If you were super good last year (and super lucky), you might have scored an NES Classic Edition console on Christmas morning. The retro game system was one of the hottest and most in-demand items this past holiday season, commanding more than three times its value from second-hand sellers on eBay and Craigslist. Though in short supply, hackers have already managed to mod the console to accept more games in the form of ROM files.
The NES Classic Edition comes with 30 games already included, among them classics such as Super Mario Bros. (1-3), The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong, Metroid, Castlevania, Tecmo Bowl, Ghosts'N Goblins, and many more. It's a fine collection, though as one of the best selling game consoles of all time, there are a wealth of games not included that nostalgic fans might remember and long to play once again.
Hackers from Russia and Japan have figured out two separate methods for allowing third-party ROMs. One involves a bit of soldering while the other appears entirely software based. We haven't tried this ourselves, but according to a poster on Reddit, one of the hacks requires that users save a game in Super Mario Bros. in the first slot in order to load the custom kernel.
From there it is a matter of connecting the NES Classic Edition to a PC using a micro-USB cable and booting into "FEL" mode, which can be done by holding the reset button and pushing the power button when the console is powered off, and then following a bunch of steps.
There are a couple of disclaimers here. One is that hacking your NES Classic Edition console is a "do at your own risk" thing. Whether soldering parts or just playing with software code, there is always the risk of bricking your console. The other disclaimer is the legality of ROMs. We have not heard of any instances of Nintendo coming after consumer for installing ROMs, but its stance on them is pretty clear. Taken from Nintendo's FAQ on the matter:
Can I Download a Nintendo ROM from the Internet if I Already Own the Authentic Game?
There is a good deal of misinformation on the Internet regarding the backup/archival copy exception. It is not a "second copy" rule and is often mistakenly cited for the proposition that if you have one lawful copy of a copyrighted work, you are entitled to have a second copy of the copyrighted work even if that second copy is an infringing copy. The backup/archival copy exception is a very narrow limitation relating to a copy being made by the rightful owner of an authentic game to ensure he or she has one in the event of damage or destruction of the authentic. Therefore, whether you have an authentic game or not, or whether you have possession of a Nintendo ROM for a limited amount of time, i.e. 24 hours, it is illegal to download and play a Nintendo ROM from the Internet.
The exploit that allows these hacks has only recently been discovered, and the console itself is just two months old. it is not clear how many ROMs are compatible after applying one of these mods or if there are any quirks. That said, several users have reported success in loading their NES Classic Edition with ROMs.
It was inevitable that modders would figure out a way to shove more ROMs onto the NES Classic Edition, and it's likely that new methods will follow.