A Debatably Brief Overview of Homebrew

I want to make Nintendo games.

Let’s face it, we’ve all thought that at one point or another. Usually it doesn’t go any further than wishful thinking, though. Sure, some of us might doodle concept art or gameplay ideas in a notebook, a few might even learn to program, but even for those with all of the skills there’s another, more tangible hurdle: the tools. Game development isn’t free and procuring a software development kit (SDK or devkit for short) is often a costly proposition. For those of you not familiar with the game development process, a devkit is a collection of specialized software and hardware used to make and test games. They’re quite expensive: the Wii’s devkit cost around $5000, which at the time was rather cheap compared to the XBox 360’s and PS3’s $20,000 price tag. Now, those of you who are used to making do with free software—like me—are probably thinking, “do I really need all of those fancy tools?”


Homebrew is the process of making software for a system without the original development kit or system distributor’s blessing (more commonly known as a “license”). The term originated among beer aficionados for beer brewed by an individual instead of a commercial brewing house, but now is used in many hobbies—including video games—to refer to unofficial/amateur produced content. Homebrewering shouldn’t be confused with modding or ROM hacking: homebrewing is concerned with making new content for a system, while modding and ROM hacking only intend to change or manipulate an existing game (sometimes to the point where it’s arguably a different game made from the parts of the original).

Homebrew is the process of making software for a system without the original development kit…

What’s Homebrew Like?

Homebrew provides a surprisingly diverse selection of content. There’s homebrew for almost all Nintendo systems, though the type of content varies greatly from system to system. Older systems mostly focus on games, while newer ones–from about the Wii onward–have homebrew for everything from games to system utilities. Let’s take a quick look at some examples.


Blade Buster

Just as “all toasters toast toast [sic]” Nintendo homebrewers homebrew games…duh. Sadly, most of the homebrew games I found in my research are simple, forgettable diversions much like the flash games of the early days of the internet. It’s not that surprising, considering game development on any level is an intricate and time consumptive process. That isn’t to say that all homebrewers lack diligence and ambition. There are still many quality original titles. Notice that I said original titles; a large number of homebrew game projects are simply ports, usually of games whose creators have released the source code to the general public. In fact, the Wii alone has ports of P.C. classics such as Tyrian, Quake, and Jazz Jackrabbit.


N-Warp ScreenshotI’m not going to try to enumerate every homebrew project released for a Nintendo system, but for the sake of being thorough, there are some that warrant mention. First up is Blade Buster, a Famicom shoot-em-up notable for its screen filling boss sprites (on an 8-bit console mind you), an insane number of sprites on the screen at a time, and unique time-attack styled gameplay. Next for the Super Nintendo is N-Warp Daisakusen, a game that allows eight—yes, eight—players to compete in a free-for-all brawl. Lastly, I want to mention a puzzle game for the DS named Negative Space which has the player drawing paths to guide two opposite colored blobs to their respective goal flags. The catch? They can only travel through the other’s color, meaning every path you draw for one is an obstacle to the other.

Negative Space
This game is also available as a free download on Android.


After games, the most common type of homebrew is emulators. I’m not exactly sure why when emulators are already so prolific on P.C. Maybe people make them because they like the challenge of getting an emulator to function on the constraints of a game console. Maybe it’s to prove that more fully featured emulation is possible on Nintendo systems. Maybe people just think it’s funny to play Playstation games on their Wii. Whatever the reason, most of Nintendo’s modern systems have a multitude of homebrewed emulators available on them.

I can’t be the only one who thinks this is hilarious.

Obviously, many of the homebrewed emulators available online for Nintendo consoles are for older Nintendo systems. As I alluded to in the previous paragraph, however, the homebrewed emulator scene isn’t exclusively concerned with Nintendo systems. On the just Wii alone there are emulators for Sega Genesis/Mega-Drive, Sega Saturn, Playstation 1, CalecoVision, Commodore 64, Atari Lynx, and many, many, many, many, many more. Also, there’s a Super Nintendo emulator that runs on the original 3DS (I knew it!).

Whatever the reason, most of Nintendo’s modern systems have a multitude of homebrewed emulators available on them.

Miscellaneous Software

Not all homebrew projects are game related. Some are just the sort of software you’d find on any computer: music players, web browsers, etc. One such program of note is an art program called Colors! Which was originally developed as homebrew for the DS but has since gotten an official release on multiple systems, including the 3DS eshop. Then there’s software that changes system behaviors. For example, the 3DS has an application that removes the cap on the number of play coins a player can receive in a day. More impressive is a Wii hack that let’s the user change the region of the console—y’know, to play region locked games.


Where there’s hardware, there’s Linux. Much like the speed of light or the certainty of death and taxes, it’s one of the constants of our universe. Seriously, any system that’s powerful enough to run Linux sooner or later will. There’s Linux for the GameCube, Linux on the 3DS, Linux for the Wii, a distro is in development for the N64, there’s a version for the DS; heck, even the GameBoy Advance has…Unix?

…Wait, what?

GameBoy Advance Unix

Any system that’s powerful enough to run Linux sooner or later will.

Cool! Let me try!

For those of you who don’t know, I happen to be a programmer, so when I write an article that gives me the opportunity to talk about programming, I’m going to talk about programming. If you think programming is some kind of voodoo (which it isn’t: it’s sorcery), you may want to skip this part.

Still here? Great! Believe it or not, if you’re already comfortable with programming it’s almost as simple as picking the system you want to develop for and a few Google searches. While homebrewing isn’t exactly the go-to past-time among bored nerds, there are several online guides and communities dedicated to the craft: forums, YouTube videos, blogs, and wikis galore! Heck, there’s an entire free book on WikiBooks about Super Nintendo programming.

Even though you’re not going to be using The Man’s toolkit, you can’t exactly make a game with just your imagination and wishful thinking (trust me, I’ve tried). You will need software to compile the code you write and, if you’re developing for one of Nintendo’s more recent systems, an API library to interface with the system (getting controller input and such). You’ll also want an emulator. Fortunately, all of these tools can be easily acquired on the internet for free.

 There are several online guides and communities dedicated to the craft: forums, YouTube videos, blogs, and wikis galore!

As for the coding itself, it’s mostly the same as regular programming. For example, I—out of curiosity—browsed through a tutorial on GameBoy Advance homebrewing and was quite relieved (and just a little surprised) to find that the code was hardly distinguishable from any other program written in C. There are certainly nuances to keep in mind—like in the case of the GBA, some memory addresses are reserved for the screen’s RGB values, tracking whether buttons are pressed, and so on. You may also need to go without some modern conveniences (hope you like compiling your code from command-line!). But by-and-large, anyone who’s sufficiently experienced with C and/or C++ should be fine.

Unless you’re developing for an 8 or 16-bit system. In that case I hope you really like 65c816 Assembly!


We Haven’t Even Touched the Red Pill

Instead of starting on a proper summation, I’d like to cover my backside real quick and stress that despite this being the longest article I’ve written for Two Button Crew to date, I have only given the barest of overviews of the subject. I encourage you to look further into this, either as someone interested in finding new games to play or someone hoping to make such games. More over, there’s a lot I omitted for length, like how some retail games have been pulled from store shelves because of homebrewers.

Having said all that, it’s a shame homebrew isn’t more popular. I understand why, though: if someone’s going to go to all the trouble to make a game, why make it for a dead system? And if it’s for a modern system, why make a game that they can’t license and sell? But, hey, who knows? Many Nintendo fans have grown up and started making games of their own. As time goes on and more fans get old enough to take an interest in game development, maybe some of them will try to make a few for the systems they played on as kids. Wouldn’t that be something, a flood of new old games?

About the Author:

Glen is a lifelong Nintendo fan whose love of video games has inspired him to pursue a career in computer programming; so much so that he is now studying to get a masters in computer science. He doesn’t understand that the average person isn’t interested in programming and won’t shut up about how awesome it is.

Metroid: Other Fusion

WARNING: The following blog post contains spoilers for Metroid: Other M and Metroid Fusion.

It’s tough being a Metroid fan. After a promising start, the series goes on hiatus for nearly a decade. Then after a resurgence and several great additions to the franchise, Metroid: Other M comes out and sends everyone into a tizzy. Cue another hiatus, and then after years of waiting, Nintendo finally announces a new entry into the series…and everyone loses it all over again. I don’t particularly like controversies, they have an odd propensity to throw gentlemanly discourse out the window and reduce (presumably) otherwise intelligent individuals to their embarrassingly base, vitriolic nature. That said, there is an issue regarding Metroid: Other M that seems to have slipped through the cracks, and with the aesthetically controversial Metriod Prime: Federation Force releasing this August, I think now would be a good time to get it off my chest and discuss what I think Metroid: Other M‘s real flaw is.

People have criticized Other M for a variety of things: potentially sexist undertones, awkward non-analog controls, Samus’s emotionless voice acting, etc. I, however, either didn’t notice or didn’t mind most of the commonly cited issues when I first played the game. No, there was something else. Something I couldn’t ignore. Something that kept scratching at the back of my mind in the same annoying fashion a house cat lazily paws at its sleeping owner’s face. Something that is never brought up when discussing the game’s flaws. Something that kept running through my moderately attractive head every time I played the game: I’ve seen this before.

To put it bluntly, Metroid: Other M is a rehash of Metroid Fusion.

No seriously, there are just too many similarities. Oddly enough, despite all of the discussion the game has (shine) sparked, no one ever discusses the Goyagma in the room and mentions how suspiciously similar the two games are, even when they’re listing reasons they don’t think the game is good. The only time I’ve seen it brought up was a forum post made shortly after the game was released, and that was quickly dismissed by the site’s other members. So let’s switch to our scan visors and take a closer look.

The Setting

Both games are set shortly after the masterpiece that is Super Metroid. The similarities between settings are more than chronological, however.

In Fusion, the game starts with our girl Sammy escorting a team of xeno-biologists on a mission to survey the metroid home-world, SR-388. After mercilessly blasting a hornoad that could’ve made for a valuable specimen, the creature reveals itself to be an X-parasite in disguise. Samus is infected, hospitalized, and eventually saved by a vaccine made from a DNA sample from the now dead last metroid. Deciding not to question the medical team’s severe misuse of the term vaccine, Samus immediately gets back to work and heads out on her next mission: to investigate a distress signal coming from the BSL (Biological Space Laboratories) Research Station.

The BSL Research Station is a space station-based research facility designed with the study of alien lifeforms in mind. It is equipped with top-of-the-line containment facilities that recreate the environments of the creatures that live in them. Each of these areas are referred to as sectors, are numbered one through six, and recreate a different biome (SR-388, jungle, desert/volcanic, aquatic, ice, and nocturnal).

Ah, the memories: like that one time I got stuck on the spider boss for 16 months.
The B.S.L. Research Station serves as the setting of Metroid Fusion.

Other M opens with Samus in a Federation quarantine bay being attended to by Federation medics after her harrowing escape at the end of Super Metroid. After a dry internal monologue and debriefing, Samus is off on her own to…I don’t know, hunt bounties? Anyway, she picks up a “baby’s cry” distress signal and—being the mercenary bounty-hunter that she is—goes to assist with no promise of financial compensation what-so-ever.

Upon arriving at the source of the transmission, Samus finds herself at the Bottle Ship. The Bottle Ship is a space station-based research facility designed with the study of alien lifeforms in mind. It is equipped with top-of-the-line containment facilities that recreate the environments of the creatures that live in them. Each of these areas are referred to as sectors, are numbered one through three, and recreate a different biome (jungle, volcanic, and ice). Sound familiar?

♪ One of these things is just like the other! ♫
The Bottle Ship serves as the setting of Metroid Fus–OTHER M! I was going to say Other M!

[They are] equipped with top-of-the-line containment facilities that recreate the environments of the creatures that live in them. Each of these areas are referred to as sectors, are numbered […], and recreate a different biome.

To top it all off, even the chamber from which the sectors are accessed are the same: a large room situated below the crew quarters and command center with color coordinated elevators.

The Antagonists

Both games also have similar antagonists. Anyone who’s played Fusion can tell you about the paranoia inducing terror that is SA-X. Heck, I still sometimes have nightmares about it. For readers who don’t know, SA-X is the X-Parasite’s mimicry of Samus: it has all of her powers, her knowledge, and—most of all—her suit. Throughout the game, it wanders the BSL, constantly attempting to sabotage Samus’s mission. It destroys machinery, doorways, it even tries to induce a meltdown in the station’s reactor. While the being makes a few onscreen appearances, it usually sticks to the shadows. Throughout the game, SA-X is a threat that seems to be around every corner, just out of sight.

Oh BTW, there are actually TEN of these.
Metroid Fusion is rated E? Man, when is Nintendo going to stop making kid’s games?!

Other M has a similar enemy: the Deleter. The Deleter is a mysterious entity that operates in the shadows. He/she/it constantly attempts to thwart Samus and her allies’ efforts to get to the bottom of what went down on the Bottle Ship by sabotaging equipment, jamming communications, and even systematically eliminating Adam Malkovich’s soldiers one-by-one. Trying to identify and stop the Deleter is one of the major plot elements of the game, much like stopping SA-X is in Fusion.

You never find out.
Surely, uncovering this criminal mastermind’s true identity will be the ultimate payoff!

But Other M doesn’t just have similar antagonists to Fusion, it even goes so far as to copy one of Fusion‘s most iconic bosses: Nightmare. Nightmare is a large, gravity-warping bio-weapon that gave Samus the gravity suit in Fusion. Its battle is one of the longest and most difficult in the game, and as to be expected the fight occurs near the end of the game. The boss returns in Other M, and just like in Fusion is fought near the end of the game. The only real difference is that Fusion bothers to build it up as a major threat, while Other M just shoe horns it into the game.

And then there’s Ridley…who’s in almost every game, so he isn’t worth mentioning. Moving on!

Adam Malkovich

Yet another of the similarities between Fusion and Other M is Adam and his role. In Fusion, Samus’s new ship comes with an on board A.I. that she nicknames Adam after a former commanding officer. Adam is Samus’s guide throughout the game, offering objectives and providing suit upgrades. Adam is eventually revealed to be an uploaded personality and is—in fact—the real (artificially simulated) Adam Malkovich. The real (not artificially-simulated) Adam appears in Other M. In that game he points out objectives to Samus and authorizes use of her various suit features, similar to in Fusion.

The two games also both depict him as potentially untrustworthy. Fusion shows that Adam, and the Federation at large, have a hidden agenda that they’re keeping a secret from Samus. This can also be said of Other M, though it is more ambiguously framed. Adam clearly knows more about the situation at hand than Samus, which is a major source of tension in the game’s story. Other M even goes so far as to depict Adam as a candidate for the true identity of the Deleter. All of this conspiracy mumbo-jumbo leads to my final point…

Surprise! It’s Full of Metroids!

Both game’s have a secret, hidden sector. It’s full of metroids. The Federation is cloning them. They want to use them as bio-weapons. The secret part of the space station is jettisoned into space. Samus fights an adult metroid.

I always imagined SA-X was freaking out a bit at this point.
Imagine this in 3D and then replace SA-X with Adam and you basically have what happens in Other M.

Despite what my very critical overview may suggest, I rather enjoyed Metroid: Other M. It certainly had a number of problems, but the end product still had tight controls, good gameplay, and great production values; overall an enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, as a prequel to Fusion, it’s an abysmal mess that introduces many, many plot-holes. I’d go so far to say it serves as a cautionary tale of how not to do a prequel. All of the similarities make Samus’s reaction to the events of Fusion completely unbelievable. She acts like it’s her first time stumbling across a secret metroid cloning project, or dealing with an enigmatic saboteur, or fighting Nightmare! It’s almost as if Other M was an attempt to rewrite Fusion in hopes of removing the latter from the series continuity like a lab full of metroids from a space-station. But I’ll admit, that’s a bit of a stretch. It’s not like the Big N is some sort of large, secretive collective that would conspire to do something like repeatedly clone Metroids to further their own ends, right?

Haven’t gotten enough Metroid: Other M? Click here to hear Scott and Simeon’s thoughts on the game.

About the author:

Glen is a lifelong Nintendo fan whose first foray into the Metroid Franchise was Metroid Fusion. His love of video games has inspired him to pursue a career in computer programming and is currently studying to get a masters in computer science. And yes, he really does sometimes have nightmares about SA-X.