matthew,

Thank you, everything worked great. The ability to transform your iPhone into a controller is awesome! Hopefully one day we will see Super Mario in the app store, in the mean time Thank you for posting this article!

Reply

Luke May 9, 2012 at 6:06 pm

I'm going to try the iPhone controller but I'd really like to get my USB controllers working. I've downloaded the Emulator, put in the proper folder but still getting nothing. Do you have further detail on how to program the controllers? Thanks! I'm chomping at the bit to play some RBI Baseball, Castlevania, and beat Contra without dying!

Reply

Matthew Rathbun May 10, 2012 at 8:25 am

Hi Luke,

Sorry for the delay. I was trying to look through my files to find your answer. I don't remember having any problems, so I'm not sure that I can help troubleshoot. There are a number of settings in the NES emulator that I had to fidget with however. Make sure that you've told the emulator that you want to use the USB device and not the keyboard. Good Luck!

Reply

althonearth June 14, 2012 at 8:41 am

Hi Matthew,

I'm battling here, too.
I've literally done all imaginable.

When I open Nestopia preferences, it isn't picking my controller up.
Have you managed to find anything more about this out?

I'd loe to be able to play and almost wish I knew about the app prior to buying 2 controllers.

Thank you for your help!!

Reply

Matthew Rathbun June 14, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Sorry Althonearth,

I can't find help for when it doesn't work…. I wish I had an answer.

Reply

Christy January 13, 2013 at 9:09 am

Hi! You can download USB Overdrive to get your controllers recognized. Worked perfectly on my Mac.

Reply

Andrea Rosen April 16, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Hi! I had a hard time getting my usb controller to work with my PC when using nestopia. The Emulator Enhancer link in the article above only works on Mac and I couldn't find one for PC. Here is how to program your USB controller to work in nestopia: Go to options then input. in the nestopia program. At the bottom of the window you will see "Set All". Click on that and then you will have 5 seconds to set each button just by pressing on your controller.

Reply

Matthew Rathbun April 17, 2013 at 6:06 am

Awesome! Thanks for the update, Andrea.

Reply

Andrea Rosen May 9, 2013 at 5:11 pm

You're welcome! Also I have noticed that after not playing for a while sometimes the nestopia program loses the settings to the USB controller for some reason and I have to repeat the above steps. Once it wouldn't let me re-program the controller for some reason so I uninstalled and reinstalled nestopia and the program then allowed me to program the controller through the above steps. If you can't program your controller in the first place I would recommend uninstalling/reinstalling nestopia and follow the steps in my last post. Happy gaming!

Reply

Layana Cheliga June 16, 2013 at 12:35 pm

i am trying to use my iPhone but is not working proper and i don't know how to configure the controls

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