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 4MB 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 amount of casual players, and even non-gamers, into the gaming community.
- 1 Emulators
- 2 Connectivity
- 3 Nintendo DSi
- 4 Special Hardware
- 5 References
|Name||Operating System(s)||Latest Version||GBA||NDS||DSi||Libretro Core||Active||Recommended|
|DeSmuME||Multi-platform||0.9.12 Dev Builds||✗||✓||✗||✓||✓||✓|
|melonDS||Windows, Linux||0.8.3||✗||✓||~||✓||✓||~ (WIP)|
|GBE+||Windows, Linux, macOS (untested)||1.3||✓||✓||✗||✗||✓||✗ (WIP)|
|medusa||Windows, Linux||alpha 2||✓||✓||✗||✗||✗||✗ (WIP)|
|Virtual Console||Wii U||✗||✓||✗||✗||✗||✓|
Linux (Raspberry Pi)
- One of the most developed emulators for regular DS games. DeSmuME has had significant improvements since 2018, though new features are still in development and are only available through either nightly/dev builds. It now uses less CPU/GPU resources, and Wi-Fi is also underway. If you're worried about stability, then stick to the latest stable release. Otherwise, the latest dev builds will have more to offer. (See Common Problems and Solutions for tips.)
- 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.
- Arisotura's goal is to make an emulator that's better optimized and includes features that others lack, either intentionally or not. While the developers of No$GBA had documented the Wi-Fi capabilities first, melonDS is the first and only emulator that's gotten as far as it has and it has been found to work reasonably well with a handful of games. There's also been progress made in emulating the DSi, so far it's been able to boot into the firmware and is being developed in a separate branch of the main project. It could surpass DeSmuME when it covers more features.
- Focuses on speed, and has major compatibility issues and glitches as a result. But because it was originally a GBA emulator, the DS's 3D features are still very poorly handled. However, it might be an option for a very low-end machine but don't expect a lot of games to run perfectly, or at all. A fan program, No$Zoomer, was released for version 2.6 which increases compatibility and options, as well as the titular zooming abilities. The biggest addition is noise cancellation which clears up static that No$GBA makes with its 3D rendering. No$Zoomer hasn't rebased yet but does add options for window resizing. There haven't been any noticeable changes with regards to accuracy, however. As of v2.8, No$GBA supports DSi games and is currently the first and only emulator that does. Only use No$GBA in the cases of DSi games, debugging (if you've taken up romhacking for DS games), if you value speed above everything, or just as a last resort.
- 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 added support for OpenGL renderer and upscaling as of version 0.8. The renderer is much faster than DeSmuME's and supports increasing the internal resolution up to 8x native resolution. More features such as texture filtering are planned.
- DeSmuME X432R
- A fork of DeSmuME, that has many more graphical enhancement 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 an option to increase internal resolution since August 8, 2015 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
|Name||Operating System(s)||Latest Version||Local||Download Play||Wi-Fi||GBA/DS|
|DeSmuME||Mult-Platform||0.9.12 Dev Builds||✗||✗||~||✓|
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 Pokemon, but you need to have either multiple instances opened, which can slow down performance and cause more timing problems, or connect multiple computers via LAN. No$GBA can emulate it but the connection fails somewhere during establishing the actual connection (despite the names from the other DS showing just fine).
DS Download Play
Players who both have a DS but only one copy of a game can use the "Download Play" to play together without everyone needing a copy of the game. The player with the physical cartridge will host the game, while the other players connect using a "downloaded" version of it. Normally they are simple mini-games or stripped down versions of the main game, but some games like Mario Party DS requires Download Play in order to use its multiplayer.
Download Play isn't supported by any emulator so far, though NDS-bootstrap homebrew on the Nintendo 3DS can boot some of them. MelonDS fails during the download process though some actually go as far as booting, but never to the actual "game"
Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection
Nintendo's online service that was available for the Wii and DS and was free to use. It was shutdown on May 20, 2014 due to the company GameSpy, who were the ones 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 forks that successfully emulated WFC but has quite a bit of requirement (Ethernet cable, though this can be circumvented with external software). After 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 the 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 are Pokemon Battle Revolution in which players could transfer their Pokemon to the game 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.
So far, no emulator has been able to emulate this feature, nor have attempted to, and considering that the GBA/GCN connectivity on Dolphin has yet to fully functions, hints that this feature won't be emulated for a while. If this was 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 some 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, make sure its
.sav file is in the same folder. You may need to reset the game for it to take effect. DeSmuME, however, does not support GBA games with hardware features like the solar sensor from GBA Boktai cartridges used in Boktai DS (Lunar Knight).
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, and did away with backwards-compatiblity by removing Slot-2, which was used to load GBA cartridges and other gaming accesories (i.e. Guitar Hero: On Tour).
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 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 load without any DSi enhancements. DSi-enhanced games will also have an animated icon when displayed in the boot menu of the DSi, which is the only indication that it's DSi-enhanced.
- 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 four 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 there were a lot of interesting exclusives for the system released as DSiWare. The Nintendo 3DS can also run DSiWare, due to the firmware used for backwards-compatibility being same as the DSi, and offers a way to back them up to an SD card, but not the save files. The Nintendo 3DS eShop also has some DSiWare for purchase, though it uses a different file packaging format.
All three formats can be converted to
.nds format. Compared to regular DS games, DSi games had some additional header information that wasn't even correctly dumped in the earlier broken dumps. The 2017 set has updated many of these to the correct format, though it's still severely lacking in DSiWare exclusives. DSiWare dumps 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, it's only available for digital purchase at the 3DS eShop and installed as apps to the limited TWL NAND, though they can also be installed as custom titles if in a
.cia format (the same format for all 3DS applications, but here it's also a container for a
.nds ROM in this case, meaning converting back and forth is possible), provided custom firmware has already been installed. Since the DSi Shop has closed, the only way of obtaining DSiWare on the physical system is by homebrewing your DSi and either installing it to the system's NAND, or installing TWiLight Menu++ and loading it as a
|Name||Operating System(s)||Latest Version||DSi (enhanced)||DSi (exclusive)||DSi (digital)||Recommended|
|melonDS||Windows, Linux||alpha||✗||✗||~||~ (WIP)|
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$GBA's already poor DS emulation, and the camera is just spoofed as a static image and will causes the emulator to crash whenever used, meaning games that uses it may boot, but won't be very playable.
DSi used an encryption system for the game dumps that went on to be enhanced and used for the 3DS. This encryption is checked at start-up, hence why Nintendo DS emulators don't even manage to boot DSiWare dumps. It's very unlikely DSi-mode emulation is ever going to be implemented in DeSmuME in particular due to various creative differences unique to that project.
melonDS recently started attempts at DSi emulation and has been able to boot the system's firmware and even showed that it can boot Flipnote Studios, but freezes when attempting to create a new note.. It's being worked on off an experimental branch and requires a lot of files to be dumped from the DSi in order to work, but it could become the most usable option for DSi emulation in the near future. Most of it is being done using the documentation that the No$GBA devs have already compiled on the subject.
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. All the needed files are
BIOSNDS9.ROM. These unicorns can be found here.
It's also advised (but still completely optional) to use a NAND dump as well to increase compatibility (though adding games is more complex, and a soft-modding solution to dump it is still being worked on). Rename it to "DSi-1.mmc" (should be about 250MB). In No$GBA, change "Reset/Startup Entrypoint" to "GBA/NDS BIOS" to now boot the emulator and games in DSi mode. Hex editing is required in order to "install" new DSiWare titles. Using a NAND dump fixes a lot of glitches and crashes related to languages and use of the internal DSi font.
- 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 (recommended version was 126.96.36.199.) to try to emulate it. No emulators support this add-on at the moment.
- Pokémon Keyboard
- Bundled with the Pokémon Typing game (JP/UK/FR). 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 are going to 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* the Pokémon typing games. 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 children with a game entitled 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. DeSmuME & MelonDS is accurate to non-iQue hardware and will replicate the failure.
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 Pokemon 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 in 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.