Since the Nintendo eShop for the Wii U and 3DS officially closed for good on the 27th March 2023, 3DS hacking has become an extremely popular topic. But why would you hack your 3DS?
It’s apparently so easy to do in fact that there’s even been memes created about it.
Now this article isn’t a guide showing you how to hack your 3DS, but rather an informative tome explaining why you would even want to hack it in the first place.
So, what can a hacked 3DS do, that a regular 3DS can’t?
What Can A Hacked 3DS Do?
Note – Before we get started here, I do just want to do a bit of maintenance. Firstly, if you plan on hacking your 3DS after watching this, you’re doing so at your own risk. Don’t come for me if your console gets bricked or anything. And secondly, piracy is bad and you should only access games which you already own. Don’t be a criminal, okay?
If you follow some of the popular 3DS hacking guides, you’re going to end up with a load of things installed on your system, stuff called boot9strap, Luma3DS, godmode9 and all sorts of stuff.
That all sounds fancy but what does it actually mean for a normal, non-hacker like me?
Well to start things off, once you’ve got yourself a hacked 3DS the first thing you might want to try out is it’s emulation capabilities, so I downloaded RetroArch which was fairly straight-forward and gave it a go!
Nintendo’s Emulation Secrets
Of course, Nintendo officially supported emulation and sold NES, Game Boy, SNES, Game Boy Advance and Game Gear games on their store, so we already know that the console is capable of this.
The elephant in the room is that, of course, with a hacked 3DS you technically don’t need to pay to gain access to these games. I mean to be fair, even if you wanted to, you can’t now considering they shut the official store.
But the more interesting element is that because it’s hacked, you not only have access to games which were never officially ported to the 3DS, but access to entire systems not officially supported either.
I’m talking Sega Mega Drive, Atari 2600 and even Nintendo DS!
Admittedly the DS emulation is a little bit pointless considering the 3DS is fully backwards compatible with the DS anyway, but still; you can do it if you really wanted to!
How Well Can A Hacked 3DS Emulate Games?
The quality of the emulation performance is going to be drastically altered by which model of the 3DS you have. I only have the 3DS XL which is the least powerful variant, but if you have one of the NEW 3DS or 2DS variants of the system, they are actually fairly significantly upgraded.
They’ll allow you to take much better advantage of the emulation capabilities, as well as providing you with a right analogue stick too.
By doing this, I’m able to play my favourite NES game, Bionic Commando, on my 3DS which annoyingly was never officially available to buy and isn’t even on the Switch either.
Where is the love for this series?
Outside of emulation, you can also run homebrew software, allowing you to customise your console with things like themes for your homescreen, giving you access to apps like a third party YouTube client, and most importantly, of course, allowing you to play games that you never thought would run on the 3DS.
There are ports of Half Life and Doom, an enhanced port of Super Mario 64 which runs in widescreen and even has versions with updated character models. You can even play Sonic Mania, which is impressive considering that it was released relatively recently.
And potentially the single most insane thing I found is a full port of Grand Theft Auto III. I never would have thought this could run on the 3DS!
Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, the scene for fully original homebrew games on the 3DS is extremely small at the moment, however I do imagine that this will grow over time as more and more people become familiar with the inner workings of the hardware.
Again, just like with emulation, some homebrew games will struggle to work on the old 3DS models. In fact, the port of Grand Theft Auto III literally doesn’t work at all, so if you want to take full advantage of this stuff, you might want to consider upgrading to a New model.
ROM Hacking & Mods
What does have a big movement though is ROM hacking or modding. This is particularly popular with the Pokemon games, and by hacking the 3DS you can of course get access to all of them and play them on your handheld.
Obviously, these are also quite easy to get on the PC, but to me it feels way more natural playing them like this. If you’re interested in looking at some of the best Pokemon ROM hacks, then Retro Dodo has you covered!
Outside of Pokemon though we also have mods for Mario Kart 7 which are straight up insane. We’ve looked at one called CTGP7 (bit of a mouthful to say out loud that one) which adds in 50 community made tracks consisting of retro ones and brand new fan created ones.
This hack boasts a single player versus mode (which was absent from the base game) which lets you play any tracks you want in any order and with custom rules, it adds in the 200cc mode from Mario Kart 8, and is playable online.
It even implements new game types into the multiplayer too and even has tons of new characters and karts. Literally it’s worth hacking the 3DS for this one hack; it’s basically a brand new Mario Kart game!
There are other games like Super Mario 3D Land and Animal Crossing New Leaf featuring great mods too, so definitely take a look at those if you want more content in some of these awesome 3DS games.
Extra Features Worth Mentioning
I also want to mention that hacking your 3DS enables is this nifty little feature where you can insert a physical game cartridge like normal but then dump it onto the console so that you can access it as if you had the digital version, no cartridges needed!
This is a very handy feature considering this console is a handheld, and you probably don’t want to take a million cartridges with you everytime you take the 3DS out. And plus something about this feels less morally wrong than straight up downloading ROM files online, considering you’re literally playing a digital replica of the same game that you actually own.
Exploring The 3DS Back Catalogue With a Hacked 3DS
This brings me to my final reason you’d want to hack the 3DS. You can of course, quite easily access full on 3DS games, and while I really don’t think you should do this for games which you can still buy physically, there have been quite a few games that were wiped from existence with the eShop closure.
Or at least that’s what Nintendo would have you believe, because yes, you can access those digital only games by hacking the 3DS, and you can even download DLC for games which you own too, which is just absolutely incredible for game preservation.
Without this, games like Pushmo (or Pullblox as it’s called here in Europe), Box Boy, HarmoKnight and the 3D Classics versions of retro games would be completely lost.
So while Retro Dodo doesn’t like or condone piracy, Nintendo literally aren’t giving us any other choice if we want to play this stuff, so I’d say that’s fair game.
So, is it worth hacking the 3DS?
Absolutely, the amount of features that you can access when this is fully unrestricted is actually quite incredible. You’ve got emulation, homebrew apps and games, hacked or modded versions of 3DS titles, access to games which have been wiped from official stores, and nice ‘quality of life’ stuff like being able to dump your physical cartridges to the system.
To think that the 3DS has been capable of this stuff all this time is pretty amazing, and while I really hate how Nintendo have so quickly abandoned the system, it might have actually worked out for the best because it’s brought all of this into the spotlight.
It’s quite honestly given me way more reasons to play the system, and I’ll definitely be going back to it a lot more now that it’s hacked.
Let me know if you’ve hacked your 3DS and what some of your most used features or most played games for the system are. Don’t forget to check out our lists of the best Nintendo 3DS games and our underrated 3DS games list while you’re here too!
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Rob has a particular fondness for the strange, obscure and quirky side of gaming and loves sharing his knowledge with others. He has been creating content on his own YouTube channel for several years and aims to take his passion to the next level with Retro Dodo.