Is The Nintendo DS Backward Compatible?

Nintendo DS With GBA Cartridge

The Nintendo DS has an absolutely stellar library of games, with amazing experiences from both first and third-party publishers. But the DS' access to amazing games goes beyond even its own massive catalog of almost 2,000 titles (released in North America alone).

Is the Nintendo DS backward compatible? Yes, the Nintendo DS and the redesigned Nintendo DS Lite are both backward compatible with Game Boy Advance titles. However, the DS' later revisions – the DSi and DSi XL – are not backward compatible.

Okay, so the Nintendo DS can play GBA games – but does that mean it's the definitive way to do so? Well, the answer to that question largely depends on what your gaming preferences are – because, as is often the case with most gaming consoles and backward compatibility, there are both positives and negatives to either side.

Nintendo DS Backward Compatibility: Pros And Cons

Nintendo DS & DS Lite
Is The Nintendo DS Backward Compatible? 4


  • The DS and DS Lite can often be found for cheaper than some GBA hardware
  • DS Lite's screen is much brighter than the original Advance or SP AGS-001 (more comparable to SP AGS-101's backlit screen)
  • Some find the DS and DS Lite's larger form factor more comfortable than the smaller SP


  • Cannot play GBA games in multiplayer mode
  • Some users prefer the more tactile feel of the buttons and d-pad on the SP
  • GBA cartridges slightly protrude out of the DS Lite

Note: When talking about backward compatibility on the Nintendo DS, we're mostly going to be comparing the DS Lite and the backlit Game Boy Advance SP (AGS-101) – as those are the generally preferred platforms for most gamers. (We've fully broken down all of the differences between the different iterations in the Game Boy Advance's family of consoles as well as all of the Nintendo DS hardware, so check out those articles if you're curious as to why the Lite and backlit SP are widely considered the definitive versions of their respective console lines.)

Overview: These days, even nostalgic gamers who are looking strictly for a console that plays GBA games are picking up the Nintendo DS and DS Lite instead of an SP. Why? Well, because Nintendo DS consoles are generally cheaper than Game Boy Advance SP models. (Prices do tend to fluctuate, however, so please check out our continuously updated articles to stay up-to-date.) So not only do DS and DS Lite owners get access to the entire Nintendo DS library, but they also can play all of the fantastic GBA titles at a generally lower cost. This is a bit of a double-edged sword, however, as the Game Boy Advance is backward compatible with Game Boy Color and original Game Boy games while the DS is not.

You might think you'd be getting a much better display with the DS Lite, seeing as how it's newer hardware – but it's actually pretty comparable to the backlit SP. However – like the backlit SP – the DS and DS Lite blow the original Advance as well as the frontlit SP (AGS-001) out of the water in terms of screen brightness.

Multiplayer GBA Games
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Getting the best display at a good price might seem like a no-brainer for most prospective buyers, but there are a few notable drawbacks. Perhaps the biggest knock on the DS and DS Lite's backward compatibility is that the consoles cannot play GBA games in multiplayer modes. Multiplayer on the GBA requires a Game Boy Advance Link Cable or Wireless Adapter, and the DS is simply not compatible with these Advance accessories. Those looking for a strictly single-player experience might not care all that much, but it should be noted that DS gamers are missing out on some fantastic multiplayer experiences on the GBA.

While those positives and negatives are a bit more straightforward, there are some hardware-related concerns that are more or less left up to personal preference. Firstly, some people favor the larger form factor of the DS consoles over the smaller SP hardware. I'm sure there are gamers in both camps, but those with bigger hands might want to consider the DS for that reason.

Additionally, many users prefer the more tactile, ‘clicky' buttons on the GBA hardware as opposed to the squishier-feeling DS Lite D-pad and shoulder buttons. Again, this is more of a personal preference sort of thing, but definitely something worth mentioning. Many gamers feel indifferent to the buttons on either console, while others feel strongly opposed to the DS Lite due to the feel of its buttons.

One other small (and we emphasize “small”) issue is that GBA cartridges slightly protrude out of the Nintendo DS Lite. The original DS doesn't have the same issue, as it's a bigger, bulkier piece of hardware. Again, this is a minute issue – and one that is not likely to be a problem for most users.

Bottom Line: If multiplayer is important to you, then obviously go with the Game Boy Advance SP (or any GBA handheld for that matter). If you just want to experience all of the excellent single-player titles the GBA has to offer, however, then take your pick. You really can't go wrong with the DS Lite or the backlit SP; both are great pieces of hardware that have their own sets of pros and cons. It really depends on your own personal preferences.

Related Questions

Is the Nintendo DS the only console backward compatible with Game Boy Advance games?

Technically yes, but the Wii U did offer a number of Virtual Console titles, but they have since discontinued their support of the console's eShop. However, the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack service does have several Game Boy Advance games included and is adding more over time.

Can the Nintendo DS play Game Boy or Game Boy Color games?

No. The Game Boy Advance is backward compatible with both the Game Boy Color and the original Game Boy, but the DS is not.

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