Super Nintendo (SNES) Emulation on Windows PC: ZSNES

Note from racketboy: �For those starting out in the world of classic gaming, emulation is one of the first places people start out in order to get their feet wet. While emulators may be a bit more work to set up and use than the original console, it lets curious gamers play around with the system without investing any financial resources. Our resident emulation enthusiast, Ivo has volunteered to share a series of emulation guides that will focus on helping new retro gamers get started on their emulation journey.�
SNES Emulator Guide for PC

This guide will teach you how to run Super Nintendo (SNES) games on your Windows PC. I’ve skipped through some of the very basics. If you want to get a more detailed example, check out the guide for Sega Genesis emulator, KEGA Fusion.

The Best Emulator for the Job

There are a couple of excellent SNES emulators for Windows — primarily ZSNES and snes9x. However, we are going to use ZSNES for this guide as I feel that is is the best Windows-specific emulator at this time.

  • ZSNES has the most accurate SNES emulation
  • ZSNES has superior filters
  • ZSNES crashes a bit less than SNES9x

Download The Emulator & Get Some ROMs

To obtain the latest version of the emulator, I would recommend browsing the ZSNES site, but you can also use this direct download link to get the emulator.
Often the place where you download the emulator from has some instructions on how to proceed from here, a FAQ section or a forum. If you are having trouble with anything, usually it�s a good place to try and get help. Someone on the forums here might be able to give you some specific help or know the answer to your questions.

It is useful to have some ROM to test it on. As usual, Google is the tool of choice – there are actually some public domain / freeware ROMs available. Using Google I found some of these in a website called Zophar’s Domain (don’t expect anything great). As far as commercial games/ROMs are concerned, you can rely on Google as well or use a dependable download source like Underground Gamer. (Just a reminder: a responsible retro gamer should only download ROMs of games he owns original copies of, or possibly a modern re-issue of the game.)

Install The Emulator & Run It

  • Once you have downloaded the emulator, extract the files into an appropriate folder on your PC.
  • Usually the file format is .zip or .rar
  • From the official site, ZSNES came in a .zip, so you probably just need to right click on the icon an extract it to wherever you want.
  • To run ZSNES, just double-click the main EXE file (on of the files you extracted) to launch the program.
  • ZSNES has a very particular look (which some like and some don’t)
  • As you can see below, to load your game of choice, go to the “Game” menu option and select “Load”

ZSNES load ROM

Exiting a Game

Once you are done trying out your first game/ROM, just hit the “ESC” key to return to the main menu

Configure Controller Schemes

If you simply run a game right after starting the emulator for the first time, you might not even know the proper controls since PC emulators typically default to some obscure keyboard combinations. You can usually figure out the default controls by reading a �readme.txt� (or equivalent) that comes with the emulator. However, if you want a more a console-like experience, lets set up the emulator to use a gamepad.

To get your emulator set up to your liking, just navigate into the controllers configuration panel:

  • On the �Config� menu, select �Input� (screenshot)
  • The program will then bring up the �Input Device� box
  • You will see tabs on the box for up to five controllers/input devices.
  • Select the tab for the controller number you want to set up and select the device (typcially the name of the gamepad) you want to use.
  • Hit the �Set Keys� button to the right to map the Super Nintendo controls to your particular PC gamepad.
  • As you can see below, ZSNES will pop up a little box asking you to press a button on the gamepad to identify which button you want to correspond to a certain command.

ZSNES controls

Configuring Graphics/Video Options

If you are picky about your window size and video output, you can also tweak your graphics options. ZSNES is very rich when it comes to display options and configuration.

To get to the Video Configuation screen, just hit the “Config” menu and select “Video”

As you can see below, SNES gives you a good amount of filters to choose from:

ZSNES filters

You can load your test ROM and use it to check out the effect of these filters.

Here is a quick comparison (although in .jpg it should give you an idea – try them out for yourself though!). From left to right we have unfiltered, interpolation, 2xSAI engine, Super 2xSAI, Super Eagle and HQ filter (I think this is the best one, but probably the most demanding in terms of processing).

Filter comparison

Saving & Restoring Game States

There are also more advanced features that you may or may not care about. Saving and loading at any time is a very important and versatile feature on a emulator, and ZSNES doesn�t fall short. Saving states can save you time (e.g. saving just after a lengthy intro you can�t skip), lets you stop playing at any time to resume later, or can help you �cheat� through a particularly difficult part of a game.

It works much like it does in other emulators; select the state you want to save to, or load from:

ZSNES pick state

And select the appropriate option from the “File” menu (the same you used to load the ROM):

ZSNES load and save

There are a bunch of other options to tinker around with ZSNES, which I personally don’t use that much (if at all), and don’t see the average user spending time with them either.

Another note from racketboy:
�I want to thank Ivo again for his hard work in creating these emulation tutorials. If you have any questions, comments ,corrections, or even have some additional tips or tricks to add, please post in the comments below, or head to the emulation section of the forums.�

29 Comments

  1. gord says:

    is this using an old pre-1.50 version of zsnes? the newer versions have a nifty ntsc filter for people in the us who like the old school look, if its the sdl zsnes version you have to use a non-gl video mode iirc

  2. Ivo says:

    gord:
    This version I used is 1.51; I’m not 100% sure what you mean with “ntsc filter”, because I’m from Europe myself (PAL) – the only other options existing for the filters is “scanlines”, which gives the interlaced look. There are several resolution options in the “Video modes” menu I didn’t cover, some of them have NTSC proportions – I personally use 800×600 which is equivalent to PAL’s 4×3 ratio.

  3. bonefish says:

    Snes 9x can be nice for laptops when on the go because it doesn’t keep the cpu cranked.

  4. racketboy says:

    We’ll probably do a SNES9x guide sometime down the line…

  5. raist66676 says:

    I like the “kitchensync” pal option in zsnes (see docs) – switches automatically from 60 Hz Vsync mode (smooth gameplay for us games) to 100 Hz Vsync mode (smoothest possible gameplay for european games). Remember US games give you smoothest possible gameplay when used with 60 Hz screenmode and vsync on – you get perfect scrolling! European games are a bit worse since modern screens don’t support 50 Hz.

  6. Alex says:

    I still don’t get it.

    ;)

  7. Alex says:

    Ok so this one isn’t a joke: I’d like to know how to play multiplayer via the internet?

  8. WC says:

    No joke either, I can’t get my propad gamepad to work on ZSNES. It works fine on JNES. Any suggestions? Already calibrated twice.

  9. Ivo says:

    Alex: I’m thinking of doing a netplay test and tutorial when I have some time and someone to test with; ZSNES latest version has netplay disabled however so I might do it with another emulator.

    WC: I never had trouble with my pads on ZSNES, but obviously I can’t test hardware I don’t have. A suggestion: configure some keyboard commands, and use software external to ZSNES to remap those keys to your gamepad – the some pads come with such software. If that doesn’t help let us know.

  10. Andrew says:

    Hey guys, when I try to load a game to the znes emulator, the whole znes screen GOES BLACK and freezes! WTF? I think this is a common problem, PLEASE HELP!

  11. Josh says:

    Does anyone know all the controls for the visual boy advanced???

  12. Tito says:

    If your screen goes blank after a run-ROM attempt, could be a number of things…first thing i look for is if the rom is decompressed, next, you might have a bad rom..meaning its flawed and it wont run properly, finally, you might have a rom with an extension the zsnes simply doesn’t recognize. if i missed anything, someone please follow up on me. there ya go.

  13. steve says:

    i just recently downloaded znes yesterday afternoon. but i m having a hard time setting the keys i wanna use. the ones i prgram won t work. i use up….down…..left….right….enter for start…space for select and the other buttons are ….z…x…c…v…b…n. . only the start button will work. i can t get the others to work. anyone know how to fix that problem?

  14. Sal says:

    When I download the emulator why doesn’t the program show in the programs menu and when I check the open with function why is the emulator have an unknown icon next to it instead of the Super Nintendo emulator icon? Please help me to figure out why is problem is occurring? Please email me back. My email address is salblandino@gmail.com

  15. Jani says:

    cant get the HQ filter work, i have gf7600gt and nvidia 169xx drivers..
    Every time i check the HQ filter box ZSNES crashes..?
    Any solution?

  16. goom says:

    when i tried to change filter options, only these showed up:

    http://i5.photobucket.com/albums/y182/goombapatrol54/nofilters.jpg

    anybody have any idea?

  17. goom says:

    nevermind, i figured it out.

  18. How did you figured out? Could you write a solution?

  19. d3vkit says:

    For anyone wondering about that problem with the config not showing up properly, maximize the screen to fill your monitor. That’s how I got mine to display correctly.

  20. ClockworkBastard says:

    I tried to know a solution about an HQ filters :(

  21. Aaron says:

    WinDS3 will let you play wirelessly using PS3 cotrollers. Even for multiplayer. If you’re having trouble mapping the keys for your controller or keypad in ZSNES, get ZSNES version 1.42 instead of the new one.

    getting the older ZSNES version 1.42 will solve all your problems!!!!

  22. Ulysses says:

    And what do u think about bsnes?

  23. ClockworkBastard says:

    Oh my!.. It’s unbeleavebly stupid!!! – it don’t see roms in it’s initial file extension it need the to be renamed how it like it to be, unchanging anythiang – the files are exact.!

    Then it have an unnatural F11 key to go to fullscreen – I had to read FAQ to bet things done! – and in fullscreen it doesn’t have any controls so I had to get back to the window…

    So. When someone make an app – he should think about a usability of it. I DONT want to test of emulation accuracy cuz it’s just unusable.
    As brenda said “megusta”about ZSNES .. I’ll say about bsnes – мне не понравилось

  24. racketboy says:

    Ulysses, I haven’t tried it. If I find one I like, I don’t typically change.

  25. Classicgamer says:

    Bsnes is now the top snes emulator achieving perfect emulation of all snes hardware, game and special chips. Truely an epic piece of software!

  26. sapo says:

    god

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