Best Nintendo 3DS games: 18 titles you should take on the go

There’s no doubt about it: if you want to do some serious gaming on the go, then the Nintendo 3DS is the best handheld gaming machine you can buy.  

Nintendo might now have confirmed the rumors that its upcoming Nintendo Switch will be a console/handheld hybrid but this doesn’t mean we’re seeing the end of the 3DS. 

Thanks to a strong library of games and its huge instal base, Nintendo doesn’t have any immediate plans to stop creating new and essential games for its dedicated handheld so you can expect it to remain fresh and relevant for some time to come. 

Nintendo might be dropping the 3D feature in its new console but that doesn’t mean this system doesn’t have some incredible games to offer that use it well, from updated classics like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D to brand new offerings like GTA: Chinatown Wars.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Nintendo handheld without a tonne of Pokémon games, and the 3DS has seen several in the form of Pokémon X and Y, and Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. We’ve also got another pair of Pokémon games on the horizon, Pokémon Sun and Moon. 

So read on for the 18 best 3DS games, or if you’re looking to dip your toe into the more retro DS library, then check out our list of the best Nintendo DS games.

While Mario has always been bold and brave, his brother Luigi is … well, not. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon follows the less adventurous of the two Mario Bros. as he wanders through mansions with a tepid nervousness that’s just as likely to make you laugh as it is to sympathize with the game’s green-hatted hero.

Dark Moon, the sequel to the original Luigi’s Mansion on the Nintendo GameCube, is an adventure game through and through. You’ll solve puzzles, collect coins and generally revel in the game’s spooky – but never overwhelmingly frightening – abodes. If you’re looking for smart, funny platforming, Dark Moon is the bite-size adventure you’ve been yearning for.

Mario sports games have always been a contentious affair. Whether you remember slamming home goals in Super Mario Strikers, smashing an ace in Super Mario Tennis or shooting an eagle in the original Mario Golf title, most of the Nintendo sports titles starring the mustachioed mascot have been memorable, enjoyable – and yes, even competitive – affairs.

Mario Golf: World Tour does nothing to break that trend. Simple tutorials ease you into the world of Lukitos and Chain Chomp-equipped lawns, while local and online multiplayer compel you to take your game to the next level.

You might’ve billed Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire as cash-in remakes of two somewhat middling entries in the monster catching franchise. There’s no shame in it. That’s what we thought, too. But actually sitting down with Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire is like seeing a friend after a decade apart: you’re both different people than you were 10 years ago, but just as fond of one another now as you were then.

The 3DS versions of Ruby and Sapphire add a number of interesting – even ground-breaking – new features like Mega Evolutions from X and Y, and Pokémon Box that allows you to send monsters to yourself from one game in the franchise to the next.

In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you find yourself thrust into the role of a village’s new mayor, which means it’s up to you to help make the rules and aid in the burg’s development. Don’t fret, though: it’s a pretty chill gig. You’ll still have time to go fishing, catch bugs, design clothes, dig up fossils, decorate and expand your home, and hang out with friends doing lots of relaxing stuff. The 3DS’s online and StreetPass functionality are put to great use here, allowing you to visit friends’ towns see how other players’ homes are decorated.

Japanese role-playing games aren’t as ubiquitous as they once were, but they haven’t gone away – they’ve simply found new homes on systems like the 3DS. Furthermore, Bravely Default is one of the best examples of the genre in recent years, combining modern technology and excellent storytelling with genre staples like random enemy encounters, turn-based battles, and a job system that lets you choose your characters’ abilities. Sure, the game’s title sounds weird, but it’s actually tied to its deeply strategic battle system, in which you “default” by skipping your turn in battle, then use “brave” attacks that allow you to unleash multiple strikes in one go.

After being out of action for many years, Donkey Kong finally made his platforming comeback with Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii, and this 3D version could be even better than the original. It contains everything that fans loved about the classic DKC titles: enemies to jump on, bananas to collect, mine carts to ride, secrets to uncover, and wacky bosses to overcome. It may look like a bunch of monkey business, but don’t be fooled – the game can be extremely challenging.

The strategy-RPG series Fire Emblem has been around for quite some time, but the 3DS entry is arguably the best yet. With a variety of unique heroes at your disposal, you’ll engage in turn-driven, grid-based combat to bring peace to the land of Ylisse. When you’re not fighting enemies, you’ll work to build up relationships between characters, which allows them to not only cooperate better in battle, but to get married and have children, who also become playable characters. Lots of downloadable extra missions add to the depth and longevity of this game.

Combining on-rails aerial shooting with ground-based combat, Kid Icarus: Uprising provides a modern take on the long-dormant Kid Icarus franchise that got its start on the NES. Just like in the original, Pit the angel must defend the realm from Medusa’s forces of darkness, but Uprising takes things much further with a huge arsenal of weapons, a twist-filled story, and online multiplayer. The controls may take some getting used to, but stick with it – the awesome action and surprisingly entertaining sense of humor make it worth the effort. What else would you expect from a game designed by the creator of Super Smash Bros.?

Whether you’re new to the Legend of Zelda series or a seasoned vet, A Link Between Worlds offers fantasy adventuring at its finest. Though the overhead presentation and narrative connection to 1992’s A Link to the Past make this entry something of a throwback, new elements such as the ability to rent items and tackle dungeons in nearly any order – as well as Link’s newfound power to merge with walls by becoming a 2D painting – breathe fresh new life into the Zelda franchise. Traveling between Hyrule and its alternate-reality counterpart, Lorule, you’ll overcome brilliantly designed dungeons and engage in numerous side quests.

The original Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64 is one of the most acclaimed games ever made, and this enhanced version is even better. Not only does it feature the same epic, time-traveling tale, packed with puzzles, peril, and sword-swinging action, but it boasts vastly enhanced graphics and more user-friendly gameplay, such as gyroscopic targeting and optional extra hints. If you’re up for the challenge, you can tackle Master Quest mode, which features greater difficulty and a mirrored world map.

Like the other games in the series that have come before it, Mario Kart 7 is nothing short of pure, adrenaline-filled, racing excitement. Choose from one of 16 popular Mario characters (or a Mii), pick your kart, your tires, and your glider, then use all your skills (and any items you can snag) to outrace and outwit your competitors in crazily designed courses like Mario Circuit and Neo Bowser City. Underwater and aerial segments introduced in this installment make this one of the most varied Kart games yet, and classic courses from past entries add to the fun. A robust online community ensures you’ll never lack competition, too.

Majora’s Mask in 3D might be the third Legend of Zelda game on this list, but we wouldn’t dream of not including this excellent remake of the Nintendo 64 classic. When compared to the blockbusters that make up the rest of the Zelda series, Majora’s Mask often seems to not quite hold up in comparison, but it’s by no means a bad game. On the contrary, it’s time specific quests and puzzles are a quite unique addition to the Zelda formula, and continue to work excellently in this handheld format.

Enter an ancient world filled with amazing, gargantuan, dinosaurlike creatures…then hunt them down and slay them. Whether you’re armed with swords, a lance, a bowgun, a massive hammer, or one of the other numerous weapons, you’ll be tasked with venturing across the landscape to complete quests, defeat monsters and acquire materials to upgrade your equipment. The big hook is the ability to team up with other players locally or online to topple the massive beasts together, but you can enlist the help of feline NPC companions when your friends aren’t around.

The Pokémon series hasn’t changed all that much since its inception, but that doesn’t mean it’s become any less fun or addictive. Featuring dozens of new Pokémon critters, bringing the total up to more than 700, the game sets you on a rollicking adventure as you train your wee beasties and face off against rival trainers. User-friendly new features make it easier than ever to build up a balanced team, and Mega Evolutions make even classic Pokémon feel new again. Although the X and Y versions of the game are mostly the same, each version features exclusive Pokémon, so you’ll have to trade with other players (online or offline) if you want to catch ’em all.

A puzzle-loving archaeology professor and a spiky-haired lawyer might not seem like the most typical video game protagonists, but when they’re seemingly transported to a medieval village, a strange and mysterious adventure unfolds. As Professor Layton you’ll attempt to solve a number of brain-bending riddles, while as Phoenix Wright you’ll present evidence and find holes in witness testimonies in fast-paced courtroom battles. It’s different from other 3DS games for sure, and its story will keep you guessing until the end.

Originally a download-only game that was funded through Kickstarter, Shovel Knight has bucked trends and exceeded expectations by reappearing as a packaged release. And with good reason: it’s really, really fun. Despite the retro visuals, this action-platformer is just as good as anything else released today, and it’s bursting with clever techniques, useful power-ups, interesting level design, awesome 3D effects, and a keen sense of humor. Where else are you going to find a shovel-wielding knight battling flying roto-rats? There’s even a Shovel Knight amiibo toy and additional content coming in the form of free DLC!

It’s hard to go wrong with Mario, and Super Mario 3D Land is quite possibly the plumber’s best handheld outing ever. Featuring the same kind of block-bashing, enemy-stomping, pipe-entering fun that made Mario a household name, this game ups the ante with wonderfully creative level design and whimsical power-ups like a boomerang suit and the Tanooki outfit from Super Mario Bros. 3. The game makes great use of the system’s stereoscopic 3D capabilities, and there are surprises hidden around every turn, including a ton of challenging bonus levels that don’t become available until after you’ve beaten the main game.

If you want frantic action and an endless supply of Nintendo fan service, look no further than Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. Gaming’s biggest characters are here (along with a few of the more obscure) – Mario, Sonic, Link, Mega Man, Samus Aran, Little Mac, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Pikachu, and dozens of others – all duking it out in stages based on hit Nintendo properties. If you’ve played any previous game in this series, you know the drill: whittle down your opponents with standard attacks and special moves, then send ’em flying off the stage! Naturally, you can play the game solo, or you can fight in matches with up to four players either locally or online.

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