Check out this modder's doomed quest to turn a Nintendo Switch into a Steam Deck

A close up of a Nintendo Switch running Linux with a list of Steam games to install, currently attempting to run FTL: Faster Than Light
(Image credit: SpikeHD on YouTube)

It's hard for Valve's Steam Deck to escape comparisons to Nintendo's dominant hybrid console: we've found that we use our Decks like better, beefier Switches, and skin manufacturer Dbrand just came out with a parodical Switch-themed vinyl wrapper for the Deck. YouTuber SpikeHD went in the other direction though: what if you tried to make a Switch into a Steam Deck?

Short answer is "you can't," but god bless him, SpikeHD tried to install Steam on Nintendo's aging megahit handheld. The resulting 12-minute video is a fascinating look at the digital bowels of the Switch, stripping away that "Nintendo Magic" in an absurd science experiment and revealing the sterile, ordinary computer underneath.

You've already been able to run Ubuntu on Switch for a while, and this would theoretically let you run the Linux version of Steam on a jailbroken console. From there, just pull up the big picture UI and bada bing, Steam Deck unlocked. The first hurdle is hacking a Switch to allow Linux⁠⁠—this is only feasible with older models of the console and it's a process that stressed me out just from watching.

You need your Linux install on an SD card, a USB C-based "payload" to interrupt the initialization of the Switch's own UI, and you have to short the electronic connectors on one of the Switch's Joy Con rails⁠—ideally with a proper tool, but you could potentially do it with a paperclip. All this really makes me appreciate how user-configurable the Deck is out of the box.

From there, after many difficulties, SpikeHD had Linux working on the console, complete with a wandering mouse cursor thanks to my dear old friend, Joy Con drift. Unfortunately, this is where SpikeHD presses against the absolute limits of the Switch's decrepit Nvidia Tegra system on a chip. The Tegra has an Arm-based CPU, while Steam is only meant to work on x86 processors like those from Intel and AMD.

SpikeHD could force-install Steam, but not any games. As a consolation prize, the YouTuber next installed Android with a Steam Deck themed Skin, the closest thing physically possible to an actual Switch Deck. Even if this could have been done, I don't exactly see the practical applications of this hack⁠—it's a worst of both worlds combining the Switch's withered, low-power hardware with max-difficulty Linux DIY shenanigans, but it is a fascinating and entertaining project all the same. Honestly, I find the best DIY hacks are the absurd, funny ones that should be impossible to pull off.

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.