The Nintendo DSi system "fixes" the inherent problem of the Nintendo DS. Not only does the new system feature rewriteable storage inside the system for digital distribution, but it also has an SD card slot to add more storage to the included 256 megabytes in every DSi.
For Wii owners, it would be a dream to have the ability to move purchased Virtual Console games from the console to the Nintendo DS. The capability is there: the two systems are fully linkable as seen in Wii games like Pokemon Ranch and Maboshi's Arcade, as well as the Demo Download function on the Nintendo Channel. But let's be realistic: Nintendo's not very open to "copying" as seen in the company's lock-down of the SD card slot on the Wii: moving a Virtual Console game from internal memory to the SD card not only takes forever, it also is currently pointless since the game can't be played once it's on the SD card – it'll need to be moved right back to the internal memory. Soon this will change, but right now Nintendo is focusing its attention on plugging holes in security to prevent unauthorized duplicates of its digitally distributed titles. So wirelessly sending them to the DS system seems to be right out.
The Nintendo DSi at least offers the same infrastructure as the Wii console: connect the system to the internet and you gain access to an online store where you can download software, both games and productivity, written specifically for the DSi system. As of this writing there are nearly two dozen downloadable titles for DSi through the DSi Shop in Japan.
I'm happy and thrilled to see support from Nintendo in this front, but it's hard not to see the one missing element in Nintendo's online component for DSi: portable Virtual Console.
A crude mock-up of Virtual Console on DSi.
The Nintendo DS hardware isn't exactly a powerhouse, but it's not as weak as you might think. Emulators are rather processor intensive (you're essentially rewriting the hardware to speak a completely different language), but the Nintendo DS has the right stuff to handle code written for different systems; homebrew developers – unofficially and without Nintendo's consent, mind you -- have turned the Nintendo DS into a NES and Super NES emulator with near flawless success, and I myself have experienced a perfect, official Mattel Intellivision (ask your parents) emulation on the dual-screen portable.
And even if the Nintendo DS hardware doesn't have the right stuff, the Nintendo DSi system actually has a bit more "oomph" to it; according to developers who've been working closely with the updated handheld, the Nintendo DSi has a native mode that offers significantly more system memory and processing power than the Nintendo DS and Nintendo DS Lite. This won't make existing DS games run any better, but if you toss away the idea of getting the game to work on the original DS and DS Lite, and simply move forward with a game that'll only work on DSi, then you can do bigger and better things with your code. And guess what: the DSi Store is meant for these types of games.
Now, even with this extra processing power it's pretty obvious that the system can't do everything Virtual Console related that the Wii's doing. Nintendo 64 emulation? Forget about it. Yes, we've had games like Super Mario 64 running on the DS since day one, but guess what: programming a game natively is not the same as running an emulation, and Super Mario 64, while looking really, really good on the Nintendo DS, took a lot of work to get running on the portable. Besides, the system lacks the buttons and analog stick of the N64, so there's the issue of accurately mirroring the controls on the handheld.
So, let's be realistic and say that the DSi can handle anything from Turbografx-16 and below. Heck, let's say that the NeoGeo can also be thrown on the DSi Virtual Console if it ever existed.