How I hacked my Lego NES into a real console

Using a cheap display and NES Classic, I made 2020's best toy 200% more awesome. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to make your Lego NES come to life!

Sometimes I get crazy ideas and none of my coworkers at Input stop me. Crazy idea No. 1,768,534: mod my Lego NES into a real game console that plays classic 8-bit Nintendo games.

I knew I had to make this mod happen the moment Lego and Nintendo unveiled the 2,646-piece set of the NES. How could I not? The boxy console — complete with faithful port cutouts and flip-up cartridge slot — and ‘80s-style CRT were begging to be brought to life.

So I ordered some parts and got to work. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how I modded my Lego NES and made it 100 percent more awesome.

What you need:

  • Lego NES set (of course!)
  • An 8-inch 4:3 monitor with HDMI port
  • NES Classic
  • Phillips-head screwdriver
  • HDMI cable
  • Hair dryer
  • Tape (double-sided is preferred, but single is fine)
  • A ton of patience (the most important thing)

Step 1

Gutting the display and NES Classic

There are a dozen ways I could have modded my Lego NES. I could have used a Raspberry Pi and installed an emulator to run ROMs. (Remember, only run ROMs for games you own. We don’t condone piracy!) You’d still need a screen, controller (your choice of wired or wireless), and any requisite cables to connect them together.

I also could have found a small Android tablet, installed an emulator like EmuBox or NES.emu, and hooked up a Bluetooth controller. Apple doesn’t allow emulators on the App Store, but there are ways to install them on an iPad without jailbreaking.

But for my mod, I wanted to be as authentic and official as possible. That’s why I used an NES Classic. It comes with 30 pre-installed games (it’s also super easy to hack and add more) and an NES controller that faithfully replicates the original.

We need to turn this Lego NES and TV into functional versions.Raymond Wong / Input

My plan was to gut my NES Classic and transplant the components into the Lego NES and snake the NES controller cable through the front Player 1 port and HDMI and power cable through the rear. Then, disassemble my 8-inch monitor and its respective electronic board and retrofit it into the Lego TV. Finally, connect the modded NES and TV together via HDMI, plug in power for both, and ta-daaa!

I had expected this project to be completed in maybe an hour, but it ended up taking the better part of an entire day. I ran into problems nearly every step of the way and had to break down and rebuild certain parts of the Lego NES and TV to get the mod just right.

Remember when the NES Classic was 2016's hottest toy?Raymond Wong / Input
I used this official NES controller to play my classic Nintendo games.Raymond Wong / Input

I recommend investing in a toolkit if you're going to open up electronics. Though this project only requires Phillips-head screwdrivers, the different size bits and pry tools inside of the $27 Hautton 126-piece toolkit I recently bought to open up my PS4 (and many other gadgets) made dissembling the NES Classic and the monitor's screws and wiring much easier.

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Use a pry tool pop off these four rubber pads to reveal the hidden screws to open up the NES Classic.Raymond Wong / Input

The NES Classic is super easy to open up. Half of the mini console is just an empty shell. The circuit board doesn't take up much space. It's roughly the same size as a Raspberry Pi.

The top of the mini console comes right off and gives you access to the guts.Raymond Wong / Input

I wanted to remove all these NES Classic parts and retrofit the controller ports and power + reset buttons in their respective placements on the Lego NES. But I quickly discovered that's not possible because the power and reset buttons use spring-loaded switches that require a backboard for them to press against to actuate.

See that backboard where the spring-loaded power switch presses against to change between on and off mode?Raymond Wong / Input

Since I didn't want to cut or glue any pieces, I abandoned the more advanced retrofit (I'll save it for when I have more time) and decided to brute force things and drop the entire half-disassembled console inside of the Lego NES. That meant I would have to remove the pop-up cartridge slot mechanism inside of the Lego NES to make room for the NES Classic.

Remove the top cover from the Lego NES.Raymond Wong / Input
Carefully remove the pieces that make up the walls of the Lego NES to allow you to yank out the cartridge mechanism.Raymond Wong / Input
With a gentle tug, the whole piece comes right out.Raymond Wong / Input

Once the center of the Lego NES is cleared out, there's room to squeeze the NES Classic in (without top cover, of course).

The next thing I did was strip my 8-inch 4:3 HDMI monitor to its display panel and circuit board. Feel free to use whatever size LCD you can find that fits inside of the Lego TV. Just know that you'll have to figure out how to modify the Lego TV's brick structure to align it properly with its square frame.

I went with the Eyoyo 8-inch HDMI monitor for a few reasons:

  1. It's a 4:3 aspect ratio which means there won't be pillarboxing for running the NES Classic
  2. The display's plastic housing is super easy to strip off
  3. It's just the right height to easily prop up without needing glue or tape
  4. It comes with built-in speakers so I also can get sound for the NES Classic
  5. Has additional video ports like VGA, AV, BNC

Again, you can use any brand or monitor that fits. I made the mistake of ordering two different 7-inch widescreen 16:9 HDMI displays because they were under $50. One was a barebones display made for a Raspberry Pi so it was a plug-and-play installation and the other had a plastic housing that was glued shut. Both of the displays' heights were too short. Luckily, the Eyoyo monitor was a near-perfect fit.

Stripping the Eyoyo display is easy: just remove a few screws on the back and a few screws inside holding the display down and it's free.Raymond Wong / Input
Before you disassemble the monitor, you should set it to the HDMI input and calibrate the display settings because once you remove the housing, you won't be able to adjust them without doing some work.Raymond Wong / Input

Learn from my mistake and do the following before disassembling the monitor:

  1. Plug it in the display and connect your NES Classic and make sure everything works properly. Just a quick test to make sure the display is taking the signal from the NES Classic and sound is coming out of the speakers.
  2. Make sure the input is set to HDMI
  3. Adjust any picture settings like brightness and contrast
  4. Go into the menu and flip the screen upside down. This will be important because we're mounting the display upside down so that all of the ports are facing upwards and easily accessible for cable management. The ribbon cable for the display should be coming out of the bottom instead of the top.
Go into the menu and flip the screen upside down so that the rear ports face upwards.Raymond Wong / Input

If you don't do these steps pre-disassembly, you'll end up having to reconnect the plug to the button circuit board that's bolted to the front of the monitor housing (see below photo). Of course, you could disconnect this piece and stash it inside of the Lego TV along with the display and speakers, but I think it's better to set everything upfront so there's less fiddling later.

The mini circuit board connected to the buttons for controlling the display's input and picture settings.Raymond Wong / Input
Carefully separate the housing and innards and you're set.Raymond Wong / Input

I recommend unplugging the speakers, which we'll reconnect later. Just be extra careful because the wiring is extremely fragile and can easily rip apart. I used tweezers to gently wiggle the connector plug out.

This plug in the middle here connects to the two speakers. I highly recommend unplugging it first.Raymond Wong / Input
The speakers are glued to the plastic housing so we need to remove them.Raymond Wong / Input

I used a hair dryer to loosen the glued-down speakers. A few seconds on hot or warm should do the trick. My beloved Dyson SuperSonic came in handy again!

Use a blow dryer to loosen the glue and separate the speakers.Raymond Wong / Input
Once the glue is loosened, use a pry tool to gently pull the speaker off from its mount.Raymond Wong / Input
The speakers are free!Raymond Wong / Input

Step 2

Hollowing out the Lego TV

Next, I hollowed out the Lego TV to make room to house the display, speakers, and cables coming out. The Lego TV is the most complex piece of the brick set so be really careful when taking it apart — bring your patience — because something will probably go sideways at some point. A piece will randomly fall off or certain parts of the build will come undone because you used too much force. You will probably curse out loud.

First, remove the Lego TV off its legs stand. We can set that aside for now. Also, pull off the top panels.

The legs/stand aren't attached by any studs so it comes right off.Raymond Wong / Input
Next, remove the top panels so you get to the diorama.Raymond Wong / Input

Once the facade is pulled off, you'll be able to easily remove the Super Mario Bros. diorama.

Gently remove the front plate.Raymond Wong / Input
Lift this whole piece up. It acts like pins to keep the rotating diorama in place. Also, the 2 x 2 tile with the sticker on it (the gray one in the center) is the code for the Mario minifig to scan and interact with.Raymond Wong / Input
Lift the whole diorama up and you're done!Raymond Wong / Input

Step 3

Transplant electronics

This is the hardest part. You need to fit the display inside of the Lego TV, the NES Classic inside of the Lego NES, and strategically remove bricks to make openings for the controller, HDMI, and power cables to snake out of. So let's get to it.

I recommend doing a fit test before permanently installing parts. Place your display inside of the Lego TV and then hold the front panel up to see how the screen aligns. This will inform which bricks you may need to remove for a snug fit.

The diameter of the volume knob's gear was interfering with my display's alignment.Raymond Wong / Input
So I replaced the gear with this smaller bush + axle (extra parts in the set) that holds the knob in place, but still allows it to be turned.Raymond Wong / Input
Remove the yellow and lime panels attached to the round bricks to create a hole for the display's power cable to pass through.Raymond Wong / Input

And the first cable is passed through!

A light push from the backside pops the pieces right off.Raymond Wong / Input
HDMI cables are wider and these green bricks need to be removed to make way for it.Raymond Wong / Input
The HDMI cable is in.Raymond Wong / Input

At this point, you should do another test after plugging in the HDMI and power cables to make sure everything is working properly and you didn't break anything.

Plug the HDMI and power cables into the display.

Next, reattach the speakers. Connect the plug back to the display's circuit board and then use double-sided tape or regular tape (looped) to attach them to the interior of the Lego TV.

I used regular tape like so.Raymond Wong / Input
Both speakers attached to the Lego TV.Raymond Wong / Input
The layout of everything inside of the Lego TV.Raymond Wong / Input

I later realized I needed to do a little more modding to get the display to fit better. There were several bricks that prevented the display from being positioned straight. (If you don't do this, your display will come out angled like in the photo below, which doesn't look great.) Once I removed those pieces, it created a trench for the display to nestle into.

Remove the bricks (three brown and one black) along the black base to create a trench for the display to nestle into.Raymond Wong / Input
Taking the extra time to remove a few more pieces will prevent the display from being angled like this.Raymond Wong / Input
For the controller passthrough, I removed the window brick from the "player 1" slot as well as the clip bricks (left) to make room for the gamepad wire.Raymond Wong / Input

The NES Classic is a tight fit inside of the Lego NES. But my main issue was the HDMI cable. Most of the ones I had were too thick and wouldn't allow passthrough even if I removed a few bricks from the backside.

I ran into a problem: The HDMI cable is too thick.Raymond Wong / Input

I got really lucky. Out of the dozens of HDMI cables I have, the one connecting my soundbar wasn't so reinforced. So I swapped them.

You need a less reinforced HDMI cable so that it can actually fit.Raymond Wong / Input
Almost there! Pop the frame back on, prop up the display against it, and tidy up the cable management.Raymond Wong / Input
I used some spare pieces to reinforce the Lego TV's top panels so they don't break apart so easily.Raymond Wong / Input
The back of my Lego NES with the wires coming out for HDMI and power.aRaymond Wong / Input
You still have access to the NES Classic's power and reset buttons when you lift the cartridge flap up.Raymond Wong / Input

Step 4

Play time!

After many, many, many hours of work and brick modification later, my Lego NES and TV were working. For version 1.0, I'm really happy with how everything turned out. I had to improvise along the way when I ran into issues with the HDMI cable not fitting, the display not aligning perfectly straight, and the spring-loaded NES Classic button requiring a backplate. But the Lego NES and TV are both fully functional and look pretty damn good.

For version 1.0, I'm really happy with how it turned out.
It's doneeeee!Raymond Wong / Input

The moving diorama is cool and all, but honestly, this is the toy that Lego and Nintendo should have made. Yeah, I know the price would have been well north of $229, but it would have been pretty sick. No matter, because now my knowledge is passed onto you!

This mod is a great weekend project. My mod is by no means perfect, but I have no complaints. Maybe in the future I'll tweak the design — I really want to transplant the NES controller's electronics into the Lego gamepad, but that's a more difficult mod — but for now, I'm enjoying my sweet build.

Roll the video!