Ever since Game Boy burst onto the scene in 1989, Nintendo has been a powerhouse in the handheld gaming space. The company’s latest pocket-sized device, the Nintendo 3DS, is no exception, having sold over 53 million units at the time of this writing. To put that in perspective, its closest competitor, the PS Vita, has sold only 9 million units.
Whether you have a 3DS and you’re looking for games to play or you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, keep reading. Below are the 13 best games available only on the 3DS, according to Metacritic.
13. Bravely Default
Metacritic Score: 85
There was a time in the 1990s when Japanese role-playing games were among the most popular video games in the world. One reason is because it was great fun to start a game with weak characters and gradually build them into unstoppable warriors. As years went by, games in other genres began borrowing this style of character progression, and JRPGs fell out of favor. Nowadays, you can hardly boot up your game console without finding a game that was heavily influenced by the RPGs of the ‘90s.
Bravely Default is a JRPG that does the exact opposite: it borrows heavily from modern games to bring new life to the RPG formula. The makers clearly built the game on the rock-solid foundation of classic RPGs like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. But instead of making a complete throwback game, they hand-picked what aspects they wanted to borrow, and discarded the rest. Then they painted the whole thing in eye-catching graphics and added a number of modern gameplay ideas to create something that feels both classic and unique.
12. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
Metacritic Score: 86
If you follow Japanese role-playing games, chances are you’ve heard of the Persona series. Generally considered among the best RPGs in the genre, these games are about high schoolers who socialize and attend class during the day, then fight monsters at night. With Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, the traditionally PlayStation-only series has made its debut on Nintendo hardware.
Persona Q takes the characters from Persona 3 and 4 and pulls them into a different kind of role-playing game. Instead of the free-roaming dungeon crawling used in the rest of the series, this game puts the characters in grid-based dungeons that you explore from a first-person perspective. If you’re familiar with the Etrian Odyssey series on 3DS, you’ll have an idea of what Persona Q is like. With colorful characters, dynamic battles, and fresh dungeon exploration, Persona Q is sure to please anyone who likes the series, the genre, or just good games in general.
11. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
Metacritic Score: 86
The original U.S. version of Xenoblade Chronicles landed on the Wii in 2012. It was a fantastic open-world Japanese RPG that critics adored but many gamers missed, thanks to its limited GameStop-only release.
It’s now available to a wider audience with this Nintendo 3DS port. There is one catch, though: You can’t play it on a regular 3DS. Instead, you need to have the more powerful New Nintendo 3DS XL. That’s a bummer, but it might be a good excuse to upgrade your hardware. After all, it might be worth the extra expense to be able to bring such a magnificent open-world RPG with you wherever you go.
10. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
Metacritic Score: 86
Mario may hog the spotlight, but Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon shows that his taller, slimmer brother is every bit his equal when he’s called upon. In this second Masion game (the first appeared on Gamecube), Luigi is yanked out of his comfort zone and dropped into a haunted house. Using a ghost-busting device called the Poltergust 5000, Luigi embarks on missions to explore every inch of the mansion, sucking up all the ghostly spirits he finds.
Dark Moon is a tough game to classify. It’s kind of like a platformer — like most Mario games — but you can’t jump in it. It uses puzzle-solving to uncover new areas in the mansion and root out hidden ghosts, but it’s not a puzzle game. It also features lots of twitch-reaction combat sequences as you confront these spooky enemies. Whatever kind of game it is, Dark Moon is perfect for playing on the go, because most missions can be completed in 15 minutes. If you’re looking for a well-designed game unlike anything else on the market, give this one a shot.
9. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
Metacritic Score: 86
This game takes place in a world full of beasts that come in a variety of sizes: large, larger, and “this was a bad idea, let’s get out of here.” You venture out from town, find a beast, and engage in an epic battle to slay it. Then you return home to craft new weapons and equipment to prepare for your next encounter.
The game is definitely not easy, but you can invite friends to hop into your game to help you take down a towering foe. For the first time in the series, if your timing is right, you can hop on a monster’s back and ride it until it grows tired — assuming you don’t get thrown off and gored first.
8. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Metacritic Score: 88
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the Seinfeld of games in that it’s not really about anything. It has no points, no level progression, no time limits, and no real goal. You can’t “beat” it. You just turn it on, tinker around for as long as you want, and then turn it off. So what’s the point?
There is no point — and that’s kind of the point. Although there’s nothing traditional about this title, Animal Crossing: New Leaf offers an experience many gamers crave, even if they don’t realize it.
You play as the mayor of a small town populated by talking animals. You can wander around and chat with your neighbors. You can pull weeds and plant flowers. You can fish in the ocean and sail to an island to catch exotic butterflies and berries. The items you collect can be sold for money you can spend to decorate your house. It’s all very relaxing. If you play a lot of challenging, goal-based games, Animal Crossing: New Leaf might be the breath of fresh air you didn’t know you needed.
7. Pokémon X and Y
Metacritic Score: 88
The Pokémon franchise has been sweetening Nintendo’s financial reports since the late ’90s when Red/Blue got everyone with a Game Boy hooked on catching ‘em all. Each installment offers much of the same experience. You play as a Pokémon trainer who goes out into the world, catching new creatures for your collection, and having them battle against other Pokémon and their trainers.
The 2013 Pokémon X/Y does more than any other installment to freshen the formula. For starters, it’s the first game in the series to offer a three-dimensional world and 3D character models for every Pokémon ever made. Add in some first-class online features and a brilliantly reworked experience system, and you’ve got a big leap forward for the series. In short, Pokémon X/Y is the best Pokémon game in a very long time.
6. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D
Metacritic Score: 89
With the success of the 3DS remake of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, it was no surprise Nintendo elected to port over its successor, Majora’s Mask. While that game hasn’t become the classic Ocarina has, it’s developed a cult following since its 2000 release.
In Majora’s Mask, the moon is on a crash course with the planet, and is expected to make impact in three days, destroying everything and everyone. You play as a time-traveling Link, who repeatedly goes back to the beginning of those three days to conquer dungeons and stop the end of the world. The game also features a handful of modern improvements over the original, making this the most accessible version of the game yet.
Metacritic Score: 90
Puzzle games work great on handheld consoles because you can hop in and complete a level in just a few minutes — the perfect length of time for a bus ride or a wait at the dentist office. Pushmo, a game about reaching the top of a pile of blocks, is the best puzzler on the system. At the start of each puzzle, you stand at the bottom of a stack of blocks that come in different shapes and sizes. To complete the puzzle, you must pull out the blocks in the right order and hop your way to the summit.
It might not sound very difficult — and it’s not, at first — but once you reach the more advanced stages, sussing out the solution requires some serious brain power. Thankfully, the difficulty rises at a steady pace, so you’re almost always prepared for the task each level presents. If you’re into puzzle games, you don’t want to miss this one.
4. Super Mario 3D Land
Metacritic Score: 90
We can all probably agree at this point that Mario is the most iconic video game character ever made. His games have consistently topped the charts for nearly 30 years — and for good reason. Almost all of them are fantastic.
Super Mario 3D Land is no exception. This game goes light on the 3D factor and heavy on fun. It’s like a perfect mix between the compact comfort of a side-scrolling Mario game and the “anything goes” openness of the Mario Galaxy series. So whether you grew up playing Mario games on the NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, Gamecube, or Wii, you’ll feel right at home in this brilliant platformer.
3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Metacritic Score: 91
To this day, one of the most beloved Super Nintendo games is The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It came out to high expectations in 1991, and raised the bar for the amazing Zelda series without even seeming to break a sweat.
Nintendo has never been afraid to cash in on gamer nostalgia, and it does so once agin with A Link Between Worlds. The game is set in the same world as A Link to the Past, but you know what? It works beautifully. Everything that gamers love about the original is executed perfectly here — the clever puzzles, otherworldly atmosphere, soaring soundtrack, and twisting story. But the developers have tweaked everything so it never feels like a rehash. Nintendo aimed high with A Link Between Worlds, and once again exceeded gamers’ expectations.
2. Fire Emblem: Awakening
Metacritic Score: 92
It’s not every day that you stumble across a superbly balanced strategy RPG. These games are hard to make because so many factors go into them that, if you mess up one thing, it can throw the whole game off. In most strategy RPGs, battles take place on a playing field divided into squares. You control a large party of combatants, each with special abilities and a limited range of movement. You and the opposing force take turns positioning your units and attacking until one army is defeated.
For starters, Fire Emblem: Awakening has a fantastic strategy game foundation. It nails the fun factor of the genre and does a great of job of introducing newcomers to the rules of the game. Between battles, however, it also tells a compelling story of warring kingdoms, and gets you to care about the characters. On the standard difficulty setting, death is permanent. When a character falls in battle, he or she is then gone from your roster. This raises the stakes considerably, and makes a great game even more compelling.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Metacritic Score: 94
It’s no surprise that one of the most universally adored games of all time takes the number one slot. The Legend of Zelda: Ocraina of Time is a classic in every sense of the word. It originally launched on the Nintendo 64 in 1998, bringing the traditionally top-down series into three dimensions. But unlike many games that struggled to make the transition to 3D, Ocarina did it almost flawlessly, bringing the expert design of the previous games to life in a whole new way.
This 3DS version doesn’t mess with the core of the original game, but it does make it look a whole lot better. The character models are more detailed and the textures are much cleaner, which makes the game a pleasure to look at while you’re playing. The system’s 3D effect is put to such good use that it almost seems like you’re peering into a small box and watching a beautiful animated film. When you put these eye-popping visuals on one of the best games of all time, you get a bonafide masterpiece.
More From Tech Cheat Sheet:
- The 6 Best Xbox One Exclusive Games Released So Far
- The 4 Best PlayStation 4 Exclusive Games Released So Far
- The 5 Best Wii U Video Games Released So Far
Follow Chris on Twitter @_chrislreed