The 25 best 3DS games

Handheld hullabaloo

You might have your fingers almost superglued to your Nintendo Switch, but don't forget to dust off your old 3DS occasionally. The little pocket console has plenty of good games in its back-catalogue, as well as some blighters coming out in the near future. Whether you fancy action, RPGs, puzzles, or games about racing horses while playing solitaire, the 3DS has something to offer you.

If you're a true Nintendo fanatic, you'll want to check out the contenders on our best Wii U games list as well - especially now that the console's getting nice and cheap. And fear not, the future is even brighter - just look at the upcoming Nintendo Switch games if you're not convinced.

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25. Pocket Card Jockey

Release date: May 5, 2016

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. 

24. Shin Megami Tensei 4

Release date: July 16, 2013

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.

23. BoxBoy

Release date: January 14, 2015

Is it painful for Qbby to extrude series of interconnected boxes from his very being? Who knows. But man oh man, does it make for some really clever puzzle solving. Everything about Box Boy is cute, minimal, and focused on making you feel as dumb-then-brilliant as possible. The game's central premise is simple: you squeeze out cubes in a series of formations, then either toss, drop, or retract yourself into them to get past hazardous obstacles.

Then, like a four-cornered Mario, you move from one themed "world" full of levels to another, and everything you thought you knew about extrusion changes. Suddenly you're using your cubes like armor to defend against deadly lasers, or carefully timing when to drop them onto conveyor belts. BoxBoy's sequels BoxBoxBoy and Bye-Bye BoxBoy are little miracles too, but nothing can replicate that initial charm of the original.

22. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies

Release date: October 24, 2013

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.

21. Shovel Knight

Release date: June 26, 2014

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.

20. Bravely Default

Release date: February 7, 2014

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. 

19. Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy

Release date: February 28, 2014

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.

18. Kid Icarus: Uprising

Release date: March 23, 2012

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.

17. New Super Mario Bros. 2

Release date: August 19, 2012

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.

16. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS

Release date: October 3, 2014

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 the Wii U equivalent, 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.

15. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

Release date: September 16, 2014

If you're the kind of Final Fantasy fan who 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.

14. Monster Hunter Stories

Release date: September 8, 2017

Monster Hunter Stories is the best entry to the series you could ask for. It's the kind of game for someone who's fancied the Monster Hunter series before, but found its vastness and quirks make it inaccessible. Monster Hunter Stories isn't any of that. Yes, it's vast, but it's chunked into distinct areas that hold your hand in the best way possible. 

It's feels like the game that would be made if Monster Hunter and Pokémon had a baby - or an egg. You add monsties (that's monsters x besties) to your party by finding eggs, hatching them and rearing the little beasts that pop out of them. And of course, you use them to fight off bigger monsters as you roam the lands, trying to save the world... again. 

The story is great, the gameplay is simple enough to pick up thanks to its brilliant rock, paper, scissors battle style and the cutscenes are particularly amazing too - especially by 3DS standards.

13. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D

Release date: February 13, 2015

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.

12. Mario Kart 7

Release date: December 4, 2011

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. 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.

11. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D

Release date: April 10, 2015

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.

10. Metroid: Samus Returns

Release date: September 15, 2017

Don't dismiss Metroid: Samus Returns as a simple remake or remastering of the Game Boy Advance's Metroid 2. It's much, much more than that. The developer has cleverly brought the classic game into the 21st Century by making it a little more accessible, encouraging players to return to previous areas, giving them more powers and even adding some new moves. There's a ledge grab, 360-degree aiming and more to discover. Samus Returns makes Metroid 2 feel like a brand new game, with just that right amount of nostalgia. 

And have we mentioned how glorious it looks? Well, new backgrounds have been added for new depth and context that the original game just didn't have. You just won't be able to stop exploring - or collecting stuff for that matter.

9. Super Mario 3D Land

Release date: November 13, 2011

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.

8. Picross 3D Round 2

Release date: October 1, 2015

The concept of creating little images by filling in or carving out blocks based on numerical clues and logic has been around forever, but Picross 3D Round 2 represents the pinnacle of nonogram puzzle design. The coffee shop veneer is inviting and comforting; the additional training puzzles teach you how to complete its trickier sections; and its scalable difficulty ensures you can complete every single challenge at your own pace and ability.

On top of all of its quality of life enhancements, it simply remains one of life's great little pleasures to start out with a giant cube and watch it slowly transform into a wooden toy penguin. Picross 3D Round 2 isn't just one of the best 3DS games ever made; it's one of the best puzzle games ever made, full stop.

7. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D

Release date: June 19, 2011

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.

6. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

Release date: February 13, 2015

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 Hunter's 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. 

5. Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon

Release date: March 24, 2013

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.

4. Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Release date: June 9, 2013

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.

3. Pokemon Sun & Moon

Release date: November 18, 2016

Pokemon Sun & Moon isn't a new beginning for the more than 20 year old series, but it is a very refreshing vacation. For every standby that remains - yup, you still play as the new kid in town who befriends a Pokemon-studying professor - Sun and Moon rethinks another. Forget about the staccato progression of defeating gym leaders, now you move from one Trial to the next, demonstrating not just your mastery of Pokemon but your respect and understanding of the natural world.

Pokemon went to a fully 3D graphics style starting with Pokemon X & Y, but Sun and Moon is the first to really take advantage of it with a grid-free movement system and a camera that actively swoops around to help you admire the Hawaiian-inspired vistas. You don't know how much a low-angle shot of a beautiful beach helps liven up boring old route crossings until you've tried it yourself.

2. Fire Emblem: Awakening

Release date: February 4, 2013

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 chiseled shoulders, you absolutely should.

Your mind will be tested on the battlefield, as you edge troops into position and outmaneuver 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. Its tactics might not be quite as honed as sequel Fire Emblem: Fates, but Awakening's story is without a doubt superior.

Release date: November 22, 2013

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.