It's tricky to broach the subject of mods and hacks on Nintendo hardware, as they can prompt diverse and at times feisty debate. This is in part driven by the severe damage that R4 cards did to the DS, with piracy of retail games a major problem that was - unbelievably in hindsight - facilitated and supported by major retail outlets selling the cards. Yes, some used them for backups, but many used them for blatant theft of games.
Times have changed, however. Nintendo's been far more active in security for the Wii U and 3DS, to the point that hacks, emulators and homebrew are so niche that most ignore them. Even Nintendo's most recent updates have done little to tackle the workarounds that do exist, suggesting that it's happy to leave niche programmers and enthusiasts well alone.
Seeing some recent chatter around 3DS homebrew, we've caught up with what Smealum has been up to - this is 22-year-old student Jordan Rabet, who caused a bit of a stir in successfully releasing the NINJHAX exploit on the portable last year. Requiring a copy of Cubic Ninja, the little regarded title that would then see its value skyrocket on the likes of eBay, this workaround supported homebrew programming, attempts at emulation, region-free gaming and even custom 3DS HOME Themes. It's not the only player in town, with some other exploits that utilise the older model's web browser, for example, but NINJHAX was a bit of a trailblazer.
It's now up to version 2.0, and will apparently soon work with a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D; anyone funding their futures in the weird underbelly of Cubic Ninja sales will be out of luck. Yet there'll also be a new option that'll do all of the same things, but using free-to-play eShop title IRONFALL Invasion and supporting the current firmware. For the small band of homebrew fans, or those that want a cheeky workaround to play retail games region-free, it's sure to raise some eyebrows.
Does it change the game in terms of the 3DS hacking scene? Probably not in a big way. The processes and fiddles required are still such that this will very likely remain as a plaything of a keen minority, and Nintendo may disrupt it in future updates. For those that like to use their 3DS as normal with little effort or concern, the homebrew scene still holds very little appeal.
It's an interesting sub-community, though, still aiming to push and expand what a 3DS can do. The efforts of Smealum, in particular, have always catered to those that want to add custom features to their 3DS rather than actually support piracy; its goals are different from the limited range of R4 equivalents that are out in the wild.
Let us know what you think of this tweak to support a free-to-play game for 3DS homebrew and region-free efforts, though please keep our Community Rules in mind.