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Useful Notes / Nintendo DS
aka: D Si

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From top to bottom: the original model DS (a.k.a. the DS Fat), the DS Lite, and the DSi

Short story, the Nintendo DS succeeded in just about every way the Nintendo 64 faltered.

Long story, Nintendo got a little nervous about the rising development costs in games, because other developers were making bigger and better games appealing to a gradually narrowing audience. Now how much of that is true is debatable, but it can't be argued that Nintendo's steps to remedy this created an unbeatable counter to the PlayStation Portable.

Their first step was, instead of simply making "a more powerful Game Boy", trying something new with the system to alter the gameplay and get developers out of a rut. With the DS, the method was to add a touchscreen in between the d-pad and the buttons, while keeping the regular screen above it. The public prototype was codenamed the "Developer's System", or the "DS" for short.note  However, because of its two screens, the gaming press kept thinking it stood for "Dual Screen". Recognizing it was giving the system name recognition already, Nintendo made "DS" the official name.

When it was in development, Nintendo presented the device as a "third pillar" to complement the Nintendo GameCube and the Game Boy Advance, rather than claim that the DS was the latest iteration of the Game Boy hardware line. There is some indication that this was a marketing ploy — Nintendo did not want to potentially tarnish the positive image of the much-beloved Game Boy line if the DS failed to live up to expectations; plus since the DS was backwards compatible with GBA games, if it failed, there would still be some value in the device. Unnecessary in retrospect, and it didn't stop people from calling it the "Game Boy DS" anyway. Although, at one point, they did plan to call it the City Boy, but they fortunately didn't.

The PDA-like touchscreen also provided a more "intuitive" interface for game development. Rather than pressing buttons that manipulated some object on the screen, the player could simply touch what they wanted to. This fell into a new strategy of Nintendo pursuing so-called "non-gamers": people who would normally not play games and might be intimidated by being confronted with an array of buttons and a d-pad. Nintendo went on to market the Wii this way as well. Besides, die-hard fanboys could take solace in the console's overall layout, which was a Shout-Out to Nintendo's original handheld product, the LCD-based Game & Watch.

And they did. Non-gamers embraced games like Nintendogs and Brain Age, and gamers embraced games like New Super Mario Bros. and Mario Kart DS.

With the Game Boy Advance having owed much of its success to updated releases of SNES games, it looked early on as though the DS would do the same for Nintendo 64 games. This never happened in the end, though, with Super Mario 64 DS, Ridge Racer DS, Rayman DS, and Diddy Kong Racing DS being the only major examples. Exactly why this was the case is debatable, though the most common explanations are that Nintendo was making a push for more innovative games instead of ports with touchscreen gimmicks bolted on (a major problem with a lot of the system's early games), Nintendo 64 games wouldn't work as Killer Apps since the N64 contributed to Nintendo's market share decline in the late '90s (and thus wouldn't generate hype), and/or the system was poorly-suited for Nintendo 64 ports in the first place due to the lack of an analog stick (tellingly, the 3DS, which did include a stick, would actually get more in the way of Nintendo 64 remakes).

Another thing that some initially believed was that with the PSP using discs, and the DS sticking with carts, that Nintendo was falling into the same trap as with the N64. There were four main reasons that wasn't the case.

  1. Carts have fewer moving parts, which meant less heat, battery drain, and loading time, all of which the PSP was notorious for. They are also more resistant to the rough treatment and wear mobile platforms must tolerate.
  2. Carts are small, and require basically no support hardware, making both them and the console they're used with more compact.
  3. Compression and the processing power needed to use it had evolved significantly since the N64 days, so cart capacity wasn't that much of a problem.
  4. Flash Memory prices had pretty much collapsed by the time the DS came out, making profit margins on affordable CD-capacity cart games possible. (Although for more niche publishers, cart costs could still be a factor for release, especially outside of Japan.)

So those advantages (which Sony seems to agree with itself due to the change in media with the PSP's successor, the PlayStation Vita), combined with lower development costs, made developers turn around and give huge support for the DS. It wasn't a total reversal, as developers also supported the PSP (at least in Japan), but it's definitely a redemption for Nintendo.

As mentioned before, the original and Lite versions of the DS were backwards compatible with Game Boy Advance (but not Game Boy or Game Boy Color) games thanks to a second cartridge slot known as "Slot 2" on the bottom of the system, and the games could be played on either screen. DS games were actually capable of communicating with whatever was in the GBA slot, which led to a large number of interesting peripherals such as a dedicated Rumble Pack and the Guitar Grip for Guitar Hero games. Some DS games could also connect with GBA games directly, most famously the various main series Pokémon games being able to transfer Pokémon from the GBA to DS versions.

The DS also had a redesign to address problems noted with the first system, such as a dim screen light and the bulk. The so-called "DS Phat" is the biggest of Nintendo's handhelds since the original Game Boy, while the DS Lite is just about the size of the original GBA. Another redesign, the DSi, dispenses with the GBA slot entirely and slightly decreases the battery length to increase the size of the dual screens, slim its third dimension even more and add an SD Card slot, two cameras and 256MB of onboard flash memory, all built-in. Games could now be downloaded through a DSi Shop Channel, much like the Wii's own Wii Shop Channel. The DSi sold over half a million units in two days.

Yet another redesign, the DSi XL (LL in Japan), upsizes the handheld (slightly wider than the original DS) and was released in Japan in November 2009, Europe on March 5, 2010 and North America on March 28, 2010. It's aimed towards players with poor eyesight and enables more people to watch the screen at once.

While the DSi was a definite step-up in terms of features, it hurt backwards compatibility with some previous games. Anything that used Dual Slot mode (Pokémon Diamond and Pearl or WarioWare Touched, for example) could no longer do so. Games that used Option Paks (Metroid Prime: Hunters' Rumble Pak) had no built in replacement, while some games and applications (Guitar Hero On Tour and the original DS Browser) were simply unplayable since their accessories were incompatible. This also introduced a glitch that would very rarely affect Option Pak compatible games; even when the accessories were optional the game would incorrectly detect an incompatible Pak and refuse to play.

The Nintendo DS is THE best-selling handheld video game system of all time, with over 153 million units sold as of December 2012. It sold just less than 2 million under the PS2, which means it's also the second-highest selling video game system in general. It prints money.

And 32 million or so of those money-printers were sold in Japan. While this entry's going long, it is worth emphasizing at this point: in Japan, the DS was quite possibly the single most culturally-relevant gaming system since the Famicom, and certainly since the first two PlayStations. At 30 million-plus units, virtually every household in Japan owned at least one DS by the late stage of the system's life; it hosts some of the best-selling software in Japan, ever, and was a hotbed of new IP and ideas once developers really began to dig into the possibilities of its interface. Even relatively niche games (like Etrian Odyssey) found significant audiences on the system, and the system's cultural impact was profound; the success of the DS allowed Japanese developers to actually sidestep the early parts of the HD era and focus instead on creating lower-cost games for the DS, and later, the PSP and 3DS. This was of great consequence, and the resulting divide between Japan's preference for handhelds and the West's preference for set-top consoles even ended up influencing the creation of the Nintendo Switch.

Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the DS was that it became the progenitor of mobile phone gaming. This was due to the intuitiveness of the touch interface and an expanded library that included games and software to appeal to casual gamers. Both iOS Games and Android Games would take these a step further, as cell phones were even more portable and accessible than dedicated handheld gaming devices, and they consequently became stiff competition for Nintendo's new casual player base (not helped by Nintendo's notoriously slow ability to adapt to the Internet). Ironic. As game journalist Jeremy Parish put it, the DS may have saved Nintendo from its GameCube era slump, but in becoming the unintentional Trope Maker for mobile gaming, it also may have become the Genre-Killer for handheld gaming as people knew it at the time.

The DS and the DS Lite are also noteworthy for being the last major consoles with non-upgradable firmware. Nintendo quickly learned to regret this, as the DS fell victim to massive widespread piracy - flashcarts for loading pirated ROMs completely flooded the market, and were so popular and easy to use that you'll probably be able to find a few of them still hanging around nursing homes, let alone among actual gaming enthusiasts. Nintendo attempted to crack down on distributors of them - including outright police raids - but largely failed, and to this day they can be easily found online for basically nothing. As a result, many DS games released later on included Copy Protection measures intended to stop flashcarts in their tracks, often involving trickery like making the game Unwinnable by Design if it detects it's a pirated copy. These methods were almost never effective, however, and were usually resolved with a quick firmware update to the cartridge.

On the plus side, the ubiquity of flashcarts did lead to a fairly decent homebrew scene for the platform - including some solid emulators for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color - though the limited hardware means that the support isn't nearly as strong as it is for other handhelds like the 3DS, PSP, or Vita.

It was succeeded by the Nintendo 3DS, which includes 3D technology. Just like the PlayStation 2 continued to exist well into the PS3's lifespan, it was expected that the non-3D DS family will stick around for some time after the release of the 3DS... which was true, in a sense. After the 3DS' release, the only major DS titles were Kirby Mass Attack, Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, and Ace Attorney Investigations 2, the last of which never released outside of Japan. Nintendo ended Wi-Fi service for the DS on May 20th, 2014, and all major developers, both first- and third-party, jumped almost exclusively to the 3DS. (This is at least partially due to the rampant piracy DS software had accumulated.) Needless to say, with its gangbuster sales, DS systems and their games are not in danger of becoming scarce.

Some DS games were ported to the Wii U through the Virtual Console, as that system's GamePad allowed the preservation of the dual screen setup. The first three included Brain Age/Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training, Mario Kart DS, & Yoshi's Island DS.



  • Two ARM CPUs. The main processor runs at 67 MHz, and handles the Polygonal Graphics alongside with its GPU. The secondary processor is a more advanced version of the GBA's processor, and runs at 33 MHz. The DSi's main processor is clocked at 133 MHz.
    • The reason for this split is partly to keep GBA compatibility through the secondary processor, and partly because running 3D graphics on both screens would split the processing between them. So having 3D on one screen and 2D on the other is the best compromise.
      • That's not to say that no games use both screens for 3D however. There are games out there who try to do 3D on both screens. The only caveat is that the max framerate is 30 fps instead of 60.
  • The DS does not have the Z80 like processor from the Game Boy Color, making it impossible to play original Game Boy or GBC cartridges. While the system is capable of emulating the games, Nintendo will only let you run an emulator if you repurchase a game with it.
  • The ARM 7 CPU does audio processing, control input and wireless communications. It can process 16 "voices" at once, with support for ADPCM, 8-bit and 16-bit PCM. Streamed audio, through either PCM or audio codecs are possible. Virtual surround is also possible with certain games.


  • The DS has 4 MB of RAM, similar to the N64, but it's not Rambus DRAM, partly because of the latency, but mostly because of the increased power consumption it would cause. This was quadrupled in the DSi to 16 MB.
    • The original DS and DS Lite allow one to expand the system's RAM by slotting a special cartridge into the GBA game slot. Most notably, the DS Browser cart uses it.
  • The system also has a 512 KB texture buffer for each screen, so no matter which screen the graphics were on, they would flow smoothly.
  • There is also 656 KB of Video RAM (not sure if the main 4 MB can also act as video memory if needed).
  • The 3D hardware can render to either a frame buffer or directly to either screen through a 48-line ring buffer. Frame buffer allows drawing 3D graphics on both screens at a cost of frame rate, color depth (drops down to 15-bit) and 192 KB of VRAM for the frame buffers. It is also possible to use only one frame buffer for advanced screen effects on only one screen, and this doesn't come with a frame rate hit, but still reduces color depth and uses 96 KB of VRAM.
  • Cart storage capacities range from 8 MB (e.g. Polarium) to 256 MB (e.g. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future), and a handful of games reach 512 MB (e.g. Pokémon Black 2 and White 2). The price of the larger carts is, well, price and slower data transfer speeds, but games have not been adversely affected by them, so it's more like a speed bump than a bottleneck.
  • The DSi comes with 256 MB of built-in flash memory storage for downloadable games and content. It can also accept SD cards up to 4GB in size for storing games but they cannot be played off of one.


  • Resolution is 256×192 per screen. For comparison, the SNES had a standard resolution of 256×224.
  • Color depth is 18 bit, or 262,144 colors.
  • The maximum polygon per frame is 2048 polygons (120K polygons per second), but the design of the system limits how many vertices can be in each frame, a rarity among 3D systems. Thus it can have all those polygons, but over an area not likely to be on screen at once. Another quirk — completely invisible polygons due to it being completely covered up don't count toward the poly count. It is possible to attempt to use multi-pass rendering to override this limit, at the cost of VRAM and color depth due to frame buffer usage.
  • It supports edge anti-aliasing on polygon edges, except for those with only-1-pixel-thick edge-marking applied. It also doesn't work when the polygon clips through another polygon, nor on texture edges.
  • Textures are a different story. Not only does the system allow huge textures (1024×1024 apparently with a max size of 512K, though you are not going to fit anything good after that due to 656K of total VRAM.), but the system also has Texture Compression built in. (Though this is more likely to save cart space than for motherboard bandwidth.) Although the system only supports point texture filtering, possibly resulting in blocky textures up close, the greatly improved texture resolution and color depth negates this disadvantage.
  • The DS also keeps and improves GBA 2D hardware, which can be used by DS games.


  • The DS and DS Lite could have about 18 hours of battery life on the lowest settings, and about 10 hours on the highest. The DSi features about 14 hours of playtime at the lowest brightness settings, and around 3 hours at the highest, which is even brighter than any model of DS before the DSi.
    • The DS and DS Lite had an insane battery life when playing GBA games. Not quite near the original GameBoy level, but let's just say one could play a game for several weeks a few hours a day without needing to charge it.
  • The DS was the first Nintendo handheld to have a screen that was both in color and backlit. This was a whopping 15 years after the Atari Lynx and 14 years after the Game Gear (both of which had backlit color screens), but Nintendo certainly made up for the wait as shown by the battery life.
  • All versions on the DS have wireless capabilities, allowing systems to link up together without the need for any Game Link cables at all.note  This also allows the DS to play games over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, playing with people all around the world (as long as you have a wireless router). The lack of WPA encryption is a bit of a sore point for some users. The DSi has more sophisticated wireless capabilities, allowing it to connect to many WPA networks for DSiWare, but retail packaged games have been developed with WEP in mind.
  • The slot for GBA games can include extra devices for DS games. This could include a rumble pack or even a camera. This slot is sacrificed for an SD Card slot and cameras on the DSi, however.
    • The loss of the second slot eliminates the backwards compatibility necessary for certain features in some games, such as 4th generation Pokémon games, and outright makes the Guitar Hero: On Tour series unplayable.
  • The DSi would be Nintendo's first handheld to enforce region-locking, drawing a fair bit of criticism. However, the region-locking only affected DSiWare download titles and DSi-exclusive cartridges; games that lacked any DSi-exclusive features were still region-free.

Games/Series that appeared on this console:

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Alternative Title(s): DS, D Si, Nintendo DSI