“What if” is always a fun question to ask, and over on the YouTube channel Gameboy Custom, they recently wondered what the Nintendo DS would have looked like if it took a bit more design inspiration from the Game Boy Advance SP. We think Nintendo made the right choice, but it’s interesting to see what others potentially had to play with in other dimensions of the multiverse.
Critics were quick to question how the Nintendo DS, which featured two small screens oriented vertically, could possibly compete with the Sony PSP’s advanced 3D graphics and much larger singular horizontal display. However, the DS would go on to sell almost twice as many units as Sony’s portable PlayStation. The DS went through several revisions over the years, and even gained a glasses-free 3D screen in its sequel console, but its basic design stayed the same: two stacked screens with gameplay split across both of them.
With the clamshell GBA SP recently celebrating its 20th anniversary this past Valentine’s Day, it seems like as good a time as any to experiment with its hardware. So Gameboy Custom decided to mod a DS’ internals into a form factor that uses two GBA SP screens side by side.
An overly humid climate in Australia this time of year prevented the team from Gameboy Custom from relying on a 3D printer to create the shell and body for this build, so they had to do most of the work by hand, starting with a pair of sacrificial GBA SP housings that were attached side-by-side and then heavily modded to change where the D-pad and buttons were located. It took hours and hours of filing and sanding to achieve a finish that looked like hardware Nintendo itself would release, but the level of polish here is impressive.
Plenty of modifications had to be done on the DS Lite’s mainboard as well to accommodate the much wider housing, including adding wire extensions so cartridge slots, volume control, and the power switch could be positioned closer to the edges of the custom build. But while it’s fun to see this portable Frankenstein(‘s monster) come to life, actually trying to play any DS games that are dependent on the touchscreen looks to be a huge ergonomics challenge. For instance, it seems like the hinged touchscreen would always want to fold back when tapped with a finger or stylus. Maybe Nintendo’s designers actually knew what they were doing with the DS, or maybe we simply need to go even bigger with our DS mods.