Ever wonder what your favorite NES games would look like in 3D? No, not a 3D remake — actual NES games rendered on screen with a z-axis. Well, if you’re running a recent version of Firefox, you can see for yourself by loading your very own ROMs into a WebGL-based emulator called 3DNes.
Earlier today, this story from Kotaku caught my eye, and suddenly everything ground to a halt. I had to try this emulator for myself, and see some of the best games of my childhood in a rough approximation of three dimensions.
By default, the emulator is populated with a link to Thwaite — a homebrew Missle Command clone. Unfortunately, this is the only ROM I can get working in the emulator as of publication. It’s very simple, and the 3D effect makes everything look extruded — not a particularly exciting aesthetic. Still, there’s something inexplicably novel about manipulating a straightforward 2D game on the fly to see everything from a different perspective.
While I haven’t been able to get past a litany of errors while loading my own ROMs, videos exist showing actual Nintendo games working on a build of the emulator. Unsurprisingly, these are substantially more interesting. The result certainly doesn’t look hand-crafted, but there’s a lot more going on visually than Thwaite. The hills, clouds, and pipes in 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. have roundness — much closer to a proper low-res voxelrepresentation of a NES game.
And you can’t add the z-axis to a game without exploring a first-person mode, right? In the video above, you can see a glitchy and nearly un-playable example of what a first-person Mario side-scroller would look like without significant tweaking. Nobody in their right mind would ever play the game like this, but that doesn’t take away anything from this crazy little demo.
So, what about a top-down game? In this slightly older video, you can see what The Legend of Zelda looks like running in an alpha build. While it’s in very rough shape, I wound up liking this perspective a lot. Putting aside the technical issues, the perspective shift makes it feel a little bit like playing Zelda in a diorama. Strangely enough, it’s not far off from the feelings I had when I saw A Link Between Worlds for the first time.
If you’re dying to give this a go, simply load up this page in Firefox. It’s very likely that your browser will flip out about how the scripts on the page are bogging everything down, but simply pressing “Continue” will sometimes result in a successful load. Just keep in mind that you’ll need publicly accessible links to your NES ROMs if you’d like to run them in 3DNes. So if you’re hosting your own files, consider using free homebrew NES games instead of legitimate Nintendo games. It’s not worth the risk of running afoul of Nintendo’s legal team.