If some video game fans are to be believed, the first sign of the apocalypse has appeared: Earlier this year, Nintendo announced it would begin making games for smartphones and tablets.
Investors have been calling for this move for years, for two reasons: 1) Nintendo has been losing money and 2) successful mobile games are gold mines for their makers. Seriously, there’s a reason the only video game commercials that aired during this year’s Super Bowl were for “freemium” mobile games like Clash of Clans and Game of War. It’s because their makers can easily afford the air time.
In all likelihood, Nintendo’s mobile games will be free-to-play, or “freemium.” That means they’ll be free to download, but will encourage players to spend money for extra content, power-ups, or in-game currency. This is bad news to some fans, who think of mobile games — and freemium games in particular — as innately inferior.
What many gamers don’t realize is that Nintendo has already been making freemium games for Nintendo 3DS for over a year. Each game has a slightly different take on the freemium payment model, which is probably Nintendo’s way of seeing what works before entering the mobile gaming space.
Without further ado, here are five Nintendo 3DS games you can download and play now for free.
1. Steel Divers: Sub Wars
U.S. Release: February 2014
Believe it or not, Nintendo’s first attempt at a freemium game was a first-person shooter. The twist is that you actually control a submarine, which adds a whole new level of complexity to the affair. The free download comes with a tutorial, two single-player missions, and a multiplayer mode. The basic idea is to maneuver through the water, avoiding detection and launching missiles into enemy subs.
As for the payment method, you can spend $10 to get 18 additional subs and five new single-player missions. You also have the option to purchase five additional historic subs for a buck apiece. That means there’s a cap to how much money you can spend on the game, unlike most of the freemium mobile games that bring in vast riches every day.
2. Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball
U.S. Release: April 2014
Here’s an odd one. Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball is a collection of baseball-themed mini-games. The initial download lets you play a barebones batting game that turns out to be deceptively fun and nuanced.
The weird part is that you have to buy the rest of the mini-games individually from Rusty, a down-on-his-luck middle-aged dog who’s always willing to bend your ear. You’ll learn all about Rusty’s life, including his impending divorce and his struggles to keep his baseball shop open. You can even haggle on the prices of the mini-games. As free-to-play games go this is all kinds of weird, but in a charming way.
3. Pokémon Shuffle
U.S. Release: February 2015
The first two games on this list are unconventional takes on the free-to-play formula. Pokémon Shuffle represents the first time Nintendo has gone the standard freemium route. Basically, it’s a run-of-the-mill match-three game — a lot like Candy Crush Saga and other successful mobile games. The idea is to complete match-three puzzles on the bottom screen in order to rack up enough points to defeat the Pokémon enemies you face on the top screen.
The pay model is fairly complex, with three separate types of currency: jewels, coins, and hearts. You can buy jewels with real money, and then exchange them for hearts, which let you play levels without waiting out a timer, or you can exchange them for coins, which let you purchase power-ups. This is the kind of “pay-to-win” strategy many gamers find predatory.
4. Pokémon Rumble World
U.S. Release: April 2015
If Pokémon Shuffle uses a somewhat distasteful version of the free-to-play model, Pokémon Rumble World is a step in the right direction. This game has you hack and slash your way through dungeons filled with Pokémon, collecting the ones that fall to ground instead of exploding when you defeat them. There are 719 to collect in all, which means the game will keep you dungeon crawling for quite some time.
The premium currency here is called Poké Diamonds, which you can purchase for real-life money. Poké Diamonds can be used to bypass certain timers and purchase extra lives. Thankfully, you also earn Poké Diamonds as you play, which makes progression less annoying than in Pokémon Shuffle.
It’s kind of the best of both worlds: The use of freemium currency in Pokémon Rumble World feels fair, but also likely to be profitable for Nintendo.
U.S. Release: May 2015
Stretchmo is the third in a series of excellent and unique puzzle games, following Pushmo and Crashmo. All of these games present you with structures composed of blocks and ask you to pull the blocks to create a path to a goal. Each game has a different take on how you can manipulate the blocks. In Stretchmo, it’s all about stretching the blocks, either forward and backward or left and right.
As far as the freemium aspects of the game, they’re more along the lines of Rusty and Steel Divers above. What you get for free in Stretchmo is nothing more than a handful of tutorial levels that show you how to play the game. Once you’re through with those, you have to pay to unlock the rest of the puzzles, which are available in four packs you can buy individually or in a bundle.