Gamers looking for the best Nintendo 3DS games have no shortage of titles to choose from thanks to the console’s long lifecycle. The 3DS has enjoyed several updates over the years, but each was compatible with its predecessor, and that translates to a huge library. There’s options for nearly ever genre, from action games like Monster Hunter to hardcore platforms like Metroid and, of course, role-playing games like Zelda. Even with 25 picks available, sorting the list down to the best 3DS games wasn’t easy — but here’s what we decided on.
The Monster Hunter franchise has found its home on the Nintendo 3DS, and Monster Hunter Generations is proof. Featuring the classic, open-ended monster slaying and online cooperative multiplayer the series is known for, the game’s “Hunting Styles” let you customize your combat to suit your gameplay preference — including more aerial or ground-based attacks, for instance — and “Hunter Arts” allow you to unleash especially powerful attacks at your prey.
And did we mention that you can play as a cat? You can totally play as a cat, with special gear and quest lines only available to the four-legged, furry creatures in “Prowler” mode. Should you own the “New 3DS” with a built-in C-stick and extra shoulder buttons, you’ll be able to control the action even more easily, and the 3DS’ touch screen can be used to quickly lock onto new enemies.
When the worlds of the studious Professor Hershel Layton and the fiery attorney Phoenix Wright collide, the two must work together to investigate the mysterious city of Labyrinthia, which the two have been transported into after discovering a magical book. You must utilize Layton’s clever puzzle-solving abilities and Wright’s legal expertise in order to discover the mysteries of the city, and to defend an ally against charges of witchcraft. While playing as Layton, you’ll explore the city of Labyrinthia, gather clues, and solve puzzles. Wright’s gameplay, on the other hand, is classic courtroom drama wherein you interrogate witnesses, review your findings, and, of course, yell “Objection!” as loud as possible. Though reviewers were somewhat critical of the game’s decision to separate the Layton and Wright segments from one another, the game was often praised for its story, length, and animation.
Few gaming franchises remain consistently fun to play than the Mario Kart franchise, and the 3DS’ Mario Kart 7 continues this impressive trend for Nintendo. With 16 playable characters and 32 total tracks — 16 unique tracks and 16 classic tracks — gamers have access to a massive amount of content directly at their fingertips. With new additions, such as the ability to use hang gliders and special underwater sections of popular tracks, Mario Kart 7 is more than just a watered down version of its big console brethren. Like so many of those other titles in the series, however, Mario Kart 7’s crown jewel rests with its multiplayer modes, which allow players to participate in battles or races with up to seven different challengers through the Nintendo Network.
Puzzle games have always had a home on Nintendo’s handheld systems, and with the Nintendo 3DS’s technology and dual-screen display, Picross 3D: Round 2 is a perfect fit. The game’s 3D interface offers a unique take on the number and geometry-based puzzles we’ve seen developed in recent years, and the rewards for completing them — which range from a virtual cat to a diorama of Mario jumping into a block — offer enough Nintendo-themed charm to keep you coming back.
Considered by Nintendo of Europe as the “rightful successor” to Super Mario Bros. 3, New Super Mario Bros. 2 took the franchise back to its 2D roots. With nine familiar levels to play through, Nintendo treated gamers to a title which felt familiar but featured its own set of unique upgrades. Understandably, the visuals received a massive uptick in quality, each of which further capitalized on a wealth vivid colors and gorgeous 3D backgrounds. New Super Mario Bros. 2 also featured co-op gameplay, which players unlocked after successfully completing the game’s Solo mode. With its addictive gameplay, beautiful visuals, and high level of replayability, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is no doubt one of the finest titles available on the 3DS.
Yet another title ripped from Nintendo’s impressive vault, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is a title that reimagines the ’94 hit, Donkey Kong Country. As Donkey — or Diddy — Kong, players run, jump, cart, swing, and barrel their way through a host of well-crafted stages. The title was heralded for its challenging level design upon release, many of which render it a proper tribute to its predecessor and make it an absolute marvel on the 3DS. Fans of the Wii version of the game shouldn’t write this release off as a simple re-release either, as Nintendo chose to include a new game mode and a slew of levels unique to the 3DS version. It’s safe to say that it’s never been more fun to play as Donkey Kong.
Shin Megami Tensei IV shares much of the same monster-gathering appeal of games like Pokémon, but it’s a far more hardcore and demanding. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic version of Japan, which has reverted to a feudal society in the wake of several demon invasions. In this world, Samurai act as guardians who combat and control demons using remnants of technology from before the apocalypse. The story centers on Flynn, a young Samurai who is caught in the crossfire of the war between the demons and Heaven. Shin Megami Tensei IV is part of the Megami Tensei franchise, which is an umbrella that covers several well-regarded JRPG series, including Persona and Devil Survivor. The entire franchise is known for its hardcore dungeon crawling and capture-centric gameplay, and Shin Megami Tensei IV is no different. Players can capture enemy demons, build their skills, and even combine them to create new, stronger demons. Said demons can then be employed during combat while exploring the game’s labyrinthine dungeons. Shin Megami Tensei IV differs from other from other Megami Tensei titles in that it leans heavily on moral choices, which ultimately decide the final outcome of the game’s story. That said, it might require multiple playthroughs to see each ending.
Kid Icarus: Uprising, an attempt to reboot one of Nintendo’s languished NES properties, feels like a fresh take on another Nintendo franchise that doesn’t get quite enough attention, Star Fox. With brilliant flight-based shooting, hilarious and cheesy dialogue from protagonist Pit, and even a genuinely well-designed online mode, Kid Icarus: Uprising feels like Star Fox in all but name. Drawing on classic Greek mythology but with a charming, silly Nintendo spin, the game’s boss fights are intense, white-knuckled affairs unlike anything we’ve seen from the company yet or since — hopefully, the Switch will change that. If you’re left-handed however, be warned that the game makes heavy use of both the stylus and circle pad — you’ll need a circle pad pro if you’re playing on the original 3DS — and the title’s included 3DS stand has a tendency to turn your hand into a claw within 30 minutes or so.
Level-5’s Professor Layton games have long served as some of the best puzzle titles for Nintendo’s handhelds, and 2013’s Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is arguably the best of the franchise. The game boasts an incredible story, attractive animation, and hundreds of clever puzzles that are sure to flummox even the sharpest of gamers. Moreover, once you complete the game’s single-player campaign, you can partake in a daily puzzle mode that offers up to 365 additional puzzles to solve. Those who utilize the game’s Street Pass functionality have access to even more puzzles and games, giving the title some of the best replay value for any 3DS game. Period.
Xenoblade Chronicles deserves mention on this list. It is the biggest game on the 3DS, featuring a massive open world, giant monsters, hundreds of quests, and hours upon hours of gameplay to keep you busy. It’s a port of the Wii version, which was called one of the best modern JRPGs when it was released in 2010, and the 3DS version is one of the highest rated games on the system. So why is it relegated to an honorable mention? Well, technically, it’s not available on all 3DS systems. Nintendo released a new iteration of its handheld in 2015, confusingly called the New 3DS, which included a slew of upgrades like a stronger processor, better 3D screens, better cameras, and a much-needed second thumb stick and set of shoulder buttons. These upgrades, specifically the more robust processor and second thumbstick, are what enabled a massive game like Xenoblade Chronicles to be ported to the handheld. So, while we highly recommend the game, it comes with the aforementioned caveat of only being available on the New 3DS iteration of the software. Before you pick it up, be sure the game is compatible with your system.
After taking Kirby into “2.5D” platforming, molding him into clay, and even turning him into a piece of yarn, what was developer HAL Laboratory to do next? Give him a giant robot suit, of course! The title features platforming gameplay and combat similar to the previous 3DS installment, Triple Deluxe, along with the swappable powers that have become the series’ signature feature. Kirby: Planet Robobot isn’t designed to be particularly difficult, though, and with Kirby’s new mechanical enhancements, you’ll be able to live out your power fantasies via a pink puffball. Obstacles no longer pose a threat, and should you suck one of your enemies up while wearing the suit, you’ll alter its abilities as well. Both “Fire mode” and “Sword mode” look they could give Titanfall 2’s most powerful mechs a run for their money.
Fighting games on the 3DS are few and far between, but as luck would have it, one of the best fighting games in recent years is available on the handheld. Super Smash Bros for Nintendo 3DS brings together a massive roster of fighters from Nintendo’s franchises and pits them in frenetic combat that spans multiple arenas taken from different games. You’d be hard pressed to find a Nintendo character absent from the game at this point; gaming icons like Samus and Fox Mccloud share the stage with lesser-known brawlers such as Ike, Paulina, Shulk, and others. There have even been several new characters added via DLC, including Bayonetta, Street Fighter’s Ryu, and Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud Strife.
That said, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is essentially the same as the Wii U version of Smash Bros., but with a few notable differences. The handheld version features a different graphical style and a control scheme tailored toward the 3DS’ hardware, as well as a handful of exclusive stages and a special gameplay mode called “Smash Run.”
As the long-awaited sequel to the Luigi’s Mansion, Dark Moon capitalizes on what made the original so great while adding a few fun additions of its own. The game tasks players with investigating five haunted mansions in search of the shattered pieces of a ghost-quelling object called the Dark Moon. Like so many of Nintendo’s self-developed titles, Dark Moon is an inventive adventure title, one that’s packed to the brim with amusing and entertaining gameplay. Nintendo hit another home run this Luigi-centered franchise; let’s just hope it doesn’t take the company another 10 years to produce the threequel.