Zeebo, a Latin American console from the Wii era, is getting an emulator

Saving the digital-only console's library from obsolescence is a big moment for video game preservation.

YouTube / @Tuxality

An enterprising developer is working on reviving a lost piece of gaming history. A YouTuber using the handle Tuxality has posted a video (via GamesRadar) showing early work on an emulator that can play the games from an obscure rival to the Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3 that only launched in two countries.

There’s a good chance you’ve forgotten — or never heard of — the Zeebo gaming console. The Qualcomm-backed system (costing around $170 in US dollar conversions) launched in 2009 with a grand plan to target markets like Brazil and Mexico, where imports of its much-better-known rivals were priced out of reach for most people. It had cellular 3G functionality built in and supported around 40 games. Companies including Activision, Capcom, EA, Disney Interactive Studios and id Software lined up to develop software for the upstart system.

Launching the same year as the iPhone App Store, the Zeebo eschewed discs and cartridges, instead earning a footnote in gaming history as the first console that exclusively used digital downloads. Think of it as a precursor to homebound mobile-game consoles like the also-defunct Ouya.

Archival marketing image of the Zeebo gaming console. The dark gray console has curves and somewhat resembles a PS3 Slim. Its controller is white and rectangular with an orange

However, the strategy didn’t go as planned, and the company announced the end of its operations in its only two markets by 2011. Although its website teased information about future launches in China and Russia and an upcoming Android-based system, nothing ever materialized. The company was never heard from again. Today, the URL that once served as the system’s online home is now the landing page for a supplements ad.

As you can see in the video below, Tuxality demonstrates early progress in loading the Zeebo’s operating system and firing up Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D. The emulation shows numerous graphical hiccups, typical of early emulator builds. However, the fact that a talented software engineer is eyeing the system as a personal project should be welcome news for video game preservationists. Even obscure and short-lived projects like the Zeebo played a part in the relatively brief legacy of gaming hardware, and — like any history — its library is better conserved than erased.