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Hackers tweak NES Classic Edition to play games from other consoles

Hackers get Nintendo 64 and 32X games running on NES Classic

Why it matters to you

Thanks to unofficial modifications, the NES Classic Edition is being transformed into a highly capable retro gaming console.

It didn’t take long for people to start tinkering with Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition, which launched in North America in November 2016. Just a few days after its release, the system was modified to run a custom version of Ubuntu, and in January its library was unofficially expanded. Now, the console isn’t even limited to games that were released for the NES.

Hackers have been able to force the NES Classic Edition to run RetroArch, a program that can be used to emulate several classic consoles. With the help of RetroArch, a modified NES Classic Edition can run Game Boy, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis games, according to a report from Nintendo Life.

RetroArch has even enabled hackers to run Nintendo 64 games on the NES Classic — a major technological step up from both the games for the original NES, as well as the Super Nintendo. Mario Kart 64 runs at just over 20 frames-per-second through the NES Classic, which is hardly ideal, and Wave Race 64 fares even worse.

The 32X, an ill-fated add-on for the Sega Genesis, now also has its library of games running on a hacker’s NES Classic, and the games appear to run almost as smoothly as they did on the original system. Doom — though widely considered to be a butchered port — is locked at 60 frames-per-second, while Knuckles’ Chaotix is able to keep its platforming remarkably smooth.

There are a few noticeable hiccups with a few of the 32X ROMs, however. NBA Jam doesn’t appear to function at all, with a black screen in place of the actual match, while Virtua Fighter features an annoying tapping noise that would be enough to make Edgar Allen Poe go mad.

The legal status of this project is questionable, given that the system would be running ROMs rather than officially sanctioned rereleases of classic titles. Still, the prospect of a miniature NES that can run such a wide gamut of retro games will be very attractive to many gamers.

The hack may detract from the system’s crisp, clean user interface, and some games show occasional signs of slowdown, but it’s still a very impressive modification. Of course, you could yield a similar end product with a Raspberry Pi and a little elbow grease.

In December 2016, a trademark application prompted speculation that Nintendo might be preparing to release an SNES Classic Edition. This project demonstrates that it would be relatively straightforward to create such a device — but it also casts some doubt on whether Nintendo will pursue a follow-up to its NES rerelease.

The fact that hackers are already capable of modifying the NES Classic Edition to such extremes may dissuade Nintendo from releasing similar products in the future. With access to Game Boy, SNES, and Genesis games, the system can be transformed into a full-fledged super-emulator — and the company will be eager to distance itself from piracy, especially with its Virtual Console set to be relaunched for the Switch over the coming months.

Updated on 2-16-2017 by Gabe Gurwin: Added information related to Nintendo 64 and 32X games being run on the NES Classic.