The Switch is Nintendo’s latest home console, which has forever blurred the line between handhelds and consoles you plug in to your TV. It does both! Typically, hooking up to a screen is done through the dock, but that wasn’t quite cool enough for [sturm]. He took a NES and turned it into a tidy Switch dock instead!
The build starts with an original NES shell, which is gutted of its original hardware. The PCB from the original dock is installed, and a slot cut in the top of the NES to allow the Switch to be inserted. Naturally, there’s a spring flap reminiscent of the Super NES to keep the dock looking clean when not in use. When it is installed, a series of cables and bezels break out the USB ports to the original controller ports on the NES.
It’s a tidy build that brings a touch of nostalgia to the modern console. We’re sure an official version would sell like hotcakes, too. There’s plenty of similarly inspired builds for the Switch, with the Gamecube Joycons a particular highlight!
Today if you wanted a little gadget to sit on your shelf and let you play classic games from the early console era, you’d likely reach for the Raspberry Pi. With slick emulator front-ends like RetroPie and DIY kits available on Amazon, you don’t even need to be a technical wizard or veteran penguin wrangler to set it up. If you can follow an online tutorial, you can easily cram the last few decades of gaming into a cheap and convenient package.
But things were a bit different back in 2005. There weren’t a lot of options for playing old games on the big screen, and what was out there tended to be less than ideal. You could hack an original Xbox or gut an old laptop to make an emulation box that could comfortably blend in with your DVD player, but that wasn’t exactly in everyone’s wheelhouse. Besides, what if you had the original cartridges and just wanted to play them on a slightly more modern system?
Enter Messiah, and their Generation NEX console. As you might have gathered from their ever-so-humble name, Messiah claimed their re-imagined version of the Nintendo Entertainment System would “Bring Gaming Back to Life” by playing the original cartridges with enhanced audio and visual clarity. It also featured integrated support for wireless controllers, which at the time was only just becoming the standard on contemporary consoles. According to the manufacturer, the Generation NEX used custom hardware based on the “NES algorithm” that offered nearly 100% game compatibility.
Unfortunately, the system was a complete bomb. Despite Messiah’s claims, the Generation NEX ended up being yet another “NES-on-a-chip” (NOAC) clone, and a pretty poor one at that. Reviewers at the time reported compatibility issues with many popular titles, despite the fact that they were listed as working on Messiah’s website. The touted audio and video improvements were nowhere to be found, and in fact many users claimed the original NES looked and sounded better in side-by-side comparisons.
It didn’t matter how slick the console looked or how convenient the wireless controllers were; if the games themselves didn’t play well, the system was doomed. Predictably the company folded not long after, leaving owners stuck with the over-priced and under-performing consoles. Realistically, most of them ended up in landfills. Today we’ll take a look inside a relatively rare survivor and see just what nostalgic gamers got for their money in 2005.
As the original hardware from the golden era of 8-bit computer gaming becomes a bit long in the tooth, keeping it alive has become something of a concern for enthusiasts. There have been a succession of remanufactured parts for many of the major platforms of the day, and now thanks to [Redherring32] it’s the turn of the NES console.
It’s an interesting exercise in reverse engineering as well as a chance to look at the NES at the chip level. Also for Nintendo-heads, it provides all the component footprints and schematic items in KiCAD format. Will many be built? Given that the NES was the best-selling console of its time there should be no shortage of originals to be found, but that in no way invalidates the effort put into this project. There will be NES consoles somewhere running for decades to come because of work such as this, simply remember that you don’t need to blow in the slot to make it work!
Details are sparse in [wermy]’s video below, but there’s enough there to get the gist. The game is based on the Nintendo classic, where animated ducks fly across the screen and act as targets for a light pistol. Translating that to something suitable for decorating a Christmas tree meant adding an Arduino and an IR LED to the original NES light pistol, and building a base station with a Feather and a small LCD screen into a case that looks like [The Simpsons] TV. An LED on each 3d-printed duck target lights in turn, prompting you to blast it with the gun. An IR sensor on each duck registers hits, while the familiar sound effects are generated by the base, which also displays the score. Given a background of festive blinkenlights, it’s harder than it sounds – see it in action briefly below.
We admit that a hack enabling a 34-year-old video game peripheral to be controlled by a mobile app wasn’t something we were expecting to see today, but if controlling something with something else isn’t the definition of a classic hack, we don’t know what is. The folks at [Croxel Inc.] worked out a way to control R.O.B. using a phone app to demo out their expertise in building hardware and software prototypes, a service they offer at their website.
R.O.B. was a little robot with movable clamp arms bundled with the 1985 release of the NES, an effort by Nintendo of America to drive sales of the console after the gaming crash of 1983 by making it look less like a video game and more like a toy. The robot receives inputs from light sensors in its head, which would be pointed towards the TV playing one of the only two games released with support for it. [Croxel] used this to their advantage, and in order to control the robot without needing a whole NES, they fabricated a board using a BGM111 Bluetooth Low-Energy module which can receive outside inputs and translate them to the light commands the robot recognizes.
To avoid having to modify the rare toy itself and having to filter out any external light, the hack consists of a 3D printed “goggles” enclosure that fits over R.O.B.’s eyes, covering them entirely. The board is fitted inside it to shine the control light into its eyes, while also flashing “eye” indicators on the outside to give it an additional charming 80s look. The inputs, which are promptly obeyed, are then given by a phone paired to the module using a custom app skinned to look like a classic NES controller.
The holidays are upon us, and that can mean many furrowed brows trying to figure out what token gift they can give out this year as stocking-stuffers. Something that’s a bit more interesting than a coupon book or a lotto scratcher, but also affordable enough that you can buy a few of them without having to take part in that other great holiday tradition: unnecessary credit debit.
Which is how I came to possess, at least temporarily, one of these cheap handheld multi-games that are all over Amazon and eBay. The one I ordered carries the brand name Weikin, but there are dozens of identical systems available, all being sold at around the same $20 USD price point. With the outward appearance of a squat Game Boy, these systems promise to provide precisely 168 games for your mobile enjoyment, and many even include a composite video out cable and external controller for the less ambulatory classic game aficionado.
At a glance, the average Hackaday reader will probably see right through this ploy. Invariably, these devices will be using some “NES on a Chip” solution to emulate a handful of legitimate classics mixed in with enough lazy ROM hacked versions of games you almost remember to hit that oddly specific number of 168 titles. It’s nearly a foregone conclusion that at the heart of this little bundle of faux-retro gaming lies a black epoxy blob, the bane of hardware tinkerers everywhere.
Of course, there’s only one way to find out. Let’s crack open one of these budget handhelds to see what cost reduction secrets are inside. Have the designers secured their place on the Nice List? Or have we been sold the proverbial lump of coal?
An NES cartridge in its most basic form is a surprisingly simple device, it contains two ROMs hosting all the code and assets of its game, and a Nintendo code chip that provided what was a state-of-the-art consumer DRM system for the 1980s. Decades later its inner workings have been extensively reverse-engineered, and there have been quite a few custom and reprogrammable cartridge designs produced.
This hasn’t stopped [Troy Denton] and [Brad Taylor] making a cartridge of their own though, and the result of their labours is a fully USB reprogrammable cartridge for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It provides nonvolatile storage and is a simpler design than you might expect, using a pair of 1 megabit Flash chips and emulating Nintendo’s DRM with an ATtiny microcontroller.
In itself it’s an interesting enough design, but what makes the write-up stand out is the description of having the boards manufactured by a PCBA service, and their subsequent debugging. A surface-mount micro USB socket that shorted out the USB power required a bit of rework to place Kapton tape beneath it, while another clever patch uses the NES clock signal to provide a read-only line for the memory. It’s also interesting to hear about their manual “crowdfunding” approach which was to ask around if anyone else wanted one so they could bring unit cost down by producing more cartridges.