The 25 best 3DS games
Handheld gaming at its best
Within a short time the 3DS's library has filled with excellent games. Since its release, there have been dozens of high-quality titles in every genre, including AAA releases in almost all of Nintendo's key franchises. Zelda? Star Fox? Mario? Yup, all covered. And what's even better is that they all work on Nintendo's latest 2DS portable.
It doesn't matter if you're a fan of classic adventure games, RPGs, or even racers--the 3DS has slowly grown to include some of the best games available right now. We’ve gathered the best of the best (of the bestest), and put them all into one place. Let's take this show on the road.
Updated on 5/7/14 to include Mario Golf: World Tour and Bravely Default.
25. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
You'll either love Monster Hunter's gameplay, or you'll hate it. But if you do end up loving it, you'll really love it, which makes giving MH3 Ultimate a shot definitely worthwhile. This is the series which kicked off the "hunting action" genre that Japanese gamers go nuts for, and there's a good chance you might be inducted into the franchise's devout, seriously addicted following.
The premise is simple enough: Up to four players band together in the hopes of slaying huge beasts, usually by way of comically large weapons. All the hacking and slashing moves at a slow and steady pace; button-mashing will only get you killed, and teamwork is crucial to success. Once you've slain a fearsome creature, you can craft kick-ass armor and show off to your friends. And if you want to play on the big screen, just transfer your save file to the Wii U version and continue the monster genocide hassle-free.
View Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate now
24. Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward
A sequel to the surprise DS hit 999, this twisted visual novel--wait, come back! Seriously, don’t dismiss this game because you’re not one of “those people.” Virtue’s Last Reward will hook you with its unique blend of storytelling and puzzle-solving, and it involves more strategy than you’d expect from the genre.
It’s also one of the finest examples of dark, mature narrative in gaming across all platforms. It’s well-written and superbly voice acted, and its twists will propel you at a blistering pace through the dizzying number of endings, which is good because the game smartly incentivizes you to see all of them. As soon as you put those “visual novel” stigmas out of your mind, you’ll find that Virtue’s Last Reward is one of the most rewarding games on the 3DS.
View Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward now
23. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
It's a rare but magical thing when 3DS gamers actually get the superior version of a Wii port. The original Donkey Kong Country Returns was a fantastic platformer, but waggle controls have no place in a side-scrolling game where jump precision is critical. Good news: Returns 3D abolishes all the motion-sensing nonsense, replacing it with some excellent 3D effects that make the vibrant level aesthetics really pop.
If you weren't already familiar with the legendary difficulty of the DKC franchise, you will be. Some stages feel like Herculean undertakings, but that just makes beating them all the sweeter. DK and Diddy look great in 3D, and the introduction of tribal tiki enemies is a neat twist. Best of all, there are dozens of secrets to chase after--you'll be tallying up bananas for days.
View Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D now
22. Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright
21. New Super Mario Bros. 2
2D Mario games stepped into the present with the blockbuster New Super Mario Bros., so it’s expected that the series would continue on the 3DS. Some may have feared that the gameplay would’ve gotten a little rote by the time this entry rolled around, but it found new life by pushing you to collect as much cold, hard cash as you could get your grubby fingers on.
Gold is the theme and the most prevalent color in New Super Mario Bros. 2, and the game pushes you to collect as many coins as possible in its many platforming stages. NSMB2 transforms the game into a high-score challenge against friends and strangers over Wi-Fi, making this one of the most wonderfully taxing Mario games in a long time.
View New Super Mario Bros. 2 now
20. Cave Story 3D
Cave Story was one of the first real, true, modern-era indie games, and Cave Story 3D is Cave Story unencumbered. It's the indie dream realized on a new platform for the masses, and in a form anyone can appreciate. While the new graphical style might lack the charm of the original it's in no way bad--just different and, in a way, more appropriate.
Few Metroidvania-style games are as strong as Cave Story, which does a great job of giving you a world you actually want to explore. It's the definitive version of the game, with more content than ever before (even if it's only just barely more), leaving you no excuse not to pick up one of the most charming Metroidvania-style games of all time.
View Cave Story 3D now
19. Mario Golf: World Tour
Mario makes sports look too easy. Gamers underestimate his golfing skills because his simplified, arcadey approach to athletics is simple for anyone to understand, but Mario Golf: World Tour is yet another showcase for his hidden depth as a player. Mario and his friends return to the courses with an easy-to-learn-difficult-to-master approach to the green that doesn’t need to change the franchise’s formula much to stay at the top of its class in all-ages sports.
Even if the core gameplay is mostly unchanged, everything around it is glossier than ever on Nintendo’s 3D handheld. The visuals are bright and expressive, the online tournaments are surprisingly modern (by Nintendo standards), and the devs found creative ways to incorporate classic Mario mechanics and enemies into some of the later unlockable stages. Even if you think the sport is for old men in ugly pants, Mario Golf: World Tour offers up some reliable thrills without skimping on content just because it’s a portable entry.
View Mario Golf: World Tour now
18. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies
After sitting on the sidelines for a few iterations of this courtroom drama, Phoenix Wright is finally back in the limelight, doling out legal justice like it's his job (which it is). And it isn't just the defense attorney protagonist that's pleasantly familiar--Dual Destinies recaptures the cheerful, humorous tone that made us fall in love with the Ace Attorney series in the first place.
Of course, there's still plenty of drama to the proceedings, with tense cross-examinations of witnesses and bitter rivalries against opposing prosecutors. The mysterious circumstances of each crime will keep you guessing till the end, and when you finally trip up a liar with your OBJECTION! you'll be smiling from ear to ear. It's all presented in gorgeous 3D, with some awesome anime cutscenes to boot.
17. Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan
Some game mechanics are so old school, they end up feeling new and refreshing. The Etrian Odyssey franchise has the look of a JRPG but the soul of classic tabletop role-playing, where the power of imagination enriches the adventure tenfold. Every player will have a unique experience, because your party members are essentially blank canvases; like the PC adventures of old, it's up to you to give your heroes names, combat roles, and backstories. Just don't get too attached: Permadeath is part of the standard difficulty setting.
But the most intriguing element of Etrian Odyssey IV is the map system: There isn't one, at least in the beginning. As you explore the lush dungeons in first-person on the upper screen, you'll have to make note of shortcuts, pitfalls, and locked chests on the bottom screen's minimap. Charting a path with the stylus makes all your progress feel well-earned--as does the brutal (but fair) challenge.
16. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call
If you’re the kind of Final Fantasy fan that owns at least three versions your favorite entry or sleeps with a stuffed Moogle in hand, you owe it to yourself to check out Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call. In fact, it would baffle us if you owned a 3DS and didn’t already have this bundle of fan service on your radar, in your wishlist, or buried in your jacket as you leave your favorite game shop (just kidding, please don’t do that).
Curtain Call brings the series’ most popular heroes together to battle/boogie like there’s no tomorrow. Over 200 hundred songs from the series are enjoyed through a clean, accessible rhythm game any skill level can enjoy. What’s more, bonus trading cards and classic cutscenes are the perfect rewards for hardcore fans looking to enjoy the franchise in a whole new way.
15. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS
We shouldn’t have to pitch you Super Smash Bros. by now. Where else can you find all of Nintendo’s biggest mascots brought together for one big sloppy kiss for fans everywhere? Link fighting Luigi, Bowser flung across the screen by Olimar, and King Dedede, sovereign ruler of all that is Dreamland, chasing down a little boy with psychic powers and a baseball bat--it’s all here, and by golly is it beautiful.
While Super Smash Bros. for 3DS may not have all the bells and whistles you would find in a console release, there’s still something to be said about having one of the best multiplayer games around in your pocket. It may be the smaller package, but it’s easy to see that it’s got just as much love in its code as any game could.
14. Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy
It has all been leading up to this. After five core games and a number of spin-offs, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is the finale to Prof. Hershel Layton’s globetrotting adventures (for now), and developer Level-5 goes all out with the fanservice. The plot ties together the stories from many of the previous games, and is packed with references to earlier adventures. But the title’s best tribute to the franchise is it’s consistently rewarding puzzles.
As before, most of the gameplay involves solving increasingly difficult brain teasers as the story unspools, and the conundrums meet Layton’s high standard of quality. Even better, the visuals support the puzzles brilliantly. While Layton tries to find the connection between a lost civilization and an amnesiac young lady, the stereoscopic 3D visuals continue to impress until the last puzzle is solved. If this is Layton’s legacy, then he handled it like a true gentleman.
View Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy now
13. Shin Megami Tensei IV
Shin Megami Tensei arrives at its fourth numbered entry after numerous spin-offs, and developer Atlus makes the new release count by adapting the series to feel current without abandoning its roots. Once more you guide precocious teens tasked with saving the inhabitants of a post-apocalyptic world, but key areas like exploration, combat, and item management have been smartly streamlined.
The standard gameplay satisfies without ignoring its past, and the twisting story of the blurring lines between good and evil is surprisingly deep. For all the changes, Shin Megami Tensei IV’s storied monster collection and fusion is as addicting as ever. Building the perfect team of beasts is as engrossing as Pokémon, only with satanic imagery sprinkled on top.
View Shin Megami Tensei IV now
12. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
Coming hot off the heels of Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (the other Mario RPG series) is a different shade of whimsical fun. Both of the famous brothers visit Pi'illo Island to battle Bowser, save the princess, and solve an ancient mystery on the sleepy island. And while that may sound dramatic, M&L’s trademark superb sense of humor makes for one of the funniest experiences on the handheld.
The biggest laughs are derived from Mario’s exploration of Luigi’s subconscious and seeing all the ways the cowardly goofball internalizes his issues. But Dreamy Luigi’s shifting mental state also make for some wonderful gameplay mechanics too. Dream Team has first-class writing and style, and its RPG action isn’t far behind.
View Mario & Luigi: Dream Team now
11. Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
The original Luigi's Mansion was an inventive adventure that eschewed typical Nintendo-style gameplay in favor of something more unique, but its own brevity was its undoing. Dark Moon fixed this caveat by adding in multiple mansions to explore, a wealth of content to consume, and bountiful ghosts to bust. And in case you were wondering, bustin' definitely feels good.
In many ways, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon has the practicality of a point-and-click adventure. Each room--which looks like a wonderfully detailed diorama with the 3D slider on--has an enormous amount of character to it, and you'll want to explore every inch of every mansion as you progress. Where it diverges is, obviously, in its ghost busting, which works well thanks to satisfying combat and a wide variety of poltergeist types.
View Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon now
10. Bravely Default
There’s a reason Square-Enix specifically cited Bravely Default as their reasoning for moving away from globalized titles and back towards specialized, core games--it’s an excellent RPG, and that appeal translates everywhere. Traditional and Japan-centric though it is, its expert design and terrific story make it a welcome and necessary 3DS game--and, oddly enough, the best “Final Fantasy” game in some time.
Make no mistake; as the gameplay goes, Bravely Default is a JRPG. But don’t let that hardcore pedigree scare you away--the story is absolutely worth seeing, and the design is as tightly tuned as any game in the genre. Broad appeal or not, there’s no substitute for well-executed.
View Bravely Default now
9. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
No game encapsulates the feeling of childhood as well as Animal Crossing: New Leaf. You're not digging up rocks, you're finding fossils! You're not helping your mom make coffee, you're working at a coffee shop! You're not scribbling with a crayon, you're making a flag! Everything in Animal Crossing is so important, so full of wonder, that you can't help but be whisked away by the cheery world and lovable characters.
Once you've invested time in New Leaf, you might as well give up on everything else in life. Though it looks like a goofy collect-a-thon, this charming game is actually about discovery, collection, and friendship, and it does a great job at rewarding you and incentivizing you to keep playing and collecting.
View Animal Crossing: New Leaf now
8. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
It must be nice being Nintendo. Who else gets to sidestep the dry spell of a hardware launch window by simply repackaging old titles that fans will eat up? Ocarina of Time 3D, a remake of a then-13-year-old game, was one of the only things to play on the 3DS for the first six months of the platform’s life. Good thing it’s one of the best games of all time.
Repackaging this was hardly a cynical move by Nintendo, as the level of care that went into the remake resulted in an entirely worthwhile purchase. Far from a simple port, the graphical improvements, subtly reworked dungeons, and improved controls make for an altogether more streamlined experience. At its core, it’s still the exact same, amazing game. But since that game is as close to perfect as one can expect, we’ll give it a pass.
View The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D now
7. Shovel Knight
Nintendo's library is home to platforming titans like Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong Country--who would've guessed we'd be bringing up the fantastic Shovel Knight in the same breath? Shovel Knight is a Megazord of old-school platformers--a beast made of great parts.
Like Mega Man, it's packed with totally unique stages based on elements like water, air, and darkness, and each stage ends with a duel against a knight from the Order of No Quarter--a team just as varied and intriguing as the stages they rule. You can slash your shovel at quirky enemies and explore villages populated with all manner of bards, wizards, and frog-squires. There's a lot to see here, and it can all be covered in a cool "stacked" look thanks to the handheld's fancy 3D tech.
6. Pokémon X/Y
Pokémon took its sweet old time making the jump to 3D, opting, instead, to stick to the sprite-based world and characters that the franchise was built in. But the wait was inarguably worth it. Though Pokémon X/Y might not be the most groundbreaking entry when it comes to pure gameplay, it cleans up the series' mechanics well, making for a more streamlined trip down Victory Road.
X/Y's greatest success is in how well it mashes together its many features. Whereas previous games struggled to integrate the new and old ideas, the 3DS entry masterfully blends everything together, making sure that petting your Pokémon is as engaging and (more importantly) worthwhile as battling them. The game also fully adopts online and social features for the first time, making for the most connected Pokémon yet.
View Pokémon X/Y now
5. Kid Icarus: Uprising
Pit and the rest of the Kid Icarus crew were a big deal on the NES, but Nintendo ignored the characters for almost two decades before Uprising. Made by many of the developers behind the Smash Bros. games, Kid Icarus: Uprising reimagines Pit, Palutena, and the rest of the angelic cast for an intriguing hybrid on the 3DS. Part on-rails shooter and part action adventure, Uprising feels particularly fresh for a 20-year-old series.
Made to show off the 3DS’s stereoscopic 3D, Uprising is at its best in the visually brilliant shooter stages, which use a novel approach to shooting that combines the touch screen and shoulder buttons. That interface isn’t as great on-foot, but there’s a surprising amount of subtlety to the controls if you’re looking for them. Yes, it can be a little painful after playing for long stretches, but this 3DS original is worth the hand cramps.
View Kid Icarus: Uprising now
4. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
For many gamers, hardcore Nintendo fans or no, the Super Nintendo's A Link to the Past holds an extra special place in their quadrisected hearts. The uplifting music, colorful world, challenging combat, and rich exploration made Link's 16-bit debut a timeless classic. All those memorable qualities have been imbued into A Link Between Worlds on 3DS, which captures the essence of top-down Zelda gameplay so beautifully that it's hard to believe. It's the perfect mix of old and new, blending traditional themes and fresh mechanics to create an incredible handheld adventure.
Young Link must take up his sword and shield once more to defeat the narcissistic magician Yuga, a villain who inadvertently gives Link the power to blend into walls in the form of a living painting. You'll have to use your newfound ability to solve puzzles, conquer dungeons, and collect empowering items through the kingdoms of both Hyrule and Lorule, a dark dimension of opposites and intense difficulty. From beginning to end, A Link Between Worlds is a magnificent journey, one infused with powerful nostalgia and exciting new ideas alike.
View The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds now
3. Fire Emblem: Awakening
There's a chance that the Fire Emblem franchise means nothing to you. You might’ve heard about your friends playing it on NES or Game Boy Advance, but just never bothered to try it yourself. You've always had an excuse: They were super hard, crazy niche, and difficult to get into. With the release of Fire Emblem: Awakening, you no longer have that excuse. While the strategy RPG still maintains the same level of complexity as past games in the franchise, it's accessible enough for anyone to jump into--and you're going to want to jump in.
Your mind will be tested on the battlefield as you move around troops while trying to outmaneuver your opponents, and the ability to link together characters for dual attacks raises the strategic bar even higher. Taking those links further--into marriage, and raising children--helps bolster the already-engaging story, making for a lengthy, impressive tale you're going to want to see through to its conclusion.
View Fire Emblem: Awakening now
2. Mario Kart 7
Mario Kart, more so than any other Nintendo franchise, moves in short spurts. With each iteration of the racer come improvements to its mechanics by way of new stages, new weapons, and new karts, adding freshness without any overhauls. Mario Kart 7 didn't buck that trend--instead, it aimed to perfect the formula, honing in on the things that make the franchise great and improving them in every way.
Most elements are what you expect from the franchise, from the tight controls to the colorful cast of hat-wearing Italians (man, that phrase sounds super racist out of context). The largest technical changes come with underwater racing and the addition of gliders, both of which work to fundamentally change the way you approach even the most classic of Mario Kart situations. It all works--whether you're playing alone or with friends, online or off--to make for one of the best competitive games on the platform.
View Mario Kart 7 now
1. Super Mario 3D Land
After revolutionizing and evolving the 3D platformer on consoles, Super Mario 3D Land had a lot to live up to as the first original, handheld entry in the 3D sub-series. It needed to transition Mario’s well-defined gameplay onto the handheld screen, make the series more mainstream than previous entries, and sell the 3DS to consumers worldwide. As you can tell by its placement on this list, it did all that with a simple whip of its Tanooki tail.
The colorful visuals, power-ups, and enemies are all reminiscent of past Mario titles, but it plays fresher than ever thanks to some of the best level design in series history. The stages are brief enough for a portable, but pack a ton of creativity into every corner--along with some real challenging bits in the post-credits content. And the visuals use the stereoscopic 3D better than virtually any other game on the system. 3D Land proves that Mario can be just as iconic on his newest platform as he was on all his previous ones.
View Super Mario 3D Land now
And while the past looks good--damn good, actually, lookat dem games--the future shines even brighter. You've got a Smash Bros., there's that there new Yoshi game, and there's also a ton of other interesting-looking titles hitting the 3DS in the next year or so. What other games are worth getting? Let us know in the comments!
And if you're looking for more, check out upcoming 3DS games and the new Smash Bros. roster.
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