Celebrating Nintendo 3DS: our favorite memories of Nintendo's 3D handheld

Nintendo 3DS
(Image credit: Shutterstock/JFunk/Future)

The Nintendo 3DS turns 10 on March 27 (in the US anyway) so what better time to reminisce about the House of Mario’s innovative handheld. 

A successor to the Nintendo 2DS, the 3DS brought 3D gaming to the homes of millions – without the use of 3D glasses. Nintendo’s 3D handheld had various iterations following its western release in 2011, which came in the form of the upgraded New Nintendo 3DS and the New Nintendo 3DS XL. To date, the 3DS family of consoles has sold over 75 million units globally. 

To celebrate the 3DS turning a decade old, the TechRadar team decided to pull together some of their favorite memories of Nintendo 3DS.

Nintendo 3DS

(Image credit: Tinxi/Shutterstock)

A reliable friend
Vic Hood, Gaming Editor
When I first moved to London from Northern Ireland as a student, I took about five boxes with me that contained my most treasured possessions: clothes, plushies, my laptop and a range of practical items I would need to see me through the next (what I thought would be) three years. Nestled among these treasures was my dusty old Nintendo 3DS, which I had barely touched in years – instead opting to play my PS4 instead. 

But the Nintendo 3DS really came into its own in that time. Far from home, at a time before the Switch had released, I found myself returning to my 3DS to play Pokémon Black and Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. The Pokémon series, in particular, provided a feeling of familiarity and the fact I could simply tuck my small, reliable friend in my pocket on hectic tube rides and while waiting between lectures gave me some sense of grounding. The 3DS made me feel at home, even when I wasn’t. 

A lean but strong library of games
Samuel Roberts, Senior Entertainment Editor
Unlike the Nintendo DS, which launched before mobile gaming exploded with the proliferation of smartphones, the 3DS lacked a gigantic library – indeed, the sort of casual games the 3DS became known for weren't really a fixture on this handheld. Still, the Nintendo 3DS has at least 10 games that are absolutely essential, from Kid Icarus: Uprising to Animal Crossing: New Leaf (which you can skip if you've got New Horizons on Switch). 

My best memory of the 3DS is going on holiday to Rome in 2017, and almost ruining it for my partner by delaying our plans for each day by conquering the secret levels in Super Mario 3D Land, a phenomenal platformer that suited the handheld perfectly. While the 3D functionality for 3DS never did much for me, the handheld was a lovely bit of Nintendo kit – especially the New Nintendo 2DS I currently enjoy. 

Nintendo 3DS

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Two 3DS game reviews that really changed me
Nick Pino, Senior Editor, Home Entertainment
Before I joined the ranks of TechRadar in 2014, I spent the first few years of my career working elsewhere in the games industry – first at Official Xbox Magazine, then at Best Buy’s video game magazine, @GAMER. While my memory of the time before TechRadar has begun to fade (the brain can only hold so many years’ worth of editorial memories), I’ll always remember the reviews I wrote for Animal Crossing: New Leaf and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, my two favorite games on the 3DS. 

There was something surreal about sitting in an office, lost in the world of Animal Crossing: New Leaf for a week. While others around me were poring over broadsheets and layout pages, I was seated in the mayor’s chair, moulding my town into something beautiful. After seven days with it, I felt like I was ready to sit down to write the review, but was torn about how thin content was becoming after the first few days. For that reason, I remember how unsure I was about the score I wanted to give it: Should I give it an 8 because, while fun, it didn’t really have the staying power to provide gamers a good value for their money? Or should I give it a 9 because I really enjoyed the 40 hours I put into it? Ultimately I went for a 9 out of 10, and hindsight has shown me I was right on the money. The lesson there? Always go with your gut.

I also struggled with the score for Zelda, but for a different reason. That franchise already had so many great games in it, and while A Link Between Worlds really captured some of that charm of A Link to the Past, it also felt so different. The more I played A Link Between Worlds, though, the more it grew on me. Soon, I felt its break with tradition was actually a strength and the new mechanics, while jarring at first, allowed A Link Between Worlds to expand the breadth of its puzzles, making them more challenging. I had to acknowledge where the franchise had come from, sure, but I also had to appreciate where A Link Between Worlds took it, too. A half-decade later, I can look back fondly at these games and appreciate them for what they were: absolute masterpieces for Nintendo’s handheld system.

Technology ahead of its time
Adam Vjestica, Senior Gaming Writer
Nintendo tends to be behind the curve when it comes to implementing cutting-edge technology, but having a device that offered convincing glasses-free 3D back in 2011 is still quite the feat – even to this day. Even though it had its fair share of detractors, I always played Nintendo 3DS games with the 3D slider cranked all the way up, as it really helped add *ahem* more depth to certain titles.

Games such as Super Mario 3D Land were shining examples of how awesome the stereoscopic 3D effect could be, and I can still remember grinning in awe when I played Super Street Fighter IV 3D for the first time, even if it left me feeling a little queasy afterward. Seeing the cast of Street Fighter characters battling it out in what felt like a little portable diorama was seriously impressive. 

The Nintendo 3DS might have felt like an iterative upgrade over the Nintendo DS to some, but there’s no denying that its glasses-free 3D was, and still is, kind of magical. 

Nintendo 3DS

(Image credit: Nintendo)

 My Switch alternative
Matt Hanson, Senior Computing Editor
I excitedly bought my 3DS XL around the time it launched in 2013, and after playing a few games I placed it in a drawer and forgot about it... for about seven years. However, when the Nintendo Switch launched, I started considering buying the new console, mainly to play in handheld mode. I was commuting to work by bus since moving out of the city, and with the birth of my daughter, I found playing traditional games consoles (or using my gaming PC) was increasingly difficult, so a handheld console made a lot of sense. The only problem was that 1) the Switch was impossible to buy thanks to high demand, and 2) I was broke (due to the aforementioned baby and commute). It was then that I remembered my 3DS. Why not dust it down and use that instead?

So, I did, and I’m so glad I did. First, it let me revisit those brilliant early 3DS games. Also, during that time, the 3DS had amassed an excellent catalog of games, and many of them could now be bought second hand for cheap. I was able to catch up on some excellent 3DS games I’d missed out on without spending a fortune. I picked up Pokemon X and Pokemon Alpha Sapphire as well, reigniting my love of Pokemon games for the first time since playing Diamond on the DS. I also loaded the 3DS with some classic games from the Virtual Console online store – including Pokemon Yellow, the first Pokemon game I played. Suddenly, I had an incredible handheld packed with some amazing games that I’d never played. I still play it to this day, as I’ve yet to get around to getting a Switch. It’s been a fantastic alternative, and when I finally get a Switch, it’ll have a lot to live up to.

Streetpass was a superb social experiment
Rhys Wood, Surge Writer
Nintendo has always toyed with casual features to broaden its scope beyond just the games it creates, but arguably none were as productive as the Nintendo 3DS’s Streetpass functionality.

Streetpass did what it said on the tin. While you were out and about with your 3DS in tow, the handheld would log other 3DS holders that happened to be in the area. These users’ Mii avatars would then show up as visitors in your Mii Plaza, and when you went to check on them later, these Miis would say hi to yours, passing on gifts like collectible puzzle pieces that filled out a swathe of gorgeous renders from 3DS titles.

Streetpass was a fantastic icebreaker for meeting new people – a common sight at conventions would be gatherings of people sharing their Miis to collect new puzzle pieces, but more crucially, strike up conversations and get to know each other. 

Streetpass encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone, meet new people and forge lasting friendships. It’s a feature that I sincerely wish would make a return on the similarly portable Nintendo Switch, giving owners extra incentive to make use of its handheld capabilities.

The TechRadar hive mind. The Megazord. The Voltron. When our powers combine, we become 'TECHRADAR TEAM'. You'll usually see this author name when the entire team has collaborated on a project or an article, whether that's a run-down ranking of our favorite Marvel films, or a round-up of all the coolest things we've collectively seen at annual tech shows like CES and MWC. We are one.