People often bash Sony for not putting enough priority on backward compatibility, but they forget how Nintendo does the same thing with each new console lineup. Take the DS lineup, for instance- they lost GBA backward compatibility starting with the DSi. And this was carried over to 3DS, which also lacks a GBA cartridge slot.
Why doesn’t the 3DS have a GBA slot? Nintendo wanted more space for current-generation hardware, to keep the console slim. Adding dedicated hardware for GBA backward compatibility would have increased size, complexity, and power consumption.
Besides, Nintendo realized that most DS gamers weren’t playing GBA games. Starting with DSi, they removed this cartridge slot which allowed them to design a slimmer console that was more portable. Nintendo prioritized the experience of current-gen gamers (the majority) by improving the portability of DS consoles.
Why Doesn’t The 3DS Have A GBA Slot?
3DS isn’t the first in its family to remove support for GBA game cartridges. DSi did in 2008, as Nintendo found out that gamers wanted a slimmer version of the DS. Despite shrinking the form factor, a larger display could be accommodated.
This was possible by removing the GBA cartridge slot. It should be noted that GBA cartridges are a lot fatter than DS cartridges. And most current-gen gamers weren’t using this feature, so Nintendo realized it was dead space.
It’s kind of like how phone manufacturers shifted from removable battery packs to internal batteries. They figured the benefits in terms of portability and weight would be worth it, considering most people don’t replace their batteries beyond one cellphone generation.
With 3DS, Nintendo chose to prioritize performance and efficiency rather than supporting a wider range of games. This was 2011, and few were interested in playing their old GBA games from the early 2000s. Besides, adding dedicated hardware to emulate GBA would increase production costs.
By cutting the GBA cartridge slot, Nintendo also removed the 33MHz ARM7TDMI coprocessor that was required to emulate GBA games. This sacrifice gave Nintendo the space and power budget to include an ARM9 CPU instead. The ARM9 processor was used to emulate DS games, which more people were likely to play as it was the console directly preceding the 3DS.
Ultimately, the design decision came down to basic economics rising from popular demand. Way more people were interested in DS games compared to GBA games, and Nintendo only had enough space for one coprocessor. Adding GBA backward compatibility via software emulation might have been possible, but Nintendo chose not to invest in that route.
Is It Possible To Play GBA Games On 3DS?
Yes, but not through official means. 3DS consoles have no cartridge slot for GBA games. There is a caveat: people could download GBA games from the 3DS eShop if they were part of the Ambassador Program.
The Ambassador Program was launched to compensate people who had purchased a 3DS console at its original launch price of $249. This was before the price cut that came just a couple of months later, lowering the price of a 3DS down to $169. To be eligible for the Ambassador Program, 3DS users needed to have accessed the eShop at least once before August 21, 2011.
If eligible, users could download up to 10 NES games and 10 GBA games. Only 10 GBA games were ever ported to 3DS. Some of the top ones are Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, Kirby & The Amazing Mirror, and Mario Kart: Super Circuit.
But if you weren’t around during the Ambassador Program and want to play more than 10 GBA titles on your 3DS, hacking is the only way. To do this, you need a jailbroken 3DS (quite easy to do these days). The only two emulators worth using right now are mGBA and gpSP.
Even with a New 3DS, you’ll have trouble running most games. There just isn’t enough raw power in 3DS to play GBA games via software emulation. The best solution is to use a program called New Super Ultimate Injector that converts GBA files into CIA files that can be installed on 3DS.
Why Didn’t The DSi Have A GBA Slot?
Nintendo built DSi based on customer feedback and surveys. They looked at which DS features most people were using, and the GBA slot wasn’t a popular choice. Few used it, but most considered it a “neat” option to have for when you feel nostalgic and want to play an old game.
However, people were very interested in a slimmer DS with a larger display. Hence, Nintendo removed the GBA slot and created a more portable console that was even faster than the DS. DSi also has 2 cameras, along with a slot for SD cards.
Its processor is faster than the regular DS, and there is more RAM. To take advantage of the camera, some DSi-exclusive titles were released (such as Foto Showdown). If you want a slimmer DS that retains the GBA slot, check out the DS Lite.
Which DS Can Run GBA Games?
The regular DS and DS Lite are the only models with backward compatibility for GBA. Starting with DSi, Nintendo removed the hardware necessary to play GBA games. So the DSi, DSi XL, 3DS, 2DS, 3DS XL, 2DS XL, and New 3DS can’t play GBA games.
Is GBA Weaker Than SNES?
Not at all, it is more powerful than SNES thanks to the 32-bit ARM7TDMI processor which runs at 16.8MHz. This is much faster than the 3.6GHz 16-bit Ricoh 5A22 in SNES. GBA also has faster memory, although the capacity is slightly less compared to SNES.
GBA runs at a resolution of 240 x 160, while SNES does 256 x 224. This might seem like a downgrade until you realize that SNES outputs video to a TV screen while GBA features a 2.9” screen (diagonal). So the pixel density is actually higher on that tiny display.
Did GBA Have 3D Graphics?
Most people remember GBA as the pinnacle of handheld 2D gaming. And that’s true as some of the best GBA games like Metroid: Zero Mission and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow run in 2D. However, you’ll be surprised that GBA can also do 3D.
Just check out Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, Driver III, and 007: Nightfire. Sure, they don’t look great. But at the time, no other handheld could even think of doing 3D.
I hope this article helped you understand why Nintendo removed the GBA cartridge slot from 3DS. It started with DSi and continued upstream with every subsequent console in the DS family. 3DS already has dedicated hardware to emulate DS games.
Adding even more hardware on top of that to emulate GBA would have catapulted costs and design complexity. And it would have made the console extremely unwieldy, rather than something you can carry in your pocket. It is still possible to play GBA games on a jailbroken 3DS, so look into that if you’re interested.