The Nintendo 3DS launched with a bit of a stumble. Nintendo’s last true handheld originally cost $249.99 at launch, which caused so much fan uproar that the company later lowered it to $169.99 and offered free downloadable NES and Game Boy Advance titles to consumers who’d paid the original price. Many also saw the platform as nothing more than a slightly souped-up DS with added 3D, which a lot of players didn’t use anyway.
That doesn’t mean that the 3DS didn’t play host to another generation of excellent Nintendo titles, though. The little handheld has had an extremely long life: Nintendo is only now in the process of closing down the eShop after over 10 years of service. In celebration of all the joy it brought us, we’re taking a look back at its very best titles. (Note that this list focuses on physical releases rather than download-only titles.)
In no particular order, here are the eight best Nintendo 3DS games.
Super Smash Bros. for 3DS
Despite its unwieldy title, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS was a landmark game. It was the first time that Nintendo’s premiere fighting game series released for a handheld, and it brought all the fun of the console series to the 3DS’ small screens. Rather than being a watered-down version of a larger game, as handheld ports sometimes are, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS was a full-featured fighting experience that held up well on its own. Nintendo hosted 3DS-specific tournaments and gave the game support until the eventual release of Smash Ultimate.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
It wouldn’t be a best Nintendo games list without at least one Zelda title. I’m combining Majora’s Mask 3D and Ocarina of Time 3D into one entry because neither of them are technically new games: both are remakes of legendary N64 titles. Majora’s Mask 3D brings the original’s unique creepiness and wacky cast of characters into glorious 3D, while Ocarina of Time 3D continues to prove that the original is truly one of the best games of all time. Both titles hold up excellently and play great. If you were too young to play them when they came out on the N64 or just missed them the first time around, this is one of the best ways to play them today. (You can also get the original Majora’s Mask through Switch Online + Expansion Pack.)
Mario Kart 7
Is it really a Nintendo handheld if it doesn’t have a Mario Kart title? Mario Kart 7 introduced hang-gliding as its new gimmick, a mechanic that can still be found in its successor, Mario Kart 8. Gliding through the skies of the Mushroom Kingdom wouldn’t be interesting if there was nothing to look at, but thankfully, Nintendo stuffed Mario Kart 7 full of new courses, karts, and customization options. Enterprising players could compete with others online through a much easier system than in Mario Kart Wii. Like Smash Bros. for 3DS did for that series, Mario Kart 7 brought all the fun and excitement of karting to Nintendo’s 3D handheld.
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest
This is a controversial pick, I know. Before you come for me, hear me out: While Fire Emblem: Awakening might have revitalized the series and told a much better story, Fire Emblem: Fates Conquest’s absolutely impeccable map and objective design put it head and shoulders above its predecessor. The Fire Emblem series was originally known for tough strategic battles and careful resource management alongside the ever-present threat of permadeath. Don’t bother with Fates: Birthright and Revelations. Instead, look to Conquest for the best modern-day example of that original philosophy: difficult but never unfair, engaging but piecemeal enough to take it one battle at a time.
Pokémon Sun and Moon
Here’s another controversial pick for our best 3DS games list. Pokémon Sun and Moon shook up the franchise in a major way by removing gyms, one of the series’ most recognizable staples. In its place were trials, organized puzzles followed by a tough battle. They served essentially the same purpose as gyms, but their inclusion was still enough to rile up a fan base that has remained fairly conservative over the series’ lifetime. Looking beyond the lack of gyms and a tutorial that ran a little too long, Sun and Moon are the 3DS’ most engaging Pokémon titles thanks to their memorable characters, interesting new Alolan forms, and a unique Hawaii-based region to explore.
Kid Icarus: Uprising
Kid Icarus is not one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises. Other than two series games on the NES and the Game Boy and a few appearances in Smash Bros., Pit hadn’t done much up until the release of Kid Icarus: Uprising. You’re probably noticing that series revitalizations are a common theme on this best-of list, and you’d be right: Uprising brought Pit’s unique brand of high-flying platforming and combat to a whole new generation of players. It’s absolutely worth playing while simultaneously begging Nintendo for a remake.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Speaking of revitalized series, Animal Crossing: New Leaf lands a spot on our best 3DS games list for just that reason. Animal Crossing has been around in stellar form since the GameCube, but New Leaf really put the series on the map thanks to its portability, huge list of activities to do, and its introduction of iconic characters like Isabelle. Players enjoyed hacking their towns to decorate them so much that Nintendo ended up making exterior decoration a huge part of New Horizons. It’s hard to overstate the effect that New Leaf had on the series—small-town living has never been more appealing.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is the closest thing this list has to a perfect game. It expands upon A Link to the Past, another of the series’ best titles, by combining everything the series is known for and putting it into one incredibly polished package. A Link Between Worlds features boundless exploration, a sharp and engaging cast of characters, and extremely satisfying combat. If you play only one handheld Zelda title, make it this one.