Nintendo’s NES Classic is a $60 device that looks just like the original Nintendo Entertainment System game console, only smaller. Unveiled last summer, the device went on sale a few months ago and it was an instant hit: it’s hard to find stores that still have the little game console in stock.
But unlike the original NES from the 1980s, the NES Classic doesn’t take cartridges. It comes with 30 games pre-installed and there’s officially no way to change the games.
Unofficially, on the other hand…
Hackers have discovered a method for loading additional games to the NES classic using a USB cable. The process involves copying the NES system files to your computer, modifying them, preparing and adding your own game ROM files, and then flash the modified firmware back to the NES.
Keep in mind, while this is a way to make Nintendo’s retro console more useful, it’s not entirely legal. As Cory Doctorow points out at Boing Boing, you’re allowed in the US to extract game files from cartridges you own, but it’s illegal to actually load them onto a game console like the NES Classic which isn’t intended to play them.
On the one hand, I’m always impressed by hacker ingenuity, which allows you to get more out of the devices you own. But Doctorow suggests that if US laws were less restrictive, you wouldn’t need to rely on difficult and risky methods for modifying a device you paid for. You might just be able to buy an accessory that does the heavy lifting, because there’d be nothing stopping the hackers who discovered this technique from commercializing it and supporting it.
Of course, there’s a simpler method for loading your own games onto a retro-style console. Just build your own from a Raspberry Pi or a similar cheap, tiny computer that can run RetroPie or other emulation software. If you can get your hands on an NES Classic, you could even hollow it out and stick the Raspberry Pi inside the case.