While Nintendo's latest home console the Wii U is seemingly struggling more and more with each passing month, the same cannot be said of the 3DS.
In fact, of all the systems currently available on the market, there's a very strong argument that the 3DS has one of the strongest lineups of games available, both at retail and for digital download. With that in mind, we thought we'd share our favorite experiences on Nintendo's handheld.
Let's kick off with Jaz, who, in his own words, has decided to be a "contrarian dick" by picking two titles that aren't even games.
While I should be highlighting brilliant games like Fire Emblem and Ocarina of Time, or maybe even the amazingly miniaturized SFIV, I’m instead being all contrarian dick and recommending Colors! 3D, an art app. But bear with me, because if you enjoy doodling and drawing, this is a better buy than most games.
"Colors! 3D whoops pretty much everything I've tried outside of Illustrator and a Wacom tablet."Jaz
I’ve used many, many painting programs over the years, and most have been a real pain in the ass to work with. But Colors! 3D is anything but that, and comprehensively whoops pretty much everything I’ve tried outside of Illustrator and a Wacom tablet. Using the stylus to draw is completely natural, and thanks to an easy-to-use interface and a host of intuitive painting tools, Colors! 3D helps facilitate the creative process, making drawing great pictures easy and fun. I know that sounds like an infomercial cliché, but wait – there’s more. The app packs a whole bunch of cool features, like drawing on multiple planes to create 3D pictures, and enabling multiple people to connect locally and draw cooperatively. It’s fun for the whole family, guaranteed!
I know an art app doesn’t sound like a particularly compelling essential purchase, but Colors! 3D really is worth its measly $7 asking price. It’s just a brilliant way to doodle… and if you have the time, lets you turn those doodles into masterpieces.
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.
"It's a bastard. A delightful, cute-looking, easy-to-play bastard that has crack-like addictive qualities."Jaz
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.
My final 3DS choice isn’t a game – it’s a mini music station. So yeah, shades of contrarian dick again. But believe me, this one’s a gem. It hasn’t been officially released in the US yet (Korg claim that its release here is imminent), but I’m mentioning it because I’ve been using it on my Japanese 3DS for a few weeks, and it has quickly become one of my favorite 3DS things.
Which doesn’t really surprise me, as I’m 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.
"Plug in some decent headphones, and M01D's straightforward interface will have you staring at your 3DS in disbelief."Jaz
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.
So... I already named my three favorite 3DS games to date (Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Etrian Odyssey IV, and Shin Megami Tensei IV) in our "best of 2013" feature a couple of weeks ago. What can I say? It's been a really good year for 3DS. So here are my other three favorites.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star
Playing through Mario & Luigi: Dream Team has reminded me just how much I enjoyed Sticker Star -- and why! Granted, I've always been slightly more partial to the Paper Mario series than Mario & Luigi, partially for aesthetic reasons but also because I feel the less complicated battle system (featuring one Mario brother instead of two) makes for more focused gameplay. But what I really enjoyed about Sticker Star was how it felt so back-to-basics.
The Mario spin-offs have increasingly become derailed by endless walls of amusing but pointless text, which become even more insufferable when they're coming from new characters shoehorned into the world of Mario for the events of that particular game. Sticker Star pushed back against the march of Mario RPG history with a lean game set entirely in the Mushroom Kingdom, with familiar characters and landmarks, and a pleasantly minimal amount of garbage dialogue to wade through.
"Playing through Mario & Luigi: Dream Team reminded me how much I enjoyed Sticker Star."Jeremy
This did have its downside: some of the objectives and puzzle elements tended toward obscurity, and at some point or another everyone who plays Sticker Star gets a little lost. While this could have been handled more effectively, it was honestly a refreshing change of pace to have the opportunity to get lost in the first place. Nintendo's adventure games tend to be so hand-holdy -- a pandemic that affects most Japanese RPGs these days -- that being given just enough rope to hang ourselves with felt almost like a revelation. Sticker Star wasn't perfect, but it was fun, witty, and packed with some very cool platforming puzzles. And, of course, great RPG combat.
Adventure Time: Hey Ice King, Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?
I went into Ice King knowing nothing whatsoever about Adventure Time, except that it's weird and people like it. What I did know, however, is that the folks behind Shantae -- WayForward Technology -- had created the game, and that they had done so very much in the spirit of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Since Zelda II has always been a big influence on WayForward's work, I was curious to see what their straight-up homage would be.
"[Adventure Time] totally scratched my itch for that kind of smart, retro-facing content you normally only get in indie games."Jeremy
And it was pretty good. Maybe not the greatest thing ever, but as far as licensed action games based on a kid's show (or an ostensible kid's show, anyway)? Brilliant. And it totally scratched my itch for that kind of smart, retro-facing content you normally only get in indie games. But they definitely nailed the Zelda II vibe of sword-based combat, up/down-thrusts and extra powers. They also did a great job of integrating concepts and characters from the TV series, I learned after I completed the game and checked out the show as a matter of curiosity.
Brief but clever, Ice King makes a perfect diversion for a few hours for anyone who grew up playing NES games.
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
While Luigi's latest solo outing tends to fall prey to Nintendo's habit of burying players beneath tons of superfluous text, that's really the only significant flaw I can think of with this great adventure game. And I do mean "adventure game" in the classic point-and-click sense; that's very much the nature of Luigi's Mansion. Just replace "point" with "suck" and "click" with "blow" and you've got it. Luigi and his backpack replace the traditional mouse-pointer interface, lending a sort of arcade immediacy to a genre normally characterized by a sort of third-person detachment. The brief skirmishes with the game's ghosts provide short bursts of action, though nothing particularly demanding in terms of dexterity; more like quick exclamation marks to keep things lively.
"Luigi is at his most absolute charming here as a character."Jeremy
Really, though, the focus is entirely on exploration, searching, and puzzle-solving. Luigi is at his most absolute charming here as a character; rather than playing mopey second banana to his older brother, he takes center stage, livening up the slow-paced quest with his scatterbrained bumbling and exaggerated cowardice. It's a far lengthier and meatier adventure than its GameCube predecessor, too -- a proper realization of a great idea. A low-key but absolutely essential 3DS gem.
Only one from me. I only purchased a 3DS two or three months ago. I own a grand total of, uh, four games. Choosing top three felt ... insincere, somehow.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
It's weird that my favorite game on the 3DS is probably the one I've played least. Then again, it's the only one that comes with what is, for all intents and purposes, a gargantuan lance that also doubles as a sawed-off shotgun. Pow! Jokes aside, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and, indeed, the rest of the franchise fascinates me because of just how much there is to do (and kill). Feel like eating something? Cool. Go and roast some food. Of course, much like in real life, you're going to want to measure the amount of time your slab of meat sits on the roast. Too long, and you'll be made subject to a charcoal-flavored catastrophe. Want a new weapon? Go cut off someone's tail. No, really. Want anything at all in this tropical escape? Be prepared to kill, bludgeon, slice and perforate. It's glorious.
"I enjoy Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for the reasons a lot of other people enjoy Animal Crossing and Dark Souls."Cassandra
The litany of activities goes on: quest fufilment, mushroom-collecting, bug-catching, mining, fishing and even farming (sort of). Enemies are delightfully varied, bosses a beautiful nightmare. If that wasn't enough, there are eleven weapon types to master, to test against the game's flesh-and-blood armament. In some ways, I suppose I enjoy Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for many of the reasons a lot of other people seem to enjoy Animal Crossing and Dark Souls. Firstly, even the smallest bit of time investment feels rewarding. With so many resources to collect, it doesn't feel terribly wasteful to simply spend a few minutes with the game harvesting herbivores before progressing with your day. (The game's also great at making it immensely satisfying to lose hours to it but that's another thing entirely.)
As for the Dark Souls reference, well. Let's put it this way: I'm terrible at the Gunlance but I don't intend to stop trying. Grr.
Code of Princess
I picked this up on a bit of a whim a while back when it was on sale, and I instantly fell in love with its Guardian Heroes-style multi-tiered brawler combat, gorgeous animation, amusing characters and excellent English language voice acting. Atlus-published titles can often be a bit hit or miss when it comes to English voiceovers, but Code of Princess' acting managed to really capture the personality of this strange and diverse cast of characters -- and make the whole experience feel both light-hearted and genuinely amusing.
"Code of Princess' voice acting managed to really capture the personality of this strange and diverse cast."Pete
Gameplay is relatively simple and rather button-mashy -- at least it seems that way to my unskilled, cack-handed self -- but satisfying. It's easy to pull off impressive-looking moves and fend off the unwanted advances of multiple enemies at the same time, and each of the game's missions are short enough to make them ideal for portable play. If I had to criticize it, I'd say that the actual objectives in the various missions are bit samey -- most of them tend to boil down to "kill everything in this arena before the unfeasibly long time limit expires" -- but if you're a fan of old-school arcade brawlers, this is a lot of fun.
My only real disappointment with the game as a whole is that the online community appears to be all but dead -- a shame, as I would have enjoyed trying out the cooperative and competitive elements of the game.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
It's such a simple idea: a Final Fantasy music game. Why wasn't this done before now? Possible answer: so there were more games to draw music from.
"The whole experience is one of both excitement and nostalgia."Pete
Theatrhythm is -- mechanically speaking, anyway -- an extremely simple game that largely involves tapping, swiping and holding on the screen according to the various Final Fantasy-inspired chaos that is unfolding on the top screen of the 3DS. The fact you're tapping, swiping and holding to such well-known, well-loved themes from gaming history makes the whole experience one of both excitement and nostalgia; the structure of the game, which boils down each of the past Final Fantasy games to a medley involving the opening theme, an event theme, a battle theme, a field theme and the ending music, is enough to make a long-serving Final Fantasy fan like myself immediately want to go back and play all the past installments. It's nice to see the oft-overlooked MMO Final Fantasy XI get acknowledged for its excellent soundtrack, too.
Despite the simplicity of the game mechanics, Theatrhythm is a game designed to keep you playing for a long time. There's characters to level up, content to unlock, scores to beat, challenges to perfect and all manner of other goodness. It's designed well as a portable game, too, friendly to both quick play sessions while you're on the bus or the toilet, and to longer, more protracted sessions as you struggle to unlock some of the tougher content.
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon Multiplayer
I know Jeremy's already highlighted the virtues of Dark Moon's single-player component, but I wanted to give some love to multiplayer, too. Essentially unfolding like a super-simple multiplayer roguelike, Dark Moon's online and local multiplayer modes cast you and up to three friends in the role of differently colored Luigis as you attempt to complete various objectives. In one, you simply have to clear out all the ghosts on each floor, then defeat a boss; in another, you have to track down invisible ghost puppies.
"Dark Moon's multiplayer mode would make a solid downloadable game in its own right."Pete
Dark Moon's multiplayer requires genuine cooperation, and it manages to pull this off without requiring any direct communication between players -- there is, so far as I can make out, anyway, no means of voice or text chat between participants in a session. Instead, a simple macro system allows you to make Luigi say one of four things ranging from "this way" to "help!" and this is supported by a marker on the map showing where the "signal" is coming from. Since Dark Moon's multiplayer often likes to drop you into traps that require another player to break you free from, the simplicity of this system is very much welcome -- and it really works.
Dark Moon's multiplayer mode would make a solid downloadable game in its own right, with its randomly-generated floors and option to enjoy a session of anywhere between five and unlimited floors in the tower. Combine that with the excellence of single player, which Jeremy's already told us all about, and you have one of the best value, most enjoyable packages on 3DS.