If you’re looking for the best Nintendo 3DS games, there’s no shortage of titles to choose from, thanks to the console’s long life cycle.
The 3DS has enjoyed several updates over the years, but each was compatible with its predecessor, and that translates to a large and diverse library. It’s getting increasingly tough to find a 3DS, especially since Nintendo has officially discontinued the console and no longer supports it to focus on releasing Switch games. Even so, the legacy of the 3DS lives on with a long list of excellent, pocket-sized adventures. Here are our favorite ones.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
In many ways, there are two types of Zelda games. There are 3D adventures, beginning with Ocarina of Time, a game type that has gone on to become the standard for subsequent home console Zelda adventures. The other type is the classic 2D adventure games like the original The Legend of Zelda and its SNES follow-up, A Link to the Past, the latter of which is often cited as the best Zelda game in the series.
Serving as a sequel to A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds returns players not only to the 2D perspective but to A Link To The Past’s map of Hyrule. The kingdom has been relatively peaceful in the decades since the previous game. That peace is threatened when a dark sorcerer, Yuga, traps the young Princess Zelda — a descendant of the princess from A Link to the Past — in a magical painting.
Link, a young apprentice swordsmith with no relation to the previous game’s hero, then embarks on a quest to save the princess. Fans of A Link to the Past will enjoy the familiarity, but A Link Between Worlds also turns the Zelda formula on its ear, opening up the entire world from the outset and offering all items through a rental shop. This allows players to choose their own path through the game’s numerous dungeons and challenges.
Read our A Link Between Worlds review
Super Mario 3D Land
Synonymous with every single Nintendo console are a host of games boasting the brand’s lovable, mustachioed hero, Mario. While nearly all are bonafide hits, Super Mario 3D Land takes the cake as the 3DS’ best Mario game, providing endless amounts of platforming fun. The game was released to critical acclaim in 2011, with many citing its addictive gameplay, fantastic 3D capabilities, and impressive level design as reasons for its greatness.
Moreover, newcomers to the series — if those indeed exist — won’t have any trouble picking up the title and understanding the basics right away. There’s a reason Mario remains the popular face of Nintendo, and Super Mario 3D Land continues his reign of platform dominance.
Read our Super Mario 3D Land review
Fire Emblem: Awakening
After the relatively muted reception to both Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, Nintendo’s tactical role-playing Fire Emblem games were on the verge of being killed off for good. Fire Emblem: Awakening, the series’ 2013 3DS debut, single-handedly revitalized the series, which now stands tall among Nintendo’s pantheon of popular franchises, with 3 Houses being one of the best yet. With a straightforward story and more accessible mechanics, including multiple difficulty modes and the ability to turn off permadeath, the compelling gameplay is inviting for genre fans and newcomers alike.
Read our Fire Emblem: Awakening review
Metroid: Samus Returns
A reimagining of the 1991 Game Boy classic Metroid II: Return of Samus, Metroid: Samus Returns manages to be both an authentic nostalgia trip and a well-oiled modern platformer. The game takes place directly after the events of the game that kicked off the storied franchise. Samus Aran is sent by the Galactic Federation to the Metroid homeworld to investigate the power and threat of the titular aliens. Keeping with the identity of 2D Metroid titles, Samus collects power-ups along the way that help her traverse to previously hard-to-reach sections in the winding game world.
There is a great balance of sticking to the original in terms of world layout and exploration while also including new features like a map scanner to make the game more modernized. With the power of the 3DS, set pieces are vibrant and detailed, and combat mechanics feel more precise and free-flowing. As the first 2D Metroid in 14 years, Metroid: Samus Returns makes you wonder why Samus has been vacant in the 2D space for so long. One of the last AAA titles to grace the 3DS, Samus Returns feels like a wonderful swan song.
Read our Metroid: Samus Returns review
The 3DS has no shortage of great role-playing games. We likely could have filled this list exclusively with the highest-rated RPGs on the system and would still have to make some difficult cuts. But when it comes to the best of the best, Bravely Default is it. Bravely Default was created by many of the minds behind Final Fantasy, and it’s a classic JRPG through and through.
Players take control of a party of characters, customizing their appearance and abilities through the game’s intricate and deep job system — a feature likely familiar to fans of Final Fantasy. Like classic JRPGs, Bravely Default’s combat encounters play out in turn-based fashion, giving players control of each character’s actions.
Bravely Default offers its own twist on combat, however, with a host of unique gameplay mechanics like combo meters and auto-battle. Bravely Default released to rave reviews and surprising commercial success, prompting Square Enix to release a sequel, Bravely Second. Bravely Default 2 has also released on the Nintendo Switch and further builds on this game’s successful formula.
Read our Bravely Default review
Although several different ports of this game exist, the 3DS version of Shovel Knight consistently receives the highest scores. Indie game developer Yacht Club Games designed Shovel Knight to closely resemble the gameplay and graphics of platformers designed for the original NES. Playing as the titular Shovel Knight, you must navigate a 2D environment while collecting treasure and fighting off hordes of bad guys affiliated with the Order of No Quarter. Each stage features largely the same formula, however, requiring you to battle through various terrain, grab as much treasure as possible, and defeat a final boss in order to move on. Though it seems rather simple and straightforward, Shovel Knight’s captivating gameplay makes it a damn hard game to put down, making it one of the best indie games on Nintendo Switch to play.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
Few games command the longevity and reverence that has defined The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s legacy as one of the best N64 games. When the game originally launched on the Nintendo 64 back in 1998, it was heralded as one of the greatest — perhaps even the greatest — games ever made. The title has gone on to frequent many best-of lists, but going back to the N64 title can be, admittedly, a bit difficult given the outdated visuals and presentation.
Ocarina of Time 3D, however, addresses many of these shortcomings with updated visuals, a sleeker and simpler interface, and even subtle mechanical changes that improve some of the game’s more tedious moments, including a hint system and dedicated quick-access buttons for certain items.
Perhaps the best part about these changes, though, is how well they mold into the existing framework of the game. It’s hard to find a fair spot for Ocarina of Time on this list, as it’s both arguably the best game on the platform and a port.
Mario Golf: World Tour
Like Mario Tennis Open before it, Mario Golf: World Tour takes a particularly mundane sport and puts a zany spin on it. Playing as Mario, Luigi, or a number of other iconic characters from the franchise, players have the option to compete online against human opponents or take on bots in any of the game’s numerous tournaments.
The handheld’s 3D capabilities shine with World Tour, given the game animates each shot, chip, or putt with gorgeous visuals and an amazing amount of depth. Though the 3DS boasts a small number of sports