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Here’s our favorite games on Nintendo’s eighth-generation handheld.
As Nintendo moves in the direction of combining handheld and console gaming with its hybrid Nintendo Switch, fans can still find plenty to love about the Nintendo 3DS. The eighth-generation handheld has become a staple of gamers on the go since it was released in 2011, amassing an impressive library of titles.
While there are many ports of beloved games like Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Xenoblade Chronicles available on the system, our guide to the best games on 3DS (listed below in no particular order) include original titles that were released specifically for the system. The same goes for games like Super Smash Bros and Super Mario Maker, which we already named among the best games available on the Wii U.
The best 3DS games
1) Super Mario 3D Land
Super Mario handheld games seemed to be relegated to iterations of the New Super Mario Bros. franchise since the Nintendo DS days, while expansive adventures like Super Mario Galaxy made their way to Nintendo Wii. Multiple twists on the classic Mario formula hit in rapid succession, offering very few compelling reasons for fans to double dip and pick up the next installment if they had played the previous release. However, Super Mario 3D Land hit early in the 3DS’ life, offering a fully realized experience that players could take on the go.
Making use of the system’s 3D capabilities, 3D Land introduced new platforming puzzles and directional challenges that made even the most adept Mario player think critically. Challenging bonus worlds and time trials gave the game long-lasting replay appeal, all the while introducing new power-ups and moves to play with. All in all, Super Mario 3D Land was a surprisingly deep game that struck early in the system’s life and showed of its potential in full.
2) Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
Fans of Mario’s awkward brother enjoyed his starring role in the GameCube classic Luigi’s Mansion and were pleasantly surprised to see his return to ghost busting in this portable sequel. Luigi teamed up with Professor E. Gadd once again to investigate paranormal activity in a variety of haunted environments. Dark Moon took on a more traditional world-hopping adventure in the vein of classic Mario titles.
This sequel introduced a bevy of new ghost characters, as well as hidden gems and Boos to discover in each map. Using the touch screen and stereoscopic 3D to enhance puzzles and boss fights, this was a title that benefited from the various capabilities of the 3DS’s hardware. With a whimsical soundtrack and clever references to classic horror movies, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon tells an original, charming story.
3) Bravely Default
As Final Fantasy gradually moved away from its sprite art style and turn-based combat, fans begged for a return to the roots of the classic role-playing series. Square Enix listened to these requests and delivered Bravely Default, a throwback to the bygone JRPG era of old. Featuring a complex jobs system, branching storylines and a fantastical plot, Bravely Default spoke to an older audience while still introducing new mechanics.
The game originally started out as an official Final Fantasy spin-off, but spun out into an original story in a brand new world conceived by many of the series’ creative veterans. Battles were a particularly fresh system introduced, offering players the option to take multiple actions with each of their characters per turn. Experience and special moves are tied to side quests, encouraging players to sink dozens of hours into the mobile RPG to level up each of their party members.
4) Kid Icarus: Uprising
The Kid Icarus series was dormant for years, but it got a boost in attention thanks to star character Pit’s presence in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Without an official entry in the series for over 20 years, Kid Icarus: Uprising arrived in 2012 as many players’ first introduction to the world of Greek mythology and cartoony characters. Designed by Kirby and Smash Bros creator Masahiro Sakurai, Uprising represented a modern reinvention of the classic Kid Icarus game for Nintendo Entertainment System.
Where Uprising excelled was the distinct styles of play offered in each mission. Thanks to the goddess Paluetena’s gift of flight, each mission starts with an on-rail shooting spree of enemies for Pit to take on. From there, the perspective shifts to a more traditional third-person action game, where Pit engages enemies on the ground. Thanks to stellar voice acting and a wonderful sense of scale in boss battles and clashing giant armies, Kid Icarus: Uprising offers an unrivaled cinematic experience on the 3DS.
5) Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
Monster Hunter has become a global phenomenon over the past few years, and there has never been a more thorough and engaging display of what makes the series so special than this 3DS installment. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate serves as a great starting off point for newcomers, while the later 3DS release, Generations, played to fans who were already familiar with the game’s many intimidating systems.
Featuring gargantuan enemies and tons of weapon sets to collect, Monster Hunter works well on the go. Tackling quick missions with friends and collecting upgrades in the main town added social aspects that made the game feel like an MMORPG you could fit in your pocket. The series has always offered diverse options for the tough jobs you’ll take on as a professional slayer.
6) Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Even though the series made its debut on home consoles, the definitive Animal Crossing experience belongs to the iterations available on Nintendo’s handheld systems. While not the most exciting or engaging gameplay, the series is famous for the customizable towns and complex resources players can gather over time. Coupled with a cast of cute and cuddly critters to get to know, Animal Crossing: New Leaf will have you opening your 3DS every day to check your progress.
As the new mayor of a quaint town of talking animals, the player needs to balance the needs of the town with their own personal wealth. Potential developments include new residents, museums, and even separate islands to explore. The expression of creative freedom in New Leaf is a great way to relax, and compelling system of rewards to unlock keeps you engaged. Even if you play for just one hour, you’re likely to fall into the cycle of catching bugs and fish and harvesting fruit to reap the benefits.
The most recent installment in the Pokémon franchise celebrated the series’ 20th anniversary by introducing some of the boldest diversions in its traditional formula yet. Gym battles are replaced by surprising puzzles and challenges, featuring wild battles against stronger individual Pokémon. The tropical Alola region serves as a great backdrop to the fun story featuring some of the series’ most memorable characters to date. Figuring out the mysteries of the Alolan islands is a great driving cause behind the trainer’s quest to catch ‘em all.
With the addition of brand new monsters to collect and new takes on old friends, Sun and Moon present many reasons to explore hidden areas and find as many new species as possible. Coupled with compelling multiplayer missions and minigames, Sun and Moon amount to a grand adventure that celebrates one of gaming’s most beloved series and pushes it forward.
8) Fire Emblem Awakening
Fire Emblem was never the most popular Nintendo property outside of Japan, but that all changed with this 3DS installment. Awakening’s sprawling plot, memorable characters, and rewarding gameplay served as many Nintendo fans’ first introduction to the strategy-focused RPG leanings of the Fire Emblem franchise.
The hardcore elements at work in this entry could provide hundreds of hours sunk into one save file, with the promise of better gear, stronger heroes, and epic loot right around each corner. Battles gradually increased in scale over the lengthy story mode, easing players into a difficult learning curve. If you’ve never experienced Fire Emblem, this is the place to start, but be warned, plenty of frustration will follow.
9) The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Often considered one of the best games of all time, A Link To The Past carved out a section of the Zelda world that remained untouched since the SNES era. A Link Between Worlds emerged as the direct successor to this classic title, expanding on what made it so great with brand new mechanics on the 3DS. Link can travel between worlds yet again, and merge with worlds to access hidden areas and items.
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A Link Between Worldsbroke the conventions of modern Zelda games, allowing players to tackle dungeons and bosses in whatever order they choose. Players could construct their own inventories and head out to discover secrets with an unparalleled sense of freedom. Before Breath of the Wild brings the series back to its adventuring roots, revisit this handheld title to experience the best the 3DS can offer.
AJ Moser is a Brooklyn-based reporter who focuses on video games, movies, and internet culture. His work has appeared in Paste Magazine, Game Informer, and Big Spaceship.