If there’s something that many people are likely aware of, is that Nintendo DS multiplayer emulation has taken…quite a while to work at all.
While there has been reliable solutions for local multiplayer in some other portable console emulators (mGBA, PPSSPP, Citra), the most famous dual-screen portable console somehow didn’t have support for multiplayer in emulators for a long, long while. But in the Nintendo DS case, NO$GBA and Drastic didn’t support this in any capacity, and DesMUME only supported WFC connection. However, there was one emulator that just managed to achieve what was being looked for a long while. melonDS had already done quite the big steps in this, but it was only weeks ago when it finally made the biggest jump so far into something incredibly promising.
Functional local multiplayer emulation.
You see, melonDS emulator started rising in the past few years in popularity due to the promising stability with a mix of convenient features, attention to detail, performance…and being the only emulator supporting local wi-fi. But the truth is that this emulator already had a HUGE leap in progress during its very first year of release.
Development could be considered that goes as far as June 20, 2016 with the first blogpost on the site, and with less than a year at February 6th, 2017, it already had a few commercial games running, and then the first melonDS 0.1 release arrived at March 30th, 2017.
Now you might be wondering what is the reasoning behind this introduction…well, it only took until July 16, 2017 for melonDS 0.4 to release, which not only included WFC support, but also became the first Nintendo DS emulator to support local multiplayer. Just a few months after the first official release, and they had managed to do what no other DS emulator had even done before.
The previous experience from the developer as well as their persistence and likely existence of documentation on the DS’s hardware left by those that came before, are most probably what allowed melonDS to progress incredibly fast in everything that was there in older emulators, leaving a lot of fresh room to approach features like the Wi-Fi support as well as emulating DSi features.
So, that would be all, right? History has been made, and everybody can enjoy their favorite Nintendo DS multiplayer games again!
…well, not exactly.
Here’s a video from the time showcasing melonDS 0.4 playing several two-player games through local multiplayer.
While the specs at the description do sound like something pretty capable of handling DS emulation, chances are that the clear slowdown present at the footage are a product of both the still work-in-progress optimizaiton of the emulator…and the network code itself. Some games definitely seem to have some weird hitches or even refused to work with the feature, and I remember myself trying to test some stuff like Mario Kart DS and New Super Mario Bros through it…only for them to fail to connect soon after trying. Contra 4 is another game that I REALLY wanted to play co-op with…but from testing t myself, it either disconnected at loading the stage or entered in an horrendously slow frame-rate.
And it definitely not really intuitive to setup for uninitiated people, as you needed to make copies of your melonDS folder and then open the separate instances to connect them. Even if you are used to convoluted multi-instance setups in some emulators, it really goes a long way when there’s something to make this process easier on your end, don’t you think?
This pretty much sums up the state of melonDS’s local Wi-Fi support since then until not too long ago, as the amount of effort needed to get this specific feature into something stable was gigantic. Since 2017, this had taken a backseat for other improvements needed for the emulator, and it wasn’t until 2022 where new plans to take on that behemoth again were expressed.
The “local multiplayer saga” started in July 19, 2022 and would bring 10 “episodes” written over the entirety of August about the obstacles and oddities fond, but also the gradual progress done with each step, leading up to the 8th episode showing some very promising and visible advancements during testing…but also some pending work that needed to be done to improve the user interface regarding this feature.
November 3rd, 2022 was the day that melonDS 0.9.5 landed (latest version as of writing this), marking a triple milestone for the emulator: It conmemorated the emulator being 6 years old with a sky blue logo, support for the DSi Camera, and the big game changer: Local multiplayer now had finally reached a vastly improved and stablilized state.
The reasons for why I consider this a huge thing
Some of you might be wondering about why you didn’t hear of this before, or even wonder why would you even need this.
On a fundamental level, this essentially helps preserve a core feature of the Nintendo DS in its local wifi support and anything that supported it. And by anything…I do mean anything.
Sure, this is the only case you would actually see 16 instances connected (as PictoChat is the only thing that supports that) as well as it might make you think that the idea of multiple DS instances on your PC is ridiculous…but don’t judge a book by its cover. The PictoChat party is definitely a fun sight, but also obviously something clearly done as a test of what you can do by sheer curiosity.
I’ve been there. But anyways…
The emulator already had a neat way of configuring joysticks by selecting what you wanted to use on the dialog and then configuring it.
Well, that becomes extra handy when you see this little option over here…
With each new instance launched, it will create a new configuration intended for that new instance, and configuring gamepads for each one is straightforward thanks to that and the gamepad configuration (because I’ve seen more convoluted gamepad setup dialogs; those can really be a mood killer). You can even change the name of each instance if you have the firmware files at hand and then configure them through the DS menu.
It had delivered the ease-of-use for making this a streamlined process for users of all kinds, which is great. And that now leads me to the elephant in the room: Playing the games.
People that grew up with the Nintendo DS and playing fun multiplayer games with others are likely the ones that are going to tell what this can actually allow you to do again after years of being unable to revisit those with your friends (be it because you or your buddies don’t have the console or games anymore).
This being my case, as I basically hadn’t played the original Mario vs. Luigi in NSMB for literal years, and I did play the NSMB Versus fangame online (which is pretty fun)…but as that one doesn’t have local multiplayer yet along with how you’ll always be at a full battlefield, it isn’t the exact same as the one-to-one chase with your brother or buddy at your side you used to play with…and guess what I did that many years later.
I definitely wanted to see if this did work, and got my second brother to play it with me. It pretty much was the first time in forever we actually went head to head with this one: A lot of funny moments from the chaos of accidental deaths and trash-talking over the game. A flashback to simpler times years ago playing with him with my own NSMB copy on a DS Lite and Download Play…a versus game that at least could be relived in this way. That’s why I think this is pretty big, considering how it was unreliable for me to get working before this update (and before melonDS even implemented it at all, this was straight up not an option).
On a preservation standpoint, it is also quite the wonderful feature: So many games that you might or might not know are likely to be playable in multiplayer now, which is great for games that have been stuck in the Nintendo DS since forever. From co-op hard-hitters like Kirby Super Star Ultra, Contra 4, Bangai-O Spirits and even the Co-op romhack for NSMB, to the chaotic classics like Mario Kart DS (including its romhacks), Super Mario 64 DS, Tetris DS and the Bomberman games.
These previously locked games to single player experiences can finally be easily replayed once again as they were intended to be: With your friends.
There is one inherent caveat for some games though, which boils down to their design rather than melonDS itself: I really remember playing a lot of multiplayer Mario Party DS as well as Zelda Phantom Hourglass and Star Fox Command’s versus modes, but with how these use the touchscreen for a lot of stuf…it is hard to think about making these work in a practical way.
If there was a way to do certain gestures on the touchscreen with buttons or analog sticks, it could likely be possible, but at the time where there’s no particular feature like that, those sure can be launched and likely connected together…but unfortunately not properly playable with others.
But hey, anything that can be played with buttons is fair game for multiplayer! Even Metroid Prime Hunters (and its prototype) can go here due to the Dual Mode control scheme allowing you to play without aiming with the stylus!
Now, as great as it could be to finally say that this is “the end of the story”, there’s always something else to keep aiming for at the horizon (melonDS 1.0)…and also small cracks to be found even with all that has been said. I majorly tested this with only two instances myself, and it likely is able to handle four instances well with other computers, but whether it can stick to the landing might depend of your computer’s power. But it surely can handle more than 2 players, as I had tested MKDS with 4 instances once (and the PictoChat video exists.
That and Contra 4 can ocasionally if not often disconnect when trying to continue at the game, which for Contra 4 of all things, is not great, but with how likely this will be ironed out by the team when more details about the wi-fi implementation get sorted out (along with how the game is now playable at all in co-op, unlike my past experiences with older versions), as well as how there’s more plans for multiplayer in the future (like netplay), it is safe to say that even with any hiccups that can be found, it still has achieved quite the milestone in how so many games’s local multiplayer component has been made accessible again.
I’m sure that the melonDS staff have been quite proud of what they achieved here after so long, and that those who have seen these news have been quite happy with how much it progressed in that aspect. But it also makes me think that there will likely be people that wanted to revisit these games, as well as people that never even played some of them before, that will absolutely be able to enjoy some of the Nintendo DS’s best multiplayer games in 2022 with others once again.
Shoutouts to the incredible team behind melonDS up to this day; what their hard work achieved is really commendable and definitely deserve any support they can get.