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Nintendo has a reputation for making some of the most incredible handheld systems of all time (as well as amazing home consoles, like the Nintendo Switch), so it's no surprise that amongst the best Nintendo 3DS games are some of the greatest portable games ever developed. The top choices are ones that take full advantage of the unique quirks of their platform, including the dual screens, the touch/stylus functionality, and, in some cases, even the oft-maligned 3D.
Maybe even more importantly, the best Nintendo 3DS games (as well as some of the best Nintendo Switch games) are designed to be as portable as the console itself. That means games that are easy to jump in and out of and play in bite-size chunks, and also games that lend themselves well to the scale of presentation on the 3DS (games that live and die based on their cutting edge graphical wrinkles tend to suffer on handhelds, for instance). We combed through the 3DS' expansive library of titles and found the best, most entertaining games available on the system.
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Addictive platforming gameplay
Bright, colorful worlds
Great selection of items/suits
Affordable, easy to play and lighthearted, Super Mario 3D Land takes the cake for the best 3DS game overall. The platformer game combines the side-scrolling 2D Mario games with a modern free-roaming 3D game with various power-ups, big beautiful levels to play in, plus fun and varied gameplay mechanics.
Super Mario 3D Land features bright colorful worlds where players control Mario who can dash, barrel roll, ground pound, leap, climb and race against a time limit. The game is loaded with various items from previous Mario games such as the leaf power from Super Mario Bros. 3 that gives Mario a raccoon outfit that allows him to float in the air and attack with his tail — players can even save an extra power up to use later. A few other power-ups give players a different way of gameplay that helps them complete levels and overcome enemies and bosses, so they can save Princess Peach from Bowser.
Gorgeous remastered graphics
Huge open world
Shows its age in some ways
Considered as one of the best games ever made, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is a completely remastered version of the original 1998 N64 game with enhanced graphics, new challenges and beautiful 3D visuals. Over 20 publications in the video game industry gave the game a perfect score with some calling it one of the best remasters of all time.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is a fantasy, action-adventure game with role-playing and puzzle elements set in a huge expansive open world. Players control the main character Link in a third-person perspective, traversing the huge land of Hyrule while exploring various dungeons and using a sword and shield along with other items such as magic spells, arrows and bombs to fight off enemies. Any gamer yearning to play a classic with a rich story and embark on a quest of unforgettable characters, landmarks and epic boss fights should pick up The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D.
Sprawling, bright world
Tons of content
Turn-based battles can get repetitive
The Pokemon name needs little introduction and seeing Pikachu and pals grab the top spot for best RPG likely won’t come as a surprise to many. Whether it’s the polished presentation or the quest to catch as many Pokemon as possible, Pokemon Ultra Sun stands out for its excellent graphics and gameplay. There’s a ton of new content available for both new and existing Pokemon fans as well as lengthy gameplay which, combined, make Pokemon Ultra Sun a big winner.
The Hawaiian-inspired location is visually split into four distinct play areas which essentially feels like you've gotten four games for the price of one. Embarking on a series of battles, scavenger hunts, quizzes, and even non-combat challenges, Pokemon Sun sets itself apart by taking you outside of the typical gym where previous variants in the Pokemon series have taken place. After more than 20 years of Pokemon releases, the series is reinvigorated by the main adventure of this RPG as you battle to become a Pokemon champion.
Conjure up objects at will
Great item editor
Fun cartoon visuals
Fairly short base game
With gameplay that allows open-world exploration of more than 41 levels, Scribblenauts Unlimited is a longtime staple on the Nintendo 3DS and one of the best puzzle games for any platform. There's no mission to rescue a princess in this portable puzzle adventure, instead, players will be focused using the in-game notepad to complete tasks, puzzles, and challenges.
When it's time to take a break from mindless action games or shooting down hordes of zombies, Scribblenauts demands players use their minds and imaginations to solve puzzles by summoning any object that might help. It’s an incredibly novel approach and one that works fantastically well and incorporates Nintendo's 3DS Street Pass functionality to play online and see how players around the world have solved the same puzzle. Throw in an object editor and the possibilities — as you play and later replay — are nearly unlimited. On top of incredible gameplay, the cartoon-like visual experience of Scribblenauts leaves you wondering how the game developers managed something so great on a gaming system so small.
Awesome multiplayer brawling
Huge roster of characters
Ton of modes
Limited solo experience
Super Smash Bros. comes to the Nintendo 3DS as the best fighting game on the platform, allowing players to play and fight as their favorite video game characters (Mario, Sonic, Mega Man and Pac-Man). The multiplayer fighting game has players duke it out with various attacks and techniques to deal damage to their opponents, so they can knock them out of the area for a KO.
The huge 58-character roster (including downloadable content) gives Super Smash Bros. one of the biggest fighting games available in existence where you can play as Ryu from Street Fighter II and Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy 7. Super Smash Bros. has multiple modes from a solo challenge campaign where players fight AI opponents to an online multiplayer versus mode for friends or anyone around the world. Aside from it’s fighting modes, the game is loaded with items such as trophies, music records, replay videos and photo albums of players’ most epic battle moments.
Awesome karting gameplay
Tons of Mario favorites
Varied tracks and layouts
Limited single-player appeal
The best racing game on the list goes to Mario Kart 7, where players race against 17 different Mario characters on wild tracks and build unique karts, each with their own unique attributes. The game allows for wireless multiplayer matches in the same room or over the Internet with a broadband connection.
In Mario Kart 7, players choose their own unique vehicle kart and customize it with accessories that give it a competitive advantage (for example, big tires will help with off-roading). There are eight different cups with 32 courses, including tracks from previous Mario Kart games from past Nintendo systems (SNES, N64, Gameboy Advance, Wii, and DS). The game also changes the dynamic of racing by throwing players over big jumps and having them use parasails to glide. There are also underwater portions of tracks where players utilize a propeller to steer and get ahead.
Deep roleplaying mechanics
Multiple difficulty modes
Battles can become rote
Fire Emblem: Awakening is a tactical, turn-based, role-playing video game where players control a party of characters on a top screen tile-based map and strategically overcome enemy forces and earn experience points. The game features an optional classic mode where characters who die in battle are permanently dead for the entire game, giving a sense of reality and weight to each in-game decision made (casual mode disables this, and characters who die are restored after the battle).
Fire Emblem: Awakening starts players off by choosing their avatar’s gender, hair color, feature types, voice and class system to give players a sense of ownership and self with their main character. Multiple difficulty modes range from "Normal" to "Lunatic," giving new players a chance to figure out gameplay and tactics while more experienced players get a thorough and tough challenge. In-game characters have a chance to work together, creating relationships (and sometimes not) and boosting morale for better attacks and defenses — the game not only forces players to figure out strategies in war but also in love.
Varied action platformer gameplay
Killer 2D presentation
Tons of additional content
Shovel Knight takes the best of video games in the 1990s (Mega Man, Mario, Ninja Gaiden, Ducktales, to name a few) and combines them in a unique, non-derivative 2D side-scrolling platformer chockfull of fun. The modern-day, eight-bit game builds upon a golden era of gaming with detailed animations, a chiptune soundtrack, thorough game design features and multilayered parallax backgrounds.
Shovel Knight has a wide anatomy despite its 2D visual presentation that gives players the ability to flip enemies, use secondary items, leap over gaps, duel with foes, pogo jump, dig up the ground to find treasure, as well as upgrade items, armor and life points. Players play as a knight armed with a shovel who ventures off to fight against a villainous group of knights called the Order of No Quarter (their leader is an evil enchantress). Old school gamers will appreciate Shovel Knight for paying ode to the early Nintendo era, while younger gamers will love its quirky characters, challenge and fun gameplay.
Classic survival horror
Great use of the touch screen
Unique multiplayer campaign
Controls can be slightly restrictive
It is fear right in the palm of your hands! Resident Evil: Revelations is a survival horror video game where players are sent to investigate a bio-terrorist organization and come face-to-face with a horde of undead zombies and mutants. While some Resident Evil games in the past have focused on action, Resident Evil: Revelations emphasizes its survival horror roots with exploration and evasion using limited supplies, ammunition and speed to make the game scarier.
Resident Evil: Revelations features both a single-player main story mode where players complete a series of episodes to defeat numerous enemies and solve various puzzles through the 3DS’s touchscreen, as well as a multiplayer mode where players fight to survive in a slightly altered campaign. The third-person perspective game has players interact with their environments and complete a series of scenarios through its episodic story of investigating a ghost ship in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Along the way, players will collect different weapons which, when aiming, shift the camera to a first-person perspective that make the game more dramatic in times of crisis.
Five different sports in one package
Great quality of life touches in each game
Awesome multiplayer options
Wildly varying difficulty
With five different sports, Mario Sports Superstars gives players the chance to play as their favorite Mario characters in either soccer, baseball, tennis, golf or horse racing. The full-scale recreations of each sport give players a hefty experience that makes each game feel complete and not like a simple mini-game.
Mario Sports Superstars features an exciting 11-on-11 soccer game that shows a mini-map of all characters on screen to make game navigation easier along with replays of goal shots. Its baseball game has a targeting system for both pitchers and batters that showcases mph for swings and pitches, while tennis allows for different racket swings such as lobs and drop shots for more tactile gameplay mechanics. Golf is the gentler game of the bunch, with calming music and wide serene courses and target alignment systems, so players can perfect their swing. The horse racing mode almost feels like its own racing game, with players hopping over tracks, collecting power-ups and using turbo boosts.
For one of the most satisfying, most engaging platformers of all time, don't hesitate to pick up Super Mario 3D Land. If you're looking for a more expansive, 3D fantasy adventure, however, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D brings one of the most beloved games of all time to the 3DS with style and panache.
Alex Williams has been a tech and games journalist for over five years now, bringing expertise in games, wearables, and beyond to a number of leading tech outlets. He also has experience with front end web development and UX design, and is a certified full stack web developer.
Multiplayer - Nintendo has made a name for itself, even on the handheld side, for developing/publishing some of the best multiplayer titles in gaming history. If playing with friends on the go is an important consideration, be sure to check out the multiplayer modes/functionality of the titles you're shopping.
Length - If you're looking for something you can play in quick chunks on the train or bus, a game like Mario Sports Superstars might be the best fit. But if you're looking for a full course, meaty adventure that will soak up hours or even days of your life, you should consider a title like Ocarina of Time, the sort of game you can lose yourself in completely, even on a compact handheld.
Genre - A huge consideration regardless of what system you're shopping for, it often doesn't matter how great a game is if it's in a genre you don't appreciate. Luckily, the 3DS covers a broad gamut of options, from kart racers to fighting games, shooters to Metroidvanias, and everything in between.