01 October 2018

Stupid Pandora Tricks – Running NES games on your Pandora’s Box 6

I’m sure some of you are seeing the title of this post and are wondering the same thing – Why? The obvious answer is, of course, because you can. You might be thinking that we’re talking about running NES games through something like the Vs. or PlayChoice 10 systems. Well…

…It Might Be Dynamic Recompilation

One of the best things about the Pandora’s Box 6 is that it includes PlayStation support. Obviously, it was one of the ways that the original creators of the box used to cover gaps in the Pandora’s Box’s MAME playing abilities. Too weak to play Tekken 3? Include the PlayStation version!

I am not 100% sure as I haven’t been able to look at the files on the Pandora’s Box 6 SD card too deeply yet, but I am almost certain that the ability to play PlayStation games on PB6 is down to the use of PCSX-ReARMed. PCSX-R is a port of the PlayStation emulator that uses dynamic recompilation to achieve high performance emulation of the PlayStation 1. This is why Raspberry Pis are able to play PlayStation games so well and the same goes for the hardware in the Pandora’s Box. So I’m pretty sure you see how we’re going to do this now.

…It Might Be NES

I decided to experiment with a NES emulator that was made to run on the original PlayStation itself called IMBNES. Back in the day, I remembered burning a CD-R that had a bunch of NES games on it along with the software and was able to boot it up with one of the hardware mods that you would plug into the serial port on the back of the original PlayStation. In those days, NES emulation wasn’t so far along and the emulator had its own faults but it was playable enough so I was quite happy.

So the end goal here is to create a disc image that contains both the emulator executable as well as all the games you wish to play. Once done, you would transfer the .ISO over to the Pandora’s Box and you should be able to play it!

…It Might Be Guide

Okay, so here’s a little step-by-step guide for getting this all up and running without too much trouble.

Step 1: Download IMBNES and Extract It

First, you will need to download the latest version of IMBNES from the website. I’ve mirrored the latest version below just in case the original site goes away.

Extract it anywhere on your hard drive, it shouldn’t matter where.

Step 2: Create PS1 Disc Image with rombank.exe

1 - From the extracted imbnes folder, run rombank.exe.
2 - Click on one of the two Add ROMs buttons at the top left and find the NES ROMs you wish to add to your disc image.
3 - Use the Tag removal button to remove unneeded parts of file names as we only have a certain amount of characters per filename seen in the NES emulator anyways.
4 - Click on the unsupported mapper removal button to remove ROMs that use mappers unsupported by the emulator.
5 - Adjust other options as you choose.
6 - Click on Build IMBNES ISO button to build and output a proper PS1 disc image with the emulator and ROMs selected. (If any file name conflicts come up, adjust them so that they won’t conflict and try again.)

Just about ready to create our IMBNES PS1 Disc Image with ROM Bank.

Step 3: Copy IMBNES Disc Image to Pandora's Box 6 Flash Drive

1 - Remove U-Disk from Pandora’s Box 6 and insert it into your PC.
2 - Copy your newly created .cue and .bin files to the roms_playstation directory found at the root of your Pandora’s Box 6 U-Disk.
3 - If you decide to rename the .bin and .cue files, make sure to also edit the .cue file to point to your new .bin file name, otherwise the emulator will not start up properly.

Limitations to Know About

So, there are a few things you will need to remember when using this emulator. Not everything’s perfect:

  • It will screen tear like crazy on any game that has a lot of scrolling such as Super Mario Bros. 3, but will always be playable.
  • This emulator is very old and as such there are some strange emulation issues with some games such as occasionally scrambled graphics (the earned stars in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!), audio not quite sounding right, that sort of thing. Most games should still be very playable.
  • Because the Pandora’s Box 6 does not have writable partitions, just like with the arcade games on it, you are unable to save your game in NES games. This includes anything like save states (which I don’t think the emulator supports anyways). So don’t bother playing any long RPGs unless you intend on completing them in one sitting.
  • I have not found a way to return to the menu to select another NES game other than using the Pause button to return to the Pandora’s Box 6 main game menu again and loading up the emulator. Small but annoying price to pay, I suppose.
  • Aspect ratio is incorrect and there does not appear to be a way to adjust it without adjusting the resolution of the Pandora’s Box itself.

Have fun!