Nintendo’s handheld consoles are fertile ground for ROM hacks, with their ease of access and relatively straightforward games to hack.
The second screen – which is also a touchscreen – gives the console a unique selling point too, with it often used for maps, menus or other quality of life improvements that, when well implemented, give DS games an edge over versions of the same game that appear on other consoles.
The DS presents unique opportunities for coders to create ROM hacks too, with the second screen – which is also a touchscreen – providing unique possibilities to upgrade, improve upon or even revamp a game’s usual structure or appearance.
Just as with the best GBA ROM hacks, there are lots of RPGs and Pokémon hacks available – less so than on GBA, for example, perhaps due to the added complexity of dealing with that second screen – but which are the best hacks we at Retro Dodo Towers have come across in general?
Feast both your eyes on the dual screen action we’ve uncovered in our quest for the best Nintendo DS ROM Hacks – and remember, if you aren’t able to get hold of the original console, there’s always the option of emulators (with several of them featured in our best Nintendo DS emulators article!).
10. Rhythm Heaven Touchless (2018)
A quirky rhythm action game that’s the second in the series – but was the first to make it out of Japan – Rhythm Heaven has fifty rhythm games that make use of the touchscreen.
Yet this can be exhausting, not to mention carpal tunnel-inducing, so this simple, straightforward ROM hack removes the need to use the touchscreen altogether.
There’s a number of ROM hacks for various DS titles that allow players to use buttons instead of touch controls; it’s amazing how much this simple, single change to more traditional controls can make a game so much more accessible to play, even though touch controls may seem more intuitive, at least in theory.
Similar hacks bring the same traditional control schemes to games like The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks – these are options that Nintendo themselves should have added into their games, rather than shoehorn the touch-based control scheme into experiences that don’t necessarily suit the touchscreen method.
Not all of the best Nintendo DS ROM hacks involve complex or expansive lists of new features – and the Rhythm Heaven Touchless hack for Rhythm Paradise is an excellent example of this.
9. Custom Robo Arena Redux (2018)
Again, a lighter, simpler hack than many that follow on this list, the Redux hack for Custom Robo Arena changes the action roleplaying game’s pace and balance to improve the game in many ways – including making it much more replayable.
Whereas the normal game sees some extra robot parts inaccessible until later in the game, the mod allows players to purchase these from the first shops encountered during play. More powerful robot models are also available early, though these are at a cost (unless you can hang on to purchase them later in the story!).
New weapons have been added and existing ones tweaked to make them fairer or easier to use; it’s clear that a lot of attention has gone into making Custom Robo Arena as fun as possible, without shaking up the basic – and already good fun – game too much and rendering it unrecognisable.
Though part of the fun of many hacks is that they take existing games and add so much content that they feel entirely new, in the case of Custom Robo Arena, it’s still very much the same game – just better!
8. Shadow Dragon – Online Shop Exclusive Items Integrated into Normal Gameplay (2018)
Though the title of this mod is incredibly literal and tells you exactly what it does, allow me to expand on exactly why this is a big deal.
This ROM hack of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon allows players to use the items that could only be accessed via the game’s online shops – which were closed down by Nintendo back in 2014.
This had the effect of rendering some weapons and even a character class next to useless, but this mod restores the game to its full glory.
Its a real shame – and incredibly disappointing – that Nintendo themselves didn’t allow players to update their versions of the game to include these items once the online store access was removed, but thankfully modders stepped in and this ROM hack has saved the day for players who weren’t fortunate enough to have had that access back in the day.
If nothing else, this ROM hack goes to show just how useful the modding community can be in preserving game experiences for everyone, not just the players who happened to be around in a certain time and place. Absolutely one of the Best Nintendo DS ROM Hacks – and we thank you for your time and efforts, modders!
7. DQ5 DS: Monster Trainer v1.0 (2012)
This hack emphasises the monster training elements of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride (which ranked very highly on our Best DS RPGs list); though fairly subtle in many ways, it makes the game a lot more enjoyable for players who want to make it easier to recruit and train more monsters in their party,reducing the need to grind for their favourite characters.
It also allows monsters to use equipment that more logically fits their personalities and abilities, along with a few other, smaller changes to the core experience.
Dragon Quest V was already a critical and commercial success that is very highly rated even today, so there may be some players who are of the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mindset – but what this hack smartly does is to focus on one aspect of the game that many players would have liked to see more of – and then turns it up to eleven.
Definitely one of the oldest hacks to have made it to the best Nintendo DS ROM Hacks list at nearly ten years old, it’s nonetheless still a great example of how ROM hacks can alter already-great games in ways that don’t have to be entirely transformative, but just in offering something a little different the game can have a new lease of life.
6. Mega Man Star Force DX (2021)
Though this hack of Mega Man title Mega Man: Star Force, like the aforementioned Rhythm Paradise hack, fixes touchscreen controls so that they can instead be carried out with buttons, it actually goes an awful lot further than that in adding content to the game.
Content cut from the Western release has been restored (and translated), a new difficulty mode has been added and even side quests, with the ability to take on multiple quests at once, have also been added to the game.
Yet that’s not all; there’s so much more than that, with plenty of smaller quality of life improvements that just generally make the base game even better.
When Mega Man Star Force was originally released, it was to a frosty critical reception and the Star Force sub-series isn’t even particularly well-remembered by fans – if all of the content and improvements that this hack brings to the table had been part of the game from the beginning, things could well have been different.
It’s another great example of how modders can work real magic, even on games that don’t have the best reputation or much of a fan base to start with.
5. Pokémon Moon Black 2 (2020)
There really are an awful lot of Pokémon ROM hacks available for DS; the popularity of the series means that it dominates the attention of modders everywhere.
So it’s hard to definitively choose the best one, but Pokémon Moon Black 2 is certainly one of the most comprehensive ROM hacks available.
The list of additions to the base game (it’s a hack of Pokémon Black 2 – which itself is so good that it made it to our Best DS RPGs list) is absolutely astonishing – it’s genuinely amazing that this is the work of a small team of enthusiasts.
There’s a new interface, a new title screen, new gym leaders, new Pokémon, Unova Forms and Alola Forms, new rivals, New Gym Leaders, Mega Evolutions, Fairy Type (and a new type chart) – even a brand new Pokémon World Tournament.
Unbelievably, there’s even more content than that included. It’s a great new experience overall for players looking to have a unique experience with Pokémon Black as its basis, but truly does feel like an entirely new game.
4. Newer Super Mario Bros DS (2017)
Though it’s nice to have the 2D antics of the Mario Bros in a series running alongside the 3D adventures of the platforming plumbers, it has to be said that Nintendo’s official New Super Mario Bros is a bit, well, dull.
This fan made ROM hack really goes to town on including extra content, however – with a jaw-dropping 80 new stages, custom enemies (and even bosses!), redesigned world maps, new and remixed music, the return of a familiar power up, minecarts and even more besides.
It’s a hugely ambitious fan made project that’s a sequel to Newer Super Mario Bros Wii (as you can probably guess, that’s a ROM hack of New Super Mario Bros Wii) by the exact same team of modders.
3. MKDS Deluxe (2019)
Just as there are lots of Mario platformer hacks (which change and add to the gameplay of titles such as Super Mario 64 DS or New Super Mario Bros), there’s also plenty of hacks that customise the Mario Kart DS experience.
MKDS Deluxe is one of the best there is though, with the addition of tracks from Mario Kart 7 and 8 (along with entirely new tracks), custom cars and music – as well as iconic characters such as Sonic and Crash Bandicoot included and playable.
All of the additions would be fantastic to see added to the official game; it’s great to see modders taking on the work that Nintendo can’t – or won’t – do themselves in updating these classic games to give them a completely new lease of life. Definitely an excellent, unmissable addition to the Best Nintendo DS ROM Hacks list.
2. Castlevania: Rondo of Ruin (2021)
So this is exciting: a DS ROM hack which was released very recently indeed and is a full update of Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin.
Castlevania games are incredibly popular on the modding scene and there’s some seriously impressive hacks available.
Rondo of Ruin is the best though – in our humble opinion of course – modifying almost all of the game’s content and shifting the action from the World War II setting to five years after the events of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
It’s practically a new game, featuring new characters, new platforming mechanics, redesigned rooms, new items and weapons too.
It’s a fantastic hack that gives entirely new life to the original Portrait of Ruin game; it’s an amazing job considering that it’s the work of amateur fans.
1. Super Mario: Endless Earth (2019)
Another hack of New Super Mario Bros (which is hardly ‘New’ these days, the series now being an astonishing fifteen years old), Super Mario: Endless Earth is a seriously impressive ROM hack that gives players a huge 2D open world to explore, instead of the usual smaller-sized, discrete levels that they’re used to.
It’s a fully featured, fully scripted game with cutscenes, eight objectives to complete over the game’s non-linear world and fortresses to overcome with multiple routes to completion.
The game’s storyline is really different from the original, unhacked version too – being much closer in spirit to Super Mario Galaxy, with Mario helping Rosalina to collect star pieces that are dotted around the game’s huge open world.
Music has been remixed – or added – and the game has been given a visual polish to bring it closer in line with the more recent Wii U version of New Super Mario Bros.
It’s a hugely impressive project and one that improves upon the somewhat conservative, very bland original game – that’s the very definition of Nintendo playing it safe – in so many ways. An absolute must – and a clear choice for the very top of the Best Nintendo DS ROM Hacks list!
Jason – who lives in the UK – has had a lifelong interest in video games, which all started when he discovered Space Invaders in the early 80s. The first game he ever completed was Wonder Boy in Monster Land on the Sega Master System – which remains one of his proudest gaming achievements. Jason is a passionate writer – and has been writing about gaming since the late 90s. He currently runs pop culture blog midlifegamergeek.com, which he updates on a daily basis (and has written more than 700 articles on the blog alone!).
Outside of video games, Jason is a keen tabletop gamer, film buff and comic book fan.