Nintendo 3DS Flaw Lets You Play GameBoy ROMs

What happens when you can't play a beloved video game any more, because the hardware for which it was designed is no longer available?

Some gamers have found an answer: Use a recently discovered exploit on the Nintendo 3DS handheld system to sideload old GameBoy and GameBoy Color ROMs onto the device.

MORE: Best Nintendo 3DS Games

The Nintendo 3DS can already play certain older Nintendo games via its Virtual Console feature. The Virtual Console is an emulator, a piece of software that runs on one kind of hardware (in this case, Nintendo 3DS), but  "emulates," or pretends to be, another kind of hardware (in this case, GameBoy or GameBoy Color).

But Nintendo only allows games sold via the Nintendo eShop on the Virtual Console. So what's a fan of niche older games to do?

A YouTuber named KazoWAR appears to have found a new flaw in the Nintendo 3DS's software that lets users play any old GameBoy or GameBoy Color games on the device.

Pulling off the trick requires users to legitimately purchase at least one GameBoy Color game from the Nintendo eShop. The game has to be at or less than 1 MB in size. Then, on a SD card, place the ROM for the GameBoy or GameBoy Color game you want on your 3DS, as well as the exploit code (the link to the file is in the YouTube description), and put the SD card into the 3DS's card slot. The trick works by essentially replacing the eShop-purchased game with the sideloaded ROM. 

The in-game saving mechanisms of the sideloaded games won't work, but users can use the Virtual Console's own save-state feature to save their progress.

The trick doesn't seem to work with the new 3DS models just released in Japan, Europe and Australia, because the new devices seem to have patched the vulnerability.

That this hack is even possible reveals a bit more about how Nintendo's Virtual Console works.

"While the slow drip of official eShop releases adds incidental features like digital instruction booklets, it appears there's no technical reason that Nintendo couldn't throw its entire legacy library onto the service for legitimate download," writes Ars Technica's Kyle Orland.

Jill Scharr is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she regularly covers security, 3D printing and video games. You can follow Jill on Twitter @JillScharr and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She's currently Project Lead Writer at the games studio Harebrained Schemes, and has also worked at Bungie. Prior to that she worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation among many subjects.