Nintendo’s reborn tiny handheld game has certainly attracted the attention of hardware hackers, and we’ve been treated to a succession of exploits as its secrets have been one by one unlocked. With relatively straightforward hardware it conceals potential far beyond a simple Mario game or two, and it’s now at the stage of having a path to dumping both its SPI Flash and internal Flash, unlocking its processor, and running arbitrary code. The process of unlocking it is now atraightforward enough to warrant a HOWTO video, to which [stacksmashing] has treated us. It’s early days and this is still touted as for developers rather than gamers, but it serves to show where work on this console is going.
The console’s STM32 architecture means that programming hardware is straightforward enough to find, though we’re cautioned against using the cheap AliExpress type we might use with a Blue Pill or similar. Instead the snap-off programmer that comes with an STM Nucleo board is a safer choice that many people are likely to have already.
The relative simplicity of the process as seen in the video below must conceal an immense amount of work from multiple people. It’s a succession of scripts to sequentially unlock and back up the various firmwares with STM payloads for each step. Finally the STM32 itself is unlocked, and the backed-up Nintendo firmware can be returned to the device or instead a custom firmware can be created. Aside from the DOOM we’ve already seen there are work-in-progress NES and Game Boy emulators, and fascinatingly also work on bare-metal games.
Given the lack of custom chips in this console it is easily possible that its hardware could be directly cloned and that Nintendo might have unintentionally created a new general purpose hacker’s handheld gaming platform. There are a few hardware works-in-progress such as increasing the SPI Flash size and finding the unconnected USB pins, so we look forward to more exciting news from this quarter.