Nintendo's handheld systems have always been the ones to beat, and the Nintendo 3DS is an absolute titan of portable gaming. It's great to see your favorite heroes and worlds pop off the screen with the glasses-free stereoscopic 3D effects, but that's really a secondary perk of the dual-screen system. The 3DS' true strength lies in its amazing selection of games, with exemplary titles from every genre under the sun. No matter what kinds of games you like to play, be it on the go or while lounging around, the best 3DS games will surprise and delight you with oodles of charm and tightly tuned gameplay. The following 25 picks showcase the kinds of varied, excellent experiences you can expect from the 3DS - and judging by all the upcoming 3DS games, the system's future is looking just as bright.
25. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam
Both the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario series have had their ups and downs, with sterling examples of RPG gaming bumping up against so-so entries, but Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam takes the best elements from both franchises and combines them into a masterful crossover. A stumble in a storeroom leads to an accidental invasion of 3D Mario's world by its 2D paper cousins, leading to ingenious twists on combat and exploration as Paper Mario forms a trio with the more, erm, well rounded Mario and Luigi.
Paper Jam keeps the smart sense of humor and well-tuned combat of its forefathers while mixing in a bunch of new game elements to keep things brisk and fresh. You'll fight huge papercraft goombas, track down (and tackle) hidden paper Toads, and even use amiibo for special attacks. It's cheerful, challenging, and most definitely your jam.
24. Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward
The most joyful thing about owning a 3DS is access to games which genuinely feel shocking and unusual. Virtue’s Last Reward is exactly that: an adventure game which has a delirious resonance when you think about it months later. And make no mistake, this game will stay with you, lurking in the fleshy recesses of your mind like a fever dream.
At its simplest, it’s a visual novel about escaping a life-or-death game with eight strangers. A you progress you’ll have to navigate complex, puzzling trap rooms, and nudge the story forward by making narrative choices. It sounds simple, but it’s alive with tension and cautious distrust. The enigmatic story branches beautifully, making it feel like your own. Get on it now, and you’ll be ready when the third game in Zero Escape series, Zero Time Dilemma, finally arrives.
23. Pocket Card Jockey
Let’s not lie: Pocket Card Jockey is a hard sell. It’s a game about horse racing and solitaire, which sounds more like two gambling machines mated to create a mule child than a conscious design decision. Resist that urge to click onto the next slide, though: this is one of the best titles Game Freak has made that isn’t about locking monsters in balls.
It’s the sort of game that belongs on a Nintendo system: initially odd, but with the sway to engage you for two minutes or ten hours. It’s also wonderfully, endearingly weird, featuring a canonical explanation for why solitaire prowess translates into skilled horse-racing. Best of all, it provides you the opportunity to engage with the most important aspect of equestrian sports: giving your pony a truly ridiculous name. Simply put, Pocket Card Jockey is the best game about horse racing and cards for people who care about neither.
22. Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright
This is one of those 'oh yeah, duh' instances that no one could have rightfully expected to happen. This surprising yet eminently sensible pairing maintains all the charm and gameplay elements of both series to a startling degree of thoroughness, literally giving you Ace Attorney courtroom sections as you remember them along with complete puzzle-solving Layton gameplay all in an intertwining narrative. It even keeps up the excellent, hilarious writing styles of both series, always benefiting from the collaboration and never suffering.
It's true; Layton vs. Wright doesn't take every single opportunity die-hard fans probably want to see out of the crossover (have to save something for the sequel, right?), but it's a pretty great package considering the development hurdles it undoubtedly had to overcome before shipping.
21. Shin Megami Tensei 4
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 4's storied monster collection and fusion is as addicting as ever. Building the perfect team of beasts is as engrossing as Pokmon, only with satanic imagery sprinkled on top.
20. 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.
19. 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.
18. 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; in design and execution, Bravely Default is proudly 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. The sequel, Bravely Second: End Layer, made welcome tweaks to the combat, but in terms of narrative scale Bravely Default is still the one to go for.
17. Final Fantasy: Explorers
This one's a bit like Monster Hunter in that you team about with your friends in order to take down scaly fiends and collect parts to make fancy new armor, but with a Final Fantasy twist. Think Black Mages and Dragoons instead of bowguns and insect glaives. Final Fantasy Explorers doesn't quite have as many options as Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, but it's a lot more focused, which makes it a far more approachable game.
With so many class choices and monsters to recruit into your party when you can't play with friends, you can experiment with various combat styles. As well as Cactuars and Gobilns you can take on massive, arena-filling Eidolons (including classic FF summons such as Ifrit and Shiva) in challenging boss fights that put all of your fighting prowess to the test. It's a great way to get into the monster-hunting genre.
16. 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 fan service. 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 its 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.
15. 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' 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.
14. 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.
13. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS
We shouldn't have to pitch you on 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.
12. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call
If you're the kind of Final Fantasy fan that owns at least three versions of 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.
11. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D
A beautiful remaster of N64's Majora's Mask, this is one of the great classic Zelda games and is must buy for any fan. Unlike the more standard adventure in Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask revolves around you repeating the same three days, uncovering new things each time, in order to prevent the moon from crashing into the world.
It makes for a more novel approach than anything you usually see, and antagonist Skull Kid is bizarrely horrifying. It's much darker than your average Zelda game, and your abilities revolve around using different masks to gain powers rather than finding new items. The 3DS updates make traversing time far easier to manage, with your Bombers notebook having loads more detail on what you've done so far. Bosses and Masks have also been updated to make this the ultimate Majora's Mask experience.
10. 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.
9. 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.
8. 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 Marios 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.
7. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
Only available on New 3DS rather than standard ones, this port of the Wii JRPG is absolutely massive and shows off just what the more powerful console is capable of. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D takes place on the bodies of two giant fighting titans (yep, you did read that right), with cities hiding behind giant knees and oceans in rib cages. One titan is home to humans and plump rabbit creatures called Nopon, while the other is home to a race of evil robots called Machina, and the two factions are constantly at war.
It's up to you, playing as hero Shulk, to use a sword that grants visions of the future, to gain the upper hand in the fight against the Machina. The story has some seriously impressive moments, the cast is hugely likable, and the score is wonderful. It you're a fan of RPGS then you definitely need to pick this up.
6. 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.
5. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
Monster Hunter 4 is the kind of game that takes a few hours for you to get into step with its ideas. It's the kind of game that, with a few friends, suddenly reveals new systems, tactics and techniques. It's the kind of game that, 200 hours in, you still can't stop playing, because there's always new armour, new monster variants, new challenges to grab. It's the kind of game that will become some people's favourite game of all time.
In 4 Ultimate, Monster Hunters unfathomably deep set of action mechanics, beautiful idiosyncrasies (monsters don't have health bars, meaning you need to learn how they move, like some violent cryptozoologist) and glorious, hard-earned loot were wedded to the series best storyline, most useful tutorials and easy-to-access package. It’s an almost perfect game - get on it now, and you’ll be ready when Monster Hunter Generations arrives later this year.
4. 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 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.
3. 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 loveable 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.
2. Pokémon X/Y
Pokémon took its sweet old time making the jump to 3D, opting to stick to the sprite-based world and characters that the franchise was built in. But the wait was inarguably worth it. While Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire have the more updated mechanics, Pokémon X/Y still gives you the ultimate Pokémon experience with its customisation features and focus on adventure.
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.
1. Fire Emblem: Awakening
There's a chance that the Fire Emblem franchise means nothing to you. You may have heard about your friends playing it on NES or Game Boy Advance, but just never bothered to try it yourself. Back then, you had a reason: they seemed super hard, crazy niche, and difficult to get into. Thanks to Fire Emblem: Awakening, you no longer have that excuse. While the strategy RPG maintains the same level of complexity as past games, it's accessible enough for anyone to jump into - and by Chrom’s chiselled shoulders, you absolutely should.
Your mind will be tested on the battlefield, as you edge troops into position and outmanoeuvre opponents. The ability to link together characters for dual attacks raises the strategic bar even higher. These links can be taken further, into marriage, and even parenting, which helps bolster the already engaging story. Awakening is almost humbling in sweep, taking you on a journey that spans entire generations.
The sequel, Fire Emblem: Fates, is out now. It continues the series trend of being deeply tactical and wholly essential, but it’s a more intimidating prospect thanks to the complex choice of stories and expansions. If you’re new to the series, Awakening is the place to start, and you can race through safe in the knowledge that more amazing Fire Emblem games yet await you.