Nintendo DS emulators
|Type||Handheld game console|
|Predecessor||Game Boy Advance|
The Nintendo DS (NDS) is a handheld console produced by Nintendo on November 21, 2004, and had 2 ARM CPUs (ARM9 and ARM7) with 4 MBs of RAM. The main selling point was the use of dual screens for gameplay, with one being a touchscreen. It is the only console to have come close to the PlayStation 2 in lifetime sales (154.02 million units), as a result of attracting a large number of casual players, and even non-gamers, into the gaming community.
|Name||Platform(s)||Latest Version||GBA||DSi||GBA-to-DS||DS-to-Wii||Wi-Fi/WFC||Download Play||Local||libretro||FLOSS||Active||Recommended|
|PC / x86|
Latest Dev Build
|mGBA/medusa||alpha 2||✓||✗*||✗||✗||✗||✗||✗||✗||✓||~||✗ (WIP)|
|Mobile / ARM|
|melonDS (unofficial)||git1.8.0||~||~||?||✗||?||?||?||✓||✓||✓||~ (WIP)|
git (PSP port)
- melonDS (servers)
- Unlike DeSmuME, melonDS can use Wi-Fi and has some DSi support. In terms of being user-friendly, options in melonDS are more simplified. Has similar DS game compatibility as DeSmuME. Both can run games at a higher internal resolution (sharper 3D objects) and can open ROMs inside a compressed archive (ZIP, RAR, 7Z etc.). Both can display the two screens in a variety of ways, but melonDS has a hybrid mode. (Example) While the developers of No$GBA had documented the Wi-Fi capabilities first, melonDS is the first and only emulator that's gotten as far as it has, and it's been found to work reasonably well with a handful of games. Switching to OpenGL in core options may give a performance boost.
- DeSmuME (servers)
- DeSmuME has had significant improvements since 2018; new features include less CPU/GPU resource usage and high-resolution 3D rendering, though Wi-Fi capability remains neither emulated nor supported. v0.9.13 from May 2022 is the first "Stable" build in over 7 years and is highly recommended over all previous builds (though dev builds are also generally very usable). OpenEmu uses a shallow fork of the v0.9.11 build and should be avoided as well.
- A payware, closed-source emulator for Android devices that can run games at a decent speed even on potato phones. It's on par with (or in some cases better than) DeSmuME, and emulating it through BlueStacks on PC may actually be a viable and fast alternative aside from a slight input delay. Some rumors have spread around that the developers deliberately put in issues to mess with pirated copies, though this is considered unsubstantiated. At the very least, you shouldn't expect any support from Exophase and company if you use a pirated copy, though it is available for free on the Raspberry Pi and Odroid via RetroPie.
- Focuses on speed, and has major compatibility issues and glitches as a result. Because it was initially a GBA emulator, the DS' 3D features are still very poorly handled. It's a good option for low-end machines, but don't expect a lot of games to run perfectly. A fan program, No$Zoomer, was released for version 2.6, which increases compatibility and options, as well as the titular zooming and resizing abilities. The biggest addition is noise cancellation which clears up static that No$GBA makes with its 3D rendering. It doesn't change accuracy though. No$Zoomer never rebased to newer No$GBA versions, and it looks like it was abandoned, so it likely never will. In v2.8, No$GBA became the first emulator to support DSi games, which has been their most notable feature. Only use No$GBA for DSi games that don't work on other emulators, debugging (if you've taken up ROM-hacking for DS games or homebrew development), if you value speed above everything, if you're using a potato PC, or just as a last resort.
- An open-source application for iOS with the ability to emulate many consoles and handhelds, including the DS. Since version 1.3, Delta Emulator allows you to emulate Nintendo DS with a DeSmuME or melonDS core. You will need to have DS BIOS or DSi BIOS to play DS/DSi games in Delta using the melonDS core. It also allows you to boot into DS/DSi home screen and functions similarly to melonDS.
- mGBA developer endrift is also creating a DS emulator, but it's very much a work-in-progress and isn't nearly as far as melonDS in terms of the capabilities it's covered. As of March 2018, medusa's development is "suspended until further notice".
- An abandoned and experimental DS emulator that uses a plug-in system, it's very slow and buggy but has partially gotten some features working, like the camera and slide accessories.
- Nintendo's official DS emulator that was leaked to the public. It's not very usable or compatible, but it can run a few games.
Comparisons of several Nintendo DS emulators:
- Looking Toward the Next Generation of DS Emulators (By Dolphin tester, JMC47, AKA Justin M. Chadwick. 5 June 2017. Tested emulators: melonDS (0.2 and 0.3), medusa (Alpha 2) & GBE+ (1.1) compared to the mature DeSmuME.)
- Has an OpenGL renderer with upscaling as of version 0.8. The renderer is much faster than DeSmuME's and supports increasing the internal resolution up to 16x native resolution. More features, such as texture filtering, are planned.
- DeSmuME X432R
- A fork of DeSmuME that has graphical enhancements, such as an option to increase internal resolution and use MSAA. The devs of DeSmuME have now included an option for increased internal resolution (see below), making X432R outdated. See the DeSmuME page for more details.
- DeSmuME (libretro)
- Also has the option to increase internal resolution since the 8/8/15 git commit. It requires a very high-end CPU to run at a reasonable framerate.
- Has released a beta version supporting double the original resolution.
- Virtual Console (Wii U)
- Has a configuration file with support for x2 internal resolution without any significant performance hit (as well as a brightness setting). However, there's no legit way to enable it without a homebrew-enabled console.
The DS offers five types of connections:
- Local wireless communications - (Multiple cartridges)
- DS Download Play - (Single cartridge)
- Wi-Fi Connection - (Online multiplayer)
- DS/Wii connectivity
- GBA/DS connectivity
The major challenge with emulating multiplayer functionalities is timing inaccuracies, which have made many projects, such as DeSmuME, not want to implement them. So far, the only emulator to actually make any progress is melonDS, but even that is still under development.
Local wireless communication
Players who have a copy of the same game can link together using the DS's wireless signals (given that the game offers this feature).
melonDS supports wireless communication with several games, including New Super Mario Bros. and the Pokémon games, but you need to have either multiple instances opened, which can slow down overall performance, or connect multiple computers via LAN. No$GBA can connect but fails before the actual connection is finished.
DS Download Play
This feature allows players with a DS and only one copy of a game to play together. This way, not everyone needs a copy of a game. The player with the physical cartridge will host the game while the other players connect using a "downloaded" version received from the host. Normally they are either simple mini-games, stripped-down demos of the main game, or a limited version of multiplayer. In most cases, it's better to use multi-cart instead. However, some games, like Mario Party DS, require Download Play to use its multiplayer.
Download Play is supported by melonDS. Like with local multiplayer, it is very hit and miss but unlocking the framerate helps. melonDS will often fail during the download process, but some games actually go as far as booting and sometimes in-game as well.
Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection
Nintendo had an online service that was available for the Wii and the DS that was free to use. It was shut down on May 20, 2014, due to the company GameSpy, the ones who were managing these servers, shutting down its multiplayer services after being bought out. A popular game that used this feature was Mario Kart DS.
There was a third-party DeSmuME fork that successfully emulated WFC but has quite a bit of requirement (Ethernet cable, though this can be circumvented with external software). After the service shutdown, there was a version compatible with the fan servers (restoring all DLC data, but sadly, most multiplayer games had their content lost forever). melonDS is one of the only emulators to offer Wi-Fi capabilities. It's still a work-in-progress, but it works relatively well.
Uses wireless communication on the DS to connect to the Wii. The idea is parallel to the GBA Link Cable for the GameCube, and just like the Link Cable, only a handful of games actually have this feature. Some notable examples include:
- Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time - which is essentially the same as the DS port but can connect with other DSes with the game.
- Pokémon Battle Revolution - in which players could transfer their Pokémon from the Generation IV main series games and use the DS as a controller.
- Animal Crossing: City Folk - in which data could be transferred between the DS version (Animal Crossing: Wild World), and the Nintendo Channel on the Wii, where players could download demos of DS games to their console using Download Play (basically the same idea as the Download Station kiosk).
So far, no emulator has been able to emulate this feature, nor have attempted to. If this were ever going to be emulated, it would require work on both ends.
Inserting a GBA cartridge in the Slot-2 of the Nintendo DS while a game is running can unlock various gameplay features for several DS games.
It's unknown if No$GBA supports this, but it can be done in DeSmuME by going to Config > Slot 2 (GBA Slot) and selecting GBA Cartridge. Select the GBA ROM file, and make sure its
.sav file is in the same folder. You may need to reset the game for it to take effect.
As of version 0.9, melonDS supports GBA connectivity and even added support for the solar sensor on GBA Boktai cartridges used in Boktai DS (Lunar Knight), something DeSmuME has yet to support. Either drag and drop the GBA ROM onto the program before starting or open the file before loading the NDS file.
- Main article: Nintendo DSi emulators
- Guitar Hero pad
- Used in the "Guitar Hero: On Tour" series (required) and Band Hero DS. Supported by DeSmuME (Slot 2).
- Piano for Easy Piano
- Supported by DeSmuME (Slot 2).
- Taito paddle controller
- Compatible with Arkanoid, Space Invaders Extreme, Space Invaders Extreme 2, and Space Bust-a-Move. Supported by DeSmuME (Slot 2).
- Tilt sensor
- Used in "Tony Hawk's Motion/Hue's Pixel Painter." No emulators support this add-on yet. (Slot 2)
- Rumble pack
- Supported by DeSmuME (Slot 2). Requires compatible Joystick.
- Slide controller
- Required by "Slide Adventure Mag Kid". Yasu made a shoddy plug-in for iDeaS (the recommended version was 22.214.171.124.) to try to emulate it. No emulators support this add-on at the moment.
- Nintendo Wireless Keyboard
- Bundled with "Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure" (JP/EU/AU). The game refuses to boot without a keyboard, but it can be run on emulators with an anti-piracy fix and another DeSmuME-specific save bug fix. There is also a pre-patched ROM. While it's playable using the on-screen keyboard on the lower screen, the keyboard isn't actually emulated. There is a Lua script that permits using the actual keyboard by mapping presses of the actual keyboard to taps of the virtual Touch Screen. However, you'll need to blank out all the control/hotkey bindings of DeSmuME if you are going to play this game, because some of the keyboard keys also activate some controls; otherwise, pressing the Q key would also pause the game, given one example. A recommendation would be to have a separate copy of 32-bit DeSMuMe, which purpose is playing *only* this game. In that copy, place the patched ROM, the Lua script, and a 32-bit version of lua51.dll. (The platform used in building the
.dllshould not matter.) Even then, not only is the emulated workaround a little slow, but saving is still broken. Use savestates, instead.
- DS camera
- Accessory bundled with the Japan-only Face Training (a European localization for Christmas 2007 was canceled, and it was released as a retail DSi game in 2010 using the internal camera rather than the original accessory). Not to be confused with the built-in DSi camera. No emulators exist for it at all.
- Bayer DIDGIT
- A glucose meter for diabetic children with a game called Knock 'Em Downs: World's Fair that rewards them for checking their blood sugar levels regularly. The game has been dumped, but no support for the glucose meter peripheral exists as of the time of this writing; it may, however, be possible to add reward points through Action Replay codes, not to mention that the game will still function without the glucose meter attachment anyway (albeit with reduced functionality, of course).
iQue DS region lock
iQue is Nintendo's Chinese subsidiary (previously a partnership between them and Wei Yen until 2013), so when they released the DS with a few localized games, their ROMs had special flags set in them to check if the hardware that ran the cartridge was iQue's or Nintendo's as a sort of region lock. Nintendo's own hardware would fail this check, throwing an "Only for iQue DS" error in white text on a black background. No other DS games have this mechanism, not even for Korean releases. This region lock is bypassed by the 3DS for these DS games, even though 3DS games have their own region lock. It's weird.
Emulators differ in their behavior to this region lock. No$GBA crashes, while DeSmuME can load them. However, for melonDS, you need a Firmware Dump from an iQue DS, otherwise, it will replicate the region lock.
The only way the ROM will accept other hardware (and thus emulators) is with a hack involving a simple byte change. Use a hex editor to change the byte located at
0x1D from value
Certain games, such as American Girl titles (e.g., Julie Finds a Way and Kit Mystery Challenge), suffer from severe flickering issues which keep those games from being playable on most emulators. DraStic was the first emulator able to run the two games properly, and while DeSmuME r5043 had an initial fix that worked around the glitch, it was removed in later revisions as it broke compatibility with Pokémon SoulSilver, among others; this has since been patched on r5531 once the true nature of the bug was better understood. The fix would be later incorporated into other emulators. Ultimate Mortal Kombat suffers from flickering and slowdown due to the way it loads sprites, though it isn't as serious in DraStic. Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Jedi Alliance is an even more egregious example, crashing due to timing differences between actual hardware and an emulated system.