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Hack the Game, Make it Better: An Overview of ROM Hacks

When Super Mario Maker and its sequel hit shelves, they subsequently flew off of them. A Nintendo title allowing players to sit in the game designer chair and see what it was like to create their own Mario game was revolutionary. It allowed gamers to create levels they’ve always wanted to play, let sociable people troll their friends, and raised  an unavoidable question: where can we find more? The answer has been right under our noses for a while, in the form of ROM hacks.

Hack the Game, Make it Better: An Overview of ROM Hacks
Graphic for Super Mario 64 Odyssey. Courtesy of Kaze Emanuar

ROM hacks are games that have been edited, altered, or changed by people other than the original designer. It is the result of programmers modifying the ROM file (Read Only Memory file) of a game, giving the programmer full control over graphics, dialogue, and overall gameplay. By ROM hacking the game, new creations arise, allowing for a completely new gameplay experience with different levels, characters, and even controls.

This leads to amazing creations better than the original game, unholy creations that’ll make you question your sense of self, and everything in between. For every Bowser’s Dank Rave (a troll Super Mario 64 Rom Hack), there’s an innovative Pokemon Crystal challenge that Smallant1 will feature. For every poorly designed hack that crashes your PC, there will be the gem that truly encapsulates what ROM hacking should be.

Then there’s Kaze Emanuar. Emanuar is the Shigeru Miyamoto of ROM Hacks. Yes, there are many others who have created phenomenal entries, but Emanuar holds a special place in gamers’ hearts. Specializing in Super Mario 64 (SM64) ROM hacks, he has created magnificent games that have caught the attention of many streamers. Take Super Mario 64: Last Impact.

Cover art for Super Mario 64: Last Impact. Courtesy of Kaze Emanuar

There are some similarities between Super Mario 64 and Last Impact, like how Last Impact was created from a ROM of SM64. The differences between the two are everything else about the game. Instead of collecting 120 stars, you now collect 130. Instead of having 3 power-ups—  different types of caps— you now get 12 legitimate power-ups, some seen in other Mario games and others exclusive to this hack. There are brand-new levels, new cutscenes, new enemies, new everything, all designed by Emanuar.

The buzz around this game still continues to this day, with many streamers trying their hand at the well-received game.His most recent hack, Super Mario 64 Odyssey, combines SM64 graphics with Odyssey gameplay, and has been featured by numerous Odyssey world record holders, such as Smallant1 and Nicroveda (who was the first person to get a sub 1 hour in Odyssey).

Staying within the realm of SM64, there are plenty of streamers whose main gimmick are these ROM hacks. Simpleflips (Shoutouts to Simpleflips), a SM64 speedrunner, constantly plays new hacks created for him by his fans and subscribers to the point that he hosts ROM hack competitions. Nathaniel Bandy, another streamer, has entire playlists and originals dedicated to playing and discovering these hacks.

Another large community of ROM hackers can be found within the world of Pokemon. The world, already spanning eight regions and 122 games, is still expandable. Plenty of hacks exist using already-created gameplay  that change simple mechanics, making it so that the player is unable to  gain EXP or has to trade Pokemon with whoever they beat. There are also some with entirely new regions rife with Pokemon that players wanted but were never included in the actual game.

To list every game on which a ROM hack has been created would require pages upon pages of lists, so be sure to visit https://www.romhacking.net/ to see a large community of ROM hackers and their hacks.

ROM hacks allow players to take a seat in a game designer’s chair.They can give players a challenge, show a completely new world, or just  riff on a classic game. If you’d like to play one for yourself, make sure you  download a system to run the games, choose a hack, and play in amazement.

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