After a shaky launch in 2011, the Nintendo 3DS has built an impressive collection of games over the last half-decade. Nintendo couldn’t capture the same audience as the DS, but this little portable still has its share of amazing experiences. Whether you’re late to the 3DS party, or just wondering if you missed anything good, we’re here to help. Below you’ll find our list of the 10 best 3DS games out there.
And if it looks like we missed anything, don’t worry. We’ll be putting together a list of the best digital-only releases for the 3DS very soon. The feature in front of you draws exclusively from the 3DS’ collection of boxed retail versions.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
While the creation of a console Zelda stands is a world-changing event, the portable installments don’t get as much fanfare. Since 1993’s Link’s Awakening, these games have succeeded in transferring the essential experience to a much smaller screen. On the surface, A Link Between Worlds looks like a reimagining of A Link to the Past, but Nintendo went for a much more subversive approach. In short, this revolutionary game rewrites the Zelda formula while leaving intact what makes the series so great.
Although previous Zelda games push you through a prescribed series of dungeons, A Link Between Worlds lets you carve your own path. From the beginning, it gives you an incredible amount of freedom to approach objectives however you want. This time around, you rent or buy those essential items instead of finding them deep in the heart of dungeons. Despite this massive upheaval, A Link Between Worlds feels right and offers a healthy collection of dungeons to test your skills. If you’ve grown bored of Link’s adventures in recent years, this one will pull you right back into the fold.
Fire Emblem Awakening
To be fair, the recent Fire Emblem Fates definitely deserves a spot on this list. But its slightly complicated release structure -- amounting to three different releases -- makes Awakening a better choice. If you're new to Fire Emblem, this long-running Nintendo RPG series takes the form of a turn-based strategy. Though this type of experience may intimidate newcomers, Fire Emblem's paper-scissors-rock system makes things easy to digest. Essentially, the game contains three basic unit types, and each of these can overpower one unit type, and succumb to the other. Like all great strategy games, Fire Emblem is easy to learn but tough to master.
Of course, it helps that Fire Emblem Awakening shines with plenty of personality. One of its more appealing features comes in the form of a dating sim of sorts. Sticking characters alongside each other in battle gradually builds their relationship over the course of the game. This has benefits in battle, but characters can even marry and have children, which you can later recruit. All in all, this addition allows the Fire Emblem experience to be much more than moving tiny units around on a map. (Though that's pretty fun, too.)
Super Mario 3D Land
After years of iterating on the New Super Mario Bros. series, Nintendo decided to take things in a different direction with this release. Instead of drawing back to Mario's side-scrolling roots, 3D Land pulls the perspective back to a more isometric angle. This may sound slightly awkward, but the system's 3D feature helps you keep track of the action. And, unlike most 3DS games, you'll need to turn 3D on to work your way through 3D Land's devious optical illusions.
As far as Mario games go, 3D Land has plenty of levels to spare. Once you make it to the end, you can essential play through a harder, remixed version of the game to get the true ending. True, 3D Land may not change things up as much as the great Super Mario Galaxy, but it's still a solid little platformer. Any true Mario fan out there should consider this a must-play.
Monster Hunter Generations
Monster Hunter has been a huge success for Capcom in Japan, and now it seems to finally be catching on in America. And while this series may call itself an RPG, it takes a huge diversion from the typical RPG version. Instead of leveling up a character, the game entails a hunt for loot to build bigger and better weapons and armor. To get your hands on said loot, you'll need to take down Monster Hunter's collection of giant, fearsome beasts. Since some of them can take nearly an hour to fell, that's easier said than done.
Ultimately, Monster Hunter Generations amounts to a collection of extended boss fights. It drops you off into a segmented area, then asks you to find, track, and kill (or trap) the monster in question. That may sound simple, but Monster Hunter offers an almost overwhelming amount of customization options. Monster Hunter carries a pretty steep learning curve, but once you get beyond that, you'll walk away a true believer.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Since its American debut in 2002, console gamers have made Animal Crossing their life sim of choice. And really, a portable version of the experience fits in with Animal Crossing's relaxing atmosphere. Instead of plunking yourself down in front of your TV, you only need to crack open your 3DS to visit the tiny town inside. If you're one of the Animal Crossing faithful, New Leaf doesn't shake things up too much. Like its predecessors, New Leaf features the same mix of collecting and making social calls to a colorful cast of cartoon animals.
Nintendo didn't just drop an existing Animal Crossing onto the 3DS, though. One of the newest (and optional) additions allows you to become mayor, instead of just a wage slave to Tom Nook. And the 3DS' online capabilities give New Leaf plenty of new functionality, including the ability to share your town. Even if you burned yourself out on the series in the past, this 3DS version stands as a great place to jump back in.
Rhythm Heaven Megamix
Here's the elevator pitch: If you loved the WarioWare series, Rhythm Heaven Megamix should be up your alley. In terms of mechanics, it features the same focus on pure minimalism. With most of its mini-games, you'll only be pressing a single button. Each mini-game in Megamix starts off by training you to follow a certain beat. Once you pass this tutorial, you're then tasked with replicating that same beat within the context of a full song.
It definitely helps that these songs amount to the catchiest earworms you've ever heard in a video game. But the cute, cartoony scenarios that communicate the various tunes make Rhythm Heaven truly special. You'll pluck wayward beard hairs from a sentient onion head, swim with germs through a petri dish, and bounce a bunny across turtle shells and whale snouts. This lovable sense of pervasive weirdness gives Megamix a sense of charm that's absolutely irresistible.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice
Phoenix Wright's been around for 15 years and really hasn't changed all that much. His games still amount to part adventure game, and part anime courtroom melodrama. That's perfectly fine, though, since this particular formula works well for the series. And thankfully, Spirit of Justice represents a real return to form for Ace Attorney. After the original trilogy, Capcom had their share of problems figuring out where the series should head next. We had to sit through a few somewhat lackluster productions, but this latest 3DS entry finally restores Ace Attorney's lost confidence.
The new twist this time around comes as an essential part of Spirit of Justice's setting: The fictional kingdom of Khura'in. There, lawyers are hated, and the legal system decides court cases using the victim's final visions as evidence. As with past games, Phoenix finds himself tasked with pointing out inconsistencies. But this time around, you'll also be looking at this spiritual surveillance footage. In the end, it stands as a clever little addition that feels right at home in this incredibly charming series.
Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past
If this game seems familiar, you might have played it 15 years ago under the name of Dragon Warrior VII. Unfortunately, the original PlayStation version didn't exactly do the premise justice. Thankfully, the Dragon Quest team has a chance to right their previous wrong with this 2013 remake. And, after years of hand-wringing, Nintendo finally saw fit to give it to us nearly four years later. In terms of video game localizations, it kinda felt like a miracle.
Dragon Quest VII opens on the sole island in the middle of a vast, empty planet. As the story progresses, you soon find out the planet once had much more life and soon set out to restore the world, piece by piece. VII provides reliable RPG action, broken up into digestible events where you return to the past to reshape the present. And if you like big games, Dragon Quest VII adds up to an 80-hour experience. That may sound intimidating, but if you're an RPG fan, Dragon Quest VII will keep you busy for a long time.
Pokemon X and Y
It took long enough, but Pokemon finally entered the third dimension with 2013's X and Y. And, by all accounts, this new form of Pokemon was worth the wait. Simply put, Nintendo's marketable creations have never looked better. Presentation has never been Pokemon's main appeal, but developer Game Freak took advantage of 3DS' capabilities. They didn't ignore their series' core mechanics, though. If you played a Pokemon game before, everything in X and Y should feel just right.
Every Pokemon entry brings new features, and Pokemon X and Y doesn't diverge from this path. This time around, you can interact with your Pokemon on a closer level with the Pokemon-Amie system. Think of it like a virtual pet, but without the unfortunate need to clean up your monster's leavings. And horde encounters allow you to battle several Pokemon at once, instead of just one at a time. You may want to bide your time until Sun and Moon, but, until then, X and Y exist as excellent options.
Mario Kart 7
It's Mario Kart! On your 3DS! Do you need more explanation than that? Mario Kart 7 might not be as exciting as 8, but if you don't own a Wii U, it remains an excellent choice. Dropping the gimmickry of the previous Wii entry, 7 feels like a return to Mario Kart's roots. In a nutshell, Mario Kart 7 amounts to reliable racing, with some nice new features added to sweeten the deal.
After going MIA for almost two decades, coins finally make a return in Mario Kart 7. These collectibles increase your maximum speed, and also give you something to do outside of winning. And this time around, you build your kart from three distinct parts, instead of using prescribed vehicles. If the fantastic Mario Kart 8 brought you back to the series, jumping back to 7 won't feel like a downgrade. After all, it's where a lot of 8's best ideas come from.