In March of 2011, Nintendo launched its highly anticipated Nintendo 3DS handheld console to relative failure. The launch lineup was weak, and Nintendo scurried to right a quickly sinking ship. After a rough launch window, the 3DS enjoyed a long and fortuitous life, featuring some of the best works on a Nintendo console.
In fact, the list of high quality games on the 3DS is so extensive that it is easy to gloss over some of the best handheld content in existence. Here is a look at the best games launched on the Nintendo 3DS.
Updated by Evan Schwab on November 20, 2023: This list has been completely reinvisioned and rewritten with fresh eyes to reflect on the greatest games to ever come to the Nintendo 3DS console. This update also features many formatting changes, bringing this list in-line with DualShockers’ current formatting standards.
10 Pokemon X/Y
- October 12, 2013
- Game Freak
Reasons to play Pokemon X/Y:
- Dozens of new Pokemon to discover.
- Addition of the Fairy-type Pokemon.
- Introduction of Mega Evolutions and fully 3D graphics.
The first main Pokemon games to grace the Nintendo 3DS, Pokemon X and Y featured improved visuals, highly addictive collecting and combative gameplay, and an intriguing tale involving one of the more memorable Pokemon villains in Lysandre and Team Flare. Mega Evolutions were introduced in X and Y, and the Fairy-type Pokemon made its official debut.
In addition to the critically acclaimed updates to combat and the linear-but-gripping narrative, Pokemon X and Y were also the first games in the mainline franchise to feature fully 3D character models and character customization options. When paired with the 72 new species of Pokemon, the overall experience embedded within X and Y lives strong as one of the best games ever released on the Nintendo 3DS.
9 Fire Emblem Fates: Revelation/Birthright/Conquest
Reasons to play Fire Emblem Fates:
- Fire Emblem Fates consists of unique viewpoints from different sides of the same conflict.
- Classic Fire Emblem gameplay keeps the stakes high and requires thoughtful strategies.
Another chronicled Nintendo Franchise, Fire Emblem Fates threw a trilogy of games at gamers. Featuring the famous turn-based tactical gameplay that fans of the franchise laud, Fates thrusts players in the shoes of a protagonist caught in the middle of a brutal war. As the protagonist, players must choose a side to fight with, creating multiple branches off the storyline to follow and opening up various paths to recruiting new allies.
Fire Emblem Fates leans a little too heavily on the relationship building aspect of the game, however, often feeling much more like a dating sim than a fully fleshed-out strategy RPG. Still, the quality of the narrative mixed with the superior tactical gameplay keeps Fire Emblem Fates as one of the best set of games on the Nintendo 3DS.
8 Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
Reasons to play Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward:
- One of the greatest visual novel puzzlers of all time.
- Solve intriguing puzzles while making impactful decisions.
- Multiple endings keeps replayability high.
Perhaps the most unique title on this list, Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward is a masterclass of visual narrative storytelling mixed with excellent puzzles, memorable characters, and an unforgettable experience. Having awoken inside a container, Virtue’s Last Reward begins its brutal game of life or death by forcing players to vote on who lives or dies as they progress through an increasingly difficult set of challenges. Each player is equipped with a wristband, and during each round, players and their partners must vote to ally or betray their partners.
Points are distributed (or not) based on those decisions, and the first player to reach a certain number of points wins the Nonary Game and is set free. The rest? They do not quite have the same luxury, though most are likely dead by the end of a playthrough. The sequel to ‘999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors,’ Virtue’s Last Reward created such an intense and gripping experience that it inspired the likes of DanganRonpa and more, and it deservedly earned its spot on this list.
7 Animal Crossing New Leaf
Animal Crossing New Leaf
- November 8, 2012
Reasons to play Animal Crossing New Leaf:
- The first Animal Crossing to hit the 3DS.
- Added Amiibo support and a slew of new Amiibos and Amiibo cards.
- Released a free version on the Nintendo eStore.
What modern Nintendo list would be complete without the mention of Animal Crossing? Animal Crossing New Leaf serves as the series’ fourth installment in the long-running franchise and the first on the Nintendo 3DS. Originally launching in the west in 2013, Animal Crossing New Leaf puts players in the shoes of the mayor of their own town populated with a mixture of animal people. The game included numerous improvements to the franchise while also utilizing the 3D features of the Nintendo 3DS to its fullest without ruining the personal experience of the Animal Crossing series.
In fact, the game was so popular that it became a Nintendo Select title and received a free updated release that allowed for the use of Amiibos (as well as a retail release of the update called Animal Crossing New Leaf Welcome Amiibo). Its aggregate score of 88 on Metacritic slingshots this title to the top tier of 3DS games.
6 The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D
Reasons to play The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D:
- Race against time in this wholly unique Zelda experience.
- The 3DS remaster includes quality of life improvements that elevate the origial game.
- Relive the classic Nintendo 64 experience.
Few games garner as much excitement as a new Legend of Zelda entry. Majora’s Mask 3D was the second of the Nintendo 64 remasters released on the Nintendo 3DS, and it was a terrific release. Majora’s Mask was wholly unique to the Zelda franchise and centered around a time-based mechanic wherein Link has three days to prevent Termina from being annihilated by an impending colission with the moon.
Majora’s Mask 3D showcased the power of a successful remaster, with the Song of Double Time allowing players to hop to specific hours on the clock, the notebook keeping detailed notes on characters and quests, and the positive utilization of the 3DS and New 3DS features to enhance gameplay. Majora’s Mask is not necessarily for everyone, but it is hard to argue against it as an excellent game and addition to the 3DS library.
5 Super Mario 3D Land
Super Mario 3D Land
- November 3, 2011
Reasons to play Super Mario 3D Land:
- While short, Super Mario 3D Land created a much loved handheld entry.
- Small level designs work well on the small screen.
- High replayability.
The first game on this list to pull an aggregate 90 score on Metacritic, Super Mario 3D Land was adored by critics and enjoyed by fans. Super Mario 3D Land created a classic Mario 3D experience by layering bite-sized level design with enough Mario goodness to keep most fans satisfied. It could be said that the levels and game were far too short, but what is a sure thing is how replayable the game was.
Even though a skilled player could 100% the entire game in approximately 10 hours, many others invested at least 20, which still consisted of quite a few memorable levels. Mario had gone through a bit of a rough patch during this time, so experiencing a quality Mario title brought with it a renewed hope for the franchise.
4 Shovel Knight
- June 26, 2014
- Yacht Club Games
Reasons to play Shovel Knight:
- Classic retro aesthetic brings nostalgia in waves.
- Expertly designed levels creates a challenging experience.
- Filled with memorable boss fights that would make FromSoftware proud.
The soulslike genre has flourished since the days of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls obliterated gamers on the PlayStation 3 (and, later, across multiple platforms). A plethora of copycats pursued, and the genre grew quickly to what it is today. Not all soulslike titles are quality, but Shovel Knight bucked the early trend of abysmal copies by creating an homage to FromSoftware and retro gaming while also creating something completely unique.
Shovel Knight is tough but equips players with an accessible system to topple their foes against a gorgeous 8-bit inspired backdrop. Nostalgic waves of Zelda II and other NES classics permeate Shovel Knight, which both lives up to its hype and surpasses it. Games like Shovel Knight are not intended for a massive audience, but those who do take up the shovel will assuredly enjoy it.
3 The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
- November 22, 2013
- Nintendo EAD
Reasons to play The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds:
- A sequel to one of the greatest Zelda games of all time.
- Top down action RPG combat is lovingly recrafted.
- Attention to detail delivers one of the best new Zelda games in recent history.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is one of the single greatest adventure games of all time and an eternal gem on the Super Nintendo. While unnecessary, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds gifted gamers a return to Hyrule to re-experience the magical top-down action that spurred Link’s original adventure along but with a dimension hopping twist.
Not only was A Link Between Worlds a lovely gesture to long-time Zelda fans, but it was also an incredible game in its own right. Many fans argue that the top-down Zelda games reign supreme in gameplay, and while there is no right or wrong opinion here, its spot on this list should prove how good it really is.
2 Fire Emblem: Awakening
Fire Emblem: Awakening
- February 4, 2013
- Intelligent Systems, Nintendo SPD
Reasons to play Fire Emblem: Awakening:
- Classic gameplay with viable 3DS updates delivers the best handheld Fire Emblem experience to date.
- Engaging story keeps players invested.
- Beloved by fans and critics alike.
There is something to say about the consistent quality of Nintendo first party games. They dominate the majority of this list (kudos to Zero Escape and Shovel Knight for holding their own), and rightfully so. Fire Emblem: Awakening is easily one of the best games in the entire decorated franchise, and it sits with the highest aggregated metascore in the series.
Its high quality tactical gameplay paired with an innovative take on relationship building (before the future Fire Emblem games took that too far) created a memorable experience that breathed new life into a series growing stale. That is not to say that the previous entries did not live up to the Fire Emblem name, but Awakening reached a much wider audience and was well-loved among both critics and gamers alike.
1 The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time 3D
Reasons to play The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time 3D:
- A true remaster crafted with the utmost care.
- Quality of life updates make one of the greatest Zelda games of all time even better.
- Few games have shaped the industry like Ocarina of Time.
Few games have shaped the trajectory of the gaming industry quite like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Another shining example of how to remaster a game well, Ocarina of Time 3D takes the masterpiece from the Nintendo 64 and modifies it slightly to work efficiently on the 3DS by using gyroscopic functionalities and utilizing the touch screen for inventory management and ocarina playing.
In addition to these updates, the game also features Master Quest dungeons and a boss challenge mode. Gamers and critics still rave about Ocarina of Time to this day, Link’s first 3D adventure continues to thrive with creative gameplay, unforgettable ocarina mechanics, and the most in-depth Zelda experience for its time. Ocarina of Time 3D was so popular and well received that it ranks as one of the best-selling Nintendo games of all time, and it undoubtedly earns its place as the greatest 3DS game of all time.