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What are the Best 3DS Games?

Want to know which games you should be playing on your 3DS? Team USG has compiled a comprehensive list of the very best games available on Nintendo's excellent hand-held. Each team member also reveals their personal top three 3DS favorites, and explains why they chose them.

For all the hoopla about next-gen consoles, for those looking for rock solid, traditional games, you'd be hard-pressed to top 3DS. It plays host to an amazing collection of RPGs, adventures, action games, and more - many of which are absolutely top-notch.

But which ones are the absolute best? We've looked at the complete 3DS software library and rounded up what we believe are the finest games you can play on Nintendo's hand-held system. Each member of the USgamer team has also listed their personal favorite 3DS games, along with an explanation as to why they've chosen each one.

The Very Best - Rated 5 Stars

Bravely Default

Bravely Default: It's a return to Final Fantasy's roots, and it's beautiful.

Super Mario 3D Land: A watered-down Mario World this is not. Instead, expect a fast-paced Mario classic that delivers the kind of simple, yet highly addictive and fabulously enjoyable gameplay the series is known for. Packed full of nifty details and some delightful moments, Mario fans young or old will get their money's worth out of this – and then some.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages: We reviewed these as a pair, since they're essentially two halves of one incredible game. These old Color Game Boy classics might look simple, their sound may be crude, they're sometimes almost unfairly hard, and can be frustrating and fiddly to play. But damn, they're just so brilliant and involving, and so incredibly rewarding. On the surface they are rudimentary, yet they create an experience that transcends the limited technology upon which they were built.

Fire Emblem Awakening

Shin Megami Tensei IV: Shin Megami Tensei IV offers all the things you'd expect from the series: Demons, moral choices, and the rock-paper-scissors balance of combat. Despite its move to a portable console, this really does feel like a game worthy to be the next step in SMT's evolution. Don't let the first few deliberately underwhelming hours of the game fool you; SMT IV deserves to be ranked among the genre's best.

Fire Emblem: Awakening: The year's finest strategy RPG also represents the most accessible Fire Emblem game ever. But even though it has an easy mode and lets you turn off permadeath, don't make the mistake of assuming its content and variety has been watered down in the least.

Etrian Odyssey

Etrian Odyssey IV: The unrepentantly hardcore Etrian Odyssey series moves into true 3D and softens its harsh edges with a more open world structure and an easy mode... well, "easy" mode. It'll still crush the unwary like a bug.

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon: A much deeper, and far more varied adventure than 2001's Luigi's Mansion, Dark Moon replaces point-and-click with suck-and-blow, and in doing so improves on the original formula to create something really special.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D: This remake of the groundbreaking classic smooths over a lot of rough patches and makes the N64 adventure more palatable to contemporary gaming tastes.

Pushmo: A fiendishly addictive puzzle game that makes full use of 3D, Pushmo was the first must-have downloadable title for 3DS. You shouldn't miss its sequel Crashmo, either....

Crashmo: So just to make sure you're reminded, we've put it right here. And for Euro folks, Crashmo is known as Fallblox in your territory - and Pushmo is called Pullblox. Whatever you call them, both games offer some of the most enjoyable, addictive, and fun puzzling anywhere - and will magically make any long journey fly by.

Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Highly Recommended - Rated 4.5 Stars

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds: A true sequel to A Link to the Past, the newest Zelda adventure remakes the Super NES classic with ugly graphics but a refreshingly open approach to progress and puzzle-solving.

Mario Kart 7: Nintendo's apology for the miserable Mario Kart Wii features tons of tracks, tons of racers, and great use of Street Pass features.... and much less annoying rubber-band AI.

New Super Mario Bros. 2: The portable New Super Mario games don't get as much love as their console counterparts, but this underrated adventure pairs clever level design with an over-the-top emphasis on coin-collecting. Be sure to grab the DLC challenge packs!

Cave Story

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate: Capcom's dense and borderline inscrutable multiplayer combat RPG works nicely on 3DS (especially with a Circle Pad Pro), but it's even better when linked to the Wii U version of the game.

Cave Story 3D: While it doesn't look as unique as the original version of the game, this rendition of Cave Story still plays great, includes new content, and most of all offers the only way to own a physical release of one of the most important and influential indie games ever.

1001 Spikes

1001 Spikes: Maybe retro-style indie games are getting a bit long in the tooth, but 1001 Spikes is an example of the format done right: It harnesses that old-school look for a reason and focuses in on a single design concept with obsessive clarity. Developer 8bit Fanatics really gets what made the best classic games great, and manages to make a hateful, hurtful game into addictive fun. And the multiplayer mode (on systems that support it) is surprisingly great, a mix of Contra and The Outfoxies. Maybe it's not a game for everyone, but 1001 Spikes knows what it's about... and does a bang-up job of achieving it.

3D Classics: Kirby's Adventure: A stunning remake of the NES classic, this colorful adventure feels right at home on 3DS.

Crimson Shroud

Crimson Shroud: From Vagrant Story creator Yasumi Matsuno comes this fascinatingly literal video game adaptation of a table top RPG. Short but entertaining, it's a high-concept project that pans out quite nicely.

Attack of the Friday Monsters!: This charming adventure game probably isn't quite what you expect -- in fact, its plot swerves several times. All the while, it neatly combines childhood nostalgia, magical realism, and a hint of real history into a short but wonderful little tale.

Mutant Mudds: An old-school action platformer with a heavy emphasis on puzzles and plane-switching, Mutant Mudds plays like the kind of game we'd have seen a ton of if the Virtual Boy hadn't totally bombed. But since it did, we can relive that fascinating alternate reality with this.

Fantasy Life

Fantasy Life: Slow-paced and relentlessly upbeat, Fantasy Life offers quite a contrast to this year's roster of big fall games. It's tough to pigeonhole this one, since it ticks a lot of checkboxes without wholeheartedly committing to one genre or another — but that dilettante attitude perfectly fits the game itself, which encourages players to switch around Life roles like a lazy rich kid trying on different college majors for size. Addictive and perfectly suited for a portable platform, Fantasy Life may well be the most pleasant video game surprise of the year.

Picross e: Nintendo's fantastic number-crunching, picture-drawing puzzle series makes its way to 3DS, and it's as glorious and addictive as you'd expect.

Kid Icarus Uprising

Kid Icarus Uprising: Nintendo's forgotten franchise resurfaced just long enough to bring the world a madly brilliant 3D shooter that's as amusing as it is chatty.

Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward: The sequel to Chunsoft's puzzle-graphical novel hybrid 999 ups the stakes and the complexity, playing for all the world like a dark anime-flavored counterpart to Professor Layton.

Persona Q: Persona Q represents a bit of a risk, bringing together two RPG series that, despite their common parentage, focus on entirely different facets of the genre. But it works, with the Persona elements livening up the dungeon-crawling and the Etrian Odyssey components bringing some merciless old-school discipline to the unruly Persona sub-universe. Though admittedly fans of the two series will get the most from the crossover, this lively, complex adventure works as a great RPG by any standard.

Recommended - Rated 4 Stars

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Animal Crossing: New Leaf: Don't let the lack of challenge and goals fool you. The latest Animal Crossing offers more addictive bug-catching and landscaping action than should be legal.

3D Sonic the Hedgehog: Sonic the Hedgehog has suffered from various forms of mistreatment over the past few decades, but this 3D rerelease provides one of the purest ways to experience his debut outside of digging your old Genesis out from the closet.

Rune Factory IV: Pour one out for developer Neverland by visiting the world of Rune Factory IV, or as we prefer to call it, "Harvest Moon for people who like to kill things."

Super Smash Bros.

Super Smash Bros. :Given the technical limitations of the Nintendo 3DS, Sora Ltd. and Bandai Namco have done an admirable job with this port. At its core, Super Smash Bros. is both a loving tribute to Nintendo and a surprisingly deep fighter, and though it hasn't changed much over the years, its appeal is strong as ever on the Nintendo 3DS. The solo experience is admittedly lacking, but as a multiplayer game, it remains a delight.

Mighty Gunvolt :Perhaps most of all, Mighty Gunvolt captures the charm and simplicity of countless B-tier NES games. Even its debut — it came out of nowhere! — hearkens back to the pre-Internet days when being surprised by quality games was still possible. It's no masterpiece, but a great deal of care clearly went into Mighty Gunvolt's creation. It's one of the best bite-sized 3DS downloadable titles to date, and loads of fun for fans of classic games.

Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney :What could've been a simple cash-grab is a great mash-up of two great franchises. Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright does its best to bring both sides together in a brand-new setting. More importantly, the game feels like it stays true to the core of both series while also setting a new high bar in presentation. The game favors Wright more than Layton, but fans of both will find something fun here.

Rusty's Real Deal Baseball: Though lightweight, the selection of games in Rusty's Real Deal Baseball are solidly fun. Wrap them up in a compelling (if weird) story, and we have an example that Nintendo knows how to do free games right, despite being a newcomer to the system.

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call: Curtain Call could be a better game, but its music makes up for the fairly straightforward rhythm action on display. If you've been a stranger to the series until now and want to jump in, Curtain Call offers hundreds of Final Fantasy songs, from the mainline series to the obscure spinoffs. The game might run the risk of being a little too in love with the source material, but, in this case, can you blame it?

Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire: Pokémon remains as unique as they come among RPGs—a monster collection game that effortlessly blends social gaming with deep battle mechanics. In returning to the series' third generation, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire bring back many of the elements that defined the originals while also being some of the most accessible entries to date. That said, they can be a little too easy at times, and the postgame content feels a bit lacking in light of what's come before. Regardless, they are enjoyable remakes that appropriately capture one of the more peculiar periods in the series' history.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy: I would have loved to see the original Ace Attorney games receive a more thorough makeover, but, realistically speaking, this Trilogy is the best we're going to get. That's okay, though, because Phoenix Wright's strength is in its writing, which has certainly held up over the past decade-or-so. If you've never tried your hand at Ace Attorney's brand of interactive crime fiction, this handy collection provides everything you need to become a die-hard fan of Capcom's spiky-haired lawyer.

Skylanders: Trap Team: While not without its questionable qualities — expect to pay $120 to get something approaching an optimal play experience — Skylanders: Trap Team continues the series' tradition of catering to kids by treating them with respect. And the new trapping gimmick more than justifies itself through the flexibility it offers... not to mention the amusing and diverse role it gives the game's villains. (Xbox One review. 3DS game is conceptually the same).

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse: With this game, a cult favorite comes into its own. Shantae has always been a passion project for WayForward, but this is the first time the series feels like it properly realizes the developer's ambition for it. A fun, funny, and pleasant substantial Metroid-alike boasting phenomenal old-school visuals and a refreshing sense of optimism, it's both an eShop standout and a great (though by no means final) conclusion to a slow-burning trilogy of games.

Steamworld Dig

Steamworld Dig: A cheap and cheerful platform/digging game. Light on new ideas, but mashes together tons of old ones into an experience that feels decidedly oldschool, yet still fresh and fun.

3D Super Hang-On: Even if you don't enjoy the game itself, everything that surrounds it demonstrates the importance of imagination and passion in video game preservation and design. You wouldn't think your 3DS could emulate a fancy sit-down arcade cabinet effectively, but it does. Very well.

3D Space Harrier: You couldn't ask for a more loving version of Yu Suzuki's classic than 3D Space Harrier, even though Sega never intended this game as anything other than a brisk, Reagan-era thrill.

Tomodachi Life

Tomodachi Life: The latest of Nintendo's experiments to create games with appeal beyond the usual clichés of the medium, Tomodachi Life may actually be the most humanistic creation the company has ever put together. While it could (somewhat notoriously) stand to be more inclusive, its focus on the concrete personalities and tangible interactions of tiny digital people make it one of the most addictive and fascinating life sims ever made.

Kirby Triple Deluxe: Even if you tend not to care much about Kirby games – understandably, given how toothless they can be – Triple Deluxe merits attention. Smart level design and a remarkable level of detail make this portable platformer one of Kirby's greatest adventures to date.

Disney Magical World: Don't let Disney Magical World's slow start and over-friendliness fool you. There's a lot to do in this neighborly kingdom, even for older fans of Mickey.

Mario Golf: World Tour

Mario Golf: World Tour: Mario Golf: World Tour's single-player experience challenges you to perfect your game. It's a dry process that moves slowly while committing impressive attention to detail, though the inclusion of RPG elements could have made it more interesting. Versus mode lets you cut loose a bit and offers good times with friends.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star: A back-to-basics role-playing affair for Mario, Sticker Star focuses entirely on familiar elements of the Mushroom Kingdom. Its sticker mechanic keeps things interesting, and its no-nonsense lack of hand-holding makes you work for your victory.

Dillon's Rolling Western: One of Nintendo's most original titles in ages, this download-only game combines several very different genres in interesting and clever ways. Definitely worth a look.

Yumi's Odd Odyssey

Yumi's Odd Odyssey: As challenging as it is strange, Yumi's Odd Odyssey seems doomed to obscurity thanks to its unusual aesthetics and almost invisible release onto eShop. It deserves notice, though. It's the first US release of a long-running cult series from Japan, and – more importantly – it's loads of challenging fun. Don't judge it by its looks - just check it out!

Yoshi's New Island: Yoshi's New Island may not be the game fans of the original wanted, but it's definitely the game its creators set out to make. Yet despite any disappointment that might be felt about how it turned out, it's nevertheless a lot of fun, and shouldn't be overlooked.

Inazuma Eleven: If you want a serious soccer game, or if you favor monster-slaying to sportsmanship, Inzuma Eleven won't do much for you. If you're open to the idea combining the genres into an experience that's solid and a bit silly, Inazuma Eleven will make you laugh and cheer. Ole ole ole.

Inazuma Eleven

Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy: Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy follows a grand tradition of puzzle-adventures. Filled to the brim with brain teasers of all shapes and sizes, The Azran Legacy is a relatively non-linear exploration of the series' last mysteries. Will you like it? It depends. How much do you enjoy having your mental processes challenged?

The games above are the best games that we believe 3DS has to offer right now. But which ones are our own personal favorites? Over to Team USG to reveal all.

Jaz Rignall Editor-at-Large

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D

My first pick is easy peasy. Ocarina of Time is a refined and tweaked, but not overly-fussed-with remake of one of my all-time favorite games. I was worried about playing it again. That this re-jiggle of the N64 classic would feel a bit dated and pedestrian in the cold light of day, some 15 years after I first set eyes on it. But no. Hell freakin' no. It's just as good as I remember, and indeed perhaps even a tad better.

And this is where I stop going on about it, because the situation right here is a simple one. If you've already played Ocarina of Time 3D, you know just how damn good it is. If you've played the N64 original, this new 3DS version is absolutely worth a second dip. And if you haven't. Well. Time to step up and play one of the greatest games ever made. Ocarina of Time is a bone fide masterpiece, and you absolutely should not miss it.

Pushmo aka Pullblox aka Hikuosu

Ever since becoming totally addicted to Tetris on the original Game Boy, I've been a huge fan of high-quality, on-the-go puzzle games. And Pushmo is up there amongst the all-time greats.

It looks offensively cute at first glance, but remember the age-old maxim: don't judge a Nintendo game by its graphics. Beneath Pushmo's brightly colored, non-threatening exterior lies a devious, brain-bending puzzler that's both addictive and infuriating. Infuriating in the best way possible. It's the sort of game that has you melting your brain for 30 minutes trying to solve a level, and as soon as you do, you realize how damn obvious it really was, and blame yourself for being an idiot and not getting it immediately. Before obsessively moving onto the next puzzle, just to prove to yourself that you're not an idiot.

Like all great puzzlers, Pushmo's concept is simple. Push and pull a stack of blocks – often arranged in some kind of delightful novelty shape – and make a path so your little dude can climb to the top. Simple, simple, simple. But like I said, it's not. It's a bastard. A delightful, cute-looking, easy-to-play bastard that has crack-like addictive qualities and some absolutely brilliantly designed brainteasers. It even has a level editor, so you can create your own puzzles – or download ones made by other people.

Best thing of all, it's also dirt cheap at a piddly-ass $6.99, so you really have no excuses not to buy it. Sure, you might look at Pushmo and think, "nah. I'm cool. I don't need this. Puzzles? Cute? Meh". But you're wrong. So, so wrong.

Korg M01D

No, this is not a game, and yes, I know this article says "Best 3DS Games" on the packet. But tough bananas. Because I think this is freakin' brilliant and I'd otherwise get no chance to write about it. If you're into music, you'll already have a clue what this is by name alone. It's a mini music station, and it's a gem. And a little-known one at that. It was quietly snuck out as a downloadable product at the beginning of November.

I'm also a big fan of M01D's predecessor, Korg DS-10. That was released back in 2008 on Nintendo DS, and emulates the classic MS synths of the late 70's. It's a really fun thing to play with, and such is its versatility and quality as an old-school synthesizer, it has enabled my DS to retire as a gaming machine, and live a happy and fruitful life as a permanent component of my music studio.

This second-generation music tool is more sophisticated, and emulates the Korg M1, a legendary late '80s synth whose distinctive sounds can be heard in many hits of the late '80s and early '90s. Buying an original M1 synth these days would set you back hundreds, so the fact that you can download this authentic virtual replica for about $30 makes M01D a real bargain. Assuming you're interested in noodling about, making music, that is.

But if you are, prepare to have fun. Packing a mixer, keyboard, eight-track sequencer, a touch-powered KAOSS mode, and a library of 342 voices, this thing really rocks. Plug in some decent headphones, and M01D's straightforward interface will quickly have you staring at your 3DS in disbelief. Yes. It really can sound that good.

Sure, not everyone needs a music workstation. But if you're musically minded and want something a little different that's fun to futz about with, or perhaps want to noodle about with a great synth without having to spend a ton of money, M01D is well worth a look.

Jeremy Parish Editor-in-Chief

The entire Atlus oeuvre

I always end up cheating on lists like this, but I had to. If I just picked one of Atlus' 3DS RPGs, I'd be doing a disservice both to the games and to you, the reader who longs to learn more of the best the system has to offer. If you have to narrow it down, I guess you could cite Shin Megami Tensei IV and Etrian Odyssey IV -- but there are so many related games of near-equal quality! Why hinder yourself? Etrian Odyssey Untold, Devil Survivor, Soul Hackers... it's quite a list, and what they have in common is (1) Atlus and (2) excellence in role-playing.

Specifically, though, Etrian Odyssey IV and Shin Megami Tensei IV are two sides of a single coin. The SMT series began in the '80s as a bunch of first-person dungeon-crawling RPGs featuring the ability to flesh out the player party by recruiting demons. (In other words, it was Pokémon back when Pokémon creator Satoshi Taijiri was still mucking around with fanzines.) Eventually SMT evolved into a more mainstream RPG, as seen in SMTIV's third-person viewpoint and dungeon actions. But eventually the same people who helped make SMT what it is decided to revisit the first-person RPG and came up with Etrian Odyssey. The fourth game in the series greatly refines the workings of the series, but it doesn't stray from the fundamental premise of traveling through a dungeon in a first-person point of view and mapping your route. Either way, you can't go wrong... unless you just don't like amazing RPGs, I guess.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Every once in a while a game comes along that I end up sinking 100 hours or more into. Not often, though. I can name them on one hand: Final Fantasy XII, Dragon Quest IX, Skyrim, Pokémon HeartGold, and now... Animal Crossing: New Leaf. It stands out a little from the rest. Not only is it not an RPG, it's a completely conflict- and objective-free title. It's not an adventure. It's just a simulation where you walk around and catch bugs and earn money.

My first impression of New Leaf was a profound "ho hum" -- despite being so different from the video game mainstream, it didn't seem particularly different from previous Animal Crossings. But no, after a few hours the differences sank in. Nintendo ballyhooed the fact that you take the role of mayor in New Leaf, but far more than that the game is defined by its minor quality-of-life improvements, tiny tweaks to the interface and overall experience. Most of the trivial inconveniences that added up in the long run with the earlier games feel smoothed over here, giving you more time and less trouble to simply play and enjoy. And if you let yourself, you might just find Animal Crossing moves you.

Crimson Shroud

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Crimson Shroud shouldn't take more than about 10 hours to complete. It's far from open-ended, presenting players with a compact little slice of a story and adventure with about as finite a scope as you could imagine. For all intents and purposes, it's the transcription of someone's Dungeons and Dragons campaign -- heck, not even a full campaign. More like their party's journey through a single module. But, since that "someone" was Yasumi Matsuno -- esteemed creator of Tactics Ogre, Vagrant Story, and Final Fantasy Tactics -- the journey is worth undertaking.

All the traits you expect from a Matsuno game are here. That sepia color scheme, that wonderful Hitoshi Sakimoto soundtrack, that dense Alex Smith localization, and above all that smart and elaborate plot. What really makes Crimson Shroud a treat to play is the way it so literally interprets the concept of a tabletop RPG. Combat participants are depicted as miniatures, and you use the 3DS stylus to roll a shaker full of dice. Sometimes you can even roll too vigorously and cause a die to fly out and bonk an enemy figurine for a little damage bonus. It's a simple little adventure that can be somewhat inscrutable at times, but the price is right for the amount of content. And really, 10 hours of a cleverly designed and smartly written adventure beats 60 hours of boredom.

Mike Williams Staff Writer

Mario Kart 7

Always bet on Mario Kart. Even at its absolute worst, which would be the GameCube's Mario Kart: Double Dash, it's always amazing. And Mario Kart 7 is the high point of the series, until Mario Kart 8 comes out and destroys it.

There's just so much love for the series as a whole in Mario Kart 7, with sixteen tracks from older Mario Kart titles. MK7 also adds air and water racing to the franchise; while it doesn't add much to the game, it certainly doesn't take away from the tight controls. It's just a little iterative addition to the series. Mario Kart is comfort food for me. I don't need to to change very much; I like to come back to it and be enveloped in warmth and familiarity. And Mario Kart 7 hits all the right buttons without straying too far outside of the box.

In fact, the only problem I have with Mario Kart 7 is the cramp I get from playing the game too long on my original 3DS.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

One of my favorite games of all-time is Final Fantasy Tactics. the game just blindsided me when I played it for PlayStation all those years ago. Unfortunately, since the release of Final fantasy Tactics A2 way back in 2008, Square Enix has been sitting on the series. Outside of the PSP revamp of Tactics Ogre in 2010, my Tactics dance card was largely unused. It was a sad state of affairs.

Until Nintendo released Fire Emblem: Awakening for 3DS. Prior to Awakening, I had never even glanced in the direction of the Fire Emblem. Why? I couldn't rightfully tell you; it was just one of those series that have slipped beneath my notice. I only picked up Awakening because people said it was going to be hard to find. Those last three words tend to set off alarm bells in my head and have lead to me purchasing games like Ni No Kuni, Last Story, and Xenoblade Chronicles. Not bad company to be in.

Color me shocked when Awakening turned out to be a great tactics-style strategy RPG. Sure, the characters have no feet, but I'll forgive that oversight for such great gameplay. And there's even a dating sim hiding behind all that tactics! I spent hours on Awakening and loved every moment. If you're into tactics RPGs, pick up Fire Emblem: Awakening... which is still at its launch price of $40. Sorry folks, no discounts here.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

For me, every now and then Nintendo stumbles and a series I enjoy just lands in my lap with a dull thud. Skyward Sword was that dull thud. It did things I enjoyed, like some deeper characterization, but actually playing the game was a horrible slog. My Limited Edition copy with the gold Wii Remote Plus sits alone and unloved next to my other Special Edition Wii games.

So, A Link Between Worlds was Nintendo's chance to woo me again with another story involving a princess, a Triforce, a Master Sword, and a pig guy. And it was super effective! I already reviewed it, but here's the skinny. A Link Between Worlds dispenses with all that story and item collecting and gets you right into the crazy awesome dungeons. The dungeons are the real meat in the game and all of them are just great.

Does that mean I necessarily want the same thing from every Zelda from now on? Not really, but it's a great change of pace or at least a good direction for portable Zelda games.

Kat Bailey Senior Editor

Fire Emblem: Awakening

Fire Emblem's unexpected rebirth on the Nintendo 3DS is one of this generation's happier surprises, ending a sustained streak of mediocrity for the series on the GameCube, Wii, and Nintendo DS. Its strong production values, memorable story, and strong sense of freedom makes it one of the platform's best strategy games, and a must-own for anyone who enjoys RPGs, even those who are allergic to Fire Emblem's trademark permadeath mechanic.

It represents a remarkably friendly and accessible turn for the notoriously unforgiving series, introducing among other things a casual mode that switches off the permadeath mechanic. But that's not to say that it's too easy. Toward the end, Fire Emblem stops pulling its punches somewhat; but by the time you get to that point, you have party that can actually deal with the challenge, making it much less likely that you'll get knocked out by a cheap critical hit.

Fire Emblem: Awakening also brings back many beloved mechanics from over the years, including the ability to pair up characters and watch as they have kids, making it one of the most complete entries in quite some time. For long-time fans, Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of the few games in the series to get nearly everything right, which is quite refreshing in light of the disappointment wrought by Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. I wholeheartedly recommend Fire Emblem to anyone interested in picking up the series for the first time.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Expectations were quite low when Nintendo announced Link Between Worlds in 2013. By all appearances, it was a fairly cynical attempt to cash in on the appeal of one of the franchise's best games: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. But this is Nintendo we're talking about, and they're famously protective of their characters. So of course, A Link Betwen Worlds was one of the best games of 2013.

It's hard to say where to start when praising this game. It came along at a time when my interest in the series was at low ebb and reminded me of why I had once loved it so much in the first place. A Link Between Worlds hits every note and nails every dungeon, and even finds time to subvert the usual formula by making almost every item available from the very beginning. I suppose it could have gone a tiny bit further with its non-linear progression, but it feels almost churlish to say so in light of how great the final product turned out to be.

I ended up savoring A Link Between Worlds, taking my time to enjoy each dungeon in turn, finally wrapping up the story only after exploring every corner of the map. Then I actually got a little teary-eyed at the ending. I really haven't loved a Zelda this much since Link's Awakening. A long time, but well worth the wait.

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy's history is defined by its music. Celes' Theme immediately conjures memories of chiptune opera scenes on the Super Nintendo, for instance, while One-Winged Angel can't help bringing to mind the PlayStation era. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy pretty much nails that fond sense of nostalgia for days gone by, all while being a pretty good rhythm game in its own right.

Divided into three parts, Theatrhythm can be characterized as an almost literal journey through the franchise's history. First there's the ride through the field, then an extended battle sequel, and finally one last montage of moments meant to evoke the best moments of each entry. What's especially fun is going in and realizing, "Hey! The original Final Fantasy has some pretty catchy music!"

All told, it's a handsome little package, sporting as it does some clever StreetPass challenges and a memorable art style. It's easy enough to recommend it to both long-time fans of the series and relative newcomers. It's even almost enough to get rid of some of the stink of the most recent games! ... Almost.

Bob Mackey Senior Writer

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

If you've lost faith in The Legend of Zelda after a few too many samey sequels, A Link Between Worlds will remind you of what once made this Nintendo series so monumental. Instead of leading Link down a very familiar (and narrow) path, ALBW sets its free almost immediately, leaving its dungeons and many overworld secrets to be explored in any order. Nintendo transformed what could have been a lazy 3D remake into a thoughtful remix of A Link to the Past that confounds fans of that 16-bit installment with its many twists, all while showing newcomers why the Super Nintendo Zelda game had us losing our minds 20 years ago. The portable Zeldas have always been good, but never as important as their console siblings-A Link Between Worlds marks a distinct change in this tradition.

Rune Factory IV

I've always been a fan of the Harvest Moon series, but I can understand why other people aren't. Compared to most other games, Natsume's quirky farming sim moves at a glacial pace, and emphasizes gradual rewards through hard work-again, not for everyone. But if you've been turned off by Harvest Moon in the past (or simply wondered what all the fuss was about) Rune Factory IV blends the best of Harvest Moon's ideas with some light RPG elements, all in an extremely user-friendly little package. And while that last part might not sound all that important, it's really what makes the experience so great: Rune Factory IV's developers really made a conscious desire in making the experience as frictionless as possible, meaning that everything you do in the game doesn't waste any more time than it needs to. Rune Factory IV offers an incredible amount of things to do, but the game's respect for the player ensures that these daily duties are never overwhelming or tedious. If you've burned yourself out on Animal Crossing, Rune Factory IV has an alternate take on life simulation you'll absolutely love.

Etrian Odyssey IV

Etrian Odyssey IV doesn't offer a whole lot of surprises, which, in itself, isn't all that surprising-as the name indicates, we've had three of these before. Thankfully EOIV isn't just a lazy retread of past games. Instead, it's the most refined take on the series to date, in terms of both presentation and mechanics. Keeping with the series' tradition, it's still a very difficult RPG, but part IV feels a little more forgiving than past Odysseys-still, you can't just mash the A button to effortlessly plow through battles. The 3DS has a ton of great RPGs, but you won't be likely to find an experience like Etrian Odyssey elsewhere.