As exciting as it is to retro gamers to see Nintendo resurrect its earliest handheld consoles, with just three games on the new Game & Watch — two of which being Super Mario Bros. — it’s not surprising to see hackers already cracking the hardware open to see if there’s the potential to add more titles.
Twitter user ‘stacksmashing’ was one of the lucky few to have their Game & Watch consoles delivered yesterday, and after a brief outing into the Mushroom Kindgom, they immediately proceeded to tear down the handheld to see how it functioned, and determine its potential for expandability. It appears to use completely different hardware than the NES Classic Edition from a few years ago, which has already been successfully hacked.
The good news: stacksmashing discovered that the Game & Watch seems to load a Super Mario Bros. NES ROM file into the device’s RAM, which means that the ROM file could potentially be swapped with a different one allowing other games to be loaded and played on the handheld. They also found that after slightly altering the software that powers the Game & Watch, it still booted, meaning alternate firmware could be created and used instead.
Most importantly, stacksmashing was able to bypass the Game & Watch’s ROM encryption after just a day of tinkering to make the console display a custom “HACKED” message on screen. There’s still a lot of work to be done to determine if alternate game ROMs can be loaded and played — not just a simple ROM that displays text — but this is a lot of important progress in just one day.
The bad news: based on stacksmashing’s explorations it doesn’t appear as if the USB-C port on the new Game & Watch is connected to the CPU or anything other than power wires. It seems it’s for charging the internal battery only, which means that anyone wanting to swap out the pre-loaded ROM files, or completely replace the firmware, is going to need to open up their device and use custom hardware to re-flash it.
That will make it challenging for anyone without a basic understanding of electronics to modify their own handheld, but this is also day one of tinkering with the device. As the new Game & Watch makes it into the hands of other hackers, more of its secrets will be revealed, but from the get go it doesn’t look like Nintendo has gone to the same lengths as it has with consoles like the Switch and 3DS to lock this one down.