The Nintendo Switch uses an Nvidia Tegra X1 processor, the same one found in a few Android-powered devices, so ctrninja over at GBAtemp has decided to exploit that fact in order to try and get Switch games working on Android.
The project is called MonoNX, and thus far, it’s mildly successful in booting up homebrew applications and games, though for now, it’s only able to produce terminal output. The app is available right now in the Play Store, for anyone who wants to give it a go.
The project is actually a port of an existing Switch emulator. While there is a project called Yuzu that can play most Switch games pretty well on modern PCs, the project that MonoNX is based off is all about portability. It’s written in C, a basic programming language that can be implemented easily across almost any kind of device.
Since MonoNX is in such early stages, it’s really nothing to write home about right now. While the initial step of making the connection between an Android-supporting chipset and Switch gaming is a great start, this app is obviously not ready to cater to those who want to play Super Mario Odyssey on their phones, and won’t be for a while, if ever.
The NVIDIA Tegra X1 chipset sitting at the heart of the Nintendo Switch can be found in the NVIDIA SHIELD TV, the Xiaomi Mi Box, and the Google Pixel C, all devices that run some variant of Android. As such, many things that can be done with an Android device can be done with the Switch. That’s what makes MonoNX so unique.
Most emulators do exactly what their name implies; they run the virtual device or game console in a virtual machine on the device, incurring massive overhead. This means that typical emulation requires at least ten times the power of the device being emulated to even begin to approach playable levels of performance. MonoNX, meanwhile, can reportedly run simple demos at around 15 frames per second, even in this extremely early stage of development.
Simply put, this project’s eventual aim is seemingly to replicate the full functionality of the Nintendo Switch on Android. Though the Switch does have hardware powering it besides just the NVIDIA Tegra X1 chipset, having a bypass for the usual reverse-engineering and computing overhead that normally comes with such a project already puts MonoNX leagues ahead of where it would otherwise be.
The elephant in the room here is Nintendo itself. The company has a history of being quite unfriendly to the emulation community, and even to fan projects in general. MonoNX looks to give anybody with a decent smartphone the power to play Nintendo’s latest games whenever and wherever they want. While ethical and legal standards for emulation usually stipulate that you must own the console and game in question before diving in, realistically, piracy is rampant in the emulation scene.
For all of these reasons, it’s anybody’s guess as to how far this project will get before Nintendo’s legal team catches up with it, and more importantly, whether it will be continued in some form after that happens. A cease and desist is often the end of the line for fan projects, but that’s not always the case.
One example of that is My Little Pony: Fighting Is Magic, a fan-made fighting game that drew Hasbro’s ire in short order. While the original developers went on to collaborate with series runner Lauren Faust to create a whole new setting and cast, Fighting Is Magic lived on through the community that eagerly awaited its release, and was eventually developed and distributed with a full roster and tons more levels and features than it had when the cease and desist came. Something like that could obviously happen here, but there are a lot of factors that could play into those future events.
In any case, MonoNX serves as a showcase for the power and flexibility of Android as an OS and Arm’s CPU designs as a platform. One near-surefire impact of MonoNX’s existence is going to be the springing up of more creative projects that take advantage of just how far you can stretch Android devices, and Arm-based devices in general. Whether MonoNX lives or dies, that’s a win for everybody.