Nintendo’s DS successor was designed to build on the positives of their first dual-screen handheld while introducing a couple of new features. The 3DS competed primarily with Sony’s PS Vita and was a success purely based on sales (both hardware and software). It also boasted quite the lifespan, going for nearly 10 years (was finally discontinued in 2020).
What made 3DS so popular? It’s one of the chunkier handhelds which makes you wonder how people were comfortable carrying a 3DS in their pocket. The 3DS also lags behind the Vita in terms of media playback and has a slower processor.
The battery life wasn’t mind-blowing either, at just 3.5 to 6.5hrs depending on which game you played. But none of this stuff matters when you have some of the best 1st party games in the entire industry, exclusive to your console. With titles such as Zelda, Mario, Metroid, etc., Nintendo could’ve made this handheld another 100g heavier and people would still line up in droves to buy it.
Thankfully, the 3DS is backward compatible with all DS games, and its battery lasts a lot longer while playing these older titles. Today, I shall take a look at the 35 best Nintendo 3DS games of all time that you must play. So without further ado, let’s get started.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
Possibly the best game you can get on the Nintendo 3DS, and quite innovative for its time. Ocarina of Time 3D is a remake of the 1998 game, Ocarina of Time- which was originally released on the Nintendo 64. The updated version comes with stereoscopic 3D support and allows players to manage their inventory with the touchscreen.
A new Boss Challenge mode was also added, which allows you to fight every boss in the game. You can do it in chronological order, or pick one at a time. Master Quest dungeons have also been tweaked, and a mirrored overworld has been implemented.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
A Link Between Worlds is a spiritual successor to the NES Zelda game- A Link to the Past (released in 1991). In Japan, this game was released as “The Legend of Zelda: Triforce of the Gods 2”. Makes sense, when you consider that A Link to the Past was released as Triforce of the Gods in Japan.
Yuga, the evil sorcerer, has captured princess Zelda. Using a dimensional rift, he has escaped into the parallel world of Lorule. Yuga’s ultimate goal is to resurrect Ganon, the demon king, by capturing the Seven Sages.
While the story is set several years after A Link to the Past, mechanics often overlap between the two games. The game gives some new powers to Link, like the ability to merge with walls by using a magic bracelet. Dungeons can be cleared more asymmetrically, and certain items can be rented.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
A tactical RPG with a grid-based battle system, Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of the in its series. Not only does the game have an entertaining story and well-written characters, but the soundtracks and art design still hold up to this day. In the classic mode, characters die permanently once killed.
This can be quite frustrating since you spend so much time bonding with them. However, there is an alternate mode with permanent death disabled. Characters become stronger as you build a relationship with them, which incentivizes players to do more quests and side activities.
Metroid: Samus Returns
Another remake of an old NES game from the early 90s. But this is a very well-crafted remake, with lots of improvements over the original. Both in terms of gameplay and graphics (the plot remains unchanged).
Much like its predecessor, this is a 2D side-scrolling action shooter. But Samus has some new abilities, like the melee counterattack which deals bonus damage to enemies. And aiming has been improved, becoming unidirectional (the original had fixed angles for shooting).
Special abilities can be used, depending on the status of an energy gauge. Gadgets and powers from newer Metro games like the grapple beam, super missiles, and powerbombs have also been added to this remake.
And since Amiibo support was the hot new thing for Nintendo handhelds in 2014, this game has it. You can scan figurines to get exclusive content and in-game bonuses.
Super Mario 3D Land
Mario is on another quest to rescue Princess Peach, who has been kidnapped by Bowser. But this time, it’s different. Super Mario 3D Land combines elements from 2D side-scrolling Mario games and modern 3D free-roam Mario games.
The result is a Mario experience unlike anything else. You get the focused level design and tight pacing of a 2D side-scroller, with the freedom of movement and graphics of a 3D open-world game. Mario also has some new moves, that allow him to smash through barriers and jump between platforms that are farther away than normal.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
You’ve probably seen several Animal Crossing memes by now on the internet, even if you haven’t played the game yourself. That’s because every time a new Animal Crossing is released, it becomes quite popular among the casual crowd. People who just want to relax, and have some fun with social simulation games.
Talking of social simulation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is packed with activities and interesting characters that you can interact with. There’s fishing, farming, shopping, and more. As the mayor of a small town, you also create local laws and sign off on public projects.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
This game is a Nintendo 3DS port of the original Xenoblade Chronicles which was released in 2010 on the Wii. The “3D” designation means that this game supports the rudimentary stereoscopic 3D effects projected by the 3DS display. However, it should be noted that Xenoblade Chronicles 3D only works on the 3DS XL.
Since the base 3DS doesn’t have the processing power or memory to run this game, you need a 3DS XL to play it (or an emulator). The bottom display of the 3DS works as a map + status display for characters in your party. Some extra content and features have been added, like the Collection Mode and Jukebox.
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
For several reasons, this is a revolutionary installment within the famed Dragon Quest franchise. It is the first Dragon Quest to use cel-shading for its levels and characters. The cel shading in Dragon Quest VIII wasn’t done as a cost-cutting measure or cheap gimmick.
Instead, it helps the game’s amazing art style pop out in a more vibrant fashion. This is also the first 3D Dragon Quest. Free camera movement allows you to view everything in a 360° radius, and you can even shift into first-person (previous installments only had a top-down camera).
Kirby: Planet Robobot
In any Kirby game, you can expect lots of platforming and action that involves Kirby sucking up enemies so he can spit them out as projectiles. Planet Robobot adds a mechanical suit that Kirby can wear, giving him enhanced powers. This suit helps Kirby solve puzzles and fight powerful foes.
Planet Popstar is being plundered by a megacorporation known as Haltmann Works. To stop them, Kirby uses magical powers that allow him to move between dimensional planes. Kirby can copy the abilities of any enemy that he swallows.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D
Considered one of the best Zelda games ever created, Majora’s Mask was a pivotal moment in the franchise’s history. Majora’s Mask 3D is a remake of the original N64 game, with some new bells and whistles. It features stereoscopic 3D graphics, and a slight framerate boost- maintaining a steady 30FPS throughout the game.
The UI has been modified to work with a touchscreen, and gyroscopic aiming has been added. To get 360° camera control, a New Nintendo 3DS is required (because it has the C-stick which acts as an analog pointing device). Improvements have been made to the mask transformations, game save system, and Song of Double Time.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
This is a collection of the first three Phoenix Wright games- Ace Attorney, Justice for All, and Trials and Tribulations. Each Phoenix Wright game plays like a detective fantasy visual novel. You play as the amateur defense attorney, Phoenix Wright.
Your job is to use evidence, manipulation, and trickery to defend your clients from being charged with a crime. There are various supporting characters in the game, each playing a unique role in the story. Each installment in the trilogy follows a similar gameplay format, but with different plots and characters.
A platformer that gained immense popularity among gamers who wanted something that reminded them of the old 8-bit NES days. Shovel Knight isn’t just another game with a pixelated art style, but a love letter to old NES and Genesis action platformers. It features an authentic 8-bit aesthetic combined with modern gameplay elements.
The game is a classic adventure side-scroller, where you collect treasures by defeating enemies. Your primary weapon is a shovel which can be used to dig up treasures or hit enemies. The shovel can also be used like a pogo stick to jump over obstacles and enemies.
An action-adventure RPG featuring cute anime-themed characters, set in a desert world. Your player character is a seedling of the magical Great Tree, who fulfills the role of a messiah for inhabitants of a desert. By cooperating with a water spirit, your character helps build an oasis in the middle of this vast desert.
During your journey, you come across several villages and dungeons. There are also caves in the desert, filled with monsters. An evil being called Chaos controls these enemies, and you fight them with a party of up to three characters.
Kid Icarus: Uprising
One of the launch titles for Nintendo’s 3DS handheld, Kid Icarus: Uprising combines a plot inspired by Greek mythology with an anime art style. The result is a fun action shooter in which you unlock cool new weapons and fight against stronger foes with each new level. The main character is Pit, an angel who must defeat the goddess of darkness Medusa, and save humanity.
Hades, the lord of the underworld, is using Medusa in his plan to wipe out mankind. After Pit defeats Medusa, he must fight against the forces of Hades. There are both air and ground-based segments in the single-player campaign (a multiplayer mode is also available, it supports up to 6 players).
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS
Also known as Smash 4, this game was released in 2014 for the 3DS and Wii U. Unlike your typical fighting game, Smash Bros. focuses on using combos to weaken opponents and knock them out of the arena. Until someone is in the arena, they’re still in the fight.
This adds a lot of potential for clutch last-moment plays and exciting counterattacks. The best part is that Smash Bros. characters are taken from Nintendo’s classic franchises, such as Mario and Kingdom Hearts. Many characters from other game franchises like Metal Gear Solid are also included in the roster.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
Mario and Luigi were vacationing on Pi’illo Island when something strange happened. Peach accidentally activated a mechanism that opened the path to a secret room underneath a castle. One of these relics is a bed, which upon being slept on by Luigi, opens a portal to the Dream World.
A shadowy creature leaps out of the portal and kidnaps Princess Peach. Mario pursues it into the portal and emerges on the other side where he is helped by Dreamy Luigi. Controls for Mario and Luigi are mapped to separate buttons, and you can play them simultaneously.
Pokémon X & Y
X & Y are a pair, the first in the 6th generation of Pokémon games. Team Flare is hatching a devious scheme to take over Kalos, and you must stop them. Kalos is a region in the fictional world of Pokémon, and it’s based on the French countryside.
Like previous installments in the Pokémon series, you go around catching Pokémon and training them to fight in tournaments. While defending yourself and the region from Team Flare, you must also train to challenge the League Champion. This pair of Pokémon games introduced 72 new species, along with improved character customization and training mechanics.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
A sequel to Luigi’s Mansion, which was released in 2001 for the GameCube. Paranormal activity has been observed near a mansion located in Evershade Valley, and Mario has been kidnapped by King Boo. To calm down the ghosts in the house, Luigi must gather all fragments of the Dark Moon.
The Dark Moon is an ancient magical artifact, whose disappearance is linked to King Boo. Luigi is armed with the Poltergust 5000, a vacuum cleaner that has been modified to suck up ghosts. There are multiple mansions to explore, each with a unique theme and special enemies.
Mario Kart 7
The seventh installment in the famed Mario Kart racing franchise, Mario Kart 7 introduces new vehicles and a first-person camera mode. Certain tracks also have underwater sections, and karts can be equipped with glider attachments. Vehicle customization has also been upgraded, allowing players to tweak every part of their ride.
Since this is a Mario Kart game, it’s intended to be played in multiplayer mode for maximum enjoyment with friends. That’s why Nintendo has included both local and online multiplayer, with support for up to eight players in each race. Some new powerups have been added, like the Fire Flower and Super Leaf.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
It’s Donkey Kong Country Returns but remade to take advantage of the 3DS’s unique hardware. Originally released on the Wii in 2010, Donkey Kong Country Returns introduces the Tikis- an antagonist faction who can play hypnotic music. Using their powers, the Tikis have mind-controlled various animals on Donkey Kong Island, making them steal all the Kong’s bananas.
Donkey and Diddy Kong work as a pair to chase down the Tikis and get their bananas back. There are a total of nine uniquely themed worlds- Golden Temple, Forest, Beach, Jungle, etc.
The 3DS version allows players to choose from two modes- original (similar to the Wii version), and New Mode (extra items and bonus health). New Mode also gives players access to a bonus world with 8 levels, which cannot be found in the original Wii version.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is the North American release of Monster Hunter 4G, which itself is an enhanced version of Monster Hunter 4. If you have Monster Hunter 4 save files on your 3DS, those will work with Ultimate. At the beginning of the game, you see a young Monster Hunter on his journey to the port town of Val Habar.
The hunter’s sand ship is attacked by an Elder Dragon. He manages to defend the ship just long enough for members of the Hunters Guild to show up. The rest of the game is about the growth of this young hunter, as he joins the Guild to defeat an ancient foe who is rising once again.
Set in the fantasy world of Luxendarc, Bravely Default tells the story of four warriors and their journey to restore balance to their world. The game is a turn-based RPG, with several characters/ plotlines that were inspired by western TV series. During its initial development phase, Bravely Default was conceived as a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light.
It features artwork done by mangaka Atsushi Okubo and a soundtrack that is reminiscent of Dragon Quest. On the 3DS, the top screen is used to show the levels and characters while the bottom screen acts as a map/ status display for characters. There is a day and night cycle built into the game which also affects the types of enemies that spawn during encounters.
Shin Megami Tensei 4
The story of Shin Megami Tensei 4 takes place in a different world from previous games in the series. In the fictional universe of Shin Megami Tensei 4, there are two playable locations- Mikado and Tokyo. Mikado is a kingdom inspired by medieval Europe, and it’s built right above Tokyo.
Tokyo itself is surrounded by a rock shield This shield was created long ago when a hero merged with a god to defeat demons who were trying to take over the city. Mikado, which is on top of Tokyo, is ruled by a secret society of Angels who once threatened to destroy Tokyo because it was being overrun by demons.
Time works differently in Tokyo and Mikado- every 20 years in Tokyo represents 1000 years in Mikado. Your player character is a silent samurai, who is a reincarnation of the hero that once saved Tokyo from demons. During the story, you make choices that decide his moral standing and shape the course of future plot points.
Pocket Card Jockey
A simple card-based game with a rather funny plot. At the start, you get the option to create your horse jockey. If you create a male jockey, he will want to grow up and take over his dad’s orange farm.
The female jockey wants to grow up, get married, and have kids. But neither of them gets their wishes granted, as they fail their race and get trampled by the horse instead. That’s when an angel descends from the heavens and revives the jockey, telling them that life is like a game of cards.
Monster Hunter Stories
A spinoff in which you don’t play as a hunter, but are instead a rider. Think of it as a Pokémon style game rather than a monster-hunting RPG adventure. Instead of roaming the lands as a mercenary/ hunter who gets paid to kill monsters, you’re a trainer.
You steal eggs from monster nests, hatch them, and train the younglings to fight alongside you. Then, you use these monsters in turn-based battles against other monsters. Similar to Pokémon, monster types exist- each with certain weaknesses and strengths against other types.
Picross 3D: Round 2
A sequel to Picross 3D which was released in 2009 for the Nintendo DS, Round 2 comes with improved graphics and new levels. The gameplay is similar to the original Picross 3D, in which you chip through a grid of blocks to reveal a picture.
Blocks may have numbers attached to them that tell you how many blocks in that particular row or column should remain. Picross 3D is designed to be played with a stylus. Round 2 adds dual numbers to blocks along with colored blocks.
Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon
Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are a pair of Pokémon games representing the 7th generation in this famous RPG series. They are updated remakes of Pokémon Sun & Moon, with a new story and characters. New Pokémon species and transformations have also been added that weren’t present in the regular Sun & Moon.
Overall mechanics, graphics, and art style remain similar to Sun & Moon. And the location is a slight twist on Alola, the world introduced in Sun & Moon. New ultra beasts and forms for legendary Pokémon have been added.
Rune Factory 4
Much like previous installments in this JRPG franchise, your character starts the game with amnesia. How did you get amnesia? You were traveling to an old town via airship, to offer a gift to its deity.
However, your ship gets hijacked by a group of soldiers along the way and you get hit on the head. You drop into Selphia and are mistaken for a member of royalty, following which the prince lets you manage his town. The game combines role-playing, base-building, and social simulation.
Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
Your character and eight other people have been kidnapped. After being transported to an unknown location, you are given a set of instructions by your captor. You are going to play something called the Nonary game, which will decide whether you live or die.
There are a total of 24 endings, one of which you’ll get based on the decisions you make along the way. The gameplay is divided into visual novel sections where you get to learn about the various characters and receive clues on how to escape. Then, you have puzzle sections that you must solve to escape from a room.
Wario is basically an evil, selfish mirror image of Mario who’s a selfless hero. This time, Wario has cooked up another scheme to earn some money (or steal it). He is organizing a gaming tournament with a massive prize pool but intends to pocket it all for himself.
Like previous WarioWare games, this one is also a collection of little minigames. Minigames from previous WarioWare games are also included, along with several new ones. After you finish the story, you unlock Challenge mode which introduces obstacles and distractions (like blocking parts of the screen).
Bravely Second: End Layer
A sequel to Bravely Default, this game retains the turn-based battle system and fantasy setting. The Brave Point system is carried over which allows you to execute several moves during the same turn by consuming BP. A chain battle system has also been introduced, which lets you battle multiple foes in quick succession after you win a random encounter.
By defeating increasingly powerful enemies, you have a chance to win lots of XP and gold. The job system from the previous game has been tweaked slightly.
Side quests have also been reworked, so you encounter two asterisk holders arguing with each other. Upon resolving their conflict you gain the loser’s asterisk.
Kirby: Triple Deluxe
Triple Deluxe is one of the best Kirby games ever created for a handheld console. It merges excellent level design and 3D graphics with a memorable soundtrack. There are tons of additional content for players to explore once they’ve completed the main story.
In this game, Kirby gets a new ability called the Hypernova, which is activated by eating a Miracle Fruit. For a brief period, Kirby’s Inhale is amplified so he can suck up large objects and enemies that are otherwise immune to Kirby’s powers. Hypernova transforms how you approach puzzles and enemies in Kirby: Triple Deluxe.
In a faraway world, three kingdoms are living in peace and harmony alongside each other. Each kingdom is ruled by a monarch who guides their citizens along one of the 12 available “life paths”. One day, a purple meteorite crashes into the player’s house so the king instructs him to investigate the situation.
More purple rocks start falling, and it is found that they induce dark and evil desires within the hearts of men. So the player goes on a quest to solve this mystery. Fantasy Life is an RPG, in which you choose a life path and fulfill goals to gain points.
Steamworld Dig 2
Rusty from the first Steamworld has disappeared, and you now play as Dorothy who’s another steam-powered robot. Like the first game, you dig your way down and find treasures. You’ll also encounter various enemies and hidden chambers.
Dorothy is equipped with explosive charges, a punching arm, and a hook shot. There’s a central hub location where you can trade items for cash and buy new weapons or abilities. Each weapon has special features that can be activated by installing upgrade cogs (these cogs are found in hidden locations).
Resident Evil Revelations
While it isn’t a mainline entry in the numbered Resident Evil series, Revelations takes place shortly after the events of Resident Evil 4. A bioterrorist organization called Veltro has released BOWs (biological organic weapons) into a Mediterranean city. Jill Valentine is working for a counter-bioterrorism organization, and she is sent to investigate the situation.
The location she has been assigned to is of particular importance because that’s where her brother Chris went missing. Searching through a ghost ship, Jill comes across clues and remains of the now-dead crewmembers. The gameplay focuses on creating a sense of tension through the unknown, and you’re given limited resources to complete each mission.
Nintendo had been toying with the idea of stereoscopic 3D for quite some time. Remember the failure that was the Virtual Boy? Yeah, neither does Nintendo (at least they pretend they don’t).
With the 3DS, Nintendo implemented support for stereoscopic 3D that didn’t require any special glasses or headsets. This feature was quite gimmicky and rarely used by gamers or developers. It functioned as a depth-of-field boost that you could toggle on or off using a little switch at the side of the display.
Nintendo also used the cameras on the 3DS for augmented reality games and apps. And every 3DS came with a Virtual Console, which is essentially Nintendo’s own little emulation program for playing their old games. Nintendo later released the “XL” versions of their 3DS which featured larger displays and batteries.