Friday, July 16, 2010

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge PlaybackIf you'd love to back up all your Nintendo DS games and carry them around on a single and inexpensive game cartridge you can play on any DS, DS Lite, DSi, DSi XL, this guide is for you.

Earlier this year we showed you how to backup and play your Wii games from an external hard drive. Many of you wrote in asking when we would do a guide for your other gaming darling, the Nintendo DS. You asked, we listened, and now we're back with a start to finish guide to backing up your Nintendo DS games. We'll be swapping out the bulky external hard drive for a nice slender micro SD card but the basic premise remains the same.

Note: Unfortunately this technique relies on you using a Nintendo DS or DS Lite to do the backups. Your DSi can play the backups, but the architecture of the DSi simply doesn't support easy ROM dumping. We're sure it has been done, but likely not without a lot of work, solder, and cannibalizing a few units in the process. If you have a DSi and you want to back up your games, we suggest you find a friend or hit up Craigslist or eBay for a used DS unit for the backing up. After you've backed up, you can play your backups on your DSi without problems.

Even better, while the chances are of bricking your Wii using our guide were nearly 0%—but still technically possible—your chances of damaging your Nintendo DS with this guide are 0%. None of steps will require you to alter your actual DS unit—all tweaks and hacks occur entirely on the flash cartridge we will be setting up. The NDS is a robust little gaming platform and there is next to nothing you can throw at it that a simple reboot won't fix. Should you ever want to sell your DS in "stock" form, all you need to do is remove the flash cartridge and wipe your system settings.

Note: Screenshots for the two flash carts (short for cartridges) we tested were taken on both a Nintendo DS Lite and a Nintendo DSi unit, as we tried out features to ensure functionality across models.

Why Backup and What You'll Need

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback
Why back up your Nintendo DS games? Why not back them up? You paid good money for those little NDS cartridges. Do you really want to shell out another $30 because a tiny little plastic postage stamp of a game goes missing? Just like backing up your fragile DVD-based Wii games to an external hard drive protects them from damage and your sticky-fingered kids, backing up your NDS games provides the same protection. Photo by el monstrito.

It also protects your games from theft. Should your NDS be stolen after you switch to using backups, you'll be painfully out one NDS unit—but you'll have all your NDS game cartridges safe and sound at home—and likely the original backups still on your computer. If that's not enough for you, playing your games from a backup flash cart gives you access to all sorts of neat bonuses, like Action Replay cheat codes, unlimited game saves, and—depending on the flash cart you use—even in-game, on-the-fly cheat application and game speed tweaks.

So what do you need to get started with this backup magic? For this guide you will need the following items:

  • A Nintendo DS or DS Lite unit with power cable on hand.
  • A Flash cartridge (which we'll refer to as a flash cart from here on) such as the AceKard2i or the SuperCard DSTwo. The Acekard2i is $23.95; the Supercard DSTwo is $38.95.
  • A micro SD card and card reader. 2GB+ is more than sufficient for most people.
  • A wireless router.
  • Nintendo DS game cartridges to backup.
  • A computer—we'll be using a Windows PC for this tutorial.

Selecting Your Flash Cart

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback
For this guide, we purchased and tested two NDS flash carts. There are more than a half dozen flash carts on the market with varying features like hardware emulation, media playback, and more. We researched flash carts and selected one from the more economical end of the price scale and a premium cartridge to see if the build quality and features were worth the increase in price. All flash carts were ordered from ModChipCentral. They've got excellent prices , reasonable shipping, and all of our orders—we made two just to make sure our first expedient delivery and great customer service wasn't a fluke—arrived promptly. The flash cart market is rife with cheap imitations and outright scams so it's worth using a merchant somebody can vouch for.

Rather than overwhelm you with the specifications of the two cartridges we ordered—you can read their product pages for those—we'll help you choose a flash cart based on your needs. These aren't the only flash carts on the market, but they are the ones we were able to test extensively and can give you some insight on.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge PlaybackIf you just want to backup and play your Nintendo DS games and don't really care about emulation, media playback, or other fancy features, the Acekard2i is for you. It's a solid cartridge, it has a development community behind a robust cart-specific operating system called akAIO, and for basic playback as well as homebrew-based emulation you'll be just fine. If playing Gameboy Advance games is important to you, however, keep in mind that this flash cart cannot play Gameboy Advance backups on the Nintendo DSi—this is a hardware limitation, due to the lack of a Slot 2 for GBA games, it can still play Gameboy Advance backups on the DS and DS Lite. The Acekard2i is $23.95 at ModChipCentral.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge PlaybackIf you want to backup and play your DS games and use enhancements like cheat codes, real-time saving, as well as playing games in emulation like Gameboy Advance and SNES games, and you'd like to enable movie and music playback, the SuperCard DSTwo is for you. It handles the basics of backing up and playing NDS games perfectly but then goes a step further by layering an interface over your NDS game playback—accessible by pressing L+R+Start at anytime during playback—which gives you access to game guides, real-time cheat codes and game saves, slow motion playback, and a really cool "Free Cheat" mode where the SuperCard looks for open variables in the game that can be modified like those for health or ammo left. In addition the SuperCard has a built-in chipset for emulation of the GBA on the DSi, hardware-based SNES emulation, and media playback. The Supercard DSTwo is $38.95 at ModChipCentral.

Setting Up Your Flash Cart

Once you get your flash cartridge in the mail, you'll need to load and update their software. The process differs between the two carts we're covering, so if you've got the Acekard2i, go here; if you bought the Supercard DSTwo, jump ahead to here. After this setup, the instructions are the same for both.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback
Setting Up the Acekard2i: Download the Acekard21 loaders. Extract the contents of the ZIP file to the root of the micro SD card you'll be using for your Acekard2i. Download akAIO—an alternative but practically "official" OS for the Acekard. Extract it to the root of your micro SD card. Download the WiFi update. Extract into /__aio/plugin/ on your micro SD card. Make a folder labeled /ROMS - NDS/ on the root of your micro SD card. You could call it /Games/ if you won't be using any emulators or other NDS software, but we like to keep things well categorized around here. Your games will go here once you've backed them up.

If you intend to use the Acekard2i in a Nintendo DSi that is has been updated to menu version 1.4 (go into the system settings and look in the corner of top screen to check), you will need to update the Acekard2i's firmware.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback

Download the Acekard2i update for the 1.4 system menu here. Extract the contents to the root of your SD card. The update can only be run from a DS, a DS Lite, or DSi with menu version 1.3 or lower. You cannot update the flash cart from a DSi unit with system menu 1.4+ because of restrictions in the current system menu. When it is in a compatible DS unit launch the Acekard flash cart like a game and navigate to the root of your micro SD card.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback

Run the ak2ifw_update_14_DSi.nds to update your flash cart. Even though the update takes under 30 seconds, plug your NDS into the wall to play it safe so you don't lose power at a critical moment.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback

Once you're done setting up up the flash cart—whether you had to update for menu 1.4 or not—pop it into your NDS. Run the "game" and you'll be greeted with the akAIO menu as seen below. Now you're ready to set up your DS for game backups, so skip the SuperCard DSTwo setup below and jump straight to the instructions for setting up your Nintendo DS for game backups below.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback

Setting Up SuperCard DSTwo: If you read over the steps required to set up the Acekard2i and thought "I wonder if the pricier one is easier to set up?", it is. You'll pay almost twice as much for the SuperCard DSTwo over the Acekard2i, but the increase in price comes also increases the ease of setup, and the bonus of some really cool in-game cheats and hardware emulation.

To set up the SuperCard DSTwo you'll need to download the SuperCard firmware here. Extract the contents to the root of your micro SD card. Make a /NDS - ROMS/ folder to park your future game backups. Pop the micro SD card back into the flash cart and then back into the NDS and you're done. It already comes updated for system menu 1.4, no tweaking necessary, so you're ready to set up your DS for game backups.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback

Setting Up Your Nintendo DS for Game Backups

At this point, regardless of which cartridge you picked, you're now ready to play NDS backups. The problem is we don't have any backups yet, so we need to grab some of our game cartridges and create some. Before we can start backing up our games, however, we need to do a quick setup. From this point forward the guide is flash cart agnostic. Unless explicitly noted all instructions apply to any flash cart.

At this point you'll need your Nintendo DS or DS Lite, your wireless router, the game cartridges you want to back up, and a computer to back them up to. We'll be using a a Windows 7 PC.

First, configure your router. Unfortunately Nintendo never really got on the secure-wireless bandwagon when it came to the Nintendo DS line. If you're running your wireless access point wide open, you're all set. If you're using encryption stronger than WEP you'll have to temporarily crank it down to old-school—and insecure—WEP security. Sorry! You can change it back as soon as you're done backing up your games.

Second, make sure your NDS can connect to the wireless router. If you have a Wi-Fi-enabled game start the game and use it to configure your wireless settings—the NDS and NDS Lite lack a system-menu option for configuring it without a game. If you don't have a game with Wi-Fi play that would allow you to configure things, that's okay. You have a flash cart now that we can run some homebrew software on. Download DSOrganize—a homebrew NDS personal organizer and file manager.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback

Extract \DSOrganize\ to the root of your micro SD card. Load up your flash cart and browse to the DSOrganize folder. Launch the DSOrganize.nds file. Once loaded, go to Configuration, then click the start button to navigate across the tabs until you reach the last tab with the Wi-Fi symbol on it. Use one of the three available slots to set up your Wi-Fi information and save it. Reboot your NDS, you've now configured the wireless settings sans a Wi-Fi-enabled game.

Finally it's time to download and configure the backup tool. Download a copy of Backup Tool 0.31 here. The Backup Tool (BT) is a homebrew application that uses your DS's WiFi connection to copy games over the network to an FTP server. BT comes with a copy of smallFTP, which is perfect for the task ahead.

Inside the BT ZIP archive you'll find two folders NDS_Backup_Tool_WiFi and smallftp-1.0.3-fix. Copy the NDS folder contents—but not the folder itself—over to the root directory of your micro SD card; extract the smallFTP folder over to your computer.

You'll need to do some very brief configuration before we jump back to your DS. On your micro SD card, open the file NDS_Backup_Tool_Wifi.ini. Replace the server IP with the local address if your computer on the Wi-Fi network. You can check this by typing ipconfig at the Windows command prompt or by browsing to your router's administration page and checking there. The rest of the settings can stay the same, as they are pre-configured to work with the copy of smallFTP included with BT—change them if you had to set up your own server with different settings. The default dump directory for smallFTP is c:\temp\. If you would like it to dump somewhere else, open up ftpd.ini in the smallFTP folder and edit the last line to the directory you want. Make sure the directory exists, otherwise the backup tool will error out.

Plug your micro SD card and flash cart into your DS and boot it up. While it is booting you can start up the smallFTP server on your PC and make sure it's active.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback

Browse on your NDS to the NDS_Backup_Tool_WiFi and run the .NDS file you find inside. You should see a blue and white screen that prompts you to remove the current flash cart and put in the game you want to back up. Do so and press A to initialize. You should see a screen like the one below.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback

This screen is for backing up your saved games. Nearly every flash cart will manage your saved games for you as long as the .SAV file is the same as the .NDS file. Now is great time to copy the .SAV file over. When the transfer is done press the Right paddle button to navigate to the Save Restore menu. Press it again to switch to the ROM Backup menu. You'll see the screen below with the ROM information changed to reflect whatever game you've inserted.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback

Press B to get started. Depending on the game you're transferring, you'll need to be patient. Now is a good time to double check the smallFTP window on your computer—or whatever FTP server you've set up—to make sure the file transfer looks good on both ends.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback

NDS games range in size from around 3-130+ MB. Transfer over the WiFi network takes approximately one minute per 0.85MB of data transferred. Play it safe and just round up to 1 minute per MB. This particular ROM was 64MB, and when we checked back in an hour later it had just finished a few minutes prior.

Once the transfer is complete check in your download directory.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback

Success! You've copied the your game and can now copy that .NDS file onto your micro SD card and into the /ROMS - NDS/ folder. Let's do that now.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback

Our test game, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, copied perfectly and loaded with no trouble from both the Acekard2i and the SuperCard DSTwo—showcased above. For those of you who aren't satisfied until the fat lady sings—or in this case the Curious Professor travels—here's a screenshot of the game loaded.

How to Hack Your Nintendo DS for Easy Backups and Single-Cartridge Playback

Now just rinse and repeat for every game you want to backup to your flash cartridge. Snazzy!

Start to finish, that's how you backup your Nintendo DS cartridges to protect against loss, damage, and theft. Best of all when you're done you get them all on one cartridge so you can play anything in your collection without hauling a tote bag for your DS gear.

Send an email to Jason Fitzpatrick, the author of this post, at

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I have an Acekard 2i. Love it. Reply

Also worth noting that there's some really good DS homebrew floating around. MP3 players, eBook/PDF/comic book viewers, PDA/Organizational tools, instant messaging clients, web browsers, email clients, emulators (ScummVM works particularly well with the touch screen), and homebrew clones of games like Picross, Tetris, Amplitude, Lemmings, etc.

Yes, a flash cart can be used for piracy but there are plenty of cool, legitimate uses for a flash cart too. Reply

To be fair, those cartridges are tiny as hell and very easy to lose if you're not a neat freak like me and keep them in their cases. The gameboy ones were hard enough to keep track of as it was! Reply

And as an aside to my first comment, I would highly suggest you guys negating this article as trash, or saying that it's illegal, to go read some Boing Boing. Search some of their articles, and read up on how piracy, content, and the providers are clashing in a way that is important to digital consumers of all kinds. This is an important era for this kind of thing, and I suggest you read up on it. They are trying to criminalize us, and it's up to us to tell them we won't stand for it. I command LH for publishing both articles (and most other articles that you guys run) and Kotaku for reposting it on their site so the info is out there.


[] Reply

You hear that? That's the sound of everyone backing up their games to flash carts and selling the legit copies back to GameStop since they don't need them any more! Reply
Hi-Im-Asylum approved this comment

Guys youall need to chill.. Backup != piracy Reply
timgray promoted this comment

Screw backing up DS games, I would love to be able to play NES/SNES/Genesis games on the go. I know some were released but I highly doubt games like Simon's Quest or Aladdin or Cool Spot will get any love on the DS. Reply

Kudos to Mr. Fitzpatrick for finding a way to charge flash carts to an expense account. Reply
B1663R promoted this comment

Really Kotaku? "Backups" has long been the cover up for "stealing." Nintendo frowns on the products mentioned with good reason. Guess they don't pay attention enough to cut you off like Sony briefly did a while back. Reply

...if only the 3DS wasn't coming out soon with sophisticated hacker proof technology in it that could potentially brick the system.

Not sure if that applies for using DS hacks or not since it's not out yet- but why take the chance? Reply

There is no need to BACK-UP cartridges, this is all for piracy.

I've been playing and collecting games for about 30 years and of my thousands of games for my 68 consoles, NONE HAVE EVER FAILED!

Kotaku has sunk to a new low by posting this. If you want to pirate or do this there are a million sites out there that can show you how. This article is redundant as a service and only serves to tarnish any relationship this site ever hoped to have with Nintendo and it's publishers.

Good luck getting any type of exclusive interview from 3DS publishers and developerss after this. Reply

strideo promoted this comment

I always figured talking about this stuff would get us banned like most gaming boards... Anyway, cool guide! I didn't realize average users could rip cartridges with a DS - I thought it would freeze as soon as you removed the current one.

Typically I've downloaded ROMs of games I own because the official cases are bulky and excellent at tossing games on the ground since they hold three, open all three at once, but don't secure them at all. A friend of mine just lost his copy of Pokemon SoulSilver (though I don't think a plain backup would have worked of THIS game, it's exactly the kind of scenario you'd want a flashcard for.)

Nice... now I can back up the titles I've been too lazy to source as ROMs. Reply

If only the press would be so "pro consumer" in every aspect of reporting.
The press (not specifically Kotaku) respect and sign the most BS embargos left and right, hold reviews till or after the release if a game isn't all that great etc. . You usually follow the publishers' will to the letter - but here, where it might actually do harm, you claim freedom of the press.

This is a great guide to help you protect your investment. I was absolutely crushed when I lost my Advance Wars: Dual Strike DS Cart.

Losing DS carts is very easy...and when it is a beloved game, it just plain old sucks. Always good to have backups/backup plan. Reply

Dear all the haters, why are you hating? Did you get up in arms when LH posted the tutorial on how to convert your dvd's to h264 for your ipod, iphone, or home video center? Do you not understand that all this information is freely available on google? While I don't own a DS, I would love to use this hack if I did. Carrying around multiple carts was never fun with my GameBoy or Game Gear and I would hate to do it with the DS too. I just used LH's tutorial to convert all my DVD's to h264 for my HTPC and it made everything so much more convenient.

This is what LH's job is. To give us articles about things that interest, help, or benefit us. They aren't advocating piracy any more than google is by giving you the results of your search. Reply

Janglesatwest promoted this comment

Backing up a game you own is completely legal. Nowhere in this article were any instructions given about where to download roms, how to pirate games, or anything inappropriate. It's not the hardware that illegal, or the backing up process. It's the act of stealing from companies that's the crime. Here we have explicit instructions for how to backup games from a cartridge ONLY. Yeah, the next step is piracy and it's not a difficult step to make, but this is a reasonable guide for how to create game backups legally to make people who own a ton of DS games have an easier time.

It's like getting mad for giving instructions how to burn CDs. It's not wrong to show the correct way to do it. It's useful information, just a shame what some people will do with it. Reply

Janglesatwest promoted this comment

The Kotaku crowd has become really disappointing lately. Really.

This isn't a guide to pirate games. It's a guide to safeguard what is yours. To modify what you own.

It's not Kotaku's responsibility to make sure people don't use this information in a negative way.

Finally, to every last one of you complaining: think REAL hard about if you ever burned your music to a CD or recorded it to a tape. Backed up files on your computer, perhaps? Guess what? The intention is no different here.

Also, most of you have probably enjoyed illegally downloaded music at some point, so get off your imaginary moral high ground about piracy.

I swear, this is the only place I like to comment on the entire internet and you people are ruining it. Reply

ihityouinthenose promoted this comment

Long as you've got that flash cart, might as well throw some homebrew on there as well beyond just DSOrganize, no? The DS homebrew scene may not be as lively as the PSP one but there's still some great games and applications out there.

Like Quake (you'll need to get the levels yourself, you can use the demo ones): []

Or Still Alive DS; the 2D version of Portal with a level editor: []

I haven't thrown any homebrew onto my cart in a while, and looking through some of the new stuff it looks like its' come a long way since I last looked some up. Does anybody have any favourites? Posted via email from ://allthings-bare

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