There's no shortage of options when it comes to playing SNES games on a PC, but programmer Byuu's extensive work on bsnes throughout the years has ensured that it remains by far the most cycle accurate Super Nintendo emulator ever developed.
While not as user friendly or CPU-light as other offerings, it remains an impressive achievement since it boasts 100% compatibility with every commercial Super Nintendo game ever released. But even Byuu was not expecting what his incredible package could pull off when pushed beyond the limits of the humble Super Nintendo.
Enter DerKoun, who a few weeks ago presented a bsnes modification over Reddit, one that permitted upscaling of the 2D surfaces being handled in Mode 7. The original Super Nintendo hardware allowed for a single background surface to be stretched and rotated, allowing for clever tricks like the futuristic tracks we zipped around in F-Zero, the training areas we flew through in Pilotwings and the rotating stages, giant chandeliers and giant Stone Golem boss in Super Castlevania IV (which is, in fact, a background and not sprite).
These transformations used the SNES' built-in specs to fake perspective, and more often than not made quite a blurry mess of the 'far away' bits of the scenery. What if you could use the power of your current device to apply further precise calculations? What if you could upscale the default grid? The end results are nothing short of astonishing.
Byuu was so impressed that he has already stated HD Mode 7 will be implemented within the next stable release of bsnes. The latest beta of the emulator is already capable of this, even allowing further upscaling of Mode 7 surfaces up to 4K and switching HD upscaling resolutions on the fly. Do note that using the emulator even on a powerful PC, those higher resolutions cause the frames-per-second counter to dip well below 15, so don't expect this to be (at least for now) practical beyond Full HD resolutions.
DerKoun was, however, not done with the concept of having a modern take on Super Nintendo emulation and has since continued to develop his own bsnes emulator fork to allow 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio Mode 7 support. Of course, no Super Nintendo game was ever developed supporting this, so for now the only bits of the game that properly stretch beyond their 4:3 original confinements are the Mode 7 backgrounds. However, with some game-specific hacks it is theoretically possible to extend further elements of the screen, like sprites and user interfaces, beyond their original constraints. Byuu is naturally not very keen to implement this extra feature into the bsnes main branch since it is a far too distant deviation from the project's main purpose, but it's hard to deny the amazing possibilities this opens up.
So there you have it, this unexpected (and very literal) twist on Super Nintendo emulation has taken retro gamers' hearts and minds by storm. You can see several examples of this modification in action on this playlist. Other authors are tinkering away at their own emulation offerings in order to implement similar functionalities to other systems like Sega Saturn and Game Boy Advance. It looks like there is a bright, highly-defined new future for retro gaming enthusiasts everywhere.
What do you make of this new achievement in SNES emulation? Give your HD toughs in the comment section below.