While it didn’t sell as well as the Nintendo DS, the Nintendo 3DS was nonetheless a wonderful system. And, while this may be a hot take, it’s easily my favorite handheld. Even more than a decade removed from launch, the system’s library has so many titles that feel as fresh today as they did back at release. While it was hard to narrow down, these 30 Nintendo 3DS games are emblematic of the system’s success.
Now, there’s one main caveat here. I’ve only included retail titles, as the 3DS’ eShop is sadly speeding toward its closure. So, it’s fair to say that these aren’t necessarily the 30 best Nintendo 3DS games—just 30 that are particularly memorable. Although, most of the games below certainly would make the best-of list too. Let’s jump in!
This list is presented in no particular order. Well, aside from Pokémon X/Y. Y version is far and away my most played Nintendo 3DS game, and my favorite Pokémon generation to boot. Now, a lot of my love for it comes from a general love of the formula and the time in my life that it was released during.
However, there are plenty of objective merits to the Kalos region. The landscapes are beautiful and presented with a French flair. The regional Pokédex is among the series’ best. New features and gimmicks like Pokémon-Amie and Mega Evolution iterate upon the core gameplay smartly. There’s so much to praise about the franchise’s transition into 3D—give it a shot!
Nintendo’s made some weird games, and Tomodachi Life is certainly one of the company’s weirdest. It’s one part Mii life simulator and one part irreverent god game. This is less of a title that you play, and more of a title that you experience, as you watch your Miis’ lives unfold before your eyes. It gets really, really odd.
This is undoubtedly one of my favorite Nintendo 3DS games because of how peculiar it is. I spent hours watching Miis based on my family, friends, and favorite celebrities go about their daily routines, go on dates, and… dream about being chased by cereal boxes? You need to play this one to understand its charm.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Although Animal Crossing: New Horizons is an earth-shattering phenomenon, it’s arguably not a great Animal Crossing game. Its crafting-heavy formula strays so far away from the series’ roots. New Horizons almost feels too Stardew Valley to truly feel Animal Crossing—beyond the aesthetics, of course.
Rant aside, New Leaf is classic Animal Crossing refined. It still gives you then-unprecedented agency over your town, but it never compromises the franchise’s laid-back design. Even if you have hundreds of hours in New Horizons, there’s plenty of unique fun to be found here. From Kapp’n’s Island to the Mayor concept, New Leaf is packed full of wonderful ideas. This is undeniably my favorite entry in the series.
Kid Icarus: Uprising
Now this is the complete opposite of Animal Crossing! Kid Icarus is a remarkably action-packed experience that blends on-rails shooting with 3D action combat. It’s brilliant, and it’s wrapped up in a very impressive narrative. The game has full voice acting and hours of it.
This is a Masahiro Sakurai game, so its quality should come as no surprise. There’s so much content to dive into and a consistent layer of style over the entire experience. While the controls can be cramp-inducing, Uprising is nonetheless a must-own among Nintendo 3DS games.
Generation seven saw Game Freak try to recontextualize the Pokémon formula somewhat. It’s nowhere near as radical as Legends: Arceus, but the Totem Trials that replace gyms are fun. As are the anime-inspired Z-Moves and Alolan form Pokémon. The storyline can get a bit overwrought, but that’s largely the game’s only weakness.
I really enjoyed Pokémon Sun, but I never played its Ultra versions. By and large, those are considered to be equally good, albeit far less substantial an upgrade than, say, Black/White 2. Regardless, any trip to the tropical land of Alola is going to be a good one.
Star Fox 64 3D
The Nintendo 64 version of Star Fox 64 is my favorite game of all time. It always has been, it likely always will be. The 3DS remake is great too, but for my taste, I’d rather play 64 on the TV. Nonetheless, any version of Star Fox 64 is absolutely amazing. It’s perhaps the most perfect Nintendo game I’ve ever experienced.
Its level design is so exacting. While hyperlinear, the Lylat System feels vast, full of incredible set piece moments that beg to be replayed over and over. Thanks to the tight, skill-focused gameplay, doing just that is a treat. And, in doing so, you get to experience the wonderfully iconic cast of Star Fox characters. I’ve played this game to death, and I still return multiple times a year.
The 3DS version cleans up the visuals and provides some nice quality of life changes. If it could be played on my TV with an N64 pad, it would be the definitive version. However, I’ll never turn down modernized Star Fox 64 in my pocket. It’s just so good!
Kirby: Triple Deluxe
It’s hard to argue with a good 2D Nintendo platformer. Kirby: Triple Deluxe happens to be a great one. Its use of 3D is really special, building many of its levels around a foreground-background structure that illustrates the hardware gimmick beautifully. It’s a bright, breezy Kirby adventure that set up the series for success on the handheld.
I do prefer another Kirby Nintendo 3DS game that we’ll mention shortly, but Triple Deluxe is certainly worth playing still. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does provide some truly solid platforming fun.
Metroid: Samus Returns
Without Samus Returns, there would be no Metroid Dread. That’d be a dark world. While I love the classic 2D Metroids, MercurySteam brought a level of fluidity to Samus’ movement in Dread that we hadn’t seen before. The team learned how to refine Metroid with Samus Returns.
This game walked so Dread can run, I’d say. Everything that’s phenomenal about that Switch title is great here. And, Samus Returns succeeds by its own merits, too. It’s more than just a proving ground. MercurySteam totally reinvented Metroid II, bringing SR388 to life in incredible detail, providing one of Samus’ most streamlined adventures ever. I love jumping into this game for a bit of action-oriented Metroid fun.
The WarioWare series is so strange. It’s predicated on microgames that you beat in literal seconds. The world is full of bizarre characters and humor. On paper, it doesn’t make sense, but in execution it’s lovingly stange, particularly on handheld. This is the perfect game to play in short bursts.
And, it’s the perfect encapsulation of the WarioWare series. After all, this is effectively a remake compilation of the franchise’s past entries, bundling hundreds of microgames into one brilliant package. This was a post-Switch Nintendo 3DS game that got me to break out the portable after its retirement. WarioWare Gold is just so content-rich and endlessly replayable.
Kirby: Planet Robobot
Here is my favorite Kirby game on 3DS! Planet Robobot is so good. It’s perhaps my third-favorite Kirby game behind Super Star Ultra and The Forgotten Land. While this is a traditional 2D Kirby in part, it’s so much more than that, which makes the title remarkably special.
Planet Robobot has a truly defined and original identity. The urban, mechanical motifs are so unique for the series. The gameplay is elevated by the Robobot itself, which feeds into the game’s themes and upends level design. The title even features a particularly compelling narrative and equally good boss fights! It really is the ultimate 2D Kirby experience on 3DS.
Rhythm Heaven Megamix
NOTE: Megamix is available on cart ONLY in Japan. However, if you can get around the region-locking, this title doesn’t necessarily require much (if any) knowledge of Japanese to enjoy.
I am so horrendously bad at this game. I truly have no rhythm, but I wish I did—mainly so I could play Megamix. Like WarioWare, this is another experience all about irreverent characters and variety. However, instead of microgames, Megamix has groovy, rhythm-based minigames.
Like WarioWare Gold, Megamix is yet another compilation of its franchise’s past efforts. As such, it’s a wonderful place to jump in. And, it’s somewhat friendly to the rhythm-impaired like myself. Somewhat. Those practice lessons only go so far! Nonetheless, this is an essential and underappreciated series. Check it out!
New Super Mario Bros. 2
Given the blatant oversaturation of the brand, New Super Mario Bros. hate makes some sense. It’s just unwarranted to an extent because these are well-designed, satisfying adventures! NSMB2 arguably suffers from franchise fatigue the most, but it’s also perhaps the most distinct.
This one has a clear gimmick: there are a lot of coins and you need to collect them. Like, a lot of them. New Super Mario Bros. U’s level design and challenge mode probably edges 2 out for best in the series, but this handheld entry is still worth a look. I really enjoyed it back in the day, particularly for its Coin Rush mode. Plus, there’s just a pure fun inherent to being showered in coins.
Ultimate NES Remix
Pick-up-and-play experiences are central to the appeal of portable gaming. Few Nintendo 3DS games are better suited to this style of play than Ultimate NES Remix. The title says it all, this game remixes beloved NES games into bite-sized challenges.
It’s so clever seeing famous NES titles cross over into each other. Considering how tired and often re-released these games are, experiencing them through this fresh lens is great fun. Plus, it’s just perfectly suited to the system. The Wii U version is fine, but I much prefer having this one on the go.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
How do you make A Link to the Past better? Well, you re-use its framework, introduce new gameplay ideas, and polish its mechanics. That’s precisely what A Link Between Worlds does. While the Switch remake of Link’s Awakening has since surpassed this game becoming my favorite top-down Zelda, Link Between Worlds is unmissable.
Perhaps its most interesting element is the feeling of nonlinearity. Prior to Breath of the Wild, this was as open as Zelda got, thanks to the item rental system. You can buy key items with Rupees, allowing Link to traverse Hyrule without many limitations. The painting gimmick is the title’s calling card, but this freedom of exploration is what makes ALBW so special.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
Surprisingly, the 3DS got many console ports, running the gamut from N64 to—believe it or not—Switch. However, some of those, like the Warriors titles, were undeniably compromised on the system. Not Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, though. This is the definitive version of this 2010 Wii platformer.
It removes the forced motion controls, allowing this iconic platformer to play out in a more traditional style. Although Tropical Freeze is the better DKC title from Retro in my opinion, the best version of Returns is still a top-tier platformer. The level design is so cohesive and the difficulty curve is just right. Rare set the DKC bar so high in the 90s, and Retro matched that quality twice.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS
It’s hard to go wrong with Super Smash Bros. While the 3DS iteration of Smash 4 is largely inferior to the HD Wii U version—which in turn was surpassed by Ultimate (my favorite game in the series)—it’s still worth revisiting. Smash is Smash, and that gameplay is wonderful on any platform.
However, what makes Smash 3DS still unmissable in 2022 is Smash Run. This exclusive mode is something of a spiritual successor to Kirby Air Ride’s City Trial. It’s some of the best Smash content ever.
In essence, you traverse a huge map powering up your fighter before duking it out in a randomly-chosen challenge. It’s a wonderful balance of skill-based gameplay and randomized fun. If only this mode returned in Ultimate!
Ocarina of Time 3D
Back in 2011, Ocarina of Time 3D was the first marquee release on the platform. And, it was one of the key titles that had me begging for a 3DS for Christmas that year. It’s a wonderful game and the definitive version of this industry-defining adventure.
Grezzo went above and beyond here, sanding down a majority of Ocarina’s rough 90s edges. What remains is a timeless, iconic trip through Hyrule. While not every facet of its design holds up, this is still an essential pickup for any Nintendo fan.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
I can’t assemble a list of essential Nintendo 3DS games without Monster Hunter. This series isn’t particularly my cup of tea, but it’s undeniably one of the most important on the platform. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, 4 Ultimate, and Generations were genuine blockbusters that pushed the 3DS’ limits and moved huge amounts of software. These games majorly strengthened the system’s library.
The scale of Monster Hunter is so impressive. I’ve gained a fresh appreciation for that scope and its gameplay nuance thanks to my MH-obsessed roommate. Perhaps I should give this franchise a spin once more!
Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure
The 3DS library was bolstered by a number of great third-party exclusives, like Monster Hunter. Another title in that category, albeit an underappreciated one, is Rhythm Thief. This rhythm caper is so charming and decidedly unique, even if I have to struggle through it. Again, no rhythm here.
It’s just lovely seeing publishers like Sega tackle something beyond their core franchises. For a whimsical adventure through Paris, look no further. Perhaps I’ll finally finish this one when I eventually learn to tap to a beat.
Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.
This will be a controversial entry on the list. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is a third-person tactics Nintendo 3DS game from Intelligent Systems, the team behind titles like Fire Emblem and Paper Mario. It’s so weird. I mean, so, so weird. The roster includes, but is not limited to: Tom Sawyer, Queequeg, and Dorothy Gale. Oh yeah, Abraham Lincoln’s here too.
I just don’t know what forces came together to conceptualize this adventure. But, I’m glad they did. The gameplay is genuinely engaging, and the comic book aesthetic ties all these bizarre literary and historical figures together. Just don’t think too hard about it when you scan in a Marth amiibo and he joins forces with the Tin Man.
Mario Golf: World Tour
Now this is a Nintendo 3DS game that I’ve sadly only played the demo of, but it’s on my short list of titles to pick up soon. In an underwhelming era of Mario Sports titles (that’s still continuing sadly), World Tour is a clear exception. It’s so full of life!
Not only is it one of the best looking games on the system, it’s also packed with content. And, unlike other Mario Golf games, cough Super Rush cough, it actually features compelling, well-themed courses. I can’t wait to dive into this one soon.
There was a period of time where all I wanted to do was play Fantasy Life. It’s this wonderful genre fusion of RPG and life sim, offering plenty of laid-back action and deep gameplay. It took what I loved about Animal Crossing and punched it up with more engaged mechanics and role-playing elements.
This is an endlessly replayable title with distinctly compelling job classes, all of whom offer further reason to sink hours into the adventure. It’s a Level-5 game, and a worthy addition to that studio’s suite of great Nintendo 3DS games. Don’t miss it!
Mario Kart 7
I’d be remiss not to mention Mario Kart 7 here. It, like Ocarina of Time 3D and other titles, worked alongside a massive price cut to turn the 3DS’ fate around. Fall/Holiday 2011 was a great time to get into the handheld.
While most of MK7’s ideas were more robustly implemented in Mario Kart 8, this title provided the series with some of its most important ideas. We got gliding, diving, and cart customization from 7. It’s arguably one of the most essential entries in the franchise because of this. Plus, it’s just solid Mario Kart fun with a compelling (albeit small) roster. I want Wiggler and Honey Queen back for Mario Kart 9!
Fire Emblem Fates
Adopting Pokémon’s multi-version strategy dampened Fire Emblem Fates’ impact. That’s unfortunate, as the game’s three versions are effectively three different Fire Emblem campaigns. Building upon the excellent foundation of Awakening, Fates furthered the series’ rise toward its current position.
I personally chose Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright, and while I haven’t played it in many years, I plan to circle back to the Conquest version sometime in this gap between new FE titles. And no, Warriors doesn’t count. We need more mainline Fire Emblem! At least 3DS gave us plenty to dig into while we wait.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
Now, I’ve never touched Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. However, it’s in the queue of games that I need to pick up, as Luigi’s Mansion 3 is easily one of Switch’s best games. Dark Moon is the missing link between LM1 and 3, adopting a segmented design structure and a new identity compared to the original. The third game is a synthesis of its predecessors.
So, to better understand this wonderful series, I need to check out this widely-enjoyed adventure. Next Level Games is certainly one of Nintendo’s strongest teams. This is just another example of their commitment to polished, high-fidelity experiences, full of charm and clever design.
Super Mario 3D Land
Getting a 3D Mario less than a year into the 3DS’ life was essential in cementing its upward trajectory. My 2011 Christmas vacation was dominated by this title, exploring its wealth of linear Mario stages. Yes, 3D Land, like 3D World after it, is a 3D Mario title in a stage-based context. While its sequel is just a bigger, better take on this concept, the level structure arguably works better on a handheld.
Like many games on this list, 3D Land is scaled to be the perfect portable adventure. You can jump in for a stage or two, then hop out again. What it lacks in ambition retrospectively is made up for with sheer polish. It isn’t the most essential 3D Mario platformer. But, even the weakest 3D Mario platformer is better than, well, most games on the market.
Majora’s Mask 3D
Grezzo took a trip to Termina to remake the beloved Majora’s Mask alongside Ocarina of Time. This hotly anticipated remake ended up dividing fans due to how it altered the core gameplay loop. However, I found it to be the ideal version of the game.
What’s lost in terms of atmosphere or integrity to the original is made up for by new quality of life changes. The remake’s arguable issues are only noticeable when contrasted directly against the minute details of the original. The 3DS remake was my first exposure to Majora’s Mask. I was immediately drawn to its dour locales and horror-tinged tone. This is an unmissable Zelda adventure.
Mario + Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story DX
Okay, so I technically haven’t played this game. However, the original Bowser’s Inside Story on Nintendo DS is among the short list of RPGs that I really enjoy. The very concept of the game, being sucked into Bowser’s stomach, is totally bizarre. Yet, it facilitates an adventure full of outrageous moments.
Using Mario and Luigi inside Bowser’s guts to power him up in the overworld is the sort of thing only Nintendo could dream up.
Factor in the trademark action-RPG gameplay the series is known for, and you have a delightful title on your hands. Any version of the game is bound to be a delight. Plus, it has Fawful and Midbus! Even if you don’t like RPGs, it’s worth trying the game just to meet its cast.
Perhaps I’m cheating just a bit by including Shovel Knight on this list. After all, it is primarily a downloadable title. However, there is a physical 3DS copy! So, I feel safe including it. After all, I have to—Shovel Knight is one of the all-time great platformers.
Yacht Club Games conceptualized an experience that both pays homage to the NES era and surpasses it.
This is a mechanically perfect and stylistically rich romp. Few indie tributes to the 8-bit era are better than this. The gold system, the boss fights, the world design—it’s all top tier. If you enjoy platformers and haven’t played Shovel Knight, you’re seriously missing out.
Fire Emblem Awakening
Last but not least, Fire Emblem: Awakening. This game made me fall in love with the series. I’m not alone in that sentiment, as this title completely saved its franchise, sending it straight to the moon popularity-wise. That’s for good reason—I became hopelessly lost in the tactical gameplay loop.
Every element of Awakening feeds perfectly into another as you harmonize the character relationships with the turn-based battles. Forging bonds between skirmishes that play out on the field is dynamite. You develop a genuine bond with your units here.
Awakening took Fire Emblem and infused it with a new level of personality and interaction, one that instantly cemented it among Nintendo’s most important series. Purists may prefer what came before, sure. However, Awakening is a tactics masterpiece, and easily one of the best Nintendo 3DS games.
Well, this has been quite the exploration! We’ve talked about 30 incredible games, some of which still elude me. It’s a testament to how deep this library is. Eleven years later, there are still top-tier titles that I need to play. And, there are so many more that I’ve yet to mention.
While somewhat underplayed given the DS’ stratospheric success before it and the Switch’s afterward, the 3DS is no doubt one of Nintendo’s most special machines. Incredible sequels, franchise reinventions, brilliant remakes—3DS had it all. We haven’t even touched on all the brilliant new IP from the eShop! This is an absolute hall-of-fame device.
What Nintendo 3DS Games do you love the most?