In the heyday of the NES, if you didn’t have a human nearby to play games with, you were out of luck for multiplayer gaming. But thanks to a new NES cartridge inspired by Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo’s 8-bit console, you’ll be able to play a new homebrew game with anyone on the Internet.
On Wednesday, Super Tilt Bro. reached its Kickstarter funding goal within 48 hours of its launch. Its NES cartridge, developed by Paris-based independent developer Sylvain Gadrat and published by Broke Studio, will include a Wi-Fi chipset and antenna that lets it connect to the Internet for one-on-one online play.
As Gadrat tells the story on the Super Tilt Bro. website, the game’s history began in 2016 when Gadrat rediscovered his old NES console in a storeroom and became fascinated with the 8-bit processor that powered it. His interest led to an ambitious project: porting Super Smash Bros. to the NES. Over time, the project evolved, and by 2018, Gadrat released the first version of Super Tilt Bro. as a homebrew game developed entirely in assembly language.
After presenting the game to friends, Gadrat received valuable feedback and continued to develop the game. He produced the first physical edition of nine cartridges in 2018, which sold out quickly. He followed that with 50 more cartridges and was met with equal enthusiasm from the retro-gaming community.
In 2019, Gadrat focused on improving the game engine, with the second version of Super Tilt Bro. introducing multiple characters, new stages, moddable content, and an online mode. The online mode, made possible thanks to a patched emulator and a prototype Wi-Fi cartridge, launched in 2020.
Today, Gardat feels the online version of the game is ready for prime time, so Broke Studio launched the Kickstarter, seeking $44,182 to produce a run of the physical cartridges, which integrate an ESP8266 Wi-Fi chipset and an FPGA to handle communications between the NES and the Wi-Fi chipset.
One of the key tricks of the NES back in the day was that game developers could include custom expansion hardware called memory management controllers (MMCs) in the cartridges that extended the capabilities of games on the system. So it’s interesting to see a similar internal expansion technique taken to an extreme with a full Wi-Fi adapter and antenna that fits within a standard NES cartridge shell.
Super Tilt Bro. deals with network latency by using “rollback netcode,” which guesses your remote opponent’s inputs in advance. When the actual inputs arrive, the game compares its prediction with the actual remote player input. If it’s incorrect, it quickly corrects it within a flicker of the screen. If it was correct, everything continues as usual. Ideally, this should result in a nearly seamless online match that balances the realities of Internet latency with the need for immediate action on-screen.
The game itself is a fun brawler with an obviously retro feel that shines when played on a real NES and CRT television set. We have not evaluated the online gameplay, but we tried a demo version on a flash cart in a real NES.
As of this writing, the Kickstarter stands at just over $57,000 and is rising. You can also download a free demo or purchase the Super Tilt Bro. ROM for play on emulators or flash carts on Itch.io. Thanks to continued game development for this 38-year-old game console, gaming on the NES lives on as more than a retro curiosity.