The Best NES Emulator for the Nintendo DS: nesDS

The Best NES Emulator for the Nintendo DS

Adding some retro functionality to your Nintendo DS is always a good thing. This time we will be showing off NES emulation for all your favorite 8-bit Nintendo classics.

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What Is The Best NES Emulator?

I was surprised to find that most of the emulation sites out there are pushing old NES emulators that are just slight modifications of their GBA counterparts. nesDS, on the other hand, customized the PocketNES code to take full advantage of the DS hardware and to improve performance and compatibility. It isn’t perfect, but I think you will find it quite suitable for most games.

Easy Installation

After some of my frustrating experiences getting some of my GP2X emulators to run, I was very happy with the simplicity of the nesDS installation. Assuming your homebrew cart doesn’t require patching, all you do is download the executable file and put it in a folder with some NES ROMs. (Actually, you don’t need folders, and your ROMs can be elsewhere, but folders usually help keep things organized)

For my CycloDS Evolution cartridge, I just copied over a folder (named “NES”) that had the executable and my ROMs on to MicroSD card, popped it in my DS Lite, and I was good to go. No configuration needed. (Configurations options are availible for tweaking, but I don’t bother)

If you need need installation assistance with older DS homebrew solutions, check out this wiki guide at PocketHeaven.

Video Tour of nesDS

To get a better feel for how nesDS handles, I’ve recorded a quick video that walks through some of the menus and shows a few popular games in action.

nesDS’s Best Features

  • High compatibility
  • Full speed for most games
  • “Rewind” feature with R-trigger
  • “Fast Mode” with L-trigger
  • Save states

Complaints & Limitations

  • Not a huge deal, but I can’t seem to navigate the menus with the D-pad and face buttons. It all seems to be touch-screen based. Since the menu options are small, you will need a stylus for best results.
  • There is no DPCM sound (SMB3 drums, Kung Fu laughing, etc), unlike PocketNES.
  • There is also no raw PCM sound (speech in Joshua, SCAT, Big Bird’s Hide and Speak), like PocketNES.


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Dig says:

I think you should start messing with the display tab on the menu some more. I use this emulator in my DS as well and the graphics tab can help out with the squashed Mario sprite.

I don’t remember the exact details right now, but putting the stylus on the screen and moving it left or right will adjust the vertical scaling of the game. Moving the stylus up and down, however, will shift the image up and down. This means that if the stylus is moved to the far left in order to have an unscaled image where the graphics match their original form, then the stylus needs to be moved up or down in order to get the action in the center since the entire unscaled image can’t fit on the screen.

I’ve managed to reach a happy medium pretty quickly where my Mega Man sprite isn’t too deformed and top and bottom of the game screen where nothing happens are outside of the visible area. Near-perfect emulation for all the games I play. Try it out sometime.

racketboy says:

Does it remember the visual settings?
Does it have settings for individual games or for everything?

Dig says:

As far as I have found, I have set it once and it uses that setting for every game and keeps the same settings even after turning off the DS. I also use an R4 if that makes a difference.

Pat says:

First let me say how much I love your blog. I’ve been reading for awhile now but have never commented.

Anyway, I don’t have any clue about the different MicroSD cards. Can any card work with the DS? What’s the best to buy at the best price? I looked up that CycloDS Evolution cartridge and it’s something like 65 bucks with shipping. That seems a bit much, but what do I know.

jindofox says:

Nice little review, but you left out one of my favorite features of this great emulator, which I just discovered for myself:

The shoulder buttons are fast-forward and more useful, REWIND functions! This is great — if you screw up, just hit the L button to rewind a few seconds to try again.

racketboy says:

Pat, any MicroSD card will work on the CycloDS at least. Some older homebrew carts may not support the larger capacity MicroSDs.

$65 is higher than normal. I paid about $56 for mine at RealHotStuff. Good place. At that price, it isn’t for everyone, but it has a lot of good features and as worth it if you are a DS addict and want to expand it’s capabilities.

jindofox, thanks so much for that tip! That is a pretty cool feature!

Mike says:

The NES emulators for the GP2x are lacking, but most of the others are of high quality, IMHO

Zandengoff says:

The SMB3 sprite is squished because the DS does not have the native resolution to display every pixel of the NES vertical resolution. It is not a limitation of the emulation, but a limitation of the DS. If you check out the author’s site, he explains the reason for scaling.

racketboy says:

Cool — thanks for the heads-up
I just thought it was interesting that most everything else looked good. And Mario looked funny no matter where he was on the screen.

Zandengoff says:

It’s cool, Just though I would point out that it was the DS and not the emulator. I would call it a testament to great programming that he was able to overcome the hardware limitations so well.

racketboy says:

No doubt — thanks again 🙂
I’m gonna try to re-do my video to included the new things I’ve learned from the comments.

Jordan says:

two things:
1. I love your site!
2. Which emulator do you recommend for snes roms?

racketboy says:

I haven’t actually got around to trying an SNES one yet. I will do so soon and follow up with another post like this one.


onter says:

i want that yellow nds!!!is that a pokemon/zelda limited edition??

nice review..thanks dude!!

racketboy says:

That’s just a side effect of the lighting.
It’s actually standard white.

Car says:

hi everyone, i wanted to know if anyone could tell me how to get this thing to work, i have the cyclods evolution i copy the file nesDS_src and my roms but the roms dont show up when i start up the program? not sure what i’m doing???

racketboy says:

Do you have the roms zipped? (what is the file extension?)
Also, do you have them in another folder?
BTW, for the best help, please post this question in the forum.


This emulator is perfect! Exactly what I was looking for, thanks for the post. This along with my PowerPak and I’ll have my NES library wherever I go…freakin’ sweet.

Sorta on/off topic, I’ve also been looking for a TurboGrafix-16 emulator that will run on the DS but haven’t found any. Anyone know of one?

racketboy says:

To my knowledge, there isn’t a good TG16 emulator for the DS yet. Only the “big” platforms like the PC and XBox seem to have good ones right now. Maybe someday…

Lex says:

Hey I just discovered this site and I love it. I am trying to put the NES emulator on my DS. I the download file to my ds and downloaded the rom “Blades of Steel”. I can find it on my DS but it says it doesn’t recognize the file extention “.nes”. Any help would be appreciated. And also I appologize if this question is too stupid. Im new to emulators.

racketboy says:

All of my games have an .nes extension on them…
do any other games play?

Bastion says:

The PSP also has an awesome NES emulator (RIN). The games look awesome on the psp’s screen!

jano says:

My ds sais’s the driver is missing! what is the driver?

seeger says:

im a real computer dummy but i do love the original nintendo and i love my ds and would love to combine the 2. i dont understand anything your other readers are saying and really need step by step help to get this working on my ds. will you help me? please please please im begging for your help

racketboy says:

I guess I’m not sure what you issue is…
Do you have a homebrew cartridge for your DS?
If so, you just need to put the emulator file I linked to on the memory card and also some NES game ROMs.

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