Retro gaming has never been more popular. With single board computers like the Raspberry Pi and software like RetroPie and RecalBox making revisiting old favorites affordable and easy, it’s safe to say that old school gaming is entering a renaissance period.
Playing your old games can be a great way to tap into nostalgia. But what happens when you beat all your old favorites again? Is retro gaming destined to be just a novelty? Have no fear, your emulation machine is about to get a new lease on life with ROM hacks of classic games.
What Is a ROM?
In the context of video game emulation, the term “ROM” is frequently used to refer to a digital copy of a game.
Video game emulation and ROMs fall in to a legal gray area. Even though many older games have been discontinued and are no longer manufactured, their copyrights often remain. This means that downloading game ROMs that you do not own is illegal. For that reason we will not be linking to any sites that host ROM files.
What Is a ROM Hack?
Despite the name, ROM hacking isn’t really “hacking” at all. In fact, it is merely editing. Simply put, ROM hacking is the modification of a game’s code.
Ever since video game emulation took off in the 90s, fans have been tinkering with game code for a variety of reasons. ROM hackers can alter levels, gameplay, graphics, dialogue, music and more. In some cases, dedicated fans can even go so far as to create an entirely original game using the original game’s engine and assets.
Note: ROM hacking, much like video game emulation itself, resides in a legal grey area. As a result, the majority of the ROM hacks available are unauthorized. For that reason we will not be providing direct links to any of the hacks listed below.
In regards to the hacks listed below, this is far from a “definitive” list of the best ROM hacks. The hacks mentioned below are considered to be some of the best and most polished ROM hacks around.
1. Mario Adventure
NES games are popular to hack due to their relative simplicity compared to later consoles. Because of this, there are a lot of NES ROM hacks out there. As we all know, quantity doesn’t equate to quality. Mario Adventure, however, is considered to be one of the greatest NES ROM hacks of all time. Mario Adventure is a complete reworking of the best-selling Super Mario Bros. 3 featuring all new levels, enemies and power-ups. In addition, Mario Adventure includes different weather patterns and boss battles on every stage to up the ante.
2. Super Metroid Redesign
Considered one of the best video games of all time, Super Metroid sees players exploring a mysterious alien planet. Players battle strange creatures and acquire new weapons and abilities to help them succeed. The formula was so popular that the Metroid franchise inspired an entire sub-genre of games called “Metroidvania.” Super Metroid Redesign alters the physics of the game, making them more realistic and less “floaty.” The hack also significantly increases the size of the map, giving players more opportunity to explore and discover new items.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Parallel Worlds
A hack of the seminal SNES game, “A Link to the Past,” Parallel Worlds is a complete overhaul of the game. Everything from the overworld to the dungeons is brand new. Furthermore, Parallel Worlds features an original storyline that does the classic series justice. Be aware that this hack is not for the faint of heart! Parallel Worlds ratchets up the difficulty significantly which can result in even the most seasoned Zelda fan rage quitting. Fortunately, for those who would like to experience this unique chapter in the Zelda mythology, there is an easier version available called “Parallel Worlds Remodel.”
4. Ultimate Mortal Kombat Trilogy
It may be hard to believe, but back in the 90s the Mortal Kombat series of fighting games were incredibly controversial. The series features digitized sprites doling out punishment as buckets of pixelated blood splashed across the screen. This “graphic” depiction of violence was partly responsible for the creation of the ESRB ratings system. Ultimate Mortal Kombat Trilogy combines all playable characters from the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive versions of Mortal Kombat 1, 2 and 3 into a single game. Furthermore, the hack features new backgrounds, combos and finishing moves.
5. Mario Kart R
The original Mario Kart for the SNES has spawned a slew of sequels and imitators. Mario Kart R is a hack of the granddaddy of kart racers bringing back the simplicity of the 16-bit era. This time around, however, there are brand new tracks and a remixed soundtrack to keep things fresh. In addition, this hack features an entirely new playable character: everyone’s favourite pink marshmallow glutton, Kirby.
Have you tried a ROM hack? What is your favourite ROM hack? Let us know in the comments!