Playing .nds Backups on your Nintendo DS: An Intro to ROMS & the R4DS

Anyone with a DS or DS Lite has the ability, without “modding” anything, to effectively watch videos, listen to music, view photos, and access their entire fully functioning games library (wi-fi included) off of one cartridge. xD Hooray!

I can’t believe I’d been using my DS for this long without coming to this realization. On top of that, unlocking your DS or DS Lite’s true underground potential is relatively cheap and very simple. Well, sort of.

R4DS Revolution Box

Can you tell which one isn’t licensed by Nintendo?

I love my Nintendo DS Lite. It’s a wonderful little piece of hardware. If it has one drawback though, it would be that the DS seems tied down. Why should the PSP get all the underground attention? Even if Nintendo’s portable system isn’t as mod-capable as others, a little internet research shows that it still has a very significant homebrew following dedicated to kicking your DS up a notch on the awesomeness chart.

Playing backups on your DS doesn’t require any knowledge of hardware or a single screwdriver, you won’t be modifying your actual handheld or games at all. The most common and simplest way to unlock backup functionality is with a DLDI compatible flash card (which is going to look a lot like your traditional DS game cartridge).

Currently, the most popular cards on the market seem to be the R4DS, CycloDS Evolution, and M3 DS Simply. All of these cards have similar functionality in that they allow you to play backups, as well as view photos, txt books, video, etc. I carry a laptop around, so my use of the card is exclusively for game-library consolidation.

Which one? I chose the R4. This card’s popularity is beginning to fade, but it’s been around a while, gotten established, and has wound up on the cheaper side. It also lacks some of the more robust features, but I wanted to play my games the way I would normally, no cheating or instant saves would be necessary. Look through each card’s list of features and tailor it to how you want to use your new DS. Wanna purchase? Try out eBay, or check RealHotStuff.com, ModChipStore.com, Digimartz.com. (Keep in mind you’ll need a MicroSD card as well).

Most of the cards listed are going to include the card itself (a DS cartridge shaped “shell” interface) which has a slot in the back to insert a MicroSD card. The package will include a USB to MicroSD adapter to modify the files you transitively stick in your DS, and instructions (which are probably going to be bad) as well as drivers/necessary emulation software. You may also get some nifty carrying cases or protective sleeves, etc. Homebrew people like taking care of their hardware.

R4DS Revolution Package

My R4DS package, along with a Toshiba 1GB MicroSD card ordered from Real Hot Stuff, shipped for just under $50.

The one necessary piece of hardware that will NOT be included is a MicroSD card. This is the card that actually winds up holding your data. These are fairly cheap and can often be bundled with the purchase. Normal MicroSD cards go up to about 2GBs, SuperMSD cards get bigger, but may not be compatible. If you’re just gaming, keep in mind that DS games are tiny, usually 30-60MB, which means that you can get away with 512MB of space easily for most purposes. Then again, upgrading to 1 or 2 gigs will only be a few dollars more.

With 1GB, you’re looking at being able to hold around 15 DS titles on top of the necessary operating files and a few extra themes.

We’re now going R4 specific, although the other cards will behave similarly.

In order for our new toys to function, there’s just a few things we need.

1. The R4 Kernel, current version 1.18, which can be downloaded here. (The CD is no longer included in the package). The Kernel consists of a few folders and files which allow the R4 to operate through the DS interface. They should be placed in the root of your MicroSD card.

R4DS Revolution Root Directory

A DS ready MicroSD for the R4. The 4 icons on the left are the necessary operation files downloaded from the internet. I created the Games folder on the right, which contains .nds files.

2. Backup .nds files or “roms” to play. There’s a good tutorial on how to back up your DS games here. It’s understandable if you don’t want to spend all this time backing up games, so try out the NDS section of an absolutely wonderful site, Romulation.net. Keep in mind that playing copies of games you don’t own is very much illegal and not nice to publishers). After creating a folder titled “Games” in the root of your MicroSD card, you can place these .nds files on the card and have them available.

R4DS Revolution Dashboard

The R4’s default dashboard. The 3 buttons on the bottom screen are for accessing the Games directory, multimedia, and booting from the GBA slot. Additional features include a brightness selector, option to manually return in-game, and built in cheat codes.

And that’s it!

See what I mean? Watch a good tutorial of the R4 setup on YouTube.

You’ve also got some more options to customize your card…

3. Trimming ROMs Games come in standard sizes to fill their cartridge, 30MB, 120MB, etc. If a game happens to be smaller than it’s tier of size, a rom trimmer can strip away unnecessary placeholder data, freeing up storage space. (Although not that much). Sometimes trimmed roms have problems running, but if you want to eek a few extra games worth of space, Tokyo Trim is a safe way to go.

4. Changing Themes: Show off your 1337ness by changing the way your DS boot screen looks. NDSThemes.com has a nice collection. In the _system_ folder, create new folder “themes”, in themes, create new folder “theme01”, “theme02” etc. up to “theme12”. In each of these folders, place the 5 or 6 unpacked theme files. Once the R4 has booted, press select to cycle through.

Of course, there’s plenty more to do. Search the web or YouTube for tutorials on converting video to DMG, cheat databases or any of the other capabilities of the R4DS cart. There’s a nice reference post on the GBATemp forums. Take it easy now… I have yet to use my DS to watch High School Musical 2, but it’s a possibility. Right now I’m just enjoying having my entire DS library all safe from harm and in one quick launching package.


3 thoughts on “Playing .nds Backups on your Nintendo DS: An Intro to ROMS & the R4DS

  1. Maggie

    Any idea why after about 5 months of using the R$ the screen had got darker I have tried it on 3 ninetedo lights, the same thing happenedon all of them. My daughter who purchased one at the same time as mine, has also noticed that hers is getting darker (as if a battery is dimming) The Nintendos are charged up, and using ordinary games has a nice bright screen. Your help would be appriciated

    • Ben

      Hey maggie, this seems like an odd problem – but hopefully it’s just a simple fix. The R4 has a brightness level toggle, you can use it by pressing the L Bumper on the ‘game’ menu of the R4. (A little sun should appear in the top-left corner when this option is available). If you’ve already tried that though, i really don’t know.

  2. got a problem on save file…
    I used v1.18 kernel.

    my card was bought from
    http://www.gamesyeah.com/r4-card-revolution-for-nintendo-ds-p-190.html

    tell me if i missed something ?

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