The Nintendo DS had already proven that gaming could be even more immersive with its trademark dual-screen technology, and the 3DS improved on that foundation with more power, a consistently strong library, and constant hardware evolution. The 3D gimmick was largely dropped after a few years on the market, but the 3DS was for a time, Nintendo’s primary presence in the gaming market. Like usual, Nintendo iterated on the 3DS numerous times, with important variations such as the 3DS XL, 2DS, and 2DS XL. The 3DS had a massive library of great games, and we decided to round up the 20 best 3DS games (in alphabetical order).
While it might have been succeeded by the Nintendo Switch in 2017, the 3DS still remains one of Nintendo’s best-ever consoles that’s well worth grabbing if you get the chance to do so. Especially when owning one opens up access to some of the best games that the Big N and other studios produced, which you can read more about below.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Long before Animal Crossing was establishing itself as the perfect game to wait out a global pandemic, Animal Crossing: New Leaf was a fascinating and charming continuation of the series on the 3DS. While the core idea of setting your own identity, running a town, and avoiding Tom Nook for the sake of your unbroken kneecaps was all part of the usual Animal Crossing package, New Leaf’s upgraded multiplayer made it a 3DS essential, allowing players to share in the joy of zen-like discovery with friends.
Read our Animal Crossing: New Leaf review.
Bravely Default was an easy sell for anyone who liked role-playing games and had a 3DS. Rooted in the past but inspired by new ideas, Silicon Studio’s homage to the JRPGs of yesteryear mixed stunning battles with a strong cast, and inventive character growth. The battle system was easily the biggest highlight, mixing encouraging players to take a gamble with high risks in exchange for big rewards. Whether you played cautiously using the Default move option or chose a gung-ho approach using the Brave option to chain moves together, Bravely Default’s meaty combat was a deep and flexible gambit tied to a fun job system.
Modern twists collided with a fairly traditional JRPG story, with Bravely Default easily earning itself a reputation as the best RPG on the 3DS.
Read our Bravely Default review.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Fire Emblem had always been one of the best-kept secrets in gaming (at least in North America), a tactical adventure with actual consequences thanks to its permadeath system that could rob you of a beloved character. It had never quite managed to take off globally though, and with Nintendo ready to put the series out to pasture if this final entry didn’t meet its sales expectations, it was fittingly a do or die situation for Fire Emblem’s developers. With the stakes higher than ever before, Intelligent Systems and Nintendo SPD set out to create a Fire Emblem game that was the culmination of the entire franchise and its history.
The end result was the game that saved Fire Emblem from extinction, delivering both a critical and a financial hit that turned the franchise into one of Nintendo’s tentpole gaming properties. Enjoyable for both hardcore fans and newcomers, Fire Emblem’s engrossing storyline, rich gameplay features, and addictive handheld tactics made every battle dangerous, worthwhile, and a white-knuckle ride to see if your strategy could win the day or inflict devastating losses on your army.
Read our Fire Emblem: Awakening review.
Kid Icarus: Uprising
Barring some initial control discomfort, Pitt’s return in a fast-paced and compelling shooter was the makeover that the beloved character needed. A huge amount of fun once it found its groove, Kid Icarus: Uprising was one of the best-looking games on the 3DS and had gameplay to match its visual splendor. Tightly-constructed levels really added nuance and thrills to the game’s flight sequences, while the versus multiplayer was a fascinating expansion of these game ideas that provided free-for-all and team-based mayhem in your hands.
Kid Icarus: Uprising exists as not only a celebration of the 1987 original game, but also the best return of Nintendo’s little angel that fans could have hoped for.
Read our Kid Icarus: Uprising review.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
With Link’s 3D remasters paving the way for Nintendo’s Master Sword-wielding hero, this ode to the past and the classic days of The Legend of Zelda offered a faster pace of fun in the land of Hyrule. A handheld Zelda experience with snappy action and flexible progression, A Link Between Worlds is a tribute that wears its passions on the sleeve of its green tunic, effortlessly using the 3DS to deliver innovative mechanics and challenging surprises along the way.
Read our The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds review.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
Link’s legendary journey on the N64 had become one of Nintendo’s most bankable titles for a re-release over the year, and it was only a matter of time before the hero in green made his way to a portable console. Arguably the definitive version of Ocarina of Time, the 3DS incarnation offered impressive 3D visuals and smart gameplay tweaks while setting a new standard for what a modern remaster could be. Fun and familiar in equal measure, Nintendo proved that there was still plenty of magic left in Link’s tank.
Read our The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D review.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D
Over the years, Majora’s Mask has earned a cult-classic status amongst fans who considered the game to simply be too far ahead of its time. On the 3DS, the game’s time had finally come to shine, and with Ocarina of Time setting benchmark for what a Zelda remaster should be on the handheld system, Majora’s Mask had a blueprint for how it could deliver its addictively nihilistic story with smart tweaks to its gameplay formula.
It didn’t disappoint either, because while there’s a case to be made about Ocarina of Time being one of the greatest games of all time, Majora’s Mask shines as one of the best remasters to ever grace a console. A return to Termina that cut any boring fat from its frame to deliver a memorable experience, Majora’s Mask was an improved classic on the 3DS.
Read our The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D review.
Mario Golf: World Tour
You don’t need to be a fan of golf to appreciate just how Nintendo’s favorite plumber takes to the game, as Mario Golf: World Tour is a terrific example of how to gentle guide players from rookie sensation to seasoned professional. A sense of tangible progression, a dizzying selection of content, and intelligent multiplayer design made this round of Mario Golf a hole-in-one winner when it first came out in 2015. Its incremental teaching method coupled with a generous learning curve made it not only a fun game to take a swing at, but also an inspiring one to pursue the pro life on the green.
Read our Mario Golf: World Tour review.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions
Another day, another adventure in the Mushroom Kingdom that Mario and Luigi embark on, but this time with some added help from their nemesis Bowser! With Princess Peach’s voice having been stolen, this entry in the long-running series was a remastered edition of the Game Boy Advance classic. Given a new lease on life on the 3DS, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was completely reworked from the ground up. That fresh coat of paint showed just how well the original game’s formula had aged, and with some smart tweaks, it was better than ever. If ever you needed a reminder of just how timeless a Mario game could be, this magical RPG was the perfect example.
Read our Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions review.
Metroid: Samus Returns
Metroid: Samus Returns isn’t what you’d call a groundbreaking adventure for the infamous bounty hunter, but with polished gameplay mechanics pulled from decades of experience and previous games, it didn’t need to be. Developer Mercury Steam’s 2017 entry in the Metroid saga is one that captured the spirit of what makes the franchise special. While it was a remake of Metroid II (which released on Game Boy), it had a ton of new content that made it feel positively fresh. Metroid: Samus Returns was a sprawling adventure filled with high-octane moments of action, awe-inspiring exploration, and an aggressive attitude.
An excellent 2D action game with Metroid’s distinct flavor, the return of Samus was exactly what fans had been waiting so patiently for. If you wind up enjoying Metroid Dread on Switch, it’s well worth circling back and checking out Mercury Steam’s debut Metroid title.
Read our Metroid: Samus Returns review.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
Before Monster Hunter seriously boomed in popularity with Monster Hunter World, Capcom’s unique action-RPG series primarily lived on handheld Nintendo devices. Monster Hunter 4: Ultimate stood out the most. Bringing with it all of Monster Hunter’s trademark beasts, bosses, and crafting , this particular iteration was also a more accessible game that packed in a ludicrously meaty solo campaign and a four-person hunting party feature in online multiplayer.
With deep combat and a checklist of activities that ensured that you’d never be bored, Monster Hunter 4: Ultimate was a triumph of content and quality on the 3DS that raised the bar for just how big games could be on the pocket-sized handheld. Plus, who didn’t a Palico dressed up as Street Fighter’s Chun Li or Blanka? The math checks out.
Read our Monster Hunter 4: Ultimate review.
By 2019, the Nintendo 3DS had reached the end of its life as the Switch console had become a wild success. While several games would close out the system’s final days, Persona Q2 was a fantastic swansong for the 3DS with its dungeon crawling challenges, engaging storyline, and impossibly lengthy run time. A showstopper of a crossover on the 3DS, Persona Q2 closed the curtain on an era of dual-screen gaming.
Read our Persona Q2 review.
Pocket Card Jockey
Developer Game Freak is known primarily for the Pokemon series these days, but in-between new releases on that franchises, the studio manages to pump out a charming game or two. Pocket Card Jockey is one such example, as Game Freak managed to combine the thrill of high-speed equestrian pursuits with solitaire, a card game that isn’t exactly famous for speedruns. And yet somehow, this fusion of two wildly different forms of entertainment made for an addictive game by the name of Pocket Card Jockey.
What makes Pocket Card Jockey brilliant is that it’s a tactical blend of stacking cards, raising your thoroughbred racehorse, and unleashing it on a circuit where time is of the essence. That makes for an intense game of solitaire, which eventually reaches a climax where you have to spur your steed toward the finishing line using whatever momentum you’ve built up on the track. Challenging and thrilling, Pocket Card Jockey is one of Game Freak’s smaller gems in a crown of hit Pokemon games.
Pokemon X and Y
The Nintendo DS generation of Pokemon games had largely retained the 2D nature that had formed the unique visual aesthetic of the series since its Game Boy days, but Pokemon X and Y was a confident step into the third dimension on the Nintendo 3DS. With a French-influenced map, dozens of new Pokemon, and yet another dastardly syndicate operating in the Kalos region, Pokemon X and Y was a grand leap forward for the franchise, with some notable changes to the gameplay and communication features.
There was the debut of the new Fairy-type Pokemon class, as Dragon-type Pokemon had become too powerful in the grand scheme of things, as well as Mega Evolutions that could turn the tide of battle. Beyond its 3D graphics and new Pokemon power-ups, X and Y also made Pokemon trading and battling online easier than ever before. The excellent Player Search System helped you quickly find an opponent, while Wonder Trade allowed you to take a gamble with a random trade through the magic of a Wi-Fi connection.
You could get anything from a common to a legendary Pokemon depending on the generosity of the person on the other side, although in most cases, you most likely wound up with yet another Zigzagoon to add to your collection.
Read our Pokemon X and Y review.
Rhythm Paradise Megamix
For fans of rhythm games, Rhythm Paradise Megamix was a no-brainer. Fun gameplay, catchy music, and unique visuals already made this collection of short rhythm-based mini-games an odd masterpiece, but there was so much more to appreciate. A colorful cast, a stacked deck of content made for an appealing game to invest a few hours in, but seeing onions with facial hair while you worked on your rhythm as a burly wolf chopped wood? That was a day-one sale, right there.
Shin Megami Tensei IV
Shin Megami Tensei IV’s storyline and characters aren’t what make this JRPG so memorable. Instead, it’s the incredible combat that combines demonic fusions with fast-paced elemental strikes to weak points that elevates the title. There’s no getting past the niche appeal of this JRPG, but for fans with very specific tastes who are attracted to hardcore dungeon crawling and strategic mastery over the forces of the underworld, this chapter in the Shin Megami Tensei saga was in a class of its own on the 3DS.
Read our Shin Megami Tensei IV review.
A classic action adventure game inspired by a bygone era, Shovel Knight felt just right on the 3DS. Shovel Knight mixed responsive controls with detailed level design, an instantly iconic protagonist, and a soundtrack that would live rent-free in your head long after the end credits had rolled. An experience that left an indelible mark on anyone who played it, Shovel Knight was available for an insultingly low price on the 3DS considering its quality and the pure love that developer Yacht Club Games had injected into this homage to the glory days of ’90s platformers.
Read our Shovel Knight review.
The SteamWorld franchise is one of gaming’s most underrated series, and no matter which platform a SteamWorld game appears on, you can be guaranteed that there’s a good time ahead of you. SteamWorld Dig was a brilliant entry in the series, as this game merged solid 2D platforming with a charming junkyard art style and an addictive layer of mining. The town of Tumbleton needed resources, and you were just the right steam-powered robot for the job, drilling and dynamiting your way through bedrock to obtain valuable ore.
This being a SteamWorld game, there was more to the job of mining than initially advertised, and it wasn’t long before you’d encounter enemies, puzzles, and challenging levels as you dug deeper into the ground. A quirky platformer with fun gameplay, SteamWorld Dig is an addictive title on the 3DS that doesn’t skimp on the charm.
Read our SteamWorld Dig review.
Super Mario 3D Land
If you’d ever been reluctant to embrace a Mario game where the mustachioed Mushroom kingdom was plying his trade in the third dimension, Super Mario 3D Land was a solid argument to win you over. Retaining all of Mario’s talent for stomping through Bowser’s army and powering up with wild new items. Super Mario 3D Land revels in the freedom that it provides you, striking a terrific balance between having just enough content and being gleefully challenging in its later stages.
It liberally borrows ideas from the entire Mario timeline, but it remixed those traditional gameplay pillars to create new and interesting twists on the established status quo of the Mario franchise. A traditional level-based Mario game with a 3D twist? It was an easy sell and paved the way for Super Mario 3D World.
Read our Super Mario 3D Land review.
The original WarioWare game from 2003 might just be Nintendo at its strangest, unleashing Mario’s dark doppelganger onto console with an unconventional selection of mini-games. WarioWare Gold somehow managed to top that impressive bar for weirdness, with frantic and fun games that made full use of the 3DS’ main features. Whether you were tapping the touchscreen or yelling into the microphone, WarioWare Gold was the perfect starting point for newcomers and an unapologetically oddball collection of games that all felt unique in their design.
A greatest hits package that showed off the versatility of the Nintendo 3DS, it’s also a great example of Wario’s weird vibe that makes him so special.
Read our Warioware Gold review.