Nintendo DSi emulators
|Type||Handheld game console|
|Release date||2009 (Wordwide)|
Released on April 5, 2009, the Nintendo DSi added new lighting effects, an inner and outer 0.3 megapixel digital cameras, 16MB of RAM (compared to the previous 4MB of RAM), a faster ARM9 CPU clocked at 133 MHz, and offered downloadable titles called "DSiWare". It cost $169.99 at launch and later dropped to $149.99. The system, however, was region-locked, meaning that DSi exclusives from different regions couldn't be used and the system language couldn't be changed. It also did away with backwards-compatiblity by removing Slot-2 which was used to load GBA cartridges and other gaming accessories (i.e. Guitar Hero: On Tour).
|Name||Platform(s)||Latest Version||DSi (enhanced)||DSi (exclusive)||DSi (digital)||Recommended|
|PC / x86|
There hasn't been much of a need for DSi emulation due to it's small library of exclusive games and lack of DSi-enhanced titles that provide anything major besides camera support. The only thing really notable is DSiWare, which saw several exclusive releases.
No$GBA added support for DSi games of all three formats starting with version 2.8, although some games won't boot and others have graphical glitches. You'll need to enable "16MB DSi/retail" under the settings in order to use it. Compatibility is very iffy due to No$GBA's already poor DS emulation, and the camera is just spoofed as a static image and will causes the emulator to crash whenever used, meaning games that uses it may boot, but won't be very playable.
DSi used an encryption system for the game dumps that went on to be enhanced and used for the 3DS. This encryption is checked at start-up, hence why Nintendo DS emulators don't even manage to boot DSiWare dumps. It's very unlikely DSi-mode emulation is ever going to be implemented in DeSmuME in particular due to various creative differences unique to that project.
melonDS recently started attempts at DSi emulation and has been able to boot the system's firmware and even showed that it can play Flipnote Studio. melonDS can connect to the internet and can play games with WFC online using a library named libslirp. This has been merged into master in July 2020. It also has Generic aka RSDuck's JIT, which means that emulation will be smoother. It could become the most usable option for DSi emulation in the near future. Most of it is being done using the documentation that the No$GBA devs have already compiled on the subject (GBATEK).
There are three types of games that uses the DSi hardware enhancements:
- DSi-enhanced retail cartridges
- A regular game cartridge that is compatible with the older NDS models, but unlocks more RAM and features when used on the DSi (commonly it's just camera support, but may provide better performance with the extra RAM). Only a couple of games had this feature and is similar to how some late Game Boy Color games (mainly the ones made by Capcom or WayForward in the early 2000s) would offer additional feature if played on the Game Boy Advance. These games will still boot on any NDS emulators, but will be detected as if it was on the original DS and will not load any DSi enhancements. DSi-enhanced games will also have an animated icon when displayed in the boot menu of the DSi and the titleID on the cartridge will say TWL instead of NTR.
- DSi-exclusive retail cartridges
- Retail cartridges that relies on the DSi hardware features. An error screen will show when attempting to load one of these games on a regular DS console(and by extension, emulators also). These cartridges where white instead of gray and only five games were physically released this way, either as launch titles or because they were too big to be sold as DSiWare (see below).
- Downloadable titles only available through the DSi Shop (discontinued as of March 31, 2017). They have a 16MB size limitation due to the small size of the internal NAND and a lot of interesting exclusives for the system released as DSiWare. The Nintendo 3DS eShop also has some DSiWare for purchase (which is the only legal way of obtaining them now), though it uses a different file packaging format than the DSi. The system itself is also capable of running other DSiWare since the firmware used for backwards-compatibility is the same as the DSi.
All three formats can be converted to
.nds format. Compared to regular DS games, DSi games have some additional header information that wasn't even correctly dumped in most early sets. Recent sets have since updated to the correct format. DSiWare dumps can exist in both
.nds format and
.cia format (for installation on a homebrewed 3DS).
Even though it's possible to convert these titles to
.nds, when attempting to run these games on a normal emulator it will either show an error message (when attempting to run a DSi-exclusive title), or will crash on boot-up (when attempting to run DSiWare) due to missing encryption abilities and lack of DSi hardware support. DSi-enhanced games will run as if it was on a regular DS model.
On the DSi/3DS family of handhelds, the first two formats can be played on some select DSi-compatible flashcarts like the discontinued and expensive CycloDS iEvolution flashcart(which won't work on a stock 3DS unless you install custom firmware to whitelist it). As for the third type, some are only available for digital purchase at the 3DS eShop and are installed as apps to the limited TWL NAND. Users with custom firmware can also convert DSiWare to an installable
.cia and even dump already installed ones back to
.nds. Since the DSi Shop has closed, the only way of obtaining DSiWare on the physical system is by homebrewing your DSi and launching the
.nds ROM through Unlaunch.
DSi emulation requires a copy of the lower 32K-halves of the ARM7/ARM9 BIOS files (
BIOSDSI9.ROM), which are different from the regular DS BIOS files and needed for the decryption. melonDS also requires these files along with the regular DS BIOS and the DSi's firmware.bin. These unicorns can be found here.
It's also advised (but still completely optional) to use a NAND dump for No$GBA to increase compatibility, however a NAND dump is required in order to use melonDS.
For now, NO$GBA is the most mature DS emulation project that supports the Nintendo DSi. Using the latest debugger version of NO$GBA is recommended.
Game Loading Methods
Simple .nds Loading
Requirements: These files with the NO$GBA version overwritten with the latest version.
DSiWare ROMs preserved online in romsets currently use the nds format, similar to regular Nintendo DS ROMs. If you change Emulation Settings > NDS Mode/Colors > DSi (retail/16MB), you can simply drag and drop all three types of DSi content on the emulator (or open the ROM), and it will run in DSi Mode.
However, it's recommended for retail cartridges to be loaded that way with the option "Emulation Settings > Reset/Startup Entry Point" set to "GBA/NDS BIOS". This loading method isn't recommended for DSiWare games because of some bugs introduced and the lack of ability to save altogether. However if you insist, do set that option "Reset/Startup Entry Point" to "Start Cartridge Directly" at your own risk for any unpleasant aspects of the experience.
Requirements are the same as above. If you have a real DSi unit, you can dump its NAND and use it instead of the included DSi-1.mmc file, so that you play that different game selection.
This option is more authentic to how real hardware works. It has much less bugs and a higher compatibility than the Simple nds loading method. DSiWare games were limited to a 128MB internal NAND memory or 40 games in the DSi Home Menu, whichever limitation comes first. The NAND is represented by the file "DSi-1.mmc" and hosts installed games (that will appear in the DSi Home Menu) and properly working game saves. While the DSi supported SD cards, it did NOT allow for game software to be booted from there.
Make sure to use "Emulation Settings > Reset/Startup Entry Point" at all times. The DSiWare titles that can be booted through this method will appear in the DSi Home Menu as separate slots than the "inserted game cartridge" icon.
Using Unlauncher, a homebrew exploit, games can be added to the NAND. However, this is an advanced technique, and generally heavily discouraged. Users of this software on real hardware were compelled to use custom firmwares that allowed for using game software from the SD card (normally impossible). This means that to take advantage of this method as an emulation user, you will be stuck with the pre-installed games on the commonly shared BIOS files online.
SD Card Loading
Requirements include these files to be placed in the same directory as NO$GBA. Not compatible with the previous methods, and so to be used in a folder with a fresh setup.
- BIOS Files: Required for DSi emulation.
- Modified NAND: Includes Unlauncher (Hold A to boot it, but not needed) and TWiLight Menu++
- 2GB SD Card: Filename is DSi-1.SD
- A tool to mount a virtual SD drive, such as OSFMount. To be used (Open DSi-1.SD > "Mount") with the 2GB SD Card to add new .nds files to it. Remember to disable "Read-Only" and to Dismount before using the emulator again.
Some issues are still present with this method. Refer to the next section for tips on how to deal with some of them.
The latest dev builds of melonDS can also boot the DSi Menu and load most DSiWare. To boot up the DSi Menu, you need specific files which can all be found here.
Aside from general emulation problems inherited from the older DS emulation project, there are the following issues:
- Microphone doesn't work. (DSiWare + any method) No known fix.
- Camera doesn't work. (DSiWare + any method) Unimplemented. No known fix.
- Wifi doesn't work. Unimplemented.
- Touch Screen issues related to Screen Calibration (DSiWare + TWiLight Menu++ or simple nds loading) The fix is to load the original DSi Home Menu first (holding B when resetting the emulator or loading it), then reset to TWiLight Menu++ (not holding any buttons) before loading the desired game.
- Can't Save (DSiWare + simple nds loading) This method is hardware inaccurate to begin with. For best results, switch to TWiLight Menu++ or Original NAND methods.
melonDS doesn't support most of the DSi's features such as the cameras, DSP, and DSi mode for DSi-enhanced games. DSiWare have to be launched from the NAND as it cannot boot them as .nds.