When the Nintendo Switch was released, gamers and hardware reviewers speculated that it replaced the 3DS. However, the Switch is designed to deliver a hybrid experience that is a compromise between a full-size console and a handheld. Later, Nintendo released the Switch Lite which is a proper 3DS replacement as it only has a handheld mode.
However, will DS games work on Switch Lite? Not natively, but you can play ports of old DS games released for the Switch that can run in handheld mode. Like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team.
Because the Switch doesn’t have Nintendo’s old Virtual Console service, you rely on Switch Online to play retro games. However, the selection is quite limited and doesn’t include DS/ 3DS titles. You can jailbreak the Switch to run homebrew software, including DS emulators, but that is against Nintendo’s terms of service.
Will DS Games Work On Switch Lite?
The Switch Lite cannot play Nintendo DS or 3DS games, at least not natively. However, there are updated ports of old games for the Switch that play just fine on the Lite model. The difference between a Switch and Switch Lite is in the intended gameplay experience, and the hardware is designed to reflect that.
While the regular Switch (and Switch OLED) can be docked to increase processor performance, the Lite is only usable in handheld mode. Plus, the Lite cannot connect to your HDTV via an HDMI output from the dock. Hence, any remasters or remakes that require docked mode will not work on the Lite.
Nintendo has an online service called Switch Online that lets you play retro NES, SNES, Genesis, and N64 games. But the selection of games is quite small and doesn’t include DS titles. Making it inferior to Nintendo’s own Virtual Console, which was an emulation service for the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS.
I don’t know why Nintendo refuses to release DS and 3DS emulation on the Switch Lite. Because Switch Online is already packing an emulator for old consoles like the NES and SNES. Nintendo’s latest handheld certainly has the power to emulate DS games, even in handheld mode.
Is Switch Lite Backward Compatible?
No, because the entire Switch lineup isn’t backward compatible with any previous Nintendo console. While the DS uses an early ARM9-based processor, the Switch features a modern ARM SoC with Cortex-A57 cores. The GPU is also very different.
In the DS, you have a custom GPU architecture that is completely different from anything made today. The 3DS uses a slightly more modern ARM chip as its CPU, but its GPU is a PICA200 made by Digital Media Group. Emulating that on a Switch is quite resource-intensive.
Especially when you consider the fact that Nintendo intended for the Switch to be as efficient and compact as possible. Sure, they could have included an ARM11 core on the motherboard to emulate the 3DS. But that would have added complexity and increased the cost of development.
Plus, they would have to add a 3DS cartridge slot which would make the Switch bigger. The 3DS included backward compatibility because it was a direct successor to the DS. The Switch is an entirely new family of consoles, so emulating legacy consoles isn’t a design consideration.
Switch Games That Don’t Work On Switch Lite
As I mentioned earlier, the Switch Lite is a pure handheld and doesn’t have a docked mode. This means that certain Switch games requiring a docked mode will not work on the Lite. Games like Super Mario Party, 1-2-Switch, Just Dance, Fitness Boxing, and Nintendo Switch Sports will not work in handheld mode.
Is Switch Lite Worth It?
If you aren’t interested in local split screen multiplayer and outputting video to your TV, the Switch Lite is an excellent little handheld. It lets you play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and many other exclusives.
While you can’t enjoy split-screen co-op/ multiplayer, you can still connect multiple Switch Lite consoles wirelessly. You can even network your Switch Lite with a friend’s Nintendo Switch for co-op and multiplayer gaming. But if the game requires motion controls, it won’t work on the Switch Lite (since there are no detachable Joy-Cons).
Switch vs Switch Lite
The Switch Lite is cheaper, has no detachable Joy-Cons, and will not interface with a dock. It also lacks a kickstand, and the software doesn’t support tabletop mode.
In terms of power, both consoles use an NVIDIA Tegra X1 SoC. However, the Switch Lite cannot output video in 1080p to your TV (since it has no video capability on its USB Type-C port). Plus, the Lite will drain its battery quite rapidly while playing more graphically intensive titles.
With a regular Switch, you can just dock the console to unleash the CPU and GPU fully. This is not an option on the Lite. It has to constantly run in a handheld configuration (which means you can’t play certain games).
On the plus side, the Lite is physically smaller and more pocketable. Since it is smaller, the Lite uses a 5.5” display rather than the 6.2” display of the regular Switch (both are similar in color and brightness).
Playing Old Nintendo Games On The Switch
This one is a bit tricky since “official” Nintendo support for retro games is limited to Switch Online. Switch Online is a paid subscription service, and you can buy the Expansion Pack to play digital copies of old NES and SNES games. Of course, these are played via software emulation (using emulators made by Nintendo).
You could also get a superior retro gaming experience by modding your Switch to run homebrew software. But that’s a legally grey area and you must do it at your discretion (I’m not promoting the practice).
With a jailbroken Switch, emulation of DS, 3DS, and even Wii game ROMs becomes possible. If you’re someone who likes to push the limits, there are hacks for installing Linux on a Switch and turning it into a portable PC.
I hope this article gave you some insight into the backward compatibility of Nintendo’s Switch Lite. You cannot play DS games natively on the Switch, as it is the first Nintendo console to include no backward compatibility whatsoever. That’s because of how different this console’s hardware is compared to previous generations, and its focus on portability above everything else.