Eurogamer’s best games lists aim to guide you to the highest quality, most original, most exciting games around today. Each regularly updated list presents between 10 and 20 varied games that we think would make a fine foundation for any game collection.
Nintendo’s latest handheld console didn’t launch that long ago – back in early 2011 – but its gimmick, a remarkable little stereoscopic 3D screen that doesn’t require glasses, has already fallen foul of fashion. The games industry’s brief infatuation with 3D is very much over, and Nintendo’s attempt to jazz up its modestly powered successor to the all-conquering DS already looks rather quaint (although the improved screen in the latest model is quite something, it must be said). It certainly hasn’t helped Nintendo fend off smartphones’ erosion of the handheld market it once dominated.
But the machine is a big success where it counts – because 3DS has effortlessly kept up Nintendo’s proud tradition of handheld games whose lavish production values and thoughtful design give away nothing to the best home console games, and belie the humble spec of the machine they run on. In the likes of Fire Emblem and Monster Hunter you’ll find experiences as deep and rich (and long-lasting) as gaming has to offer. Meanwhile, the 3DS’ relative success in Japan means this is the one contemporary platform where the brio and pioneering spirit of the Japanese gaming industry of the 1990s can be found alive and well.
And of course, you have Nintendo itself, inarguably one of the world’s greatest game studios, habitually churning out brilliant games that somehow never fail to find a new spin on familiar ideas – whether it’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds remixing a 23-year-old classic in unexpected ways, or Super Mario 3D Land finding the sweet spot between Mario’s 2D and 3D incarnations. 3D may have been a red herring, but these brilliant handheld games all have an extra dimension regardless.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
It might have started life on the GameCube – or, if you’re Japanese or a real Nintendo hipster, back on the N64 – but Animal Crossing has found its true home on handhelds, where the gentle rhythms of its virtual towns can gently intrude on your own day. It’s a quiet space where you just live life on a daily basis, tending to your town, making friends with the animal populace and collecting furniture and doodads for your home. How wonderful it is to be caught in Animal Crossing’s spell, too, when your real-life commitments blur with appointments you’ve made with the anxious rhino that lives around the corner. New Leaf is a high watermark for the series, its world fuller than what’s gone before, the possibilities broader and its ability to ensnare you as potent as ever.
Square’s experiments with its famous Final Fantasy series of role-playing games haven’t always been successful – even if 15’s new direction looks promising – but it’s worth remembering that it hasn’t lost its touch when it comes to traditional turn-based RPGs. Bravely Default is a sumptuous, delicately crafted and astoundingly large celebration of the company’s 1990s heyday, folding in elements of some of the greatest Final Fantasy games and delivering them with breathtaking style. It may not be to everyone’s tastes – this is a long game, and often painfully so, with a few tonal issues that can make you wince – but if you’re after an RPG that will keep you going through an entire summer then there’s no better option than this.
The next time you hear someone moaning that Nintendo doesn’t experiment with new ideas any more, point them to Fallblox (known in the US as Crashmo). This block-based puzzler, a bargain download from the Nintendo eShop, is about climbing to the top of the pile by arranging a wall of bricks into a stepped surface. Your little protagonist Mallo can climb on level at a time or hop over small gaps, but will need to re-arrange each level’s various sections to be able to clamber up, over and around obstacles. Puzzles start off simple but soon turn into real brainteasers – which is unsurprising when you find out that the game is the creation of Fire Emblem and Paper Mario developer Intelligent Systems. (Fallblox’s predecessor, Pullblox, is also very highly recommended.)
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Many have lamented the lack of an Advance Wars game for 3DS, and it’s very easy to understand why; Intelligent Systems’ series plays a thrillingly pure and almost perfect game of strategy that fit perfectly in your pocket. Instead, though, we got something not quite so flawless but arguably better, the greatest entry yet in the same developer’s fantastical strategy-RPG series, which had yet to make it big in the West. The core of Fire Emblem is that you play not with units but with characters in a story, and that their death is a genuine threat. Awakening introduces multiple genius mechanics to this, including class and relationship systems that see characters not just evolve but marry and have children, breeding dynasties of accumulated battlefield prowess – and affection from the player. The result is one of the most tactically and emotionally sophisticated, and just plain brilliant, strategy games of all time.
Kid Icarus: Uprising
Masahiro Sakurai has a history of over-delivering and Kid Icarus: Uprising, his most significant recent offering outside of the Smash Bros. series, is no different. It’s a full-on action game, a sublime-looking on-rails shooter backed up with endless chatter that pops like the very best Saturday morning cartoons, and it’s also a third-person shooter that’s tightly executed with some intriguing upgrade paths. The 3DS manages all this without creaking, but your hands might not be able to hold up to it so well given its slightly convoluted controls. Do check it out though – if only to see the greatest selection of menu screens ever to have graced a video game.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
The Zelda series has always been circular in nature, but it’s rare to see a direct sequel – especially one in which there are more than 20 years between entries. Link Between Worlds is a follow-up to 1991’s A Link to the Past, and it does more than borrow the style of the SNES original. The world map is carried over in its entirety, as is the top-down adventuring and action. By bringing all it’s learnt in all those years to a classic template, Nintendo creates something truly wonderful, a breezy adventure that’s still full of treats and surprises despite its creaking foundations.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
What is there left to say about Ocarina of Time? An all-time great, it’s remembered not just for effortlessly taking Nintendo’s adventure series from two dimensions to three and laying the groundwork for so much of what was to come in the generations that followed, but also for crafting a world and a story whose poignancy and sense of wonder have endured. The magic hasn’t diminished, and Grezzo’s remaster is delicate with the few strokes it adds to the 1998 original. All you need to know, though, is that Ocarina of Time is as much a pleasure to play now as it was all those years ago, and there’s no better way to play it than through this 3DS version. (Grezzo have also completed a beautiful remaster of Ocarina’s dark and mysterious follow-up Majora’s Mask – a complicated game but essential for Zelda aficionados.)
Luigi’s Mansion 2
Known as Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon in North America, this delightful supernatural adventure expands on an idea which Nintendo first explored in a charming, if slight, GameCube game: what if the other Mario brother was a scardey-cat Ghostbuster on the set of a classic 1950s cartoon? It’s realised here with a lavish attention to detail worthy of the great film animation studios: the animation, sound, music and lighting are exquisitely spooky as Luigi nervously hums and tiptoes through cobwebbed mansions and disused mineshafts. The gameplay is refined and original, too, with careful exploration and puzzle-solving punctuated by sudden, tactile bouts of tug-of-war as Luigi wrestles spectres with his Poltergust vacuum cleaner. If Pixar made video games, they’d be like Luigi’s Mansion 2.
Mario Golf: World Tour
Playful physics and precision timing have converged so often at the heart of a Nintendo game that it should hardly surprise anybody to see Mario wielding a golf club. Karting aside, however, this remains the plumber’s sport of choice. After all, the dreamy weft and warp of real courses, with their cartoonishly manicured lawns, even provide a decent match for the Mushroom Kingdom. This 3DS instalment of a franchise that for many people remains forever on the Game Boy doesn’t disappoint, quietly upping the pace and throwing in a small selection of new tweaks. Not all of them are brilliant – paid DLC sours things somewhat while the single-player mode is both abstruse and slightly throwaway – but Mario Golf lives and breathes in that brilliant moment of connection as club meets ball. Once again, Nintendo’s nailed it.
Mario Kart 7
Mario Kart 7 is best remembered for bringing aerial gliding and underwater driving sections to the perennially popular arcade racing series, but it also has one of the franchise’s best track rosters. Included among the new courses are two looping routes that take in Wii Sports Resort’s Wuhu Island, as well as a number of tracks which immediately returned in Wii U follow-up Mario Kart 8, such as Melody Park, Piranha Plant Pipeway and Neo Bowser City. The game’s retro course selection also features some of the series’ finest areas, including Mario Kart DS’ Waluigi Pinball, Mario Kart 64’s Kalimari Desert and the superlative Wii tracks Koopa Cape and Maple Treeway.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
For many people, the 3DS is the Monster Hunter machine – once this has found its way onto your handheld, there’s very little chance anything else will usurp it for a year or two. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is inarguably the best in Capcom’s series, and the ideal way for newcomers to get acquainted. What makes it so good? Beyond the breadth and depth of its combat, the appeal of all that loot and the pride you feel in crafting your gear from your well-earned scalps, it’s really all about the character. From the incredible animation of its monsters to the playful battlecrys of your friends, there’s always delight to be found in this beautifully realised world.
There’s a host of exciting new games on the 3DS, but it’s worth considering some of the older ones too. The Virtual Console has acquired a suite of classics, and if you’re looking for something with real sparkle there’s no better option that M2’s incredible run of eShop remasters that reach into Sega’s back-catalogue and drill down into the magic of each game. Super Hang-On and Afterburner 2 are two of the standouts, though it’s OutRun 3D that emerges as the pick of the pack. A sublime, subtle retooling of Yu Suzuki’s classic arcade driving game, it doubles the frame-rate while adding in 3D effects that sit perfectly alongside the original’s Super Scaler technology. It’s also the perfect reminder of what made OutRun so popular in the first place – it’s a slick, soothing celebration of all that’s great about driving, and it’s never been presented better than this.
At the time of its release, Pilotwings Resort was punished for its slightness: a breezy, throwaway game about flying and falling that came and went in the space of a few hours. With the benefit of hindsight, Nintendo was offering a tiny chunk of something sublime, and the trade-off was entirely worth it. The series’ long-awaited return resulted in a sky-minded dream of a game, a succession of zany craft and unlikely paces to put them through that took players from twin-props and gliders to fire-fighting jumbos. The highlight of the entire experience is a dive into the heart of a volcano wearing a squirrel suit and goggles – and the enduring thrill of a treat so fleeting is the way the 3DS uses its stereoscopic screen to render each new toy you’re given so wonderfully tactile.
Pokemon X & Y
With X and Y, Nintendo finally brought its Pokmon series into a fully 3D environment while keeping the mega-popular handheld series’ fixed top-down viewpoint. More than ever before, it is easy to imagine you are inside the equally popular Pokmon anime series, alive with fully-animated monster models and attacks during battles. Towns, cities and countryside areas are larger than ever before, as players explore a new area of the Pokmon world based around a fictional version of France, and another new range of critters to collect is supported by a return of many fan-favourite species from the series’ earlier days, which are given new life by the mysterious super-powered Mega Evolutions.
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
OK, it’a fair cop, this is something of a cheat entry: this crossover title acts as a catch-all, rolling two of the best-loved series on Nintendo handhelds into one. If you’re unfamiliar with either or both, it’s a great primer which switches back and forth between their two contrasting but complementary styles of puzzle-led detective story. Level-5’s Layton is a Holmesian Victorian gent who solves globe-trotting mysteries via the power of the brain teaser, while Capcom’s Wright is an energetic young lawyer whose wonderfully scripted escapades resemble a cross between Columbo, courtroom drama and the 1990s LucasArts adventure-game classics. This game’s one-off setting blends Layton’s edge of gentle fantasy with Wright’s contemporary home truths surprisingly well, and there’s plenty of fan service for series regulars. We would also happily recommend the two Layton games available for 3DS (The Miracle Mask and The Azran Legacy), while the superb first three Phoenix Wright games are available as a single download from the eShop.
Super Mario 3D Land
The return of the beloved Tanooki suit was the initial selling point – an old retro-cool piece of kit with its bushy tail that allows you to glide your way down from a jump. In truth, it’s all but lost within a truly dazzling pocket Mario game that seems frantic with both invention and nostalgia, as fixated with the future as it is the past. This wasn’t the first 3D Mario platformer to find itself on a handheld, but it was the first to look truly at home there, shrinking its levels into little commute-friendly playgrounds without diminishing the gratuitous inventiveness they contained. Much has been made of late about the structure of Mario’s fun, the way it teaches you a trick and then playfully inverts it. While that’s true, it diminishes the achievement of a game like this, that’s riffing off Mario’s cherished history one minute and sending you through a Zelda dungeon the next. Structure helps, but Mario comes alive when he steps away from convention – and this, underneath it all, is a as unconventional as games come.
Super Smash Bros. for 3DS
While it will never be the platform of choice for serious fighting pros or competition matches, Nintendo has managed to squeeze a remarkably complete version of its all-star fighting series onto its diminutive dual-screened handheld. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS features the same huge roster of fighters as its bigger Wii U brother, and all the modes you have come to expect. But it also boasts a number of exclusive features, such as the single-player Smash Run dungeon crawler, and a unique selection of stages and trophies themed around handheld Nintendo games – such as Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Pokmon: X and Y plus New Super Mario Bros 2.
Compiled by the Eurogamer editorial team and written by Christian Donlan, Oli Welsh, Martin Robinson and Tom Phillips. For more on our best games lists and how they are curated, read our editor’s blog.
If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out our list of recommended 3DS games.
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