Swapping the ROMs in Mini Arcade Cabinets

Youve probably seen a few of these miniature arcade games online or in big box retailers: for $20 USD or so you get scaled-down version of a classic arcade cabinet, perfect for a desk toy or to throw up on a shelf as part of your gaming collection. Like any good Hackaday reader, you were probably curious about what makes them tick. Thanks to [wrongbaud], we dont have to wonder anymore.

Over the course of several blog posts, [wrongbaud] walks readers through the hardware and software used in a few of these miniature games. For example, the Rampage cabinet is using a so-called NES on a Chip along with a SPI flash chip to hold the ROM, while Mortal Kombat is using a Genesis emulation solution and parallel flash. It wouldnt be interesting if they didnt throw you a few curves now and again, right?

But these are more than simple teardowns. Once [wrongbaud] gives an overview of the hardware, the next step is reading the respective flash storage and trying to make sense of the dumped data. These sort of games generally reuse the hardware among a number of titles, so by isolating where the game ROM is and replacing it, they can be made to play other games without hardware modification. Here, this capability is demonstrated by replacing the ROM data for Rampage with Yoshis Cookie. Naturally its one of those things thats easier said than done, but its an interesting proof of concept.

The Mortal Kombat cabinet is a newer addition to the collection, so [wrongbaud] hasnt progressed quite as far with that one. The parallel flash chip has been dumped with the help of an ESP32 and a MCP23017 I/O expander, and some Genesis ROM headers are identifiable in the data, but theres still some sifting to be done before the firmware structure can be fully understood.

Even if youre not in the market for a diminutive arcade experience, the information that [wrongbaud] has collected here is really phenomenal. From understanding protocols such as I2C and SPI to navigating firmware dumps with a hex editor, these posts are an invaluable resource for anyone looking to get started with reverse engineering.