Before it can load a game, higan requires that all the game’s data be stored correctly in the Game Library. For regular games this is simple, but some games require special treatment, especially those that make use of unusual hardware.

Regular games

higan’s importing tool, icarus, can import games in the most commonly-used formats for each supported console, and also those same formats inside .zip files (as long as the .zip file contains only one game). More advanced compression formats like RAR or 7-zip are not supported.

To import a game, open the Library menu, choose “Load ROM File …” to open a filesystem browser, choose the ROM file of the game you want to play, and it will be imported into the library and start playing.

Note: If you want to import many games, run icarus directly, or choose “Import ROM Files …” from the Library menu (which just runs icarus anyway). See the icarus documentation for details.

To play a game for a particular console from your library, open the Library menu, pick the console manufacturer sub-menu (Nintendo for the Super Famicom, Bandai for the WonderSwan, etc.) then choose the appropriate console menu item. A filesystem browser will appear listing all the games in the library for that particular console. Select the game you want to play and click the Open button, or just double-click the game, and it will begin playing.

Note: Sometimes the NTSC and PAL variants of a particular console behave differently, or the Japanese and American variants. When choosing a game from the Game Library, a drop-down list in the bottom-right of the filesystem browser allows you to choose which regional variant of the console higan should emulate. For most consoles, higan can reliably guess which variant to use, and the list defaults to “Auto”.

Games with co-processor firmware

Many games included extra chips inside the game cartridge, to provide enhanced capabilities of one kind or another. Sometimes, those extra chips were separate CPUs running their own separate firmware, and for those cases higan requires a copy of the co-processor firmware as well as the actual game data. Unfortunately, like games themselves, co-processor firmware cannot legally be distributed, so you’ll need to obtain copies of the relevant firmware data yourself.

To import a game that requires co-processor firmware, you must first combine the game data and the firmware into a single file. For example, let’s say you want to import Super Bases Loaded 2 for the Super Famicom, which is stored in the file sbl2.sfc and requires firmware for the DSP1 co-processor stored in dsp1.program.rom and On Windows, you can combine them from the command-line like this:

copy /b sbl2.sfc + dsp1.program.rom +

On Linux, the equivalent command-line syntax is:

cat dsp1.program.rom >> sbl2.sfc

(note the use of >> to append rather than > to overwrite)

Note: For co-processor chips with multiple firmware files, you must put the “program” file before the “data” file.

Wikipedia lists which Super Famicom games use which co-processors, although not all co-processors require separate firmware. Once you’ve figured out which co-processor (if any) is used by the game you want to import, here’s the firmware files you’ll need:

Co-processor Filename Size (bytes) SHA256
CX4 3072 ae8d4d1961b93421ff00b3caa1d0f0ce7783e749772a3369c36b3dbf0d37ef18
See Note 1 2048 0b5da6533e55852ee8fc397977ec5576c5b9f1fb2e05656d8f87123a121b076e
dsp1.program.rom 6144 269584b347a22953a2989494c850a7c1c027f4ca5add517a60e0c7d8833d0fac
See Note 2 2048 8546cbac530830446bb8a277f6b139d4ad64d650bdbac7e4e150e2f095665049
dsp1b.program.rom 6144 2eccb54a8f89374911f7e2db48f1b4cde855655e28103f7bda2982a5b418a187
DSP2 2048 3beef9bffdc1e84c9f99f3301d8bd3e520d2e62909a995320f9faeae8f46ec11
dsp2.program.rom 6144 62a2ef8d2d7db638f4ec0fbcebf0e5bf18a75ee95be06e885d9519a10487f0da
DSP3 2048 7fe51796e9c97fee1fa2aab40592b7c78997f67dd00333e69d0f79a12f3cb69f
dsp3.program.rom 6144 aea7b622e7c1de346cb15d16afcbedf92b6798507e179f83ed2a4cff40d0e663
DSP4 2048 ef3ffb4256dd896a60213269b4e2d3bdd120c97e2fd623bddabbf43c2be422af
dsp4.program.rom 6144 89b1826e6038be3a0ea0f923e85d589ff6f02dc1a1819fb2ec8c0cea5b333dcd
ST010 4096 dc7056a51b53993d7a8ba5bacf9501f785d2fce5e5be748e9ff2737c5938d4a5
st010.program.rom 49152 2c1f74bb5f466d81c64c326e71ac054489efe1abc9a5d6f91aac7747f2ddab67
ST011 4096 b5377d1bebe8adc507a024b6e2b9b8fdf4877e451da84fbad05dff4e4a70311e
st011.program.rom 49152 d90a5cda380e81cb9ba11a9da7539b173c49b31bedc7a3ac9c3c8b3f97e89e14
ST018 32768 b5377d1bebe8adc507a024b6e2b9b8fdf4877e451da84fbad05dff4e4a70311e
st018.program.rom 131072 d90a5cda380e81cb9ba11a9da7539b173c49b31bedc7a3ac9c3c8b3f97e89e14

Note 1: The DSP1 and DSP1A are physically different, but the firmware inside is identical.

Note 2: The DSP1B is very similar to the DSP1A, but fixes some bugs. Note that icarus’ heuristics cannot distinguish between a game that uses the DSP1 and one that uses the DSP1B, so if it cannot find your game in its manifest database, it will assume it uses DSP1B. Many games work just as well with either variant, but Pilotwings requires the DSP1 firmware, while Ballz 3D requires the DSP1B.

If you try to import a game using the “Import ROM Files …” option in the Library menu (or using icarus directly) but it does not include the correct firmware data, a window will appear saying “Import completed, but with 1 errors. View log?” (or however many games were lacking the correct firmware). If you press “Yes”, a new window will appear listing the games that couldn’t be imported, and what problem was detected:

[sbl2.sfc] ROM image is missing DSP1 firmware data

If you try to import a game using the “Load ROM File …” option in the Library menu but it does not include the correct firmware data, nothing will happen, and higan will just sit there with “No cartridge loaded” in the status bar.

Once a game with co-processor firmware is imported, you can play it just like any regular game.

Satellaview games

The Satellaview was a satellite modem peripheral released for the Super Famicom in Japan. As well as the actual modem (designed to sit underneath the Super Famicom), it also included a cartridge with software to control the modem, browse online services, and download games and data. This control cartridge was called BS-X Sore wa Namae o Nusumareta Machi no Monogatari, which in English is BS-X The Story of The Town Whose Name Was Stolen.

The control cartridge had a slot that accepted re-writable “memory paks”, so that people could store the games and data they downloaded. A small number of games that did not use the Satellaview modem also had a memory pak slot, so the game’s publishers could publish extra content for the game via the Satellaview service after the game’s release. For the benefit of people who didn’t own a Satellaview some read-only memory paks were sold in retail stores containing extra content for specific games.

Importing a game that has a slot for a memory pak is just like importing a regular game.

Importing a memory pak is like importing a regular game, but the name of the memory pak file must end in .bs (if it’s in a .zip file, that’s OK, but the name inside the .zip file must end in .bs) in order for it to be successfully imported. Sometimes memory pak filenames end in .sfc, which will make higan try to import them as regular Super Famicom games and fail. Rename the file and it should work beautifully.

Playing a game that has a slot for a memory pak is just like playing a regular game, but after you have selected which game you want to play higan will open another filesystem browser to let you pick which previously-imported memory pak you want to insert into the game. If you press “Cancel” at this point, the game will load without any cartridge in its memory pak slot.

If you load the control cartridge into higan, make sure the emulated Satellaview is connected to the emulated Super Famicom’s expansion port by opening the “Super Famicom” menu, selecting the “Expansion Port” sub-menu, and choosing “Satellaview”. If the expansion port was previously configured with a different option, power-cycle the Super Famicom (also in the “Super Famicom” menu) to make sure the control cartridge will find the Satellaview when it starts up. Note that higan’s Satellaview emulation is not very accurate, so the control cartridge may not work as it should.

Playing a memory pak on its own doesn’t make much sense, it’s not a standalone cartridge. Play a game with a memory pak slot, and choose which memory pak you want when higan asks for it.

For more information about the Satellaview service, a translation patch for the control cartridge and emulators that do a better job of Satellaview emulation, see the BS-X Project.

Sufami Turbo games

The Sufami Turbo was a special cartridge released for the Super Famicom in Japan. The Sufami Turbo on its own does nothing, but it has two slots in the top that accept Sufami Turbo mini-cartridges. The game in slot A is the one that actually plays, but some games can make use of additional data from a game in slot B.

Importing the Sufami Turbo cartridge is just like importing a regular game.

Importing a mini-cartridge is like importing a regular game, but the name of the mini-cartridge file must end in .st (if it’s in a .zip file, that’s OK, but the name inside the .zip file must end in .st) in order for it to be successfully imported. Sometimes mini-cartridge filenames end in .sfc, which will make higan try to import them as regular Super Famicom games, and fail miserably. Rename the file and it should work beautifully.

To play a Sufami Turbo game, load the Sufami Turbo cartridge like any other game. higan will open another filesystem browser to let you pick which previously-imported mini-cartridge you want to insert into slot A. If you press “Cancel” at this point, the Sufami Turbo cartridge will boot without anything in slot A, which just displays an image telling you to turn off your Super Famicom, insert a game into slot A, and try again. If you chose a cartridge for slot A, higan will open yet another filesystem browser to let you choose a mini-cartridge for slot B. If you press “Cancel” at this point, the Sufami Turbo cartridge will boot without anything in slot B.

Super Game Boy games

The Super Game Boy was a special cartridge released for the Super Famicom (and all its regional variants around the world) that allowed Game Boy games to be played via the Super Famicom’s controllers and video output. The Super Game Boy does not emulate the Game Boy hardware, it physically includes all the Game Boy components so compatibility with Game Boy games is high. However, the Super Game Boy drives the Game Boy hardware from the Super Famicom’s timing signals, which means games play 2.4% faster than on a real Game Boy.

The Super Game Boy 2 was a Japan-only release that fixed the timing problem of the original Super Game Boy, and included a different set of default borders. higan supports the Super Game Boy 2 base cartridge, so you can use the extra borders, but does not yet emulate the timing change so games still play slightly too fast.

Because the Super Game Boy cartridge includes the original Game Boy hardware, it needs a boot ROM:

Cartridge Filename Size (bytes) SHA256
SGB sgb1.boot.rom 256 0e4ddff32fc9d1eeaae812a157dd246459b00c9e14f2f61751f661f32361e360
SGB2 sgb2.boot.rom 256 fd243c4fb27008986316ce3df29e9cfbcdc0cd52704970555a8bb76edbec3988

To import the SGB base cartridge, you must first combine the base cartridge data and the boot ROM into a single file, just like games with co-processor firmware. Then you may import it like a regular game.

To play a Game Boy game in Super Game Boy mode, load the Super Game Boy cartridge like any other game. higan will open another filesystem browser to let you pick which previously-imported Game Boy game you want to insert into the Super Game Boy. If you press “Cancel” at this point, higan will crash, so don’t do that.

Note: Only games for the original, black-and-white Game Boy can be used with the Super Game Boy. Some games designed for the Game Boy Color were backward compatible with the original Game Boy and hence the Super Game Boy; see Playing Game Boy Color games in Game Boy mode for details.

MSU-1 games

The MSU-1 is a fictional expansion chip invented by higan’s author byuu, designed to allow the Super Famicom to stream data and audio. Although the MSU-1 is not specific to any particular storage medium, it gives the Super Famicom similar capabilities to CD-based add-ons like the Mega Drive’s Mega CD and the PC Engine’s CD-ROMĀ², such as CD-quality music and full-motion video.

Although the MSU-1 was invented for higan, it is now supported by other Super Famicom emulators too. The SD2SNES programmable cartridge even allows you to play MSU-1 games on a real console. There are a number of homebrew games that make use of the MSU-1, and also mods for commercial Super Famicom games that add higher-quality music and sometimes video.

One thing to be aware of when importing an MSU-1 game is that early firmware versions of the SD2SNES had a bug that caused MSU-1 music to play too quietly. Skipping over the full details, the short version is this:

  • If offered the choice between “boosted” or non-boosted audio, you want the non-boosted version.
  • If an MSU-1 mod for a commercial game offers “emulator” and “hardware” versions of the patch file, it means the audio tracks are already boosted.
  • Some third parties have created replacement, non-boosted audio tracks for the most popular MSU-1 mods. If the mod you want to play has a replacement pack, use it with the “hardware” version of the patch.
  • Even without access to non-boosted audio tracks, it may be that the existing audio is only slightly boosted, so try the “hardware” version first, for best quality.
  • If the audio tracks are heavily boosted, the “hardware” patch may sound terrible, distorting and clipping, in which case try the “emulator” patch.

To import an MSU-1 game:

  1. If you have a single, large file with the .msu1 extension, that is a pack for use with Mercurial Magic, which can automatically set up a game folder in the correct format. Go read Mercurial Magic’s documentation instead of these instructions.
  2. Otherwise, import the Super Famicom ROM with icarus, like a regular game.
    • If this is a homebrew game with MSU-1 support, there will probably be an ordinary ROM whose name ends in .sfc, which is the file you want to import.
    • If this is a commercial game modded for MSU-1 support, there will probably be a patch file whose name ends in .ips or .bps. Get a copy of the correct version of the commercial game, apply the patch with a tool like Flips, then import the patched file.
    • If there’s “hardware” and “emulator” versions of the patch, see “One thing to be aware of…” above.
  3. Find the game folder in the game library that icarus created when it imported the game.
  4. Copy the MSU-1 data file into the game folder.
    • This should be named msu1.rom
    • If there’s no file by that name, look for a file with a .msu extension and rename it to msu1.rom.
    • If there’s no file ending in .msu either, create an empty file named msu1.rom.
  5. Copy the audio tracks into the game folder.
    • If you have to choose between two sets of audio files, see “One thing to be aware of…” above.
    • These should be named track-1.pcm, track-2.pcm, … track-9.pcm, track-10.pcm, etc.
    • If there’s no files with those names, there should be other numbered .pcm files that you can rename to match what higan expects.
    • If the .pcm files have no numbers in the filenames, there maybe a .bml or .xml file that lists which number goes with which file.
    • If there’s no .pcm files at all, that’s OK, this game probably just doesn’t use the audio-playback feature.

Once the game folder is set up, playing an MSU-1 game is just like a regular game.

Patched games

The console emulation community has a long and vibrant history of game modding, or ROM hacking, including fan-translations, new levels for existing games, and more. Since distributing the modified versions of existing games would be copyright infringement, the changes are typically distributed as “patches”, a file containing a list of modifications to make, that can be automatically applied by a “patcher” tool like Flips.

higan does not support soft-patching, so if you want to play a patched game in higan, you will need to use a patcher to apply it yourself, creating a new, patched copy of the game.

Then you can import and play the patched game just like a regular game.

Game Boy Advance games

Before you can play Game Boy Advance games, you must provide a copy of the Game Boy Advance BIOS. Unlike game-specific firmware, the GBA BIOS was part of the console, not the cartridge, so it must be installed into higan.

Once the GBA BIOS is installed, GBA games can be imported and played just like any other games.

Note that some GBA games have trouble with in-game saves.

PowerFest ‘94

PowerFest ‘94 was a video game competition organised by Nintendo, in which contestants had six minutes to complete a challenge based on three Super Famicom games. The PowerFest ‘94 cartridge was custom-built for the competition, and included the three base games as well as software to run each game, switch between them after a specific time, extract a score, and display the combined total at the end.

icarus cannot automatically import dumps of the PowerFest ‘94 ROMs, but if you have the files, you can import them manually.

You will need the following files:

Part Filename Size (bytes) SHA256
Scoring program.rom 262144 2fc9dca305ce3fb2f1a476567de500d50c174fbfbabd32b1b91c3ea6a731b4a1
Super Mario Bros. - The Lost Levels slot-1.rom 524288 7fd86113c5f95f794d65807bb75ab91c93c914670c27fc813ffa2ca20a48705e
Super Mario Kart slot-2.rom 524288 19eb77affbf8dd068f5d79a3cf80a2084fd73237cd1ae4e47192b4422449e64a
Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball slot-3.rom 1048576 d47bc9f9a6289c4f2e7f6bf74095f6ed36b1043a761e3e729ac9af2fc39ae062

You will also need the usual dsp1.program.rom and co-processor firmware files.

Note: the versions of Super Mario Kart and Ken Griffey Jr… in PowerFest ‘94 are not the same as the stand-alone versions of those games.

To “import” PowerFest ‘94, collect all the files mentioned above, then:

  1. Inside the game library, create the Super Famicom folder (if it does not already exist).
  2. Inside the Super Famicom folder, create a PowerFest '94.sfc folder (the .sfc extension is important, but you can choose a different base name if you want).
  3. Copy the various ROM files into the PowerFest '94.sfc folder.

To play PowerFest ‘94, open the Library menu, pick the Nintendo sub-menu, then choose the Super Famicom sub-menu item to open a filesystem browser listing all the Super Famicom games in the library. Select PowerFest ‘94 from the list and click the Open button, or just double-click the game, and it will begin playing.