|Phoenix Wright on the 3DS on the left and Nexus 5 on the right|
Enter the Nintendo DS, a dual screened mobile system that was released in November 2004 that rendered 3D games and featured a resistive touch screen as well as an impressive game library. Surely, such a recent system should be difficult to emulate on mobile phones, right? With Drastic, the NDS emulator on android, the answer is "NO."
Drastic is a full speed Nintendo DS emulator that is currently priced at $5.99 on the Google Play store. There is also a free demo that allows gaming sessions for 30 minutes and does not allow saves. I took the demo for a test run and came away thoroughly impressed. For a few days, I played various games through the emulator, and they all ran at full speed on a range of android hardware.
- Galaxy Note 2
- Nexus 5
- Nexus 7 2012 (This one has the paid version of Drastic on it)
- Nexus 7 2013
- Galaxy S4
- Transformer Prime Infinity
The various games tested on these systems were:
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
- Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
- Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
- Final Fantasy 3
- Mario Kart DS
When first running the emulator, it scans your system and automatically populates the rom list for you allowing you to choose your game. You can also manually choose a folder if you wish, but chances are that you will not have to. Running the games side by side, NDS games looked much better on the Nexus 5's 1080p display as compared to the 800 x 240 display on my 3DS. In the portrait orientation, the game screens looked almost identical in size between the two devices. As previously mentioned, ALL games easily ran at full speed no matter which device I used. According to some user comments, even the aging Galaxy S3 and some slightly older hardware can run games at full speed though I do not have such hardware for testing.
Aside from speed, the touchscreen portion of the emulator runs perfectly and responds to touch even better than the original DS due to great programming and the capacitive screen on today's devices vs the resistive display on the original hardware. The issue that some will have is the on screen buttons getting in the way of the action and taking up screen estate. Nintendo hardware has physical buttons so this is not an issue but most phones to not. Thoughtfully, this emulator offers various options for connecting physical controllers either through bluetooth or directly through USB OTG. I tested it with a Sega Saturn USB controller as well as my bluetooth iCade and both options worked great. According to the dev there is also support for the Wiimote and other controllers. Your mileage may vary but there are plenty of options when it comes to controls.
Other great options are the configurable screen modes. You can play in landscape mode which mostly moves the on screen buttons out of the way of your game screens. You can also swap the DS screen orientation so that the bottom screen becomes the top screen, manually adjust the screen sizes so that one screen is bigger than the other, or even hide a screen for games that don't really need two screens. On screen buttons are also adjustable and can be docked in various locations to make gaming more intuitive to the player. There is also the option for cloud saving through Google Drive on the paid version which I'm sure is a very welcome option for most gamers. Emulation staples such as save states and cheats are also included.
|Some of the different screen layouts available on Drastic.|
Video out also works great so if you have a device that supports it. This is something that the original system has never provided and that to this day is not available directly from Nintendo. While some games don't look great at large screen sizes (even with filters, which Drastic provides) it is still nice to be able to play some games on a 10 inch screen or a 50 inch screen from the comfort of your couch with your favorite android controller.
Of note, Android multitasking also works great with this emulator with the game pausing in the background if you switch into a different app and picking up right where you left off when you switch back. There is a quit button that cleanly exits the app and the menus are clean and well laid out.
On the downside is that WiFi and multiplayer are currently not supported within the emulator but given how complex that code must be, it's understandable. The author updates very often however, so you never know if these features may show up one day in the paid version of the emulator. True to the spirit of competition, there are many free DS emulators in the Play store and online but none compare to Drastic in pure speed and usability. It's worth the $6 if you are serious about DS gaming.