Let’s be honest. For all the hoopla about next-gen consoles, the prize for best platform of 2013 goes not to PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. It’s a toss-up between either the 3DS or PC, mature platforms that saw some of the year’s finest content. For fans of traditional content, you’d be hard-pressed to top the 3DS, which played host to an amazing collection of RPGs, adventures, action games, and more this past year.
We’ve rounded up the best 3DS games in the following list -- not only from 2013, but through the system’s entire lifespan. The software below belongs in every gamer’s library… and in case you need extra convincing, everyone at USgamer has made a special case for their top three favorite 3DS games.
- Super Mario 3D Land: It may lack four-player simultaneous action, but this fast-paced action game is as close as you’ll get to Super Mario 3D World on the go -- and that’s a good thing.
- 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. [USG Review]
- Shin Megami Tensei IV: Atlus squeezed a full sequel to SMT: Nocturne onto the 3DS. The graphics may be scaled down somewhat, but the series’ legendary content, challenge, and depth remain intact. [USG Review]
- 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.
- 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. [USG Review]
- Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon: A deeper, more varied adventure than 2001’s Luigi’s Mansion by far, this graphical adventure replaced point-and-click with suck-and-blow and kicked off the Year of Luigi in style.
- Pushmo: An addictive puzzle game that makes full use of 3D, Pushmo was the first must-have downloadable title for 3DS -- and you shouldn’t miss its sequel Crashmo, either.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 3D Classics: Kirby’s Adventure: A stunning remake of the NES classic, this colorful adventure feels right at home on 3DS.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pokémon X + Y Versions: The first truly 3D iteration of the Pokémon series doesn’t change much in terms of the single-player story mode, but its multiplayer refinements will keep you playing for ages.
- Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Few game franchises have a legacy of music as glorious as Final Fantasy’s, so naturally a game based entirely around Final Fantasy’s music is tremendously fun.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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. [USG Review]
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.
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.
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.
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 & 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.
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.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies
I love, love love this series, and Dual Destinies was everything I hoped a "next-gen" Ace Attorney would be. A hugely enjoyable story that caters to newcomers and veterans alike coupled with stellar presentation make this one of the most enjoyable games I've had the pleasure of playing through recently. The only thing I miss is some of the more gimmicky investigation techniques from Phoenix Wright's 5th case and Apollo Justice -- things like sprinkling fingerprint powder on the touchscreen, then blowing it off using the mic, or spraying Luminol around to find bloodstains. The game certainly doesn't suffer from their absence, though.
Super Mario 3D Land
I haven't played a Mario game seriously since Super Mario 64, but this game has singlehandedly resurrected my love for everyone's favorite Italian plumber. Short but challenging levels that are particularly friendly to handheld play (i.e. on the toilet), some enjoyable homages to other Nintendo franchises and a surprising amount of secrets make this an incredibly enjoyable game to play.
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
I never played the original Luigi's Mansion, so I had nothing to compare this to when I started playing. I was very surprised to discover that it's much more of an adventure game than anything else, with some challenging -- sometimes infuriating -- puzzles and a really satisfying sense of progression. The randomly-generated multiplayer mode is super-fun, too, so be sure to give that a shot with some friends if you get the opportunity.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies
At this point in time, Phoenix Wright is the quintessential old-flame-turned-close-friend. First, there was passionate love. Then, there was tolerance and awkward amiability, a long period of separation before a rekindling of more platonic affections. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies is, by no means, the best installment in the franchise but it is so lovingly constructed that you'd really have to try to summon up loathing for it. The first two cases might be somewhat tepid but Dual Destinies eventually does take off.
Rune Factory IV
I don't remember why I bought Rune Factory IV. I think it had something to do with a review I read somewhere on the Internet, one that spent an almost inappropriate amount of time gushing about the bouyant dialogue and the carefree denizens of the world. It might even have something to do with being devastated by Hometown Story's lacklustre state. Regardless of how I found my way to it, I wasn't disappointed when I got there. Rune Factory IV's wonderful. The cast is so tooth-achingly nice that I sometimes wish I could reach in and shake some cynicism into their wide-eyed heads. There is a wealth of things to do, crops to harvest, monsters to beat up, attractive humanoids to woo and even a plot to snake through. Think Harvest Moon except with swords, dragons, magical projectiles and a worryingly gluttonous cook. (Who is quite a sweetheart when he’s not being alarming.)
Shin Megami Tensei IV
The Shin Megami Tensei series have always been excellent at the whole idea of strange, thought-provoking worlds filled with ambiguous moralities and smartly-written characters. Nine years after the last installment, Shin Megami Tensei IV continues the tradition on the 3DS. Here, you play as a new Samurai recruit, one of the few and the proud in this mostly medieval world. Mostly. For reasons that go unexplained until much later, you end up acquiring a few pieces of equipment that do not quite fit the setting. Strange, science fiction-inspired devices. In any other game, the dissonance would probably feel a little hokey but Shin Megami Tensei IV succeeds at pulling it off with ease. Comprised primarily of dungeon crawling and demonic negotiations, Shin Megami Tensei IV doesn't try anything shockingly new with the franchise but it doesn't need to. Refinement, in many cases, is far better than unnecessary innovation and Shin Megami Tensei IV is proof you don’t need a riot of gimmicks to make a compelling RPG.
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