How Losing A GBA Slot Will Affect DS Gaming (Sorry, ‘Guitar Hero’!)

The announcement from Tokyo of the new Nintendo DSi promises all kinds of new features to Nintendo  gamers, including photo-taking and downloadable applications.

But DSi owners won’t have a Game Boy Advance slot. What will they lose?

More than you might think…

  • Rumble: Nintendo has offered two rumble packs for the DS, one each for the GBA slots on the original DS and the DS Lite. The original was packaged with “Metroid Prime: Pinball.” The device could provided a small jolt (which also elicited an unintentional and annoying buzzing sound). Developers never used this add-on in a key way, offering it as a minor extra affect for games as disparate as “Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time” and “Air Traffic Chaos.”

How can Nintendo overcome this? There doesn’t appear to be a way to expand the new DS for rumble packs, but it’s not clear anyone will be upset. On the other hand, there’s this:

  • GBA Cartridge Expansion: At the time of the DS’ launch, Nintendo designers suggested that DS cartridge games could support expansions, like add-on levels.  In Japan, Nintendo released one product like this, a song pack for the music game “Daigasso! Band Brothers.” The concept didn’t catch on, though some DS Pokemon games were programmed to unlock connect if GBA cartridges were connected.Earlier this year, the idea of expanding via the GBA slot took new life. New York-based Activision studio Vicarious Visions finished crafting a guitar-grip add-on for use with “Guitar Hero” games on the DS. The add-on was shaped to work with the DS and DS Lite slots, and essentially hacked them to allow the grip to transmit commands from four fret buttons. The lack of a GBA slot in the DSi renders the “Guitar Hero DS” games as perhaps the only DS games unplayable on the new model.

How can Nintendo overcome this? The DSi’s SD Card slot should allow developers to explore offering more  “Daigasso!”-style expansions. Imagine a downloadable new level for “New Super Mario Bros.,” for example. But the DSi does not have any port that seems like it can be used for anything like the Vicarious Vision’s DS grip. The DSi does, however, include wireless connectivity. In theory, a DSi guitar grip could snap onto the system but send its commands to the system through that wireless connection. That, of course, will require the grip to have a power source, which isn’t cheap. Activision has a problem on its hands.

  • GBA Gaming: The GBA line-up includes celebrated “Pokemon” games, re-makes of every NES/SNES “Mario” side-scroller, two excellently-reviewed “WarioWare” games, and the two-game “Golden Sun” role-playing game series. The cartridges for those games will not plug into the DSi.

How can Nintendo overcome this? The GBA games could be offered through a DS download service, to be played off of an SD card. But if such a solution was implemented, it could not support GBA games that had carts built with special sensors like the solar-powered “Boktai” or the roatation-based “WarioWare: Twisted.”


You gain something. You lose something. That’s the case with Nintendo DSi. Is the loss of the GBA slot going to affect you?