With the release of the Nintendo Switch, it looks as though the 3DS is heading into its sunset years. There are a few releases to look forward to as of this writing (another Fire Emblem, a Pikmin game), but Nintendo is probably going to put its focus behind its console/portable hybrid over a six-year-old system. But that doesn’t change the fact that there has never been a better time to be a 3DS owner, thanks to the huge library of fantastic games. But which titles stand out above the rest?
We put that question to readers, and over half a million votes later, we have a super-official ranking of the best 3DS games ever. If you’re angry with the ignorant masses for leaving out your favorite RPG or platformer, make sure to tell everyone how wrong they are down in the comments. Just don’t hurt us.
*Editor’s Choice* Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice
This one barely missed the list, but I’m abusing my power to give it an honorable mention before we get started proper. If you haven’t played the Ace Attorney games, well, you might be better off with the Ace Attorney Trilogy compilation. But if you’re familiar with Phoenix Wright’s quirky brand of anime adventure game, Spirit of Justice is a great follow-up that shakes up the series in some compelling ways. Most of the game takes place in a foreign country that has its own unique court system — one that isn’t exactly friendly to defense lawyers like Phoenix. The stakes are almost immediately raised beyond anything seen in the franchise so far, and the trademark plot twists remain as ridiculous as always. This one’s only on the eshop, so you’ll have to download it if you’d like to hear that killer accusation music one more time.
30. Kirby: Planet Robobot
There’s Mario, there’s Zelda, and then there’s Kirby. You might call the little pink blob a second or third stringer, but his track record is commendable for its consistency. Planet Robobot falls in line with the rest of the series in that it’s a delightful platformer with vibrant visuals and breezy gameplay. Like most Kirby games, Robobot is a bit on the easy side, but this series has never tried for Dark Soulsian difficulty. This is definitely one of those games you pull out if you want to have a nice, relaxing time with one of gaming’s most charming protagonists. The giant badass mechs don’t hurt, either.
29. Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon
Don’t let the Pokemon name fool you — this one’s a bit more hardcore than a mainline game, and definitely a bigger challenge than something like Kirby. The Mystery Dungeon games have always been grindy roguelikes, and if you don’t know what that means, this game might not be for you. And that’s okay! Not everyone is into tough, repetitive RPGs that take a while to get going. Those who stick with it, however, might find the game a bit more rewarding compared to some of the cakewalk Pokemon campaigns you see in games like X/Y.
28. Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
In both quality and ludicrous titling, Dream Drop Distance sits around the upper-middle of the Kingdom Hearts echelon. Though it doesn’t quite reach the heights of KHII, it’s still sort of miraculous that a portable game can hang with the best entries in such a storied franchise. You can always check out the remastered console version of DDD in the recent Kingdom Hearts 2.8, but it’s tough to beat the utility of portability.
27. The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes
There are plenty of other Zelda games on this list (believe me), but only one of them puts the focus squarely on fun with friends. Like Four Swords Adventures before it, Triforce Heroes allows players to control multiple links that join forces to fight, solve puzzles and most importantly throw each other off cliffs. Costuming also plays a big part, with outfits ranging from “samurai” to “a cactus.” You can even dress up in Zelda’s dress, which is kind of almost as good as actually playing as Zelda in a danged Zelda game.
26. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
Yes, DCKR 3D is a port of a Wii game, but it’s a port of an excellent Wii game. All the fantastic visuals and tight level design made the jump to the 3DS, meaning you can fit one of the best platformers of the last decade in your pocket. The resolution is obviously bumped down for the portable screen, but you could argue that DKCR 3D has one major leg up over the Wii version: a complete lack of motion control. See, unless you mess around with mods and own a Classic Controller, the Wii version makes you shake the controller for simple moves like ground pounding and the roll — the latter of which is absolutely vital for precision play. On 3DS however, you can just press a button to do the exact same thing. Isn’t technology great?
25. Monster Hunter Generations
When people still bought music, the concept of a “Greatest Hits” album was a great way to introduce someone to a singer or a group. And while Monster Hunter Generations takes a bunch of monsters, towns and other content from older games, it seems more directed at hardcore franchise fans than for newbies. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really neat game with some super helpful quality-of-life improvements that MonHun has needed forever, but this is something you want to move onto after your introduction to the series (which should be with #20 on this list).
24. Kirby Triple Deluxe
Ahh, Kirby. Even though he’s already been on this list, it just feels right to slip back into those comfy pink shoes. Triple Deluxe is arguably even more traditional than Planet Robobot, but this isn’t a wacky offshoot in the series like Dream Course or Air Ride or even Epic Yarn. This is a game you can depend on for an enjoyable, stress-free experience that’s pleasant top-to-bottom. If you want a real test of your skills, you can go with Donkey Kong, but if you just want to chill out, you can always count on Kirby.
23. Mario and Luigi: Dream Team
Now that the Paper Mario series has gone in more of a puzzle/adventure direction, the Mario & Luigi series is the defacto RPG series starring Nintendo’s most famous mascots. Though Dream Team doesn’t quite reach the heights of the stellar Bowser’s Inside Story, Dream Team retains the same creativity and sharp dialogue fans of the series expect. If you’re still not sold, this game does include a giant kaiju battle between a Mega-Bowser and a Gigantic Luigi. So there’s that.
22. New Super Mario Bros. 2
NSMB2 was where the “New” line of Mario platformers began to get a little stale, but you know, it’s still a Mario platformer. We’re talking about some of the best designers on the planet doing what they do best, and the result is one of the most solid games on the system. Though it definitely has more value for those into the idea of exploring every level and finding every secret.
21. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
Heard a lot about the Monster Hunter series but aren’t sure where to start? Try here. MH4U is by far the best entry to the franchise that has never quite caught on in the West, despite being a massive hit in Japan. The story — especially the opening chapter — does a commendable job at guiding players who might otherwise be confused or lost in other iterations. That being said, it’s best if you call in a friend who knows a bit more about the series to tag along anyway, since multiplayer hunts represent the game at its finest.
20. Hyrule Warriors Legends
The Dynasty Warriors games have always been about mindlessly mashing your way through hordes of enemies, and if we’re being honest, Hyrule Warriors isn’t much different. That isn’t a bad thing though! Sometimes you just want to feel powerful by wrecking everything in your path, and sometimes you want to do that as Link, Toon Zelda or a King that can also turn into a boat. Just FYI, you’re going to get the best performance if you have a *NEW* Nintendo 2DS or *NEW* 3DS — it still plays on the regular models, but it can get pretty rough.
19. Super Mario Maker
Fans were pretty disappointed in Super Mario Maker 3DS losing the ability to upload custom-made levels, which seemed like the entire point of Mario Maker on Wii U. But the fact that it still made it to the top 20 of this list speaks to the quality of the core product. It just feels good to create levels in Mario Maker — it’s one of those things that you never think you’d do yourself (you can always play endless amounts of levels from other people), but the way it’s presented is so easy and intuitive that even passing the 3DS back and forth between friends is a joy.
18. Kid Icarus: Uprising
For years, Kid Icarus was the last substantial IP that Nintendo hadn’t touched since the NES days. Fans clamoring for a new follow-up were finally met with Uprising, a labor of love from Smash Bros. mastermind Masahiro Sakurai. Far from its odd platforming past, the new Kid Icarus switches between on-rails and third-person shooting. It can be a little cramped to play since it doesn’t offer dual-joystick support unless you have a Circle Pad Pro, which is an awkward and bulky attachment. Fans would argue that the vibrant and engaging campaign is worth the cost of the extra dongle.
17. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
Misunderstood at the time of its release at the launch of the GameCube, the original Luigi’s Mansion is a wonderful ghostbusting romp. Really its biggest shortcoming is the whole thing ended too soon. Dark Moon rectifies that with a lengthy, brand-new adventure that takes place across multiple mansions. Be sure not to overlook the multiplayer, which is a strange co-op roguelike unlike anything else on the system.
16. Bravely Default
If you’re looking for a traditional JRPG to play on 3DS, you can’t do much better than Bravely Default. That’s not to say BD plays it safe — on top of its familiar structure and Final Fantasy Artbook aesthetic, an innovative combat system allows heroes to make sacrifices for huge gains. Some fans are split on how the late game rolls out, but without spoiling anything, you can argue it’s a smart commentary on the genre on the whole (even if it’s kind of a drag to play sometimes). If you devour this, you can always move onto Bravely Second, which is exactly what it sounds like.
15. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
It’s hard to imagine a time when Nintendo handhelds didn’t have Animal Crossing. The company’s unique, laid-back lifestyle “simulator” is an essential game for anyone with a 3DS. Okay okay, there are a few reasons why you wouldn’t like New Leaf. You could a) not feel like revisiting an evolving and changing town that misses you when you’re gone; b) hate cute rhino neighbors that want nothing but to give you free furniture; or c) you’re a monster. These are the only options.
14. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
Arriving late into the Wii’s life, the original Xenoblade Chronicles wowed fans with its gigantic open world. I should probably amend that — the game wowed fans that could find a copy. The 3DS port isn’t nearly as hard to come by, thankfully, so anyone can enjoy what might be Nintendo’s biggest RPG to date. This is one of the few titles to be outright exclusive to *NEW* 2DS and *NEW 3DS*, so keep that in mind if you’re buying for someone else.
12 + 13. Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright & Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest
It might be a little bit confusing for those who are only familiar with the series through the many Smash Bros. characters, but Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright and Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest are two separate games. Almost. The two start out as the same strategy RPG, but after the first five chapters the player is given a choice of which side to choose, which family to support. The Birthright path is best for those new to the series or those who don’t want their ass handed to them. For the masochists out there, however, Conquest offers a challenge suited to FE diehards. I’m not telling you how to live, so I won’t tell you that you should probably just get both and then download the DLC that combines the two sides into a new campaign. That would be irresponsible of me.
(For those keeping score at home, Birthright came in at #13 in the polls, while Conquest edged it out at #12.)
11. Super Mario 3D Land
You probably already know if you want to play an awesome Mario game. If you’re unsure, put your fingers on your wrist — should you feel a rhythmic bump coming from under your skin, you’re probably good to go. This one’s an interesting mix between the 3D open world of Super Mario 64 and the more traditional 2D sidescrolling games of yore. The levels almost play out like adorable little dioramas, and the effect really pops when you (gasp) use the 3D features of the 3DS. Chances are you’ll have a good time playing an awesome Mario game. If not, well, my condolences to your family.
10. Mario Kart 7
On one hand, Mario Kart 7 is a fantastic game that took portable racing to heights it wouldn’t see until, well, Mario Kart 8 on Switch. On the other hand, every Mario Kart game takes offense at your very existence and will throw every banana peel and blue shell at you until you break your system in half, thereby freeing the malevolent spirits that rest inside every hateful cartridge. If you’re okay with that, MK7 is a great time.
9. Shovel Knight
Plenty of indie games do the whole “8-bit” thing, but none have committed so much to the conceit while being so successful. Shovel Knight feels like the Game of the Year of 1989, so much so that Capcom should have made five dozen sequels and then abandoned the franchise completely by now. It’s part Mega Man, part DuckTales, part Mario, part Castlevania and all rad. Be sure to keep your headphones in for this exceptional soundtrack, too.
8. Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire
Pokemon often seems like it’s just remaking the same games over and over again, but that’s sort of what fans come back for — a new coat of paint on the childhood, with some tweaks here and there. This formula works so well that Nintendo and Game Freak have been remaking old Pokemon games. ORAS is the first set of remakes for the 3D era of the series, and it’s got all the bells and whistles you’d want. Though if we’re being honest, the only reason that you’d pick it over the other Pokemon titles on the system is if you’re super attached to the generation’s Pokedex. And hey, from what the internet tells me, there are plenty of Mudkip fans out there.
7. Pokemon X/Y
The first real 3D Pokemon game brought a lot more than a new dimension to the series. X and Y introduced customizable characters, a new type (Fairy) and Mega Evolutions, the latter of which are basically Super Saiyan versions of existing Pokemon. Maybe most vital of all is the new EXP Share, which players get early on in the game; instead of doling out bonus XP to a single Pokemon not in battle, in this iteration all the Pokemon in your party get XP. This cuts way, way down on grinding and makes becoming a Pokemon Master much less of a chore. You can always turn the feature off, of course, if you’re finding the game too easy. Which, for Pokemon X and Y, is admittedly an issue.
6. Fire Emblem Awakening
I know I said that FE Fates: Birthright was the Fire Emblem to go with for beginners, but really you want to start here. Awakening was supposed to be the swan song for the franchise after sales had sagged for a while, and you can really see the developers put everything they had into this game. Story-wise, Awakening is by far one of the best RPGs on a handheld, and speaking in gameplay terms there are tons of options depending on how hardcore you want to be about stuff like permanent character death. Personally, I played with permadeath on, but found myself resetting every time a favorite was killed. I just can’t let my sweet innocent Donnel go.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D
If you’ve been wondering where the hell all the Zelda games have been on this list then boy, get ready. Majora’s Mask has always been an odd duck compared the rest of the franchise, but open-minded fans have embraced its eccentricities. Nintendo certainly made it easier to love with the 3DS remake, adding more save points, an improved questlog, tweaked bosses, expanded areas and even a new sidequest. This is all on top of a graphical overhaul that looks like how you remember Majora’s Mask (quirky and charming) compared to how it actually looks (choppy and kind of ugly).
4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
For many fans, this is the pinnacle of the Zelda series. Even after all these years, it’s hard to shake that memory of wandering out in the Hyrule Field for the first time. For a game that’s nearly 20 years old, it’s held up surprisingly well. The world might not be as big as you remember, but the dungeons are still fantastic and the soundtrack is an all-time classic. Like Majora’s Mask, Ocarina of Time 3D has seen several improvements on top of a graphical overhaul. OoT 3D even includes the Master Quest, a version of the game with tougher dungeons that was previously only available on an expensive out-of-production GameCube disc. If you’re a fan of the series, this is kind of a no-brainer.
3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Though both of the 3D Zelda remakes mentioned above are stellar games in their own right, you can always tell when a game was built for a system from the ground up. A Link Between Worlds somehow manages to be a very traditional sequel to Link to the Past on SNES while being the freshest Zelda in years (you know, besides Breath of the Wild). A lot of it has to do with the item rental system, which allows you to pay a small fee to take anything in the game out for a spin right from the get-go. This also means you can visit whatever dungeon you’d like to in any order — so if you’re stuck on a puzzle, you can always bail and go adventuring elsewhere while still progressing in the game. This is my personal favorite game on the system, but the votes say there are two games that are slightly better than ALBW. They’re pretty good, so I guess I can allow it.
2. Super Smash Bros.
One of the most consistently impressive things about the 3DS is how it’s been able to successfully replicate console games and make them playable (and enjoyable!) on a small screen. When Nintendo announced that the next Super Smash Bros. would come to Wii U AND 3DS, fans were skeptical. But with what was presumably the darkest blood magic, they managed to cram in every single character in the game and make the series’ trademark chaos readable on a surface the size of a phone. Smash is best played in multiplayer, but there’s a nifty 3DS-only singleplayer mode if you alienate your friends by stomping them with Luigi.
1. Pokemon Sun/Moon
This is it! The absolute best game on the 3DS. Pokemon Sun and Moon is a landmark entry in an RPG behemoth that has stuck around for two decades. Not only are the new Pokemon some of the best in several generations, Nintendo and Game Freak took it to another level with “Alola Pokemon.” These particular Pokes have adapted to life on the game’s Hawaii-like islands, and so you’ll see familiar faces like Meowth and Raichu with entirely new looks and abilities. On top of extra features like up-close Pokemon petting and a new Battle Tree, this is the game that finally, mercifully kills HMs. Instead of wasting a move slot with garbage like CUT and SURF, Sun and Moon supply you with badass Pokemon mounts that do all of that stuff and more! S/M really makes it hard to go back to earlier games in the series — and hey, that’s okay, because you might not want to.
Need more 3DS recommendations?
Check out The 20 Best DS Games of All-Time — all backwards compatible with 3DS and 2DS!