After successfully hacking Nintendo’s Game & Watch revival a day before the handheld was officially released, it didn’t lake long for Twitter user ‘stacksmashing’ to figure out how to get alternate games running on the device. They started with Doom, but have since succeeded in getting other retro classics like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros. 3, and even one of the original Game Boy Pokémons to play on the handheld.
At this point, if you’re going to hack a piece of hardware to run games it’s tradition to start with id Software’s classic first-person-shooter, Doom. stacksmashing was able to get it working on the Game & Watch, but because of the handheld’s diminutive amount of storage, they first had to shrink Doom considerably by stripping away most of the textures that brought its 3D world to life.
As a result, while it was technically playable, Doom looked awful on the Game & Watch, and the little handheld struggled to maintain a decent frame rate since it has just 1.3MB of RAM. As a proof of concept, getting Doom to even work at all on the Game & Watch confirmed the potential of the device for playing games other than Super Mario Bros. and its sequel, but it also confirmed the handheld won’t play everything.
Thankfully, stacksmashing has followed Doom with tests featuring other classic video games, and the resulting gameplay and performance looks far more promising. On their Twitter account they recently shared short videos of the new Game & Watch playing Super Mario Bros. 3, Konami’s Contra, the NES version of The Legend of Zelda, and even a Game Boy version of Pokémon, and aside from that last one which exhibits some peculiar scaling issues, all the games look right at home on the Game & Watch’s screen.
But don’t run out and buy the new Game & Watch just yet with the intention of hacking it and playing your favorite retro game on it. There are some real challenges with getting your own software onto the handheld because its USB-C port is only used for charging the internal battery; it’s not connected to the mainboard for data transfers. As a result, swapping out ROM files requires physically opening the device and using custom hardware to reflash its memory chips, which of course requires a certain level of skill and proficiency with those tools to assure the little console doesn’t get fried in the process.
stacksmashing has promised to publish a full guide on hacking the new Game & Watch once a streamlined method of doing so is finalized. But until then, just keep an eye on their Twitter account as they find new ways to repurpose the handheld and expand its limited capabilities.