The 3DS is often regarded as the world’s greatest handheld console. I’m inclined to agree. I’ve probably put more hours into my limited edition Pikachu 3DS than my Xbox 360 (thanks, addicting Pokémon games), and the library of titles available for the system just keeps getting better. From RPGs to life sims to open-world adventure games, the 3DS offers a surprisingly wide variety of genres, and each game is playable in 3D, which is a nice gimmick.
It was a challenge to cut down our list of the best Nintendo 3DS games ever made down to just 10, but this is what we came up with.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
No small amount of gamers regard The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as the greatest game of all time. From its challenging, puzzle-like dungeons to its quirky characters and story, the game offers something for everyone. The masterpiece has aged well since its original 1998 release date, as evident by its 3DS remake. I had the privilege of experiencing this game for the first time on the 3DS, and what an experience it was. If you were too young (or too unfortunate) to catch Ocarina of Time when it originally launched for the Nintendo 64, the 3DS is the best way to experience this wonderful game.
2. Fire Emblem: Awakening
If you want true tactical role-playing on your 3DS, look no further than Fire Emblem: Awakening. The game is revered for its music, setting, character development and role-playing goodness both new players and diehard fans can enjoy in equal measure. The game allows you to tailor the game to your tastes. You can create your own character or even edit other characters’ classes to one of the more than 40 available. What makes Awakening unique, however, is that characters can form emotional bonds with one another during battles, age, marry, have kids and even permanently die, making the game feel realistic and consequential.
Price: $38 (5 percent off MSRP)
3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Another Zelda game. Huh. It’s almost like Nintendo can’t make a bad Legend of Zelda game. This is another action-adventure game staring Link, only it features a mostly top-down view like the original games for the NES featured. The game takes place in the same setting as A Link to the Past, but new features keep the game surprising. For instance, in A Link Between Worlds, Link has the ability to flatten himself onto a wall to traverse otherwise impossible platforming challenges. Another change is that items aren’t found and owned at various points in the game; rather, they’re rented from a shop, allowing players to tackle dungeons in any order they wish. These changes spice up the series enough to make it another Legend of Zelda game worth picking up.
Price: $38.25 (4 percent off MSRP)
4. Shovel Knight
Shovel Knight was a surprise this year. This indie game is a callback to the days of 8-bit platformers and action games. In the game, you play as a shovel-wielding knight who uses it to attack, platform and dig up goodies. The concept sounds strange, to say the least, but the result is a fantastic 2D platformer that feels classic and new both at once. Its Nintendo-inspired color palette and aesthetic are tributes to an outdated era of gaming, but its gameplay is still fresh and fun enough to be approachable and enticing even to this day, making Shovel Knight a colossal indie win.
5. Super Mario 3D Land
We’ve all played a Super Mario game, right? There’s Mario, the Italian plumber who’s always on a quest to rescue Princess Peach from the evil clutches of the devious Bowser, and of course we can’t forget Luigi, the less-popular, green-themed brother of Mario. All of those tropes and characters return in Super Mario 3D Land, but the platforming, music, powers and level design in the 3DS game are second to none, making 3D Land an excellent title for any fan of Nintendo platformers. The levels take only minutes to complete, and the later stages are genuinely challenging, which all adds up to one addicting Mario-filled package. Even if you haven’t played a classic Mario Bros. game before, 3D Land is a great introduction.
Price: $31.94 ( percent off MSRP)
6. Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire
If you don’t love the Pokémon games, I question what kind of childhood you had. People like to make fun of the unconventional designs of the new Pokémon, but the truth is that weird-looking Pokémon have been around since Pokémon Red/Blue hit store shelves in the ’90s. Another thing that hasn’t changed is how fun these games are. I’ve poured close to a thousand hours into the series. There’s nothing quite like breeding, training and raising hundreds of fighting critters in a quest to be the very best. Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire bring with them new mega evolutions, the 3D graphics of Pokémon X/Y and new features to make capturing and fighting Pokémon even more fun. If you’re itching to play through the original stories of Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald, there’s no better time than now to nab Omega Ruby or Alpha Sapphire.
7. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
The Animal Crossing series is unique in the respect that it’s not really a game — not in the traditional sense, at least. There are no bad guys to defeat or story to work through. There’s just a cartoon version of yourself who acts as the mayor of a small village full of critters. In this life sim, you spend a few minutes each day talking to your adorable critters; collecting fossils, bugs and fish; watering plants; and making your home and town a better place to live. The game is strangely addicting, as time moves on in Animal Crossing as it does in real life, with seasons and holidays to boot, meaning there’s always something new going on. Best of all, New Leaf is enticing to casual and more hardcore gamers alike, making it a great addition to anyone’s 3DS library.
Price: $26.99 (10 percent off MSRP)
8. Super Smash Bros.
Nintendo is a company revered for its amazing series. Sure, The Legend of Zelda and Metroid might be bright and cartoony compared to franchises like Gears of War and Halo, but the world needs video games like that! As long as the quality of games is excellent (and with Nintendo, it almost always is), who cares that the 3DS is geared toward younger, casual players, especially when Super Smash Bros., a game that borrows characters and elements from Nintendo’s (and others’) best video game series, is a thing? Smash Bros. has been my favorite fighting game since I was a wee lad, and now what’s possibly the best version yet is on a portable console in glorious cel-shaded art, which means people like me are stoked. With a huge roster, tons of unlockables, multiplayer battles and endless hours of fun, what more could you ask for?
9. Bravely Default
This JRPG takes the classic turn-based combat system and gives it a much-needed tune up to make battles far more interesting. In Bravely Default, you can “Brave” (attack or use a move) or “Default” (pocket a turn and defend). Through strategic use, players can empty their pool of turns by Braving multiple times in a row or build their pool to high levels for an all-out assault by Defaulting, leading to far more strategic battles than the genre is known for. As complicated as it sounds, it’s incredibly simple and intuitive in practice, and it makes grinding against low-level enemies a quick and easy process. The unique combat system adds some spice to an otherwise staling genre. The story may not be anything special, but with Bravely Default, you’re there for the classes and combat and not much more.
Price: $33.49 (16 percent off MSRP)
10. Mario Kart 7
If you’ve played a kart racer in your life, you’ve likely played Mario Kart. It’s definitely the most famous kart-racing series out there, and it’s easy to see why. Its method of “rubberbanding” keeps all competitors close to help balance skilled players against less-experienced ones. For instance, a player in eighth place will find items that might help propel them to first place while those at the head of the pack might only get mostly useless objects that might help defend their position, which is a brilliant method of keeping the game fair and fun to all. The 3DS version is an excellent way to compete against randoms online or other 3DS owners nearby, and a quick match is a good way to spend a few minutes while on your morning commute or waiting for an appointment.
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