Pretendo saves the day after Wii U and 3DS server shut down — here's how to keep your Nintendo games online

Wii U and 3DS server shut down leaves players cut off from online play
(Image credit: Nintendo)

On April 8, 2024, Nintendo officially ended support for online services on the Wii U and 3DS. While players knew a Wii U and 3DS server shut down would come eventually, it's still a major disappointment for fans of online games like Splatoon and Mario Kart

What if it didn't have to be the end of online play on the Wii U and 3DS, though? Thanks to an open source project called Pretendo, Wii U and 3DS online play can carry on (albeit, with a few hacks). 

Here's an overview of the server shut down and how you can keep playing online Wii U and 3DS titles using Pretendo. 

The Wii U and 3DS server shut down explained

The Wii U is offline as of April 8, 2024

The Wii U is offline as of April 8, 2024 (Image credit: Nintendo)

Many Wii U and 3DS players saw the end of online services coming, but to some players it likely came as a disappointing surprise. Nintendo didn't say much about the decision to shut down the servers in its press release. It's only a few paragraphs long and ends with a vague thank you to players: 

"We sincerely thank players for using the online services of Nintendo 3DS and Wii U software over a long period of time and apologize for any inconvenience."

So, we may never know for sure why Nintendo decided to end online services. But there's a good chance the servers were costing more to operate than they were returning in profits since the Wii U and 3DS have far fewer players than the Switch and are no longer receiving new games. 

Nintendo may even be hoping to get the last remaining Wii U and 3DS players to finally set aside their old consoles and move on to the Switch (especially with a Switch 2 announcement imminent). 

However, the Wii U and 3DS server shut down doesn't mean these consoles will no longer work. If you have one, you will still be able to play most of your favorite games. The server shut down simply means that you can't use any online services anymore, which includes things like co-op and online matchmaking. Games that are partially or fully playable offline will still work just fine. That said, it's not the end of the road for online play if you're willing to do a bit of hacking. 

How to install Pretendo on 3DS and Wii U

The Pretendo Network is bringing the Wii U and 3DS back online

The Pretendo Network is bringing the Wii U and 3DS back online (Image credit: Pretendo)

Already missing the old Mario Kart lobbies on 3DS and Wii U? You're in luck. An open source project called Pretendo is helping players keep their consoles online even after the Wii U and 3DS server shut down. If you're willing to do a bit of hacking, you can install it on your device to get back to your favorite online games. Don't worry, though, it's free and safe (as long as you carefully follow Pretendo's installation guides). 

Pretendo is a fan-made alternative to the official Nintendo servers. Since it's open-source, anyone can freely use and view the code (which also means other coders can verify that it's not malicious). Pretendo is still a work in progress, so some games and online services aren't fully functional or available on the platform yet. You can check the progress page to see the status of specific titles. 

To get started bringing your device over to the Pretendo network, head over to the installation page and select the guide for your device (or emulator). Depending on the console you're using, you may need to install a "homebrew" custom firmware first. That means you may need to hack your 3DS or Wii U using your SD card. It's a bit risky, but it gives you complete control over your device, including the ability to use third-party apps and services that aren't official Nintendo products, such as Pretendo. 

Before you get started installing a custom firmware on your 3DS or Wii U, it's worth noting that it's possible, although rare, that you could permanently ruin your console. Plenty of players use custom firmware with no issues, but you do have to be very careful when following installation guides to make sure you don't "brick" your device. 

Once you have a custom firmware up and running on your Wii U or 3DS, you can access the Pretendo network. The Pretendo team already has several popular apps and games fully or mostly operational, including Wii U Chat, Mario Kart 8, and IRONFALL Invasion

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Stevie Bonifield
Freelance Writer

Stevie Bonifield is a freelance tech journalist specializing in keyboards, peripherals, gaming gear, and mobile tech. Outside of writing, Stevie loves indie games, photography, and building way too many custom keyboards