Best 3DS Games
Image: Zion Grassl / Time Extension

In many ways, it's hard to believe the 3DS is a 'dead' system, because the gimmick of glasses-free 3D is still amazing, even a decade later.

Following in the footsteps of the Nintendo DS – the company's most successful hardware ever, with 154.02 million units sold – was never going to be easy, and while 3DS may have failed to beat its direct forerunner in terms of units sold (75.94 million, as of 2022), it offers one of the most well-rounded libraries you could ask for, with plenty of platformers, racers, RPGs, action games and much more besides.

What are the best 3DS games?

Our list includes a broad mixture of 3DS classics, including famous series like Zelda, Mario and Smash Bros., and isn't presented in any kind of ranking or order; these are simply a handful of 3DS games you should play if you're looking to make the most of the dual-screen wonder.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS)

As if its library wasn't impressive enough, the 3DS got a wonderful remaster of a game which collects ‘Best Game Of All Time’ awards like beer mats.

It was always going to be good, but Grezzo managed to strike the perfect balance between evoking nostalgia for the N64 original and carefully updating and polishing the experience to help it shine in the 21st century. It’s just like you remember, but going back and actually comparing the two reveals that it’s vastly improved in many areas, from UI to textures to character models. The modifications this remaster brought to the table make this the best way to play the game in the present day. And everybody should play Ocarina of Time.

Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)

Billed as a stepping stone between the 2D and 3D games, Super Mario 3D Land scaled down the grand playgrounds of the mainline titles into smaller courses that worked better on a handheld screen. Beyond a handful of obvious and gimmicky perspective puzzles, this platformer showcased the console’s stereoscopic 3D by subtly signalling distance and perspective to the player – you weren’t relying on Mario’s shadow quite so much (a fact we more fully appreciated when we first played this game’s ‘big brother’, the excellent Super Mario 3D World on Wii U).

It was games like this and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds which really showed off the 3DS' namesake feature and how it could enhance the gameplay experience without poking your eye out. Comfortably contained and wonderfully tailored to the hardware, this should really be in your collection already.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

When we first heard that the 3DS entry in the venerable series would revisit the world of A Link To The Past, our excitement was tempered with trepidation. The SNES classic is sacred ground and after so many 3D iterations that stuck to its template, perhaps returning to that Hyrule might sully our memories, or worse, reveal that it wasn’t quite as good as we remember.

Of course, our concern was unwarranted – A Link Between Worlds proved to be spectacular. Like all the best mechanics in the series, its novel wall-painting transformation puzzles were so ingeniously simple that you wondered why the concept hadn’t been hit upon before. Great use of the system’s 3D feature brought Hyrule to life in a game that rivals the greatest in the series. If – shock! horror! – you’re reading this and you don’t own a 3DS, it’s time to track down a deal and play one of the very best games in a franchise of winners.

Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)

Fire Emblem has always enjoyed the adulation of a passionate fanbase, but it wasn’t until Fire Emblem: Awakening with fan-favourite characters Chrom and Robin that its popularity went mainstream. Beyond series-best mechanics, subtle use of stereoscopic 3D made the battlefields even more readable and wonderful writing made a large roster of characters truly memorable. The relationships and bonds we created on and off the battlefield here stick in our minds to this day (ah, Sully). The contribution made by 8-4's fantastic localisation can't be overstated, and the characters became far more than mere units to level up; you really invested emotionally in the fates of Chrom, Cordelia, Lon'qu, Tharja, Gregor, Donnel, and company.

Without Awakening, it's quite possible that the series would be languishing in the doldrums of dormant Nintendo franchises. This game rejuvenated the series, catapulting it into the top tier of Nintendo IPs on the international stage in a way Intelligent Systems hadn't achieved previously. You can’t really go wrong with any entries in the Fire Emblem series, but the first 3DS game left a particularly strong impression.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS)

Becoming mayor in Animal Crossing: New Leaf gives you licence to shape your village more than ever before, with the help of secretary Isabelle, of course. The most evergreen of games, Animal Crossing is a joyous pastime that enters your life and becomes part of your routine. Whether catching comedian Dr Shrunk or resident musician/DJ K.K. Slider at Club LOL, taking fossils and artworks to Blathers for verification, or simply wandering around catching bugs and fishing, there’s enough to keep you occupied for days, months and years.

It never overwhelms you, though; you can go deep with breeding flowers or working the stalk market, or kick back and collect fruit, decorate your house or simply chat with fellow villagers throughout the changing seasons. The addition of the campsite and amiibo support in the Welcome amiibo update gave us more reasons to return. Animal Crossing: New Horizons may be the shinier, newer version, but New Leaf is still a very fine way to experience the charm of this relaxing series.

Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS)

Kid Icarus: Uprising is one of the most attractive, exhilarating, entertaining and outrageously fun titles on 3DS. Uprising provides a substantial amount of content, its own brand of adrenaline pumping set pieces and wonderful humour. Arguably awkward controls aside, it sweeps you along at breakneck speed, and is a must-have title for that very reason.

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (3DS)

Squeezing Smash’s frantic brawling onto a handheld seemed like an impossible feat, but Sakurai’s team of wizards managed to get practically everything from the Wii U version onto the 3DS while also adding stereoscopic 3D, plus exclusive modes (Smash Run and StreetSmash) and stages. This one introduced the ability to customise your fighters by changing their attacks and providing unique power-ups to create a playstyle that works best for you. It also introduced amiibo support, allowing you to train CPU characters and import them into a match with a simple tap of the figure on the console.

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS even allowed you to use the 3DS as a controller for the Wii U version – of course, the constant tension and rapid button presses mean it’s definitely not the most comfortable way to play, but back in 2014 3DS owners were treated to an honest-to-goodness, full-fat Super Smash Bros. on a handheld, and over a month before it came to Wii U. It’s still an impressive game to this day and worthy of a place in your collection.

Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS)

The Game Boy sequel to the original Metroid on NES was remarkable back in the day, but if there was ever a perfect candidate for a remake in Nintendo’s back catalogue, that was the one. MercurySteam did a fabulous job updating Metroid II’s mechanics for the 21st century, giving a whole new audience the chance to experience an important chapter in the series’ story. Handy additions like the map were joined with a new melee attack which introduced a delicate balance of risk versus reward and the result was one of the best games on the system. It was no surprise that Nintendo partnered with the developer on Metroid Dread.

WarioWare Gold (3DS)

The irreverent minigame series came to 3DS late in life at a time when many might have preferred to see it land on Switch, but it’s hard to be too miffed. WarioWare Gold makes use of the console’s particular features – from its two screens to its tiny microphone – and curates many of the series’ most popular games while also adding 50ish new ones into the bargain. Similar to Rhythm Heaven Megamix, the series has many standout entries across consoles and this is an excellent ‘best of’ package.

Star Fox 64 3D (3DS)

Post-Star Fox 64, subsequent entries in the series have had interesting elements and plenty of great moments, but none have quite captured — certainly not consistently — the formula we fell in love with back in 1997. Fortunately, this 3DS remaster reminded everyone just how good it can be, with sumptuous stereoscopic 3D added for good measure. Of course, we miss the chunky Rumble Pak and the N64’s peculiar pad, but Star Fox 64 3D is arguably the best way to find out why we still get a tiny buzz every time someone cracks out a tired ‘barrel roll’ reference.