Legendary SNES Emulator SNESTicle Freed Using NSA Tools

Published: January 13, 2022 9:27 AM /


A screenshot of Fight Night Round 2, which made use of a SNES emulator in the GameCube version.

Swedish programmer Johannes Holmberg has been tinkering with the 2005 Electronic Arts game Fight Night Round 2 in order to reverse-engineer the SNESticle, a SNES emulator and predecessor to the NESticle, from the game's code.

As explained in a Vice article, Holmberg was inspired to reverse-engineer the SENSticle from the game it was hidden in by another Vice article by the same author telling the story of the NESticle, the NES simulator that was a key player in breaking open the retro gaming scene. In that old article, author Ernie Smith ended with a kicker about a SNES version of the emulator that played Super Punch-Out!! that was an Easter egg in the GameCube boxing game Fight Night Round 2. Hearing about this, Holmberg spent nights and weekends over a few months reverse-engineering the game to isolate the emulator, created by then-EA employee Icer Addis, who also made the NESticle. To do this, he used the Ghidra, an open-source tool developed by the NSA's Research Directorate

A screenshot of Super Punch-Out!!, the game emulated on the original version of the SNESticle.
Super Punch-Out!!, the game emulated on the original version of the SNESticle.

The results of Holmberg's work, found as a Python script on GitHub and a website known as The SNESticle Liberation Project, allows users who own the GameCube version of Fight Night Round 2 to extract the SNES emulator and a SNES ROM of the user's choice. So far, most SNES games run on the SNESticle, but more testing needs to be done, and issues like a lack of two-player support do exist. It's clearly been outpaced by modern emulators, but the resurfacing of a vintage SNES emulator is notable for historic reasons. Despite this, Holmberg is pleased to have been able to give people an up-close look at a piece of emulation history. "For some of us (well, for me anyway), it's just a good feeling, perhaps even a sense of closure, to finally get our hands on this emulator that we so desperately wanted all those years ago," he told Vice.