This week security researchers released details about a vulnerability affecting NVIDIA Tegra X1 processors that makes it possible to bypass secure boot and run unverified code on some devices… including every Nintendo Switch game console that’s shipped to date.
Among other things, this opens the door for running modified versions of Nintendo’s firmware, or alternate operating systems such as a GNU/Linux distribution.
And if you can run Linux… you can also run Linux applications. Now it looks like one of those applications could be the Dolphin emulator, which lets you play Nintendo GameCube and Wii games on a computer or other supported devices.
In other words, you could turn your Nintendo Switch into a portable GameCube or Wii.
Dolphin developer Pierre Bourdon has already posted an image of a Switch that appears to be running the Dolphin emulator. And fail0verflow has posted a short video showing the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Walker running in the emulator.
At this point all we’ve seen is the opening screen for the game, but Bourdon says the game can run at around 20-25 frames per second with open source drivers and “without too much optimization.” He says you need to hit 30 fps for the game to be really playable though.
that he contributed to fail0verflow’s Linux port for the Switch, which made it easy to get Dolphin up and running on the device. He also says Dolphin contributors have a lot of experience working with the NVIDIA Shield TV, which also has an NVIDIA Tegra X1 processor, since the Tegra X1 is “pretty much the only ARMv8 hardware which runs Dolphin at a decent speed.”
All of which is to say that while you won’t necessarily have a perfect experience trying to run GameCube or Wii games on a Switch, it certainly looks possible… and the experience will probably get better over time.
But you will still have to jump through a few hoops.
First, you’ll need to short a pin on the Switch’s Joycon connector in order to load unverified code/jailbreak your device. Next, you’ll need to install a GNU/Linux distribution such as Arch that supports the Dolphin emulator. Oh, and you’ll need game ROMs.
That’s a legally murky area. While it’s legal to distribute software like Dolphin that emulates game console hardware and software through reverse engineering, most of the games you probably want to run are protected by copyright. Distributing or downloading them is not legal in many jurisdictions.
You may have more of a legal leg to stand on if you purchase the game and then use the physical media to rip the software, strip the DRM, and create your own ROMs. But that’s a complicated process that still may not be legal in all jurisdictions.
In other words, proceed with caution… and if you feel uncomfortable with any of this, maybe you can wait and see if NVIDIA eventually offers a “virtual console” for the Switch that allows you to play older console games. That’s something the company did for its Wii and Wii U game systems.