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Dolphin gains access to Wii Shop Channel in major emulator breakthrough

Why it matters to you

Emulators aren't just for game pirates -- some consider them an important tool for video game archivists hoping to preserve history. The Dolphin emulator's access to the Wii Shop Channel is a big step forward.

A new update for popular Nintendo Wii and GameCube emulator Dolphin has added the ability to access Nintendo’s Wii Shop Channel through the emulator.

The latest version can now access the official Wii Shop Channel to buy, download, and even update digital games directly from Nintendo. The update is an unprecedented step forward for game emulation. There are usually complex reasons why unofficial emulators can’t access official digital storefronts, including the obvious one — that gaming hardware makers want you to buy their systems and not use emulators.

More: Dolphin emulator now supports every single Gamecube game

Emulators are software that replicate — or “emulate” — gaming hardware and operating systems on other systems. Dolphin allows users to play Nintendo Wii and GameCube games on PC. It’s a legal gray area that’s frowned on by big companies like Nintendo, but the emulation community remains enthusiastic, especially among retro gaming enthusiasts and fans of specific, lapsed consoles.

Developer JMC47 detailed the update in the video above. There’s some down and dirty jargon in there, but the gist of it comes around the 2-minute mark. “The biggest breakthrough [in the latest update] has to be support of Nintendo’s Wii Shop Channel,” the developer said. Savvy Dolphin users can even use the NAND (built-in memory) from their actual, physical Wii consoles to re-download games in Dolphin that they’ve already purchased.

“Getting to the point where we could go shopping on Dolphin was a long and tumultuous one,” JMC47 wrote in a blog post. “We couldn’t even connect to the update servers a few weeks ago, and had little idea why.”

“Despite all of the fixes, this is not quite perfect yet: updates can sometimes hang, certain channels aren’t playing nice, and deleting channels doesn’t go quite right yet,” the developer continued. “In the meantime, we hope that everyone enjoys this new feature as we march toward flawless System Menu emulation!”