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The 22 best Nintendo 3DS games

The 3DS is the home to the latest installments of long-running franchises such as The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario, and while these game are among the handheld’s best, there many more titles that don’t fit within the confines set by Mario, Link, or other first-party characters. The 3DS has gone on to become a breeding ground for niche genres, especially role-playing games and 2D platformers, as well as something of a catch-all for some Japan’s best exports. There’s even a growing presence of indie development on the system, not to mention an extensive catalog of NES and Game Boy classics available through the system’s virtual console. This makes for a surprising breadth and depth of content on the portable system.

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With such a wide variety available, however, finding your next on-the-go gaming fix can be more than overwhelming. To help make your decision easier, we’ve built this list of the 20 best games on the Nintendo 3DS — honorable mention included.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds ($35)

In many ways, there are two types of Zelda games. One type is the 3D adventures the began with Ocarina of Time, which have gone on to become the standard for subsequent home console Zelda adventures. The other type are the classic 2D adventures of games like the original Legend of Zelda and it’s SNES follow up, A Link to The Past, the latter of which is often cited as the best game in the series. Serving as a sequel to A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds returns players not only the the 2D perspective, but to A Link To The Past’s map of Hyrule as well. The kingdom has been relatively peaceful in the decades since the previous game. That peace is threatened when a dark sorcerer, Yuga, traps the young Princess Zelda — a descendant of the princess from A Link to The Past — in a magical painting. Link, a young apprentice Swordsmith with no relation to the previous game’s hero, then embarks on a quest to save the princess. Fans of A Link to the Past will enjoy the familiarity, but A Link Between Worlds also turns the Zelda formula on its ear, opening up the entire world from the outset and offering all items through a rental shop. This allows players to choose their own pathway through the game’s numerous dungeons and challenges.

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Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate ($29)

The Monster Hunter series has long held a reputation for being difficult and obtuse, requiring time, patience, and cooperation from players in order to defeat its expansive roster of difficult monsters. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate retains much of the difficulty and structure that made the series one of the most wildly popular games in Japan, but it does more to ensure new players are able to ease themselves into the game’s mechanics. The biggest change is the inclusion of online multiplayer, so players can team up over Wi-Fi to take down massive beasts, find loot, craft materials, and explore large regions teeming with dangers. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate also features the series’ most robust single player storyline to date, as well as a host of new gameplay modes and combat styles. It will likely take a bit of time to fully understand how everything in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate works, but once you do, you’ll be in for a rewarding game filled with hundreds of hours of content.

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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D ($40)

Few games command the longevity and reverence that has defined The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s legacy. When the game originally launched on the Nintendo 64 back in ’98, it was heralded as on of the greatest — perhaps even the greatest — game ever made. The title has gone on to frequent many best-of lists, but going back to the N64 title can be, admittedly, a bit difficult given the outdated visuals and presentation. Ocarina of Time 3D, however, addresses many of these shortcomings with updated visuals, a sleeker and simpler interface, and even subtle mechanical changes that improve some of the game’s more tedious moments, including a hint system and dedicated quick-access buttons for certain items. Perhaps the best part about these changes, though, is how well they mold into the existing framework of the game.

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Super Smash Bros. For Nintendo 3DS ($33)

Fighting games on the 3DS are few and far between, but as luck would have it, one of the best fighting games in recent years is available on the handheld. Super Smash Bros for Nintendo 3DS  brings together a massive roster of fighters from Nintendo’s franchises and pits them in frenetic combat that spans multiple arenas taken from different games. You’d be hard pressed to find a Nintendo character absent from the game at this point; gaming icons like Samus and Fox Mccloud share the stage with lesser-known brawlers such as Ike, Paulina, Shulk, and others. There has even been several new characters added via DLC, including Bayonetta, Street Fighter’s Ryu, and Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud Strife.

That said, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is essentially the same as the Wii U version of Smash Bros., but with a few notable differences. The handheld version features a different graphical style and a control scheme tailored toward the 3DS’ hardware, as well as a handful of exclusive stages and a special gameplay mode called “Smash Run.”

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Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon ($39)

As the long-awaited sequel to the Luigi’s Mansion, Dark Moon capitalizes on what made the original so great while adding a few fun additions of its own. The game tasks players with investigating five haunted mansions in search of the shattered pieces of a ghost-quelling object called the Dark Moon. Like so many of Nintendo’s self-developed titles, Dark Moon is an inventive adventure title, one that’s packed to the brim with amusing and entertaining gameplay. Nintendo hit another home run this Luigi-centered franchise; let’s just hope it doesn’t take the company another 10 years to produce the threequel.

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The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D ($36)

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was originally released on the Nintendo 64 as the sequel to the beloved Ocarina of Time. Instead of simply rehashing the Zelda formula, however, Nintendo decided to take the sequel in very different direction than any Zelda adventure had gone before. Majora’s Mask bears a striking visual similarity to its predecessor, but by and large the similarities end there. Set in the strange land of Termina, Majora’s Mask follows Link’s adventures after the events of Ocarina of Time, wherein he takes it upon himself to retrieve a simple mask stolen by the mischievous Skullkid. Link soon finds out that the Mask is the key to preventing the moon from falling out of the sky and destroying the planet, however, and what ensues is the strangest and darkest tale in the Zelda canon.

The gameplay in Majora’s Mask is equally idiosyncratic for the series, and introduces a crucial time-lapse mechanic. The events of the game take place over the span of three days, thus requiring Link to complete quests, explore dungeons, and collect important items while simultaneously managing time travel and management. Majora’s Mask is often well-regarded — or, at least, well-remembered — for the things it does differently than other Zelda titles, especially when compared to its older sibling. That alone makes it impressive.

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