Modders are turning the NES Classic Edition into an all-purpose retro gaming machine

If you were lucky enough to get your hands on an NES Classic Edition this last holiday season, you were probably impressed (as was I) with the quality of the emulation — so much so you wished it had a few more games, or maybe even that there was an SNES version. Well, your dream is coming true — kind of, anyway.

Since hackers found a way to rewrite the memory in the diminutive console about a month ago, an adventurous set of retro gaming fans have been testing its limits. First by adding a few games, then hundreds and now by adding whole other consoles to the mix.

It’s largely the work of Alexey Avdyukhin, a Russian developer who goes by the handle “Cluster.” He developed a tool, Hakchi2, that simplifies the process of writing to the console’s memory in a way that won’t brick it. That last bit is important.

But what was originally a hacked-together app that you needed a walk-through to operate has become far more user-friendly and now even supports mods. The first, Cluster announced on GitHub, is RetroArch, a multi-console emulator ported to the system by another dev working on the project, MadMonkey.

It will automatically detect unsupported NES games and launch them instead of default emulator. Exit to menu, save-states, etc. will work as usual. Also it can emulate SNES, Genesis, GBA and even Nintendo 64 (with Classic Controller, of course). It’s weird to play N64 and Genesis games on NES, I know. That’s why I made it as optional downloadable mod.

People have already populated their devices with dozens or hundreds of games from half a dozen systems — without spoiling the look and feel of the console, as you can see in this demo video from Dan the Man.

Before you rush over and madly start fumbling with the internal doings of your NES Classic Edition, be aware the process still isn’t super easy, or for that matter clearly legal. Nintendo isn’t going to be sympathetic if you irreparably damage your device while trying to fill it with pirated ROMs. And anyway, many games for the consoles in question haven’t been tested yet, and may not even work.

Your best bet — it’s the one I’m making, at least — is to stand by and wait. It’s gone from scrappy hack to respectable software in a month, and in another it might be foolproof. Besides, have you even beaten all 30 of the games that come with the thing? Really? Even Ghosts ‘n Goblins? I thought not.