Steam Deck modder builds custom 'Nintendo 3DS console' by adding second screen

A capture of Retro Handhelds' "Steam Deck 3DS" running Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds at higher resolution on Steam Deck.
A capture of Retro Handhelds' "Steam Deck 3DS" running Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds at higher resolution on Steam Deck. (Image credit: RetroHandhelds.GG)

One of the holy grails of emulation is to create a viable Steam Deck SD device, for playing old Nintendo DS games. Retro Handhelds recently took a look at the topic, and provided details of its own Deck DS modding project. There are challenges with the project, and we'll look at some of the other Steam Deck DS alternatives as well.

Note that while the mod is called bot Steam Deck DS and Deck 3DS, "DS" is considerably more accurate since no 3D is at work here. The Deck is also (controversially) powerful enough to emulate the newer Nintendo Switch, not just its DS lineage. It can even run Elden Ring faster than a PS4, which potentially let's it be the one handheld device to emulate them all.

The rear of a Steam Deck (3)DS concept on Reddit. The same "Rolling Square Edge Pro Tablet Kit" is used by the Retro Handhelds modder.

The rear of a Steam Deck (3)DS concept on Reddit. The same "Rolling Square Edge Pro Tablet Kit" is used by the Retro Handhelds writer. (Image credit: u/TyePower on Reddit)

Retro Handhelds cites u/TyePower's Deck DS post made on February 19, 2024 as the primary inspiration for their own Deck DS project. TyePower's rendition was highly streamlined compared to most past renditions seen on the Steam Deck subreddit, but all of them have various elements of imperfection. For now, we'll focus more on the Retro Handhelds Steam Deck DS project.

Retro Handhelds initially tried the project with a QLED 7-inch display, which unfortunately made only one screen work at a time. The active display would swap depending on whether the device was in gaming or desktop mode. Steam Deck DS projects will require the use of desktop mode for dual screen gaming, and Retro Handhelds upgraded to a ROADOM 7-Inch IPS display and adopted TyePower's use of the Rolling Square "Edge Pro Tablet Kit" to facilitate that.

The full Retro Handhelds blog post goes into some more details, including how to configure the now-delisted Citra 3DS emulator (BYOE) for the dual-screen setup in desktop mode. Getting a functional Steam DS setup is one thing, but creating something that feels like a Nintendo DS while also being fully self-contained naturally requires more effort. Given the difficulties involved, simply buying a used/refurbished DS would prove much easier (but not give you access to a full library of games, naturally).

We want to highlight a few other Deck DS projects, which show how much of an evolution Retro Handhelds' and TyePower's Deck DS mods are compared to their predecessors.

Above are two other Deck DS projects. The first was posted last month by u/HanzoNumbahOneFan, and shows the mod running Mario & Luigi and leveraging Deckmate mounting. It was one of the most streamlined mods of the time. Going back six months, there's also u/Impossible_Dog175's proof of concept running Dark Souls II, which now seems like the least practical of the extended Deck DS family.

Another alternative to all these Steam Deck mods might end up being Ayaneo's Flip DS, which is based on the same juicier-when-plugged-in spec as Asus ROG Ally, though it doesn't have the Ally's VRR or the Deck OLED's image quality. However, it does include dual touchscreens out of the box, which allows it to close up nicely and avoids the hacked together aesthetic of most mods.

While none of the Deck DS projects we've seen yet are leveraging an OLED top screen, one could in theory use a 7-inch OLED instead of the IPS LCDs we usually see. Dual OLEDs with touch support would potentially be the best solution, provided someone can make it work properly. And if that happens, Nintendo might like to have a word or two with the creators...

Freelance News Writer