If you remember the original iteration of the Animal Crossing series released on GameCube in 2001, you may remember the much-vaunted ability the game had hidden inside it, which was the power to play select NES titles – an important landmark in gaming history, as Nintendo didn’t realise that re-releases of classic titles were commercially viable until that point.
What you might not have known is that they originally planned to take the concept further: as the game originally contained an NES emulator which would have allowed players to boot any .nes ROM of their choosing, according to software expert James Chambers.
In an expository piece posted on Chambers’ personal GitHub site, the researcher originally plumbed through the game’s files to find the developer and debug menus, which would allow Chambers and other enthusiasts to learn more about the deeper secrets the game might hold. However, he had found himself curious about the presence of an NES which did not appear to actually do anything within the game, only returning a message indicating that there is “no software to play”. As such, a look into the emulated software menu facilitated his discovery. Players can play pre-loaded titles such as Golf, but a custom option in the original code came as a surprise.
It was from further exploration that Chambers found this option attempts to scan the memory card for any NES images. However, as the presence of them would have been nearly impossible, the feature doesn’t work – Nintendo could have dropped it through development, or decided against a Pokémon-style distribution of NES games.
After examining the game’s files closely to see if the emulator would actually work, Chambers was indeed able to play Pinball and Mega Man on Animal Crossing via the Dolphin emulator by manipulating save file information. The emulated games did come with graphical issues, at first, but these were later able to be smoothed out.
There you have it: definitive proof that the NES in Animal Crossing with no games on top of it was, indeed, supposed to do something. If you’d like to read about the more technical aspects of the case, you can do so at James Chambers’ personal blog here.