Below the radar
Despite the mainstream theory that the 3DS would be replaced by mobile and tablet gaming by now, Nintendos current handheld is still the best portable gaming devices out there. The best 3DS games are just as great as the console competiton, but an unfortunate downside those bigger games can sometimes overshadow other great, if smaller, content.
The 3DS eShop is full of outstanding, bite-sized titles that most gamers aren't paying attention to. Honestly, the clunky eShop interface doesnt help newcomers with finding the quality downloadable content on the 3DS--in fact, you need a guide to find most of these. Good thing that if you just click to the next slide, youll find my wonderful handbook to the games worth seeking out on the Nintendo Network, starting with...
Rusty's Real Deal Baseball
Download if: You love minigames and tolerate baseball
The release of this game was the tipping point for me writing this article, because I think a lot of the gaming world is missing out on this addicting, experimental game. Rustys Real Deal Baseball may sound like a sports game on the outside, but its actually a set of engrossing, WarioWare-esque minigames that just so happen to be built around the fundamentals of baseball. Real Deal finds so many novel ways to reuse batting, catching and throwing that this becomes a glorious time waster.
But Real Deal Baseball is also one of Nintendos few experiments in the realm of free-to-play gaming. You start with limited demos of the minigames, then head to the shop to buy a full version from Rusty, the pitiable canine owner that can be haggled down to a lower, actual price of the minigame. If you spend a little extra time talking with Rusty, you can get a $4.00 game for $1.80. It makes purchasing content into a fun game on its own, and youll get so engrossed in Rustys humorous family drama, you might just keep buying stuff just to hear about his sad sack life.
Download if: Want more games that feature a politician blowing up robots
Do you adore crazy Japanese games but hate when the weird premise overstays its welcome? Then this quick and quirky shooter should fit your needs, because Liberation Maiden is ludicrously awesome. You play as the President of New Japan, a teenage girl that deals with foreign policy by hopping in a huge mech and blasting robots all over the futuristic cities of the island nation.
Its a big, flashy 3D shooter made with the 3DSs stereoscopic visuals in mind, and if you think the concept sounds like an anime, youre absolutely right. Cult favorite game director Suda51 teamed up with animation house Bones--the group behind anime hits like Cowboy Bebop and Wolfs Rain--to create some glossy cutscenes that set-up all the girl-on-mech action beautifully. This is a short but sweet dose of why Suda has so many fans worldwide.
Yumis Odd Odyssey
Download if: Think most platformers are too easy
Among avid importers of the 90s, the Umihara Kawase games are regarded as some of the best Japan-only titles of the era. Released on both PlayStation and Super Famicom, the platformer series was a precursor to challenging titles like Super Meat Boy and Trials, tasking players to traverse increasingly complex stages using Umiharas grappling hook-like fishing line to swing around platforms. The uncompromising physics are tough but fair, making your arrival at the exit all the more satisfying.
The franchise seemed destined to stay unlocalized, but the 3DS eShop opened the door for the recent sequel to arrive as a download (despite its retail-sized price and content). Renamed by publisher Natsume as Yumis Odd Odyssey, this challenging title has the beloved gameplay of Umihara Kawase, all wrapped in a fishy, mundane setting that bestows extra personality to the no holds barred platforming. It all adds up to an engrossing package sidescrolling aficionados shouldnt miss out on.
Sega's 3D Classics
Download if: You want 16-bit masterpieces to feel new again
Sega has gone through a series of ups and downs in the years since it shut down the Dreamcast, but one of its strongest areas was its dedication to its library of classic titles. Sonic alone saw his many hits get put on every device under the sun, from consoles to PC to mobile. But the publisher keeps finding fresh ways to repackage its pixelated darlings, and the 3D Classics might just be its best recreations to date.
Nintendo started the 3D Classics brand with some early NES titles, but Sega owns the concept with its new editions of some of the best Genesis/Mega Drive games ever made. The likes of Sonic The Hedgehog, Streets of Rage, and Space Harrier look better than ever in 3D recreations that were handled expertly by developer M2, making these often-rereleased titles feel special once more, too unique to be overlooked among the eShop detritus. To appreciate all the nuances of these update, youd need an in-depth list by GamesRadars Sega expert.
Tokyo Crash Mobs
Download if: Wish you could clear crowded streets with matching puzzles
One of the issues the 3DS likely has with gaining more western popularity is that many US and UK publishers arent making a ton of new software for the machine. However, this does open the door for off the wall Japanese titles get a chance to fill that void, and that includes oddities from Nintendo. By the title alone Tokyo Crash Mobs is a uniquely foreign game, but its core puzzle action will be understandable to people from any background.
The twisting, match three puzzles follow developer Mitchell Corporations Magnetica games for Wii and DS, only now colored spheres are replaced by live action Tokyo residence in different colored suits. The puzzling gameplay is quirky and engaging, as are live action cutscenes that are a throwback to an age of mid-90s FMV games. The puzzles get intense fast with the wonderfully illogical additions of UFOs and ninjas, making this a title youll hopefully no longer overlook because of its quizzical name.
Download if: You like Metroid, but wish it was undersea
Cave Story is one of the granddaddies of modern indie gaming, as the pixelated freeware title was embraced for its combination of retro looks and ageless gameplay. But Cave Story wasnt designer Daisuke Aiyamas first attempt at gaming. He got his start with Ikachan, a floaty, underwater tale of adventure that gets a new lease on life with the 3DS.
Ikachan is the titular squid thats trapped in a series of underwater caves following a massive Earthquake deep in the ocean. Ikachan needs to keep going up and up and up, but will only be able to open up new paths and defeat enemies using a Metroidvania style leveling system. The swimming mechanic makes for some impressively precise gameplay thats enhanced by the stereoscopic visuals, so even if youve never played any of Aiyamas games before, Ikachan is a great starting point.
Weapons Shop de Omasse
Download if: You wanted to see the other side of an RPG
Like the previously mentioned Liberation Maiden, Weapons Shop de Omasse is another from Level-5s GUILD series of games. GUILD is basically a super group of big name Japanese developers coming together to create short and sweet titles, though Level-5 themselves handled the development on Omasse. The team behind Professor Layton made the game with a script written by comedian Yoshiyuki Hirai that takes a skewed look at the life of shop owners in fantasy RPGs.
Legendary heroes might kill all the dragons in a dungeon, but theyd be nothing without the weapons they buy from shops like the one players control in the game. You craft items for the many explorers that come to your store via simple rhythm games that could have been refined a little more. But the gameplay is worth it just to experience the many chuckle-worthy moments that play out in the story, making you wish that legitimately funny games like this one came out more often.
Steel Diver: Sub Wars
Download if: Can get over your dissatisfaction with the first Steel Diver
Look, Im not going to say Steel Diver is one of the most disappointing launch games ever oh wait, I actually did say that before. Given a reputation like that, Im not surprised that many 3DS owners were hesitant to play a new game in the series, but beyond the name and submarine premise, theres little that connects Sub Wars with its past. And the situation only improves from there.
Sub Wars is a slightly different take on first person shooting, putting players in control of submersibles and dropping them into a death match arena. The underwater setting makes for slow, vertical movement thats decidedly more deliberate that boring. Players intensely search the murky depths for an enemy and then have brief, explosive exchanges once then finally spott their floating prey. Sub Wars is also another of Nintendos F2P experiments, so you can give the online and offline action a try before you buy in case you dont trust my informed opinion.
Attack of the Friday Monsters
Download if: You dream of being a Japanese schoolboy in the 1970s
Of all the foreign titles on this list, Attack of the Friday Monsters is the most uniquely Japanese in the bunch. Set in the 70s, the game uses its brief intro to explain the inspiration from popular monster shows of the decade, then drops you into the simple life of a child in a small town in Japan that has to deal with problems both big and small.
The writing in the game has a maturity I dont think many expect from a 3DS games, digging into complex situations of family strife, with giant monsters used as the backdrop for the drama. Despite the title, its more of a sim in the style of Animal Crossing, told episodically with a whimsical vibe that reminds me of Studio Ghibli films like My Neighbor Totoro. This is a must buy for anyone that seeks out games that find new ways to tell deeper stories.
A needle in a haystack
Those are some of my top 3DS downloads, but Im betting there are some greats that I forgot to spotlight here. As much as I hate to be proven wrong, tell me all about them in the comments!
And if you're looking for more, check out GamesRadar's lists of the best 3DS games and the upcoming 3DS games.