Can I Play Nintendo 3DS Games on the Wii U?

The Wii U and 3DS are compatible with other systems but not each other

Nintendo 3DS video game console

 jfmdesign / Getty Images

The way Nintendo named its systems has caused a lot of confusion over which games are compatible with which device. While it's not possible to play Nintendo 3DS games on the Wii U, there is a way to play 3DS games on your computer with an emulator.

Are the 3DS and Wii U Compatible?

Both the Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS are capable of playing games from other systems, but they cannot play each other's games. The Wii U can play original Wii discs as well as games from several retro systems through the Wii U Virtual Console. The Nintendo 3DS can play Nintendo DS game cards, and it's capable of downloading Game Boy and NES games via the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console.

You can use the same Nintendo Network ID on the Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS. Your Nintendo points balance can also be shared between them; however, you can not play games that you've downloaded for one device on the other. Therefore, if you wanted to play the original Super Mario Bros. on both systems, then you'd have to buy the game twice.

The New 3DS XL is a newer model of the 3DS that plays the same games plus a few exclusive titles. With the New 3DS, it's also possible to download and play handheld versions of SNES games like Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past. The Nintendo 2DS and New 2DS are the same as their 3DS counterparts without the 3D effect; each set of systems can play the same games.

How to Emulate 3DS Games on Your Computer

Although the Wii U can't play 3DS games, your computer can with the help of an emulator and ROMs. For example, Citra is an open-source emulator for the Nintendo 3DS that works on Windows, Linux, and macOS computers. The program can open 3DS executable files such as 3DS, 3DSX, ELF, AXF, CCI, CXI, and APP files. TronDS is another option for playing 3DS games on your PC.

Emulators don't typically come with any games, so you'll first need to download ROMs of the games you want to play. There are plenty of places where you can find free ROMs online, but the safety and legality of such sources are dubious. Once you have the ROMs you want, run your emulator and open the ROM file to start playing 3DS games on your PC.

Downloading ROMs of games you don't already own is against the law. Be careful when downloading files from the web.