By Emma Boyle
Though Nintendo hasn’t always performed strongly when it comes to home consoles (rest in peace Wii U), when it comes to handheld gaming experience it’s been the company to beat.
Nintendo is able to boast some of the highest handheld console sales in history and the company’s willingness to push boundaries with its hardware designs has undoubtedly played a big part in securing this legacy.
With its most recent handheld console, the 2DS XL we feel Nintendo has only strengthened that legacy.
With the 2DS XL, Nintendo has reaffirmed its commitment to continue to support the DS platform despite the release of the Nintendo Switch.
Considering the Nintendo 3DS has sold more than 62 million units since it launched six years ago and therefore has an extremely large and active install base, it’s not surprising that Nintendo is willing to continue to support its games and arguably draw more attention to them with a new model.
The Nintendo 3DS and the new 2DS XL are surprisingly powerful handheld consoles despite their small size.
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 or 2DS XL, 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
So read on for the 20 best 3DS games, or if you’re looking to dip your toe into the more retro DS library, then check out our list of the best Nintendo DS games.
- What’s Nintendo’s newest handheld like? We review the New Nintendo 3DS!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yoshi’s Woolly World is one of our recommended titles on Wii U, but if you can’t get your hands on the console version we absolutely recommend you don’t miss out on this handheld port.
Poochy and Yoshi’s Woolly World contains all of the levels of the Wii U title, with a couple of extra stages tarring Poochy, which is perhaps a way to make up for the fact that the co-op mode of the console version is now gone.
The game is a standard 2D platformer but it has interestingly designed levels as well as lovely knitted graphics that help it stand apart from the rest of the games you can pick up in the genre.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
- The best New 3DS and New 3DS XL deals
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?
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.