Homebrew The State of 8-Bit Emulation on the DS/DSi

wavemotion

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Updated: 30-Nov-2021

So I’m an 8-bit retro gaming enthusiast and I’ve been playing with all the great 8-bit emulators on the DS. I thought I’d share a bit of thoughts as a sort of mini-review of the state of 8-bit gaming on the DS/DSi.

In my opinion, the DSi (LL/XL especially due to the slightly more latent screen refresh which holds the image a bit longer) is a powerhouse of 8-bit gaming. It’s not an exaggeration to say that north of 20,000 games across a myriad of 8-bit systems can be played and enjoyed. Mind you, most of those games suck… but 2-3% don’t and that’s still 400-600 amazing games to play (and I think it’s higher than that… based on my ‘favorites’ folder but I’m quirky so I’ll be conservative here)!

I’m sure this list below isn’t exhaustive but I’ve probably covered the majority of high-quality 8-bit gaming systems emulated on the DS/DSi. I’m also sticking with emulated 8-bit gaming/computer systems and leave off one-off emulators that support just a game or three.

NESDS

Emulation of NES 8-bit system from Nintendo.

Emulation: Is fairly good with just a few glitches. Some of the more complicated games will stutter/skip but most will play just fine. On the DS you will get somewhere between 90 and 100% speed on many games… a few noticeable slowdowns in some complex games. On the DSi running through TWL++ or similar you will get almost 100% speed across the board. Not all the mappers are supported - so there are some games that will not run right. The new Gaplus rom has graphical glitches as a result. Still - overall a very enjoyable experience.

Sound: Sound is solid however the system will occasionally get very 'raspy' and you have to go into the menu to reset the sound. No idea what causes it - and it sucks when you're in the middle of a fast-paced game. But it's fairly infrequent. You can access a 'Sound Reset' in the config/options menu in case you need to reset the sound engine.

Screen Handling: Screen Scaling confuses me a bit here… Native NES resolution is 256x240 pixels so it works great horizontally but vertically there must be some loss to scale down to 192 pixels. I can almost always get it to show the way I want but it seems a little clunky with the on-screen touch scaling. But expect that some lines will go missing.

S8DS

Emulation of the Sega Master System, SG-1000 and Colecovision (preliminary support for MSX included but you’re better off with MSXDS for that – see below).

Emulation: Is near perfect across the board. A few of the larger/complex SMS games wouldn’t run perfectly – just a hint of graphical glitches here and there but still very playable. I had to get a few alternate [a] versions of roms to play some games (Outrun, Space Harrier). Overall a very enjoyable experience. A hint of slowdown on the DS but the DSi runs everything at proper speed and framerate as near as I can tell. I tend to use this emulator for SG-1000 more than SMS mainly because those systems are handled really well despite being targeted to the Sega Master System crowd.

Sound: Near perfect. Really crisp without lag or other strange artifacts.

Screen Handling: All three systems share a very similar architecture. All three systems have a native screen resolution of 256 × 192 – this is a pixel-perfect match to the DS/DSi hardware and no scaling is needed.

MSXDS

Emulation of the MSX, MSX2 and MSX2+ - this system was hugely popular in Japan and parts of Europe but less so in the US. It has a massive number of classic Konami, Compile and ASCII ports for the home gaming enthusiast.

Emulation: Is near perfect across the board. The MSX will run fine on a DS but MSX2 and MSX2+ emulation will start to slow down on the older DS but will still run fine on the DSi hardware using a loader line TWL++ or similar.

Sound: Near perfect. Really crisp without lag or other strange artifacts.

Screen Handling:
MSX screen resolution is 256x192 and is a pixel-perfect match for the DS/DSi hardware.

Unfortunately MSX2 and MSX2+ have various modes which often run at a vertical resolution of 212 meaning that we’ve got about 20 pixels that need to go “somewhere”. The emulator provides 3 scaling options – you can squish the screen which will drop 20 pixel rows as it sees fit… or you can make the top 20 pixels or bottom 20 pixels show on the lower screen. Since many games use the top of the screen for high-score or status, having those 20 pixels show on the bottom is actually rather ingenious and works pretty well. Unfortunately where it cuts of the display isn’t always ideal – would love just a little bit of ability to tweak what gets cut off and shown on the lower screen.

ZXDS

Emulation of the ZX-Spectrum. Tons of features and a nice interface across the board.

Emulation: Virtually perfect with just a few small glitches. The main problem with this is that it’s not easy to get it to run from the SD card of your DSi despite last being updated in 2017. It’s really designed to run from a flash card – some people have gotten it to work on the SD via TWL++ but it’s a real uphill struggle. The games run nearly perfectly even on the older DS hardware.

Sound: Near perfect. Really crisp without lag or other strange artifacts.

Screen Handling: Native resolution here is 256x192 which is pixel perfect for the DS.

Gameyob

Emulation of the Game Boy / Color.

Emulation: Very good – there are some screen glitches on some of the larger/complex games. Works pretty well on a stock DS and no speed issues that I could see.

Sound: good overall... not perfectly accurate across the board depending on the game being played but you won't find anything to complain about.

Screen Handling: Native screen resolution is 160×144 which necessitates either black borders or some stretching which is less than ideal for the native DS resolution of 256x192. This is less than ideal but such is life with retro gaming and emulation!

NitroGrafx

Emulation of the Turbo-Grafx16 aka PC-Engine.

Despite the marketing name of TG-16, this is an 8-bit CPU system. And it’s an amazing system – especially if you love quirky Japanese games or 2D Shmups (shoot-em-ups)!

Emulation: NitroGrafx will emulate the PCEngine/TG16 as well as the add-on CD-ROM/SuperCD interface using bin/cue files. Honestly, the CD support is nothing short of brilliant - It’s a little tricky to setup but once working, it’s pretty great. This emulator is picky on the roms it takes - overdumps tend to really cause problems... so be sure to get a clean set. Screen is vibrant and sound is quite acceptable across the board. There are some graphical issues on the CD games but it generally doesn't prevent them from being playable and enjoyable. A bit of slowdown on the stock DS but in DSi mode via TWL++ it’s smooth sailing.

Sound: as with all things @FluBBa - the sound is really wonderful given that there's a lot of other emulation happening of this dual-8-bit system.

Screen Handling: Native TG16 resolution is 256x240 for most games (some have higher resolutions). This means that most games will need to be reduced vertically to fit on the DS screen containing only 192 pixels. Screen scaling options are sparse – mostly you can squish (some pixels go missing) or not (some pixels cut off).

StellaDS

Atari 2600 / VCS Emulator.

Emulation: Games run between 60% and 100% on the stock DS and almost every game runs 100% on the DSi. Emulation is not cycle-accurate but close enough to be enjoyable.

Sound: good overall...Sound in a few special games is not right but for most games is correct. Examples of problems include Quadrun (no voice - that requires more tightly controlled sampling) and the DPC game Pitfall II (background music). Still, for a 1977 system of bleeps-and-bloops, it's solid.

Screen Resolution: Native resolution for the VCS is 160x192 but many games utilized upwards of 220 vertical pixel lines necessitating some screen scaling or positioning of the screen such that the sky or ground is not shown. The emulator gives you a number of scaling options and you can change it on the fly on a per-game basis.

A5200DS

Atari 5200 Emulator.

Emulation: Games run between 80% and 100% on the stock DS and almost every game runs 100% on the DSi. Emulation is solid across the board with near cycle-accurate timing.

Sound: good overall... with the new maxmod library for streaming, the audio has improved in the most recent build to the point where it's quite solid. There are some games that utilize sampled voice that won't render perfectly (Berzerk, Bosconian) but for the majority of games, it's solid.

Screen Resolution: Max resolution is 320x240 necessitating some screen scaling in the emulator. For games that don’t utilize the full 240, it’s often possible to position the screen such that just a bit of sky or ground is off screen. The emulator gives you a number of scaling options and you can change it on the fly on a per-game basis.

A7800DS

Atari 7800 Emulator

Emulation: The baseline emulator for this is the ProSystem which is not the most accurate – timing isn’t right in some games but overall most of the library is playable to the point of being highly enjoyable. Sound is not perfect but also acceptable. Only the simple games with low graphical complexity will run properly on the older DS while the DSi will run most of the games at very close to 100%.

Sound: fair. It works - but the TIA 2 channel + Pokey 4-channel isn't as stunning as it should be... I'd describe the audio as "scratchy" in spots - but still passable and truth be told the emulator is already struggling to keep up full framerate on the DSi so we may not be able to do much. Good enough to enjoy the games but you won't be overly thrilled with the output.
Screen Resolution: Native screen resolution is either 160×240 or 320×240 .. both of which requiring scaling/stretching in both directions for the Native DS screen.

XEGSDS

Atari 8-bit Emulator

Emulation: Games run between 80% and 100% on the stock DS and almost every game runs 100% on the DSi. Emulation is solid across the board with near cycle-accurate timing.

Sound: good overall... with the new maxmod library for streaming, the audio has improved in the most recent build to the point where it's quite solid. There are some games that utilize sampled voice that won't render perfectly (Berzerk, Bosconian) but for the majority of games, it's solid.

Screen Resolution: Max resolution is 320x240 necessitating some screen scaling in the emulator. For games that don’t utilize the full 240, it’s often possible to position the screen such that just a bit of sky or ground is off screen. The emulator gives you a number of scaling options and you can change it on the fly on a per-game basis.

NINTELLIVISION

Mattel Intellivision 8-bit Emulator

Emulation: Technically this is a 16-bit CPU though it really only uses 10 bits of "decle" opcodes and a lot of the memory is still 8-bit. So we're keeping this in the 8-bit real for now. Games run solid nearly across the board on both the older DS-LITE/PHAT and the newer DSi. Compatibility is very high - just a few games that have minor issues but you might not even notice!

Sound: Solid overall. No artifacts though the higher frequencies can be a bit dampened down by the sample rate used for the emulator. Not perfect but you won't have much to complain about.

Screen Resolution: The Intellivision is 192 vertical pixels which is perfect for the DS screen... but it's only 160 pixels across so it has to be scaled up to fill the 256 pixel columns of the DS. Better to scale up than down - there will be no loss.

COLECO-DS

Colecovision 8-bit Emulator

Emulation: Good but not perfect. There are still 15 or so games that don't run properly out of about 300 tried. There is support for the Super Game Module (opcode games) and MegaCart Bankswitching so many of the massive new homebrews over the past decade will run - all in full speed and full frame rate even on the older DS-LITE/PHAT.

Sound: Damn near perfect... thanks to maxmod audio streaming library and Flubba's SN sound core. The only degraded sound is the AY sound chip for the Super Game Module which is rendered onto the SN sound core for convenience. Still, sounds pretty darn good.

Screen Resolution: The Colecovision is 192x256... it's a pixel perfect match for the DS screen. No loss and no scaling needed.
 
Last edited by wavemotion,

Nikokaro

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Hi.:)
Very interesting and accurate list of 8 bit emulators. I too share with you the preference for the DS XL, both for better performance, but also for the size of the screen, which fatigues less my poor eyesight already compromised by decades of wild and unbridled video gaming.
:wacko:
If you don't mind, I'd like to add to the list NesterDS+, that even if it has a worse performance (slower, even skipping 2/3 frames, with sometimes croaking sound) is compatible with many more titles than NesDS, since it uses a software-based renderer.
I hope you don't mind my intervention, otherwise have this post deleted.
 

wavemotion

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If you don't mind, I'd like to add to the list NesterDS+, that even if it has a worse performance (slower, even skipping 2/3 frames, with sometimes croaking sound) is compatible with many more titles than NesDS, since it uses a software-based renderer.
I hope you don't mind my intervention, otherwise have this post deleted.

No problem at all! Love any sort of discussion of any kind on this stuff :)

I haven't played with NesterDS+ at all... I will check it out. I assume it's not under active development these days. Many of these emulators have gone dormant... though some are good enough that they really don't need much work.
 

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Just home consoles/micro computers? No handhelds.

Also what do those have by way of extra features -- nesds was quite noted in its day for the rewind option.

I sort of missed a lot of this on the DS -- the GBA ( http://nintendo-ds.dcemu.co.uk/emulators-for-gba-1158173.html * https://web.archive.org/web/20060110094659/http://www.gbafan.com/ ) generally had a lot more of it in a more advanced state than the DS was managing at the time, and had a few things the DS never quite got to -- PCE/TG16 is possible on the GBA but I suppose that is not strictly under 8 bit.

*dcemu's DS list is also quite nice as a primer http://nintendo-ds.dcemu.co.uk/emulators-for-nintendo-ds-1158162.html
 

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wavemotion

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There's no such thing as off topic in one of my threads, Indy :)

I've never had any luck getting FrodoDS to work. Admittedly, I don't have the nostalgic love for the C64 as I do the Atari machines or the Colecovision / MSX hardware... so I probably didn't work very hard to get it to run.
 

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I've never had any luck getting FrodoDS to work.
I too took a long time to get FrodoDS to work on my DS Lite and then I came across this version (the one I put in my emulator pack):
https://gbatemp.net/download/frodods.33029/

It's really easy to use, you just have to put the "d64" directory and its contents at the root of your sd card, you can place the .nds file wherever you want, once all that is on your sd card, you just have to put your games in .d64 format in the "d64" directory and it works, the emulator is not pushed to the maximum, I think it could be improved but it works already good enough and a lot of games are playable but you have to be patient and find the right version of the game because some games are available in several versions and all are not compatible with FrodoDS but at the moment I have tested 238 games which already represents a large enough catalog for those who want to discover the commodore 64 on Nintendo DS.

Small clarification, for personal reasons, my schedule in reality, I put my game compatibility tests on this emulator on standby last year and to be completely frank, I think that if I had continued my tests, I will be able to confirm to you that more than 238 games work with this emulator, it is just for lack of time that I could not push my tests but this emulator has a real potential, if you want to test it out of curiosity, use the one from my pack, I set the screen presets to have the greatest possible compatibility. :)
 

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I've only tried nesDS which came TWLMenu++ last year or so, tried Kirby on the NES and was not impressed at all, there was a frame skip of both audio and visual while moving, and i haven't fiddled with the settings any further as i only tried it out of sheer curiosity.
 
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So I’m an 8-bit retro gaming enthusiast and I’ve been playing with all the great 8-bit emulators on the DS. I thought I’d share a bit of thoughts as a sort of mini-review of the state of 8-bit gaming on the DS/DSi.

In my opinion, the DSi (LL/XL especially due to the slightly more latent screen refresh which holds the image a bit longer) is a powerhouse of 8-bit gaming. It’s not an exaggeration to say that north of 20,000 games across a myriad of 8-bit systems can be played and enjoyed. Mind you, most of those games suck… but 2-3% don’t and that’s still 400-600 amazing games to play (and I think it’s higher than that… based on my ‘favorites’ folder but I’m quirky so I’ll be conservative here)!

I’m sure this list below isn’t exhaustive but I’ve probably covered the majority of high-quality 8-bit gaming systems emulated on the DS/DSi. I’m also sticking with emulated 8-bit gaming/computer systems and leave off one-off emulators that support just a game or three.

NESDS

Emulation of NES 8-bit system from Nintendo.

Emulation: Is nearly perfect with just a few glitches. On the DS you will get somewhere between 90 and 100% speed on many games… a few noticeable slowdowns in some complex games. On the DSi running through TWL++ or similar you will get 100% speed across the board. Overall a very enjoyable experience.

Screen Handling: Screen Scaling confuses me a bit here… Native NES resolution is 256x240 pixels so it works great horizontally but vertically there must be some loss to scale down to 192 pixels. I can almost always get it to show the way I want but it seems a little clunky with the on-screen touch scaling. But expect that some lines will go missing.

S8DS

Emulation of the Sega Master System, SG-1000 and Colecovision (preliminary support for MSX included but you’re better off with MSXDS for that – see below).

Emulation: Is near perfect across the board. A few of the larger/complex SMS games wouldn’t run perfectly – just a hint of graphical glitches here and there but still very playable. I had to get a few alternate [a] versions of roms to play some games (Outrun, Space Harrier). Overall a very enjoyable experience. A hint of slowdown on the DS but the DSi runs everything at proper speed and framerate as near as I can tell. I tend to use this emulator for Colecovision and SG-1000 more than SMS mainly because those systems have more history for me and the emulator handles them really well despite being targeted to the Sega Master System crowd.

Screen Handling: All three systems share a very similar architecture. All three systems have a native screen resolution of 256 × 192 – this is a pixel-perfect match to the DS/DSi hardware and no scaling is needed.

MSXDS

Emulation of the MSX, MSX2 and MSX2+ - this system was hugely popular in Japan and parts of Europe but less so in the US. It has a massive number of classic Konami, Compile and ASCII ports for the home gaming enthusiast.

Emulation: Is near perfect across the board. The MSX will run fine on a DS but MSX2 and MSX2+ emulation will start to slow down on the older DS but will still run fine on the DSi hardware using a loader line TWL++ or similar.

Screen Handling:
MSX screen resolution is 256x192 and is a pixel-perfect match for the DS/DSi hardware.

Unfortunately MSX2 and MSX2+ have various modes which often run at a vertical resolution of 212 meaning that we’ve got about 20 pixels that need to go “somewhere”. The emulator provides 3 scaling options – you can squish the screen which will drop 20 pixel rows as it sees fit… or you can make the top 20 pixels or bottom 20 pixels show on the lower screen. Since many games use the top of the screen for high-score or status, having those 20 pixels show on the bottom is actually rather ingenious and works pretty well. Unfortunately where it cuts of the display isn’t always ideal – would love just a little bit of ability to tweak what gets cut off and shown on the lower screen.

ZXDS

Emulation of the ZX-Spectrum. Tons of features and a nice interface across the board.

Emulation: Virtually perfect with just a few small glitches. The main problem with this is that it’s not easy to get it to run from the SD card of your DSi despite last being updated in 2017. It’s really designed to run from a flash card – some people have gotten it to work on the SD via TWL++ but it’s a real uphill struggle. The games run nearly perfectly even on the older DS hardware.

Screen Handling: Native resolution here is 256x192 which is pixel perfect for the DS.

Gameyob

Emulation of the Game Boy / Color.

Emulation: Very good – there are some screen glitches on some of the larger/complex games. Works pretty well on a stock DS and no speed issues that I could see.

Screen Handling: Native screen resolution is 160×144 which necessitates either black borders or some stretching which is less than ideal for the native DS resolution of 256x192. This is less than ideal but such is life with retro gaming and emulation!

NitroGrafx

Emulation of the Turbo-Grafx16 aka PC-Engine.

Despite the marketing name of TG-16, this is an 8-bit CPU system. And it’s an amazing system – especially if you love quirky Japanese games or 2D Shmups (shoot-em-ups)!

Emulation: NitroGrafx will emulate the PCEngine/TG16 as well as the add-on CD-ROM/SuperCD interface using bin/cue files. Honestly, the CD support is nothing short of brilliant - It’s a little tricky to setup but once working, it’s pretty great. This emulator is picky on the roms it takes - overdumps tend to really cause problems... so be sure to get a clean set. Screen is vibrant and sound is quite acceptable across the board. There are some graphical issues on the CD games but it generally doesn't prevent them from being playable and enjoyable. A bit of slowdown on the stock DS but in DSi mode via TWL++ it’s smooth sailing.

Screen Handling: Native TG16 resolution is 256x240 for most games (some have higher resolutions). This means that most games will need to be reduced vertically to fit on the DS screen containing only 192 pixels. Screen scaling options are sparse – mostly you can squish (some pixels go missing) or not (some pixels cut off).

StellaDS

Atari 2600 / VCS Emulator.

Emulation: Games run between 60% and 100% on the stock DS and almost every game runs 100% on the DSi. Emulation is not cycle-accurate but close enough to be enjoyable. Sound in a few special games is not right but for most games is correct.

Screen Resolution: Native resolution for the VCS is 160x192 but many games utilized upwards of 220 vertical pixel lines necessitating some screen scaling or positioning of the screen such that the sky or ground is not shown. The emulator gives you a number of scaling options and you can change it on the fly on a per-game basis.

A5200DS

Atari 5200 Emulator.

Emulation: Games run between 80% and 100% on the stock DS and almost every game runs 100% on the DSi. Emulation is solid across the board with near cycle-accurate timing.

Screen Resolution: Max resolution is 320x240 necessitating some screen scaling in the emulator. For games that don’t utilize the full 240, it’s often possible to position the screen such that just a bit of sky or ground is off screen. The emulator gives you a number of scaling options and you can change it on the fly on a per-game basis.

A7800DS

Atari 7800 Emulator

Emulation: The baseline emulator for this is the ProSystem which is not the most accurate – timing isn’t right in some games but overall most of the library is playable to the point of being highly enjoyable. Sound is not perfect but also acceptable. Only the simple games with low graphical complexity will run properly on the older DS while the DSi will run most of the games at very close to 100%.

Screen Resolution: Native screen resolution is either 160×240 or 320×240 .. both of which requiring scaling/stretching in both directions for the Native DS screen.

XEGSDS

Atari 8-bit Emulator

Emulation: Games run between 80% and 100% on the stock DS and almost every game runs 100% on the DSi. Emulation is solid across the board with near cycle-accurate timing.

Screen Resolution: Max resolution is 320x240 necessitating some screen scaling in the emulator. For games that don’t utilize the full 240, it’s often possible to position the screen such that just a bit of sky or ground is off screen. The emulator gives you a number of scaling options and you can change it on the fly on a per-game basis.
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There's no such thing as off topic in one of my threads, Indy :)

I've never had any luck getting FrodoDS to work. Admittedly, I don't have the nostalgic love for the C64 as I do the Atari machines or the Colecovision / MSX hardware... so I probably didn't work very hard to get it to run.
Me, being myself, I feel the urge to say that the C64 is the best 8-bit computer.
 
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