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.
25. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked
So far the 3DS has missed out on Shin Megami’s outstanding Persona sub-series, but Devil Survivor is the next best thing. This top-down strategy SMT spin-off shares the qualities of Final Fantasy Tactics and similar gems, but you experience the gameplay in a very Shin Megami way, with the monster collecting being particularly engaging.
You play as a team of teenagers trapped in Tokyo for seven days watching Armageddon play out in front of them, but they have the power to change their fates. The branching story has the memorable characters navigating a war between Heaven and Hell as they try to change the fate of mankind. So many great little character moments play out in front of this drama that you’ll want to see every possible ending in this massive adventure.
24. Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars
What happens when you take classic XCOM gameplay and shove in G.I. Joe-style heroes? You get the ingenious, oft-forgotten Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. While many ignored it based on the name alone (a Ghost Recon for 3DS? Pass!), this clever SRPG was the best launch title for the platform, and is still worth checking out. Seriously.
Alright, full disclosure: The characters aren't all that deep, and the story is wholly forgettable. There's something about some kind of Shadow War, or whatever, but... you know what? Those flaws are easily overlooked if you're in the mood for some deep, strategic gameplay, and you'll hardly care about the plot while you're upgrading and customizing your soldiers.
Intelligent Systems is known for creating massive strategy games like Fire Emblem and Advance Wars. But early in the 3DS’s lifespan the team showed it could narrow its focus to create a smaller experience that's almost as cleverly designed as its bigger games. That’s how we ended up with Pushmo, the exceptional eShop puzzler.
Pushmo, and its sequel Crashmo, are master classes in the design ethos of simple-yet-dense gameplay. You play as a small sumo character who can jump, push and pull blocks, and not much else, but literally hundreds of clever puzzles are derived from these basic abilities. All the mind-bending puzzles will pull you in for far more hours than you’d expect for its downloadable pricing, making this a real bargain for 3DS owners.
22. Star Fox 64 3D
It's Star Fox, you know the deal. "Do a barrel roll!" "Press Z or R twice!" "You'll never defeat Androsssssss!" But while you've likely played through Star Fox's N64 adventure a few times, it's absolutely worth giving it a go in 3D. It's mostly unchanged save for slight visual upgrades, which give the classic a new aesthetic flare, and the motion controls (that are totally optional!) are surprisingly helpful. Who woulda thought?
And if you haven't played it, Star Fox 64 still holds up remarkably well. The characters are hilariously memorable and the level design is fantastic, making for a trip through the galaxy you won't soon forget. The only bad thing is that if you play it, you'll be among the millions depressed that Nintendo hasn't made a true Star Fox in years.
21. Resident Evil: Revelations
Resident Evil is going through some weird transitions on consoles, but its had one of its best releases yet in this 3DS spin-off. Revelations takes place between Resident Evil 4 and 5, which allows for the reuniting of fan-favorite team Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine. Even if some of the supporting characters are a little annoying, Chris and Jill are strong enough to carry the survival horror narrative.
The pair are trapped on an abandoned cruise ship--it’s like a floating mansion!--to investigate a zombie outbreak related to the t-Abyss virus. The shooting action stays fun while harking back to the feel of the PlayStation original, and the lengthy story plays out over chapters that are easy to digest on the go. After this game, we don’t need a Resident Evil 7, we need a Revelations 2!
20. 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.
19. 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.
18. 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.
17. Paper Mario: Sticker Star
Mario’s flattest franchise comes to Nintendo’s most 3D system, and none of Paper Mario’s considerable charm is lost in the transition. Sticker Star continues the series tradition of reimagining the Mushroom Kingdom as a papercraft RPG world, but the addition of stickers change the formula considerably.
Some traditionalists might not like that RPG tropes like experience, MP, and movesets are replaced with obsessive sticker collecting, but you can’t say Paper Mario is playing it safe on the 3DS. The pacing is more akin to an old point-and-click adventure game, with weird, jokey logic defeating bosses more often than strategy. Even if it doesn’t all work perfectly, the insanely cute design and stellar soundtrack make the rough spots easy to gloss over.
16. 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.
15. 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.
14. 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.
13. 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.
12. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
Layton's escapades have captured our hearts for the past generation--so much so that we just wrote "captured our hearts" without a hint of irony--and his first foray into 3D is an absolute treat. The franchise's signature mix of charming story and brain-bending puzzle-fueled gameplay is basically untouched in in Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, which acts as the second game in the prequel trilogy. Man, Layton's lore is getting complicated, isn't it?
But don't let that deter you; Miracle Mask is as compelling as it is whimsical, and you'll love cursing at your 3DS when puzzles make you feel like a chump, and cheering at your own brilliance when you solve a seemingly impossible task on your first try.
11. 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.
10. 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.
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.
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.
7. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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