We’ve had the best 3DS Games that we rated 5 Stars, 4.5 stars or 4 stars, but what do we at USGamer each personally love? Carry on reading for our individual picks for the best 3DS games of all time.
Directly below are our personal picks for best 3DS games.
- The Best 3DS Games - 5 Star Rated
- The Best 3DS Games - 4.5 Star Rated
- The Best 3DS Games - 4 Star Rated
The Very Best 3DS Games - USGamer Staff Personal Picks
Before you all jump into the comments and call us idiots for a number of different reasons (that may be true), please remember that we all like games for different reasons. If you really want to call anyone out, call out our Guides Writer Hirun, for he hasn’t even played a 3DS game. That’s right! He’s NEVER played a 3DS game. We’re definitely not putting that info out there to divert you away from other thoughts you might have about the games included/missing in our choices below, so don’t even suggest that to be the case.
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 best 3DS 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 Between Worlds was one of the best games of 2013 and one of the best 3DS games.
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.
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, making it one of the best 3DS games.
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. Definitely one of the best 3DS games.
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.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
The first of two games I’ve picked that were first released on older Nintendo hardware, Ocarina of Time stands proud as an industry classic on the 3DS - one of the best 3DS games. Worries about how the game would hold up in the modern era were soon cast aside as the exquisite world enveloped me. With barely a thought given to holding the player’s hand, OoT is quite unlike adventure games released today, while the smart visual upgrade managed to retain the feel of the original N64 release while simultaneously standing shoulder to shoulder with the best the handheld had to offer.
Like Nintendo’s eventual franchise follow-up, Breath of the Wild, Ocarina of Time is a game made for exploring. The ability to play anywhere on the 3DS and flip the lid to carry on adventuring whenever I had a few minutes spare, made this handheld version the perfect travel companion.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
If you’re old enough to remember the GameCube launch, and were an early adopter, chances are you have fond memories of Luigi’s Mansion. For me, Nintendo’s gorgeous demonstration of the GameCube’s power remains one of the system’s finest titles, and the same is true of the 3DS sequel. While Dark Moon launched without the weight of a console on its shoulders, it took the basic formula and expanded on it to create a larger, more sprawling ghost hunting experience. One of the best 3DS games.
I love Luigi’s Mansion (including the awesome mini-game in Nintendo Land), and I wish Nintendo would make more of one of its most interesting franchises.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
Donkey Kong Country Returns is a hard game. The 3DS port made some allowances to make things slightly easier, but it’s still a hard game. I got annoyed and frustrated numerous times throughout, but it was worth it. Donkey Kong Country Returns is an excellent 2D platformer. Every time Retro made a new Donkey Kong instead of making a new Metroid, fans were up in arms, but it’s not as if the studio was making rubbish. The modern Donkey Kong platformers are some of the best games the genre has seen.
Every time I think about Retro making a new Metroid for Nintendo Switch I pause for a moment to wonder if that’s what I really want. I’d settle for a new Donkey Kong Country.
Super Mario 3D Land
I think it speaks volumes that after all these years, the simple premise of playing as a plumber who has to jump over obstacles can still hold so much sway over gamers. There were many times I believed I was done with Mario's antics, but then come along games like Super Mario 3D Land to show me that Nintendo's red hatted mascot remains king of gaming for a reason. Mario 3D Land in particular might be one of my favorite Mario games, right alongside Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Super Mario World for delivering one of the purest platform experiences on any console, and one of the best 3DS games.
Mighty Switch Force 1+2
I was going to use this spot to talk about a 3DS Zelda game, but then I remembered Wayforward's Mighty Switch Force series. I was an early adopter to the downloadable franchise and I'm happy I remembered it because I want to just talk about how great this little game series is. It's hard to find a puzzle platformer with as unique and interesting aesthetic as Mighty Switch Force, but it also goes to prove how good Wayforward is at the platformer genre, despite some missteps. Also, the character designs are cute as hell so that's a huge plus.
Cave Story 3D
Cave Story is one of my all-time favorite games, and when they announced Cave Story on the 3DS, I immediately placed an order. The redone graphics and a new soundtrack from Danny Baranowsky is a perfect update to the series. I think the game sold a bit poorly because Cave Story keeps putting out a new port every couple of months, but the 3DS version was a truly worthwhile update, framerate issues withstanding. Also, it's the one game I played fully in 3D because of how perfect the depth looked in it.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is great.
("How great is it?")
A Link Between Worlds is so great, I once started a new file on its classic predecessor, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and suddenly wished I was playing A Link Between Worlds. So I played that instead, and as I finished the game for the second (or third, or maybe fourth) time, I knew I'd made the right choice.
Nintendo's decision to follow-up directly on A Link to the Past was a gutsy move. Other than Ocarina of Time, no Zelda game is as significant or as highly-praised as Link's SNES debut. Link Between Worlds expertly balances nostalgia for A Link to the Past with reams of new content, including the ability to flatten yourself on surfaces and travel between two mirrored Kingdoms: Hyrule and the troubled Lorule.
The usual Zelda staples show up in A Link Between Worlds, including heart pieces, boss battles, rambling overworlds, and cleverly-designed dungeons. These dungeons can be conquered in any order you choose, giving us an idea of what series producer Eiji Aonuma had in store for the open-world Breath of the Wild.
A Link Between Worlds isn't as massive or as breathtaking as Breath of the Wild, but dang it, it's one of the best traditional top-down Zelda experiences you could ask for. If you have a 3DS, you're obligated to get it.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
There are games that pained me to leave off my personal list, but I feel my colleagues had praised them enough (A Link Between Worlds, Final Fantasy Theatrhythm). But one I couldn’t, and how could I? It stands as a landmark for the 3DS as a system; taking one of the most beloved franchises of all-time, and reimagining it for on-the-go in its best iteration yet. That’s right, I’m talking about Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is not only my favorite 3DS game, but one of my favorite games of all-time. No other game has captured my attention wholeheartedly for well over a year, as I managed my town, allowing it room to grow as I saw fit as mayor. True to the Animal Crossing name, New Leaf is every bit as charming as its predecessors. You fall in love with Isabelle, your adorable dog assistant. You love all your neighbors, from Rosie the Cat to Olaf the Anteater, and are heartbroken when a villager moves away, leaving nothing but a farewell letter behind. You find just as much joy in your day plucking weeds as you do digging up fossils and donating them to the local museum. New Leaf makes its warm village a cozy home for the player that’s always a delight to return to, no matter how long you’ve been away. New Leaf perfects the Animal Crossing formula, crafting a game where you celebrate the finer things in life: peace and quiet.
Tomodachi Life is Nintendo at its best: unafraid to take risks, be weird, be silly, and give players unabashed freedom. You don’t play Tomodachi Life so much as watch a dollhouse of Miis you’ve created interact, all imbued with what you, the player, has seemingly given them. I spent dozens of hours peeking into the lives of my Miis, a jumbled selection of my real life friends, recreated fictional characters, and celebrities. I remember shrieking when my Graduation-era Kanye West Mii paired up with a friend of mine, thinking “no! This isn’t how it’s supposed to go!”
But Tomodachi Life lives by those surprises that are out of the player’s control. Tomodachi Life made me laugh—and I mean truly laugh—in ways few games have. Whether it’s in which Mii is beefing with who (myself and my real-life significant other, for example, did not get along in Tomodachi Life's multi-story apartment complex) or the delightfully silly activities, such as performing a concert and stretching Miis to say vulgar things. The game embraces its pure absurdity with no shame, and is a high point for the Miis that Nintendo has come to mostly ignore in the Switch-age.
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
Persona Q is the most fan service-y bullshit ever. But I kinda love it. It wraps Persona 4 and Persona 3’s characters up into one tidy, Etrian Odyssey-esque dungeon crawling package, and chibi-fies the teenagers along the way. It’s surprisingly endearing seeing all the characters interact, more so than when they did in the Persona 4 fighting game spin-offs of the Arena series on PS3. Persona Q’s dungeon crawling is quietly great too, adopting the map-drawing curiosity of Etrian Odyssey, but meshed with the intense turn-based battles of Persona. The end result is a JRPG on 3DS that’s dense and enjoyable in its own right, and doesn't rely on nostalgia at its own detriment. Persona Q isn't too familiar for Persona fans, and is easy to pick up for players who haven’t even touched a Persona game in their life.
Honorable mentions: A Link Between Worlds, Final Fantasy Theatrhythm: Curtain Call, Shin Megami Tensei IV, Hatsune Miku Project Mirai DX, Style Savvy: Fashion Forward, Yo-Kai Watch, Story of Seasons, Pushmo
Jaz Rignall - Former 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.
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 - Former 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.
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.
Bob Mackey - Former 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 you 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.