On Saturday, the world may have seen an NES game officially running on a Nintendo Switch for the first time. You might think the weird thing about this news is how long it took Virtual Console support to come to the Switch. But this is not a Virtual Console story.
It turns out this is somehow weirder. Your Nintendo Switch may already have a fully playable NES game sitting right in it.
The news comes from SwitchBrew.org, a hacking and file system analysis repository for Nintendo’s latest console. After a major dump of “title” names from the system’s file system in July, users discovered a “title” in the system called “flog”. The site’s original stump on flog claimed that this title featured a full-fledged NES emulator, but it said nothing else.
Saturday’s SwitchBrew update is all about this mysterious flog entry, and it insists that this is an emulator wrapped around a single NES video game: the NES version of golf first launched in 1984. (“Flog? That’s ‘wave’ backwards!”) According to poster “yellows8” (who previously created his own Github repository full of 3DS system exploits), this copy of NES golf sits on every Nintendo Switch console in the world and is designed specifically for Switch compatibility. Possible screenshots of the emulator in action, shown above, even demonstrate Joy-Con wave motion controls.
This is particularly wild, as no emulated NES game, even during the wobbly Wii era, has ever officially supported modern control updates such as motion or touchscreen controls. Nintendo says the upcoming online service will add online support for classic NES games, but it hasn’t announced any motion-control upgrades or other gameplay additions to classics.
Yellows8 claims that the emulator-packaged game is installed on Switch systems dating back to the system’s original 1.0 firmware. The user also writes that “it is not known what prompted the launch of this title.” Would a button combination, Joy-Con move command, or even Amiibo-powered unlock be required? Or is this just a hidden proof-of-concept of the Virtual Console fare officially launching soon? And how exactly did yellows8 get these screenshots if the user couldn’t manually load the hidden Switch game?
There’s certainly the possibility that this is a joke or fake, but that would be a pretty lengthy scam based on the user’s post and activity history at SwitchBrew and other Nintendo hacking repositories. Were this news true, it would be a rare example of a traditional console with games hidden within the operating system. Android, on the other hand, has sneaked hidden, unlockable games into its operating system. Microsoft Excel beat them both well in terms of an early and weird example.
Update, 7:55 PM ET: In response to Ars Technica’s questions, the researcher claims that he has the version of golf found preloaded on Nintendo Switch. Yellows8 has not confirmed exactly how the game was opened, except to describe the access as “unofficial” – meaning the game was opened in a way that an average system user might not be able to replicate. (Whether “unofficial” access means access to the root system, a hardware or software hack, or other exploit remains unknown.) Yellows8 also confirmed that it has played the game with both traditional Joy-Con buttons and motion controls.
A Nintendo representative was unable to provide an official response from the company at press time. (Instead, the rep offered a “ha!”)
Further update, September 19, 9am ET: Twitter user Pixelpar has posted a video claim to show golf runs on the Switch. Pixel par followed to say that he is “examining what triggers it now”, which is certainly strange to say for someone who has supposedly already activated it himself. Supposed unlocking methods posted by hackers include: maddening vague at the moment.