Thanks to its hybrid form factor, the Nintendo Switch makes it easy to enjoy a fantastic library of video games on the go. But as portable as the console is, sometimes lugging around an extra device isn't feasible. Maybe you're short on bag space or must comply with strict weight limits with your airline carry-on. Whatever your reasons, a solution exists: you can play Nintendo Switch games directly on your Mac using an emulator like Ryujinx.
Nintendo Switch Emulation Prerequisites
Before we dive into the emulator setup, there are a few prerequisites to get out of the way:
- Decryption Keys (prod.keys): these keys are integral to running your Switch games on the emulator. They're like a translator, helping your Mac understand the game files. For dumping your own decryption keys from your Nintendo Switch console, I recommend this key dumping guide.
- System Firmware: some games, such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, require system files found within the Switch's firmware to be playable. To dump your own firmware, follow this firmware dumping guide.
- Nintendo Switch Games: it goes without saying that to play the games, you'll need the games themselves! Dump these from your own Nintendo Switch console to get them. Fortunately, we've already covered the instructions for this in this guide that shows how to play Nintendo Switch games on Windows.
While you may be wondering why you can't just find these files online – technically, you can. Both decryption keys and Nintendo Switch system firmware files – and even the games – can be found online. However, downloading these files is often considered piracy and may violate Nintendo's terms of service.
Therefore, we highly recommend that you dump these files from your console to stay on the right side of the law. We aim to help you enjoy your favorite games, not encourage unethical or illegal activities.
Good to know: are you a Mario fan? Check out this list of the best Mario Games to play on Nintendo Switch.
How to Set Up and Use Ryujinx on macOS
Ryujinx is an open-source Nintendo Switch emulator developed by gdkchan. With a competent core team and dozens of contributors, Ryujinx has been tested on more than 4,050 titles, with about 3,400 considered playable. The emulator is known for its excellent performance, multi-platform support, and impressive usability.
Follow these steps to set up Ryujinx on your Mac:
- Install Ryujinx's dependencies by entering the following Homebrew command in Terminal:
brew install gtk+3 sdl2
- Head to the Ryujinx download page, and grab the Ryujinx macOS archive.
- Extract the downloaded archive, and move the Ryujinx app file to your "Applications" folder.
- Launch Ryujinx from the "Applications" folder or via Spotlight.
- Open the Ryujinx "File" menu, and select the "Open Ryujinx Folder" option.
- Put your "prod.keys" file inside the "system" subfolder.
- Go back to Ryujinx, and select "Tools -> Firmware -> Install from XCI/ZIP."
- Select your dumped firmware file to install it.
- Open the "Options" menu, and go to "Settings."
- Navigate to the "User Interface" tab of the "Settings" screen, and click the "Add" button located inside the "Game Directories" section to add the folder where your dumped games are located.
That's it! Your Nintendo Switch games should now appear in the main Ryujinx window.
Tip: if you have a gamepad, you should use it instead of your Mac's keyboard. You can enable and configure it by going to "Options -> Settings -> Input." Choose the preferred input device for Player 1, and customize its buttons if necessary. Finally, click "Save," and exit the "Settings" window.
FYI: learn how to get a longer battery life from your Nintendo Switch.
Ryujinx Alternatives for macOS
Another great Nintendo Switch emulator for macOS (and other operating systems) is Yuzu. Developed by the creators of the Nintendo 3DS emulator Citra, Yuzu holds the title of the first emulator for the Nintendo Switch.
But despite being first, Yuzu isn't fully ready for regular use, and the macOS version requires you to go through a complicated installation process that involves building the emulator from its source code.
Which Nintendo Switch Games Can I Play on My Mac?
As mentioned earlier in this article, the Ryujinx emulator can play around 3,400 Nintendo Switch games, so the chance that at least some of your favorite games are supported is very high. That said, their performance depends on which Mac you have.
A Reddit user performed extensive testing on various Mac models and shared the results. Below, we've compiled a selection of games that run at 60 FPS on different Macs based on their data:
|Games that run at 60 FPS||M1||M1 Max||M1 Pro||M2|
|Super Mario Odyssey||-||-||-||Yes|
|Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity||-||Yes||Yes||-|
|The Legend of Zelda Links's Awakening||-||-||Yes||Yes|
|Mario Party Superstars||-||Yes||-||-|
|Yoshi's Crafted World||Yes||-||-||-|
|Mario Kart 8 Deluxe||-||-||-||Yes|
|Kirby and the Forgotten Land||-||-||-||Yes|
|Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury||-||-||-||Yes|
|Cursed to Golf||-||-||-||Yes|
While the table above gives you a snapshot of what to expect, remember that game performance can vary due to various factors, including the specific game version and the emulator settings. Also, please note that some games may encounter issues beyond frame rate, such as graphical glitches, audio issues, or even crashes.
Unfortunately, one very popular Nintendo Switch game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild doesn't currently support the ARM64 hypervisor implemented in Ryujinx, a mechanism that allows most Switch code to run ARM-to-ARM. To play Breath of the Wild, you'll need to enable the JIT engine, which currently imposes a significant performance penalty.
To learn more about how a specific game performs, check out the comprehensive Ryujinx compatibility GitHub issue tracker. It's an excellent resource to understand how well a game will run before you put in the time and effort to dump and set it up.
Tip: if you're getting ready to play some games but can't get your device to work, learn how to troubleshoot your Nintendo Switch not turning on.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there any legal issues with playing Nintendo Switch games on my Mac?
Playing Nintendo Switch games on your Mac via emulation isn't inherently illegal. However, it's important to note that the legalities can become murky, depending on how you obtain the games and system files. Downloading ROMs (digital versions of games) or system files you don't own from the Internet is always considered piracy and is therefore illegal. Not a game player? Check out this list of the best Nintendo Switch apps.
Can I use my Nintendo Switch controllers to play games on my Mac?
Yes. The Joy-Con and Pro controllers can be paired with your Mac over Bluetooth. We can show you how to attach your Joy-Cons and Pro controllers directly to your Mac.
Will playing Nintendo Switch games on my Mac affect my game progress on the actual console?
No, playing games on an emulator won't affect your game progress on your Nintendo Switch console, as your emulator and Switch don't share saved data.
Is Ryujinx better than Yuzu?
Both Ryujinx and Yuzu have their strengths and weaknesses, and "better" will depend on your specific needs and preferences. One area where Yuzu is a clear loser is its setup process on macOS, as it requires users to build the emulator from its source code.
Image credit: Pexels. All screenshots by David Morelo.
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