Best Nintendo 3DS games
Update: We've added Super Mario Maker 3DS to our list of must-own titles.
Ever since it launched the wildly successful Game Boy, Nintendo has been the company to beat in the handheld gaming market.
Able to boast some of the most successful handheld console sales in history as well as some of the most groundbreaking designs, the company has an impressive legacy. It's a legacy that the company's most recent handheld, the 3DS, only seems to have strengthened.
Though it didn't get off to the most ideal start – largely due to its comparatively high launch price – the 3DS has now been on the market for almost six years and in that time it's sold more than 62 million units. In light of that we think it's safe to say it's become a success.
Six years is a long time for any technology to be on the market, never mind a console. Despite that, we're not ready to move on from the 3DS and neither, it seems, is Nintendo.
Despite the upcoming launch of the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo's president has vowed that the company will continue to create games for the 3DS because it has such a large install base that only seems to be growing.
Despite its small size and age, the 3DS has a good amount of power behind it and an excellent and diverse library of games that's growing all the time.
Mobile gaming is increasingly popular and though Nintendo is entering into this market itself, there's still a large proportion of gamers who are looking for portable games with more depth than you can currently find in the app store.
Sure, you can now get Mario on your mobile but if you'd rather have the full Super Mario experience you're still going to have to turn to the 3DS. And as much as we love Pokemon Go, we don't want to miss the full experience of Pokémon Sun and Moon.
No matter what kind of game you like to play, you'll find something to suit your tastes on the 3DS, and you won't be able to find many of the titles anywhere else. From slow and easygoing life simulators like Animal Crossing, to fast-paced platformers like Super Mario 3D land you're not short of options.
- No 3DS? Check out our guide to the best New 3DS and New 3DS XL deals
- What's Nintendo's newest handheld like? We review the New Nintendo 3DS!
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
While Mario has always been bold and brave, his brother Luigi is ... well, not. Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon follows the less adventurous of the two Mario Bros. as he wanders through mansions with a tepid nervousness that's just as likely to make you laugh as it is to sympathize with the game's green-hatted hero.
Dark Moon, the sequel to the original Luigi's Mansion on the Nintendo GameCube, is an adventure game through and through. You'll solve puzzles, collect coins and generally revel in the game's spooky – but never overwhelmingly frightening – abodes. If you're looking for smart, funny platforming, Dark Moon is the bite-size adventure you've been yearning for.
Mario Golf: World Tour
Mario sports games have always been a contentious affair. Whether you remember slamming home goals in Super Mario Strikers, smashing an ace in Super Mario Tennis or shooting an eagle in the original Mario Golf title, most of the Nintendo sports titles starring the mustachioed mascot have been memorable, enjoyable – and yes, even competitive – affairs.
Mario Golf: World Tour does nothing to break that trend. Simple tutorials ease you into the world of Lukitos and Chain Chomp-equipped lawns, while local and online multiplayer compel you to take your game to the next level.
Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire
You might've billed Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire as cash-in remakes of two somewhat middling entries in the monster catching franchise. There's no shame in it. That's what we thought, too. But actually sitting down with Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire is like seeing a friend after a decade apart: you're both different people than you were 10 years ago, but just as fond of one another now as you were then.
The 3DS versions of Ruby and Sapphire add a number of interesting – even ground-breaking – new features like Mega Evolutions from X and Y, and Pokémon Box that allows you to send monsters to yourself from one game in the franchise to the next.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you find yourself thrust into the role of a village's new mayor, which means it's up to you to help make the rules and aid in the burg's development. Don't fret, though: it's a pretty chill gig. You'll still have time to go fishing, catch bugs, design clothes, dig up fossils, decorate and expand your home, and hang out with friends doing lots of relaxing stuff. The 3DS's online and StreetPass functionality are put to great use here, allowing you to visit friends' towns see how other players' homes are decorated.
Japanese role-playing games aren't as ubiquitous as they once were, but they haven't gone away - they've simply found new homes on systems like the 3DS. Furthermore, Bravely Default is one of the best examples of the genre in recent years, combining modern technology and excellent storytelling with genre staples like random enemy encounters, turn-based battles, and a job system that lets you choose your characters' abilities. Sure, the game's title sounds weird, but it's actually tied to its deeply strategic battle system, in which you "default" by skipping your turn in battle, then use "brave" attacks that allow you to unleash multiple strikes in one go.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
After being out of action for many years, Donkey Kong finally made his platforming comeback with Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii, and this 3D version could be even better than the original. It contains everything that fans loved about the classic DKC titles: enemies to jump on, bananas to collect, mine carts to ride, secrets to uncover, and wacky bosses to overcome. It may look like a bunch of monkey business, but don't be fooled - the game can be extremely challenging.
Fire Emblem Awakening
The strategy-RPG series Fire Emblem has been around for quite some time, but the 3DS entry is arguably the best yet. With a variety of unique heroes at your disposal, you'll engage in turn-driven, grid-based combat to bring peace to the land of Ylisse. When you're not fighting enemies, you'll work to build up relationships between characters, which allows them to not only cooperate better in battle, but to get married and have children, who also become playable characters. Lots of downloadable extra missions add to the depth and longevity of this game.
Kid Icarus: Uprising
Combining on-rails aerial shooting with ground-based combat, Kid Icarus: Uprising provides a modern take on the long-dormant Kid Icarus franchise that got its start on the NES. Just like in the original, Pit the angel must defend the realm from Medusa's forces of darkness, but Uprising takes things much further with a huge arsenal of weapons, a twist-filled story, and online multiplayer. The controls may take some getting used to, but stick with it – the awesome action and surprisingly entertaining sense of humor make it worth the effort. What else would you expect from a game designed by the creator of Super Smash Bros.?
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Whether you're new to the Legend of Zelda series or a seasoned vet, A Link Between Worlds offers fantasy adventuring at its finest. Though the overhead presentation and narrative connection to 1992's A Link to the Past make this entry something of a throwback, new elements such as the ability to rent items and tackle dungeons in nearly any order - as well as Link's newfound power to merge with walls by becoming a 2D painting - breathe fresh new life into the Zelda franchise. Traveling between Hyrule and its alternate-reality counterpart, Lorule, you'll overcome brilliantly designed dungeons and engage in numerous side quests.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
The original Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64 is one of the most acclaimed games ever made, and this enhanced version is even better. Not only does it feature the same epic, time-traveling tale, packed with puzzles, peril, and sword-swinging action, but it boasts vastly enhanced graphics and more user-friendly gameplay, such as gyroscopic targeting and optional extra hints. If you're up for the challenge, you can tackle Master Quest mode, which features greater difficulty and a mirrored world map.
Mario Kart 7
Like the other games in the series that have come before it, Mario Kart 7 is nothing short of pure, adrenaline-filled, racing excitement. Choose from one of 16 popular Mario characters (or a Mii), pick your kart, your tires, and your glider, then use all your skills (and any items you can snag) to outrace and outwit your competitors in crazily designed courses like Mario Circuit and Neo Bowser City. Underwater and aerial segments introduced in this installment make this one of the most varied Kart games yet, and classic courses from past entries add to the fun. A robust online community ensures you'll never lack competition, too.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D
Majora's Mask in 3D might be the third Legend of Zelda game on this list, but we wouldn't dream of not including this excellent remake of the Nintendo 64 classic. When compared to the blockbusters that make up the rest of the Zelda series, Majora's Mask often seems to not quite hold up in comparison, but it's by no means a bad game. On the contrary, it's time specific quests and puzzles are a quite unique addition to the Zelda formula, and continue to work excellently in this handheld format.
Monster Hunter Generations
Being 12 years old, it can be hard for newcomers to break into the action-RPG Monster Hunter franchise, but Generations is by far the most accessible title in recent history.
The mechanics are still complex and the learning curve is steep, but Generations overhauls combat enough that players can take new approaches on the battlefield. These changes level the playing field for complete beginners but don't grate on old fans as it's a change which also benefits them.
In Monster Hunter Generations, players once more take up the role of a hunter who is on a quest to take on dangerous monsters in an ancient world, moving between offline and online quests to progress.
As ever, don't expect much of a story to pull you through the game, instead the incentive to progress in Monster Hunter comes from securing better and more powerful equipment that allows you to unlock the next tier of quests.
Pokémon Sun and Moon
Pokémon Sun and Moon mark the start of the seventh generation of the Pokémon series, which only seems to be going from strength to strength, despite being 20 years old.
Taking place in a new Hawaii-inspired region called Alola, Sun and Moon introduce all new creatures to catch, characters to meet, and locations to explore.
Though the familiar core mechanics are still there, Sun and Moon make a lot of interesting changes to a franchise that isn't known for doing so. By scrapping gyms for island trials, introducing an entirely new battle mode, and greatly improving visuals Sun and Moon make for a refreshing update. Never before has a Pokémon game had quite so much character.
Although the Sun and Moon versions of the game are mostly the same, each version features exclusive Pokémon, so you'll have to trade with other players (online or offline) if you want to catch 'em all.
Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy
Level 5's Professor Layton games consistently offer some of the best puzzle solving gameplay on the Nintendo 3DS so it's really something to say that Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is possibly the best of the bunch. It might be the sixth in the series but fortunately you don't have to have played any of the previous titles to understand the story.
This game's beautiful animation, genuinely challenging puzzles, and engaging, not to mention long, story make it a title you absolutely don't want to miss.
Not only that, it's great value for money; even after you complete the main story the game has 365 additional puzzles for you to unlock and solve.
Originally a download-only game that was funded through Kickstarter, Shovel Knight has bucked trends and exceeded expectations by reappearing as a packaged release. And with good reason: it's really, really fun. Despite the retro visuals, this action-platformer is just as good as anything else released today, and it's bursting with clever techniques, useful power-ups, interesting level design, awesome 3D effects, and a keen sense of humor. Where else are you going to find a shovel-wielding knight battling flying roto-rats? There's even a Shovel Knight amiibo toy and additional content coming in the form of free DLC!
Super Mario 3D Land
It's hard to go wrong with Mario, and Super Mario 3D Land is quite possibly the plumber's best handheld outing ever. Featuring the same kind of block-bashing, enemy-stomping, pipe-entering fun that made Mario a household name, this game ups the ante with wonderfully creative level design and whimsical power-ups like a boomerang suit and the Tanooki outfit from Super Mario Bros. 3. The game makes great use of the system's stereoscopic 3D capabilities, and there are surprises hidden around every turn, including a ton of challenging bonus levels that don't become available until after you've beaten the main game.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS
If you want frantic action and an endless supply of Nintendo fan service, look no further than Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. Gaming's biggest characters are here (along with a few of the more obscure) - Mario, Sonic, Link, Mega Man, Samus Aran, Little Mac, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Pikachu, and dozens of others - all duking it out in stages based on hit Nintendo properties. If you've played any previous game in this series, you know the drill: whittle down your opponents with standard attacks and special moves, then send 'em flying off the stage! Naturally, you can play the game solo, or you can fight in matches with up to four players either locally or online.
Bravely Second: End Layer
If you're a fan of RPGs, the 3DS is a great choice of console and Bravely Second: End Layer is one of the best games in the genre.
From Square Enix, it's the sequel to the highly praised JRPG Bravely Default. Bravely Second is a continuation of the story in the original game, two and a half years later, bringing in new worlds to explore and new enemies to defeat in the same turn-based combat system.
If you enjoyed Bravely Default, it's absolutely worth playing Bravely Second as it brings most of what made that game great back to the table. In some ways it's so similar it could be considered a fault, but if it's not broke, why fix it?
Super Mario Maker
Feel like you've played every Super Mario level there is to play? Well, it's time to start playing your own.
Super Mario Maker is also available on Wii U and this version is just as intuitive and easy to use as that one but it has the added benefit of being able to play it on the go.
For a 3DS port this is an incredibly feature rich game that has a lot to offer players willing to push their creativity. Though it can't hold quite as many items as the Wii U version as a result of system limitations it's still got over 60 interesting tools to choose from for building.
There are some online level sharing limitations that prove frustrating and disappointing but as far as level creating games go, this is a solid one and well worth picking up if you can't get to the Wii U version.