Hold your finger like a stylus and prepare for some dual-screen action as we take a look at the best Nintendo DS emulators of the year!
The Nintendo DS Family make up the three best selling handhelds of all time. Not of 2006 or 2020; of all time!
No wonder people want to know about the best Nintendo DS emulators for playing their favourite games on the go!
With titles such as the Fire Emblem and Dragon Quest series’ alongside classics like The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks and Mario Kart DS, this portable powerhouse had some mammoth titles. And, like the best PSP emulators, it’s becoming one of the most requested consoles for new handhelds to emulate.
But which are the best Nintendo DS emulators? What is an emulator? Where am I?
Two of those questions will be easy to answer, and the third one is for me to know and you to never find out!
**PLEASE READ – Sharing ROMs is illegal, and we wouldn’t do well in prison.**
Retro Dodo created this article for you to find out more about the best Nintendo DS emulators and it should be thought of as a fantasy text, a magical grimoire, or the scroll Gandalf uses to read about Sauron in the first film. Retro Dodo does not condone illegal downloading or any other tricksy Hobbit stuff that might get anyone (namely us) into handcuffs. Please check the legality of ROM downloading in your region and always follow government guidelines on both internet safety and copyright laws.
- Open Source
- Windows, OSX, Linux, Android
It’s official; Citra is the best of the best Nintendo DS emulators of all time!
Some of our readers may remember us mentioning Citra back in our article on the best Nintendo Switch Emulator programs. Yuzu, the best Switch Emulator, comes from the same team that made Citra, and both emulators are highly regarded in the retro gaming world.
Multiplayer support, 10x internal resolution, and the ability to play games in 4K; no wonder people love it so much!
And the best part is that Citra works on pretty much every system!
Playing the Zelda DS games and all the portable Pokemon classics in 4K takes them to a-whole-nother level. Add in multiple layouts and a handy joystick function for arcade vibes, and the whole package gets supercharged all the way to 11.
Citra boasts local WiFi support too, so you can play against your mates on all the classic titles. As Tina Turner might say, it’s simply the best, better than all the rest.
- Open Source
- Windows, OSX, Linux
DeSmuME was a close contender for the top spot in this list of the best Nintendo DS emulators on the internet. It’s brilliant, but then again it has to be to make up for that ridiculous name, but let’s not get too bogged down with that right now…
So what is DeSmuME? Well, it works on Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems and, while it doesn’t have the most exciting website, it has easy instructions on how to download it and lots of helpful advice.
And because it’s open source, people can keep tinkering with it and updating it!
As with many emulators, newer machines produce better results. Still, DeSmuME works pretty well on any Mac and boasts tonnes of customisation settings for graphics and how the emulator runs. It’s found in some of the best retro handhelds that we review and is very versatile and reliable
Add that to the rock-solid saving system, external controller hook up, and a cheat manager, and you’ve got yourself a fantastic emulator to kick back and play Pokemon on!
3. DraStic DS Emulator
- Paid App
DraStic DS Emulator takes the 3rd spot in this list of the best Nintendo DS emulators of all time! As of this moment, DraStic is also my new rapper name, but that’s another story for another time.
Now, this emulator is a paid app available on the Google Play store. It costs $4.99, which while more expensive than ‘free’ is still a cracking bargain considering how well it works on Android phones.
As far as title compatability goes, DraStic plays almost every Nintendo DS game like a dream. There are a few that don’t work, but all the main ones play perfectly and you’ll certainly be spoilt for choice.
One of the things that sets DraStic apart from other emulators is the ability to change the screen layout and all the other customisation options that come with it. It has Google Drive Support, fast-forwarding functions, graphics rendering on newer phones and lots of other exciting features.
Yep, it’s one of the best smartphone emulator available for Android devices and a surefire hit for all games from Mario to Tetris!
- Open Source
- Multiple Platforms
RetroArch is the 4th program in our list of the best Nintendo DS emulators of all time, and it’s also one of our favourite emulators to write about.
For those of you that don’t know, RetroArch is a one-stop-shop for every console emulator ever. It’s one of the smartest programs on the web and covers every console ever made.
We first talked about RetroArch back in our list of the best N64 emulators, and it’s appeared in pretty much every article since! Rather than focusing on one console like most of the other emulators in this list, RetroArch uses cores that allow players to choose from thousands upon thousands of games!
RetroArch uses two of the emulators in this list as its cores for DS emulation; the mighty DeSmuMe, and the upcoming program in the Number 5 slot. Both work well and have their own plus points and differences, with many citing the option below as being the better emulator.
We guess you’ll have to try them both and see which you like the best!
- Open Source
- Windows, Linux
MelonDS takes the 5th spot in this list of the best Nintendo DS emulators of all time. For many, it’s a second solid choice to DeSmuME and one of the most stable emulators going.
For starters, MelonDS has one of the highest compatibility percentages alongside DraStic. It’s fast, has zero lag, and plays all the greats without any problems. We’re talking perfect Pokemon every time.
Some users might be a little miffed to find out that it doesn’t have the same graphic customisation options as DeSMuME, but it can handle high resolutions and works brilliantly on older systems too. It’s the people’s champion in the sense that you don’t need to buy the latest laptop or PC to enjoy the best performance.
Hook up a joystick, save files with confidence, and use WiFi support on some games. That’s a heck of a lot of plus points for a free, open source emulator!
- Open Source
- MacOS, Windows, Android
Mac users; listen up. OpenEmu isn’t just one of the best Nintendo DS emulators on the scene; it’s also one of the best looking programs I’ve ever used.
With a wood effect background and simple to use controller mapping screens, the program is almost like the iTunes of the retro gaming world.
And let’s talk about the game library too. OpenEmu categorises all of your games for every system into a stunning interface that makes me want to become a video game librarian. It’s one of the sleekest emulators around and one that I use regulary.
Drop your ROMs in, and OpenEmu does the rest. Like RetroArch, it uses cores to bring all your favourite games to life. For the DS, DeSmuMe takes the stage once again.
Seriously, if you love all things Apple, then this program needs to be in your arsenal, even if it’s just as a second option!
- Freeware with paid upgrades
Last but by no means least, No$GBA takes the 7th spot in this list of the best Nintendo DS emulators of the year. It stands for NoCashGBA and champions providing a means for anyone to play the best Gameboy Advance games for free.
I know the name looks like something someone might spay paint onto a tunnel wall, but it’s a cracking choice for Windows gamers to download.
The one downside to this program is that while it plays pretty much every GBA game as though they were made for the system, the catalogue of working DS games isn’t as impressive.
Still, the ones that do work look fantastic and play brilliantly. As long as you don’t mind searching for your favourites and risking disappointment, then it’s a solid option if you haven’t enjoyed using the programs above.
Two plus points are the perfect save features and the simple-to-use external controller hookup. It also allows multiplayer mayhem on some games too!
What Are Emulators?
Remember that bit in Lord of the Rings where Gandalf whispers to a butterfly and it goes to fetch the Eagles? Well, imagine Gandalf was whispering into your PC, Mac, or smartphone and telling it it was a Nintendo DS.
That pretty much sums up how emulators work… but Brandon says I have to go into a bit more detail, so here goes.
Retro gaming is fast becoming one of the most advanced markets around. More and more people want to relive their favourite games both at home and on the go via the best retro handhelds and their phones.
To do this, gamers rip the files from their existing game cartridges and discs and offload them onto their chosen devices. These ripped files are called ROMs, and emulators play ROMs.
Emulators aren’t magic, but they are filled with a whole load of wizardry. They make any device think and behave like a games console. They’re the brains behind many new handhelds and some of the best mini consoles on virtual shelves.
And remember kids, big kids, and any lawyers that might be reading, sharing ROMs is an offence, and the only prisons we want to see are the ones on TV.
What Are The Benefits Of Using The Best Nintendo DS Emulators?
The Nintendo DS is getting on in years a little now, and not everyone has access to their old machines. The best Nintendo DS emulators give players the chance to play all the best Nintendo DS games on a computer screen or phone, whenever, wherever.
Put the soldering iron down, back away from the broken handheld, and play some Pokemon on your Mac instead!
The DS is a sleek and portable console, but now that phones are as big as bricks again, wielding a DS emulator frees up pocket space and means less things to charge.
Are There Downsides To Emulating Games?
A lot of the best Nintendo DS emulators actually make games look crisper, but they don’t have the same reliability as the genuine article.
Some emulators can be a little glitchy, and more often than not, the ROM files available on the internet have been ripped badly and don’t work correctly. We’re talking frame-rate drop and titles not moving past the title screen.
The apps and programs that receive updates from the developers or the open source emulators that fans can upgrade usually provide the best results. It’s all about the fine details in the code.
Don’t forget that making, adapting, and, maintaining emulators isn’t illegal. It’s the sharing of ROMs that’ll bring Doug Bowser to your door with a cease and desist letter!
How Do I Download The Best Nintendo DS Emulators?
All the best Nintendo DS emulators on this list are available to download from the internet. Just type the name into any search engine and you’ll find the appropriate page.
I know what you’re thinking; why don’t we just link you to them?. Listen, I know they’re not illegal, but once we start telling you where to find them it’s a slippery slope to opening up our own branch of ‘ROMs ‘R’ Us’, so we’re keeping out of this one.
Oh, and one more time… don’t share ROMs!
Seb Santabarbara has bought every Nintendo console that has ever been released in his 31 years on Planet Earth. His favourite game franchise is Zelda, and he’s patiently waiting for Banjo-Kazooie to come back to the fold. When he’s not playing games, he’s travelling the world in his self-converted camper van.