“Homebrew,” as the name suggests, is all about creating games, utilities and applications from outside a licensed development company. Homebrew projects are usually put together by an individual or a very small staff, and exist for nearly every computer, cellphone and gaming platform released over time.
Nintendo DS homebrew is popular, and has a large community of players and developers. Homebrew DS games (and Game Boy Advance games) are usually stored on SD cards and/or rewritable game cartridges.
Note that this brief FAQ is geared exclusively towards homebrew on the Nintendo DS and Nintendo DS Lite. The storage devices and methods mentioned within won't work on the Nintendo DSi.
Why Should I Be Interested in Homebrew?
Experiencing homebrew is rewarding for players and programmers alike. A great deal of game programmers in the industry today got their start putting together simple games for their computers.
Game programming is a rewarding hobby, and the playing field is always shifting, so to speak. Whereas the commercial game programmers of today got their start on a Commodore 64, today's aspiring programmers might feel something click when they put together a simple game for the Nintendo DS.
Homebrew games don't often have the complexity, depth, or prettiness of official Nintendo DS games, but they can still be a very worthwhile playing experience. With no pressure to appeal to a buying audience, programmers of homebrew games are free to experiment with gameplay and story with a sense of freedom that's not available to commercial programmers.
Are Homebrew Games Legal?
You could fill a book with arguments about the legality of homebrew.”Modding” a game system—that is, opening it up to alter its insides—is illegal. However, homebrew for the Nintendo DS requires bypassing the software without hardware alterations, which is in fact legal—with some very clear exceptions.
It's not illegal to download a homebrew game that's being freely distributed online by an independent developer. However, downloading and playing official games on SD cards, memory carts, or through any other means is absolutely illegal.
The vast majority of homebrew programmers are quick to stress that their games are freeware, and an expression of enjoyment for the Nintendo DS. Regardless, Nintendo does not endorse homebrew games, and third-party materials are required to play and program homebrew.
What Do I Need to Get into Homebrew for the Nintendo DS?
You will need a Nintendo DS or DS Lite (of course), and a “Slot-1” or “Slot-2” card. Both types of cards contain built-in flash memory to store information, as the Nintendo DS lacks a built-in storage medium.
A “Slot-1” card plugs into the top of your Nintendo DS, like a regular DS game. A “Slot-2” card plugs into the bottom of your Nintendo DS, in the Game Boy Advance slot. Slot-2 cards are generally favored because they play much of the older Game Boy Advance homebrew available, though Slot-1 cards are beginning to gain popularity due to driver advances that allow better access to older homebrew games. Several popular brands of Slot-1 cards are available on Amazon.com.
Needless to say, you will also need a computer to download homebrew games. Most brands of Slot cards come with the USB cable you'll need to exchange information between your computer and your Nintendo DS.