Hacker group Fail0verflow has announced a Switch hack that the organization claims can’t be patched or blocked by firmware updates on already-shipped Switches. They’ve published a screenshot of the device booting a Linux distribution, likely giving someone at Nintendo heartburn in the process.
It’s not clear when we’ll see the exploit in the wild. Fail0verflow says there’s no need for modchips, but the Switch in the image above is clearly wired up for something. Hackers have been hammering at the Switch for quite a while and have been making steady progress in breaking the platform, but this is the first time we’ve seen a cold boot program used to launch a third-party operating system. In theory, this opens the Switch up to homebrew applications and other types of projects.
One thing I’d personally love to know is whether the Switch is capable of running Android. Ordinarily, I’d expect it isn’t, given that Linux and Android aren’t identical and getting one OS to boot doesn’t mean a compatible version of the other exists. But the SoC at the heart of the Switch is a Tegra X1 (Tegra T210). This is the same chip that’s used in a variety of products, including the Shield TV, Nvidia’s Jetson development board, certain automotive products, and the Pixel C. In short, there should be existing Android distributions already in the wild that are compatible with the underlying SoC, though it’s not clear if that’s enough to provide boot functionality.
Now That the Switch is Cracked…
The larger question, to me, is whether this is enough for Nintendo to change its approach to the saved game issue. As of this writing, there’s still no way for a Switch owner to make meaningful save game backups to prevent the complete loss of data in the event of catastrophic system failure. It’s true Nintendo added the option to transfer save game data in an update late last year, but that simply migrates information from one Switch to another, and it requires that both devices be in working order in the first place. It’s a feature we’re glad Nintendo added, but it’s not the same as having a save game backup option.
We know this concept is on Nintendo’s radar. Last year, the COO of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aimé, told Mashable:
We’re aware of the concern. Certainly, Nintendo is a consumer-oriented company [and] we want to make our consumers happy. We’re aware of the concern and it’s an area we’re going to continue working on to make sure that we can alleviate some of those consumer fears of having a content-based issue.
Because of the type of platform we have — it’s something that is on the go as well as connected in the home environment — there are some added complications. It’s not as simple as a piece of hardware that never moves and is always connected in an online environment.
Those platform concerns are precisely why customers want backup options. The Switch is designed for on-the-go gaming. It’s going to get dropped, kicked, knocked off tables, and occasionally stepped on. It’ll get swept into piles of stuff someone clears off the kitchen table and someone will inevitably sit on it. It’s explicitly designed to be kid-friendly, and kids aren’t always kind to their toys. And, of course, the driving rule inevitably applies: No matter how careful you are with something, that doesn’t mean everyone else is as careful as you.
Before the Switch cracked like an egg, scuttlebutt suggested the refusal to implement saved games was part of Nintendo’s plans to lock the platform down and prevent piracy. Now that the ship has sailed, could we please get a feature that should’ve been present on launch day?