If you’re looking for the best Nintendo 3DS games there’s no shortage of titles to choose from thanks to the console’s long lifecycle. The 3DS has enjoyed several updates over the years, but each was compatible with its predecessor, and that translates to a huge library.
There are options for nearly every genre, from action games like Monster Hunter to hardcore platforms like Metroid and, of course, role-playing games like Zelda. Even with 25 picks available, sorting the list down to the best 3DS games wasn’t easy — but here’s what we decided on.
1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
In many ways, there are two types of Zelda games. One type is the 3D adventure that began with Ocarina of Time, which has gone on to become the standard for a subsequent home console Zelda adventures. The other type is the classic 2D adventure 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 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.
2. Super Mario 3D Land
Synonymous with every single Nintendo console are a host of games boasting the brand’s lovable, mustachioed hero, Mario. While nearly all are bonafide hits, Super Mario 3D Land takes the cake as the 3DS’ premier Mario title, providing endless amounts of platforming fun. The game was released to critical acclaim in 2011, with many citing its addictive gameplay, fantastic 3D capabilities, and impressive level design as reasons for its greatness.
Moreover, newcomers to the series — if those indeed exist — won’t have any trouble picking the title and understanding the basics right away. There’s a reason Mario remains the popular face of Nintendo, and Super Mario 3D Land continues his reign of platform dominance.
3. Fire Emblem: Awakening
After the relatively muted reception to both Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, Nintendo’s tactical role-playing series was on the verge of being killed off for good. Fire Emblem: Awakening, the series’ 2013 3DS debut, single-handedly revitalized the franchise, which now stands tall among Nintendo’s pantheon of popular franchises. With a straightforward story and more accessible mechanics, including multiple difficulty modes as well as the ability to turn off “permadeath,” its compelling gameplay can be inviting and story-driven to pick up or tactical and challenging, depending on how you choose to approach it.
4. Metroid: Samus Returns
A reimagining of the 1991 Game Boy classic Metroid II: Return of Samus, Metroid: Samus Returns manages to be both an authentic nostalgia trip and a well-oiled modern platformer. Taking place directly after the events of the game that kicked off the storied franchise, Samus Aran is sent by the Galactic Federation to the Metroid homeworld to investigate the power and threat of aliens. Keeping with the identity of 2D Metroid titles, Samus collects power-ups along the way that help her traverse to previously hard-to-reach sections in the winding game world.
There is a great balance of sticking to the original in terms of world layout and exploration while also including new features like a map scanner to make the game more modernized. With the power of the 3DS, set pieces are vibrant and detailed, and combat mechanics feel more precise and free-flowing. As the first 2D Metroid in 14 years, Metroid: Samus Returns makes you wonder why Samus has been vacant in the 2D space for so long. With the development of the 3DS development essentially ceased, Samus Returns feels like a wonderful swan song.
5. Bravely Default
The 3DS has no shortage of great role-playing games. We likely could have filled this list exclusively with the highest-rated RPGs on the system, and would still have to make some difficult cuts. But when it comes to the best of the best, Bravely Default is it. Bravely Default was created by many of the minds behind Final Fantasy, and it’s a classic JRPG through and through.
Players take control of a party of characters, customizing their appearance and abilities through the game’s intricate and deep job system — a feature likely familiar to fans of Final Fantasy. Like classic JRPGs, Bravely Default’s combat encounter play out in turn-based fashion, giving players control of each character’s actions.
Bravely Default offers its own twist on combat, however, with a host of unique gameplay mechanics like combo meters and auto-battle. Bravely Default released to rave reviews and surprising commercial success, prompting Square Enix to release a sequel, Bravely Second. Another sequel is currently being created for Switch.
6. Shovel Knight
Although several different ports of this game exist, the 3DS version of Shovel Knight consistently receives the highest scores. Indie game developer Yacht Club Games designed Shovel Knight to closely resemble the gameplay and graphics of similar platformers designed for Nintendo’s original console, the NES. Playing as the titular Shovel Knight, you must navigate a 2D environment while collecting treasure and fighting off hordes of bad guys affiliated with the Order of No Quarter. Each stage features largely the same formula, however, requiring you to battle through various terrain, grab as much treasure as possible, and defeat a final boss in order to move on. Though it seems rather simple and straightforward, Shovel Knight’s captivating gameplay makes it a damn hard game to put down.
7. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
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 one 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. It’s hard to find a fair spot for Ocarina of Time on this list, as it’s both arguably the best game on the platform and a port.
8. Mario Golf: World Tour
Like Mario Tennis Open before it, Mario Golf: World Tour takes a particularly mundane sport and puts a zany spin on it. Playing as Mario, Luigi, or a number of other iconic characters from the franchise, players have the option to play online against human competition or take on the CPU in any of the game’s numerous tournaments.
The handheld’s 3D capabilities shine with World Tour given the game animates each shot, chip, or putt with gorgeous visuals and an amazing amount of depth. Though the 3DS boasts a small number of sports titles, World Tour remains one of the brightest in the console’s lineup.
9. Pokémon Sun and Moon
Pokémon X and Y brought 3D textures to the series with fantastic results. The gameplay was streamlined, the online component was robust, and it felt like the kick in the pants that the Pokémon franchise needed in order to stay on top. With Pokémon Sun and Moon, developer Game Freak wasn’t content with simply copying and pasting their previous work onto a new area. The new Alola region ushers in new forms of classic Pokémon that sport different strengths, weaknesses, and appearances, and the game even tackles issues like the consumption of Pokémon by humans.
It isn’t all doom and gloom, however. Pokémon Sun and Moon also brings back Mega Evolutions and introduces new “Z-moves,” which are powerful attacks that are capable of changing the course of a battle in just a few seconds. If your Pokémon Go-obsessed sibling is looking to get another fix, Sun and Moon are the perfect companion gifts. Given that there are Pokémon exclusive to each version, as well as different day-night cycles, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to pick up both versions, either!
10. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Animal Crossing games aren’t like other video games, especially since you’re not engaging in tense combat or undertaking epic quests. You won’t be scratching your head trying complete complex puzzles either, nor sweating against stiff racing competition. Instead, Animal Crossing: New Leaf functions as a relaxing town-management sim, one where you slowly build your tiny town and engage in various upkeep activities.
With New Leaf, you might find yourself furnishing homes and visiting with neighbors, or spending some quality alone time gardening, fishing, or partaking in numerous other activities. This doesn’t mean the game is boring, however, because it’s that same leisurely pace that makes the title so deceptively addictive.
From the moment you assume mayorship of your town, you’ll be busy maintaining the quaint village, keeping your villagers happy, preparing for holidays, and unlocking new activities to enjoy.
11. Mario and Luigi: Dream Team
Believe it or not, but Mario and Luigi do a lot more than jump on Goombas and devour mushrooms in their free time. Though Mario and Luigi: Dream Team may not be the most recent of the fraternal plumber duo’s RPG adventures, it is one of their best, and the best one available on 3DS. Dream Team takes place simultaneously on the Island of Pi’illo (pronounced “pillow”) and inside Luigi’s dream world.
While playing in Pi’ill0, players explore the island and control Mario and Luigi in turn-based combat. When in Luigi’s dream world, however, Mario must team up with Luigi’s dream avatar, Dreamy Luigi, to engage in a mix of 2D side-scrolling and RPG battling. Dream Team is a great hybrid that will scratch your itch for both a platformer and an RPG, while still retaining a keen sense of charm.
12. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D
Majora’s Mask is somewhat of a misfit within The Legend of Zelda series. It’s both incredibly dark for a Nintendo game and also features one of the riskiest mechanics in the series. Taking place in Termina, a parallel to Hyrule, Majora’s Mask sees Link search for his fairy Navi following the conclusion of Ocarina of Time. He quickly finds himself in a weird predicament: He has three days to save the world before the moon crashes down and destroys everything.
The three-day cycle mechanic, representing about one hour in real time, turns the exploration and progression on its head. If the moon hits, you lose all the progress you made since the last collision. You can avoid this by playing songs on the ocarina to manipulate time. But minor progression will always be lost, as well as characters’ knowledge of Link. The mask system is inventive, expanding on the feature in Ocarina of Time in surprising and fun ways. What makes Majora’s Mask stand out beside the constant stress of beating the clock is the world itself.
Out of all of the alternate worlds in the Zelda series, Termina still feels the most real. The N64 port plays brilliantly on the 3DS. Keep in mind, though, it plays best on New Nintendo 3DS hardware due to the C stick and increased processing power. If you missed the lesser-known N64 Zelda the first time around, do yourself a favor and play it on 3DS.
13. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
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 exclusive 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, and followed it up with a sequel on Switch in 2019.
14. Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS
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 have 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.”
15. Kirby: Planet Robobot
After taking Kirby into “2.5D” platforming, molding him into clay, and even turning him into a piece of yarn, what was developer HAL Laboratory to do next? Give him a giant robot suit, of course! The title features platforming gameplay and combat similar to the previous 3DS installment, Triple Deluxe, along with the swappable powers that have become the series’ signature feature.
Kirby: Planet Robobot isn’t designed to be particularly difficult, though, and with Kirby’s new mechanical enhancements, you’ll be able to live out your power fantasies via a pink puffball. Obstacles no longer pose a threat, and should you suck one of your enemies up while wearing the suit, you’ll alter its abilities as well. Both “Fire mode” and “Sword mode” look they could give Titanfall 2’s most powerful mechs a run for their money.
16. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
Xenoblade Chronicles deserves mention on this list. It is the biggest game on the 3DS, featuring a massive open world, giant monsters, hundreds of quests, and hours upon hours of gameplay to keep you busy. It’s a port of the Wii version, which was called one of the best modern JRPGs when it was released in 2010, and the 3DS version is one of the highest-rated games on the system. So why is it relegated to an honorable mention? Well, technically, it’s not available on all 3DS systems.
Nintendo released a new iteration of its handheld in 2015, confusingly called the New 3DS, which included a slew of upgrades like a stronger processor, better 3D screens, better cameras, and a much-needed second thumbstick and set of shoulder buttons. These upgrades — specifically the more robust processor and second thumbstick — are what enabled a massive game like Xenoblade Chronicles to be ported to the handheld.
So, while we highly recommend the game, it comes with the aforementioned caveat of only being available on the New 3DS iteration of the software. Before you pick it up, be sure the game is compatible with your system.
17. Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy
Level-5’s Professor Layton games have long served as some of the best puzzle titles for Nintendo’s handhelds, and 2013’s Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is arguably the best of the franchise. The game boasts an incredible story, attractive animation, and hundreds of clever puzzles that are sure to flummox even the sharpest of gamers.
Moreover, once you complete the game’s single-player campaign, you can partake in a daily puzzle mode that offers up to 365 additional puzzles to solve. Those who utilize the game’s Street Pass functionality have access to even more puzzles and games, giving the title some of the best replay value for any 3DS game. Period.
18. Kid Icarus: Uprising
Kid Icarus: Uprising, an attempt to reboot one of Nintendo’s languished NES properties, feels like a fresh take on another Nintendo franchise that doesn’t get quite enough attention, Star Fox. With brilliant flight-based shooting, hilarious and cheesy dialogue from protagonist Pit, and even a genuinely well-designed online mode, Kid Icarus: Uprising feels like Star Fox in all but name.
Drawing on classic Greek mythology but with a charming, silly Nintendo spin, the game’s boss fights are intense, white-knuckled affairs unlike anything we’ve seen from the company yet or since — hopefully, the Switch will change that. If you’re left-handed, however, be warned that the game makes heavy use of both the stylus and circle pad — you’ll need a circle pad pro if you’re playing on the original 3DS — and the title’s included 3DS stand has a tendency to turn your hand into a claw within 30 minutes or so.
19. Shin Megami Tensei IV
Shin Megami Tensei IV shares much of the same monster-gathering appeal of games like Pokémon, but it’s far more hardcore and demanding. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic version of Japan, which has reverted to a feudal society in the wake of several demon invasions. In this world, Samurai act as guardians who combat and control demons using remnants of technology from before the apocalypse.
The story centers on Flynn, a young Samurai who is caught in the crossfire of the war between the demons and Heaven. Shin Megami Tensei IV is part of the Megami Tensei franchise, which is an umbrella that covers several well-regarded JRPG series, including Persona and Devil Survivor.
The entire franchise is known for its hardcore dungeon crawling and capture-centric gameplay, and Shin Megami Tensei IV is no different. Players can capture enemy demons, build their skills, and even combine them to create new, stronger demons. Said demons can then be employed during combat while exploring the game’s labyrinthine dungeons.
Shin Megami Tensei IV differs from other Megami Tensei titles in that it leans heavily on moral choices, which ultimately decide the outcome of the game’s story. That said, it might require multiple playthroughs to see each ending.
20. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
Yet another title ripped from Nintendo’s impressive vault, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is a title that reimagines the ’94 hit, Donkey Kong Country. As Donkey — or Diddy — Kong, players run, jump, cart, swing, and barrel their way through a host of well-crafted stages. The title was heralded for its challenging level design upon release, many of which render it a proper tribute to its predecessor and make it an absolute marvel on the 3DS.
Fans of the Wii version of the game shouldn’t write this release off as a simple re-release either, as Nintendo chose to include a new game mode and a slew of levels unique to the 3DS version. It’s safe to say that it’s never been more fun to play as Donkey Kong.
21. New Super Mario Bros. 2
Considered by Nintendo of Europe as the “rightful successor” to Super Mario Bros. 3, New Super Mario Bros. 2 took the franchise back to its 2D roots. With nine familiar levels to play through, Nintendo treated gamers to a title that felt familiar but featured its own set of unique upgrades. Understandably, the visuals received a massive uptick in quality, each of which further capitalized on a wealth of vivid colors and gorgeous 3D backgrounds.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 also featured co-op gameplay, which players unlocked after successfully completing the game’s Solo mode. With its addictive gameplay, beautiful visuals, and high level of replayability, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is no doubt one of the finest titles available on the 3DS.
22. Picross 3D: Round 2
Puzzle games have always had a home on Nintendo’s handheld systems, and with the Nintendo 3DS’s technology and dual-screen display, Picross 3D: Round 2 is a perfect fit. The game’s 3D interface offers a unique take on the number and geometry-based puzzles we’ve seen developed in recent years, and the rewards for completing them — which range from a virtual cat to a diorama of Mario jumping into a block — offer enough Nintendo-themed charm to keep you coming back.
23. Mario Kart 7
Few gaming franchises remain consistently fun to play than the Mario Kart franchise, and the 3DS’ Mario Kart 7 continues this impressive trend for Nintendo. With 16 playable characters and 32 total tracks — 16 unique tracks and 16 classic tracks — gamers have access to a massive amount of content directly at their fingertips.
With new additions, such as the ability to use hang gliders and special underwater sections of popular tracks, Mario Kart 7 is more than just a watered-down version of its big console brethren. Like so many of those other titles in the series, however, Mario Kart 7’s crown jewel rests with its multiplayer modes, which allow players to participate in battles or races with up to seven different challengers through the Nintendo Network.
24. Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
When the worlds of the studious Professor Hershel Layton and the fiery attorney Phoenix Wright collide, the two must work together to investigate the mysterious city of Labyrinthia, which the two have been transported into after discovering a magical book. You must utilize Layton’s clever puzzle-solving abilities and Wright’s legal expertise to discover the mysteries of the city, and to defend an ally against charges of witchcraft.
While playing as Layton, you’ll explore the city of Labyrinthia, gather clues, and solve puzzles. Wright’s gameplay, on the other hand, is classic courtroom drama wherein you interrogate witnesses, review your findings, and, of course, yell “Objection!” as loud as possible. Though reviewers were somewhat critical of the game’s decision to separate the Layton and Wright segments from one another, the game was often praised for its story, length, and animation.
25. Monster Hunter Generations
The Monster Hunter franchise has found its home on the Nintendo 3DS, and Monster Hunter Generations is proof. Featuring the classic, open-ended monster slaying and online cooperative multiplayer the series is known for, the game’s “Hunting Styles” let you customize your combat to suit your gameplay preference — including more aerial or ground-based attacks, for instance — and “Hunter Arts” allow you to unleash especially powerful attacks at your prey.
And did we mention that you can play as a cat? You can totally play as a cat, with special gear and quest lines only available to the four-legged, furry creatures in “Prowler” mode. Should you own the “New 3DS” with a built-in C-stick and extra shoulder buttons, you’ll be able to control the action even more easily, and the 3DS’ touch screen can be used to quickly lock onto new enemies.
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