The Nintendo DS had one of the best libraries of any Nintendo handheld, but due to the unique physical structure of the system, emulation is far from easy. The good news is that there are Nintendo DS emulators available for your iPhone, so you can play your favorite DS games on the go.
The bad news is that the majority of the DS emulators on iOS are sketchy at best, and blatant malware at worst. Apple has somewhat draconian requirements for the App Store, which makes the emulation scene a constant race to get new software up before Apple revokes its certificate.
As a result, you won’t find any emulators in the official App Store. They all come from third-party sources that often require bypassing the security protocols on your iOS device. Keep that in mind and download any of these emulators at your own risk—especially because emulators are not strictly legal.
RetroArch is one of the most well-known emulators available today, and one of the best supported. It works on nearly every platform and even has an official Steam version available for download. Of any DS emulators on iOS, RetroArch is your best bet, even if you have to download it through third-party sources.
RetroArch is not strictly a Nintendo DS emulator. It allows you to emulate almost any console thanks to a variety of different cores. It’s particularly useful because it will automatically recognize most gamepads. All you have to do is connect your gamepad and you can start playing without a complicated setup process.
iNDS is another Nintendo DS emulator available on iOS. It requires iOS 9 or above, but it also requires your device to be jailbroken in order to run it. If you don’t have a jailbroken iPhone or iPad, you’ll need to look for a different emulator.
iNDS holds a lot of appeal due to its ability to emulate titles at 60 frames per second. It’s the successor to the popular emulator NDS4iOS and includes features like video filters, haptic vibration, autosaves, and more. You can also disable the touchscreen if you prefer to use a gamepad rather than the on-screen controls.
If you’re playing through a game with a lot of unskippable cutscenes, you can speed up emulation to get back to the action faster. This can save a lot of time on titles with long cutscenes right before a difficult boss fight.
NDS4iOS is one of the oldest options for Nintendo DS emulation on iOS that is still available. There’s a lot to love about the emulator, including the ability to sync files straight from DropBox. This means you don’t have to load roms directly onto your phone, which saves a lot of time during setup.
NDS4iOS also allows auto-save functionality, making it possible to save scum your away across the more difficult games. You can also skip frames to speed up gameplay. There are on-screen controls, but NDS4iOS has controller support to give you better control over the game.
Users can even sync the emulator between their mobile device and the TV through AirPlay, which allows your iPhone or iPad to act as the Nintendo DS’s lower screen while the TV serves as the top screen. Thanks to this feature, the emulator manages to overcome one of the major problems facing DS emulation.
Unfortunately, NDS4iOS may not be available for long. iNDS has become more popular and has many of the same features, which has led many users to shift toward the newer emulator. If you’re interested in trying it out, you can download it from the NDS4iOS website.
Why So Few DS Emulators on iOS
Apple is incredibly strict about the applications they allow on iOS, and the built-in security protocols are significantly more difficult to overcome than on Android. While Android is a veritable paradise of emulation and retro gaming, iPhone is a much tougher environment.
Developers have little motivation to create emulators for iOS when the majority require a jailbroken device in order to function. Even applications that bypass the jailbreak requirements only work about half the time.
If you are determined to emulate the Nintendo DS on iOS, it can be done, but it won’t be easy. In many cases, you’re better off purchasing a used DS from eBay. They’re available for less than $50, and then you can invest in a flash cart to store dozens of ROMS. It’s the easier option.
These three Nintendo DS emulators are the best options for iOS. While other emulators do exist, most require earlier versions of iOS and will not work on the most recent version (14.3 at the time of writing.)
A Word of Warning
Emulation, for all intents and purposes, is not legal. While downloading and using an emulator itself doesn’t violate any laws (and has legal precedent that shows it to be legal), emulators are useless without ROMs.
Downloading a ROM is a violation of copyright law and is illegal. While it’s unlikely that a company will actively seek litigation against someone for emulating a game, there is always a chance. Users should be aware of this risk and aware that they are violating the law when downloading ROMS, except in rare exceptions such as open-source games that are not officially licensed.