Before We Start
Playing Switch games on Steam Deck isn’t as easy setting up as, say, Wii U games. With disc-base systems, you can whack the game into a CD drive, rip it, and transfer it over. With the Switch, you’ll need to dump your key files, firmware, and games yourself through a modded Switch.
Modding a Switch isn’t all that difficult, nor is transferring the needed files, but due to concerns about piracy, and how responsive Nintendo is with regard to mod tools, I’m not legally allowed to go into the specifics of modding and obtaining those files. Just look at how quickly the company responded to Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom leaks and you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
I have linked guides where needed, though, and can walk you through the rest of the setup process.
In terms of what you’ll need, take a look at the checklist below:
- A modded Nintendo Switch
- An SD card for the Switch to transfer data and games
- A way to transfer files to Steam Deck (a USB stick, dock, or Windows PC)
- A Steam Deck with EmuDeck installed
Step 1: Boot into Desktop Mode
Let’s begin by booting into Desktop Mode. When the Steam Deck has loaded up, hold down the Power Button until the menu shown above appears. Now click Switch to Desktop and the Steam Deck will reboot into the desktop environment.
Step 2: Install EmuDeck
For this next part you’ll need either the Firefox or Chrome Internet browser installed, both of which you can grab from the Discover Store (the blue shopping bag icon).
I have a more in-depth guide to getting EmuDeck installed on Steam Deck, but the quicker version is once the Internet browsers are up and running, open them up and head to the EmuDeck website. Around halfway down the page you’ll spot a big download button. Click on that and the EmuDeck installer file will download to the Steam Deck.
Now it’s just a case of heading into the Dolphin File Explorer (the blue folder icon) and going into your downloads folder. Inside you’ll see the EmuDeck installer file we just downloaded.
Use the right trigger to click on this file twice and select Execute. Follow the on-screen instructions and EmuDeck – along with two Switch emulators in Yuzu and Ryujinx – will be installed onto the Steam Deck.
Note: You’ll be asked during installation if you want to transfer over your ROMs via a USB stick. Feel free to do this now if you have your Switch games on a USB stick, or a dock connected to a storage device.
Step 3: Obtain the Title Keys, Prod Keys, and Firmware
Before we move on, there are a few things we need to discuss. Although it’s possible to download the title keys, prod keys, and Nintendo Switch firmware with a quick search, I can’t recommend doing that as depending on your local laws, doing so could be illegal and may land you in serious trouble.
Obviously, I don’t want any RetroResolve readers getting fined or sent to prison, so instead I recommend following the Yuzu guide to obtaining these files from your modded Nintendo Switch yourself. That, in many countries, isn’t illegal as your using items you physically own and repurposing them for use elsewhere.
Do check your local laws before proceeding just to be safe, though.
For the linked Yuzu guide, you’ll need a modded Nintendo Switch that’s capable of running homebrew, namely Hekete. You’ll also need a modded Switch to dump your games as well.
It’s also very important to note modding your Switch may result in a console ban if you’re not careful. I currently have two Switch consoles; one modded, one unmodded. So far, my modded Switch hasn’t been banned, but that’s because I’m not using pirated games nor am I playing it online while mods are active. It’s literally just for dumping my legally owned games.
If you follow modding guides correctly and don’t use your Switch for something that could get you banned, chances are you won’t be. If, however, you decide to ignore this advice, there’s a very real chance your console will get banned. I’ve seen multiple reports from people online who have ignored the instructions and they’ve been banned within a matter of days. So proceed with common sense, yeah?
One final thing to note: As Yuzu says, you may also need your key_retail.bin file. I haven’t needed this yet as my cartridge dumps work fine on the Steam Deck without it. If you do run into issues, though, dropping them into the same folder outlined below may be a quick fix.
Once you’ve obtained all of the above items, you’re safe to move on to the next step.
Step 4: Installing Title Keys, Prod Keys, and Firmware – Ryujinx
Once you have your Title keys and Prod Keys, transfer them over to the Steam Deck. I use Warpinator as it’s a simple process and lets me transfer files over a wireless network. If you go that route, just dump your keys to the Switch’s microSD card, then insert the card into a Windows PC then use Warpinator on both the PC and Steam Deck via the Discover Store and you can send the files over in a matter of seconds.
Once the files have been transferred you want to place them into the Ryujinx keys folder.
There are two ways to access the keys folder. If you’ve got EmuDeck installed to a microSD card, you can navigate through the following path:
Primary > Emulation > bios > Ryujinx > keys
Alternatively, open up the Dolphin file explorer and hit the three lines button. You should see an option to view hidden files. Tick this option and a host of grayed-out folders will appear. Then it’s just a case of following the path below:
Home > .config > Ryujinx > system
The “keys” folder in the top path is actually a symlink that takes you to the “system” folder, so whichever path you use, you’ll end up in the same place.
Once you’ve got the path open, head back to your key files folder and click on any of them with the left trigger. A menu will appear, and all you need to do is select Copy. Then go back to the system folder and click with the left trigger anywhere in the window. Now select Paste and the file will be copied over to the Ryujinx system folder.
Repeat this process for all the key files.
All that’s left to do now is to install the Switch firmware to Ryujinx.
Ryujinx has a guide to dumping the firmware manually and the process is very similar to Yuzu’s. Once you’ve legally obtained it, transfer it over to the Steam Deck with Warpinator as we did the key files.
Installing the firmware in Ryujinx is, thankfully, really simple. Just open up Ryujinx from the start menu (the blue and white Steam Deck icon in the bottom left corner of the screen) and go into All Applications. Inside you’ll find Ryujinx under the “R” heading. Click it with the left trigger to launch it.
Once it’s loaded up, click on Tools, Install Firmware, then select either Install Firmware from XCI or ZIP or Install Firmware from a directory.
What’s the difference between these two options? It all depends on how you’ve transferred the file across. If you compressed or zipped it to shrink its size, you want the top option. If you have all the NCA files inside of a firmware folder, it’s the bottom option.
Click on the option that matches how your firmware is stored, then navigate to where it’s saved on your Steam Deck. Click the button to launch it once found and Ryujinx will install the firmware itself.
Once that’s done you’ve officially finished setting up Ryujinx.
Step 5: Installing Title Keys, Prod Keys, and Firmware – Yuzu
If you’ve already set up Ryujinx outlined above, setting up the keys for Yuzu is basically the same process, only the path is different.
Copy all the key files as we did for Ryujinx, only this time paste them in end folder in the following path:
Home > .local > share > yuzu > keys
primary > Emulation > bios > yuzu > keys
As with Ryujinx, both paths lead to the same place. The top path is the most direct, and the bottom path can be used by those who installed EmuDeck on their SD card.
Once the keys are in place, it’s time to install the firmware once more.
If you followed the Yuzu guide linked above, you should also have your firmware dumped to the Switch’s microSD card. Transfer it across with Warpinator as outlined above.
If you compressed or zipped the file, you’ll need to extract it before we move on. You can extract ZIP or RAR files by clicking the file with the left trigger, then selecting Extract and Extract to a folder.
To move on, head into your uncompressed firmware folder and copy all the NCA files inside. Chances are, there will be a lot of them, so double check you’ve highlighted all of them before you hit Copy.
You’ll now want to Paste all the files to the following path for use in Yuzu:
Home > .local >share > yuzu > system > Contents > registered
Once all the files are in the Registered folder, that’s Yuzu fully set up and good to go. All that’s left now is to get the Switch ROMs onto the Steam Deck if you haven’t already.
Step 6: Transferring Switch ROMs
Finding the Switch ROMs folder is fairly painless. You can find the folder through the following path:
primary > Emulation > roms > switch
One thing to keep in mind, EmuDeck can transfer ROMs for you, but you’ll need a USB stick and a way to connect to the Steam Deck, like a JSAUX dock for example.
Alternatively, use Warpinator as we did with the key files and firmware to transfer them across to the Steam Deck, then move them into the Switch ROMs folder outlined above and they’ll automatically show up in both Yuzu and Ryujinx.
Nintendo Switch Performance on Steam Deck
Should you play Switch games on Steam Deck? Performance-wise, it’s all dependent on the game you’re looking to play. The Nintendo Switch is still fairly new in emulation terms, so performance won’t be as strong as something like the Wii U or PS2 emulation.
What I’d suggest is taking a look at the Yuzu and Ryujinx compatibility pages. There you’ll be able to get a good idea of what games will and won’t work, and how they’ll run. Some games will run with zero issues, others may have minor problems, and some simply aren’t playable.
I’ve tested some games from my library and performance really is on a case-by-case basis. Some of the smaller Pokémon games run fine, but the later – more robust – releases struggle. Mario Odyssey runs pretty well though, so that was a nice surprise.
All screenshots captured on Steam Deck.