The best 3DS games show just why the Nintendo handheld reigned supreme for so long
25. Pocket Card Jockey
Release date: May 5, 2016
Let’s not lie: Pocket Card Jockey is a hard sell. It’s a game about horse racing and solitaire, which sounds more like two gambling machines mated to create a mule child than a conscious design decision. Resist that urge to click onto the next slide, though: this is one of the best titles Game Freak has made that isn’t about locking monsters in balls.
It’s the sort of game that belongs on a Nintendo system: initially odd, but with the sway to engage you for two minutes or ten hours. It’s also wonderfully, endearingly weird, featuring a canonical explanation for why solitaire prowess translates into skilled horse racing. Best of all, it provides you the opportunity to engage with the most important aspect of equestrian sports: giving your pony a truly ridiculous name. Simply put, Pocket Card Jockey is the best game about horse racing and cards for people who care about neither.
24. Shin Megami Tensei 4
Release date: July 16, 2013
Shin Megami Tensei arrives at its fourth numbered entry after numerous spin-offs, and developer Atlus makes the new release count by adapting the series to feel current without abandoning its roots. Once more you guide precocious teens tasked with saving the inhabitants of a post-apocalyptic world, but key areas like exploration, combat, and item management have been smartly streamlined.
The standard gameplay satisfies without ignoring its past, and the twisting story of the blurring lines between good and evil is surprisingly deep. For all the changes, Shin Megami Tensei 4’s storied monster collection and fusion is as addicting as ever. Building the perfect team of beasts is as engrossing as Pokmon, only with satanic imagery sprinkled on top.
Release date: January 14, 2015
Is it painful for Qbby to extrude series of interconnected boxes from his very being? Who knows. But man oh man, does it make for some really clever puzzle-solving. Everything about BoxBoy! is cute, minimal, and focused on making you feel as dumb-then-brilliant as possible. The game’s central premise is simple: you squeeze out cubes in a series of formations, then either toss, drop, or retract yourself into them to get past hazardous obstacles.
Then, like a four-cornered Mario, you move from one themed “world” full of levels to another, and everything you thought you knew about extrusion changes. Suddenly you’re using your cubes like armor to defend against deadly lasers, or carefully timing when to drop them onto conveyor belts. BoxBoy’s sequels BoxBoxBoy and Bye-Bye BoxBoy are little miracles too, but nothing can replicate that initial charm of the original.
22. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies
Release date: October 24, 2013
After sitting on the sidelines for a few iterations of this courtroom drama, Phoenix Wright is finally back in the limelight, doling out legal justice like it’s his job (which it is). And it isn’t just the defense attorney protagonist that’s pleasantly familiar – Dual Destinies recaptures the cheerful, humorous tone that made us fall in love with the Ace Attorney series in the first place.
Of course, there’s still plenty of drama to the proceedings, with tense cross-examinations of witnesses and bitter rivalries against opposing prosecutors. The mysterious circumstances of each crime will keep you guessing till the end, and when you finally trip up a liar with your OBJECTION! you’ll be smiling from ear to ear. It’s all presented in gorgeous 3D, with some awesome anime cutscenes to boot.
21. Shovel Knight
Release date: June 26, 2014
Nintendo’s library is home to platforming titans like Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong Country – who would’ve guessed we’d be bringing up the fantastic Shovel Knight in the same breath? Shovel Knight is a Megazord of old-school platformers – a beast made of great parts.
Like Mega Man, it’s packed with totally unique stages based on elements like water, air, and darkness, and each stage ends with a duel against a knight from the Order of No Quarter – a team just as varied and intriguing as the stages they rule. You can slash your shovel at quirky enemies and explore villages populated with all manner of bards, wizards, and frog-squires. There’s a lot to see here, and it can all be covered in a cool “stacked” look thanks to the handheld’s fancy 3D tech.
20. Bravely Default
Release date: February 7, 2014
There’s a reason Square-Enix specifically cited Bravely Default as its motivation for moving away from globalized titles and back towards specialized, core games – it’s an excellent RPG, and that appeal translates everywhere. Traditional and Japan-centric though it is, its expert design and terrific story make it a welcome and necessary 3DS game – and, oddly enough, the best Final Fantasy game in some time.
Make no mistake; in design and execution, Bravely Default is proudly a JRPG. But don’t let that hardcore pedigree scare you away – the story is absolutely worth seeing, and the design is as tightly tuned as any game in the genre. The sequel, Bravely Second: End Layer, made welcome tweaks to the combat, but in terms of narrative scale, Bravely Default is still the one to go for.
19. Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy
Release date: February 28, 2014
It has all been leading up to this. After five core games and a number of spin-offs, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is the finale to Prof. Hershel Layton’s globetrotting adventures (for now), and developer Level-5 goes all out with the fan service. The plot ties together the stories from many of the previous games and is packed with references to earlier adventures. But the title’s best tribute to the franchise is its consistently rewarding puzzles.
As before, most of the gameplay involves solving increasingly difficult brain teasers as the story unspools, and the conundrums meet Layton’s high standard of quality. Even better, the visuals support the puzzles brilliantly. While Layton tries to find the connection between a lost civilization and an amnesiac young lady, the stereoscopic 3D visuals continue to impress until the last puzzle is solved. If this is Layton’s legacy, then he handled it like a true gentleman.
18. Kid Icarus: Uprising
Release date: March 23, 2012
Pit and the rest of the Kid Icarus crew were a big deal on the NES, but Nintendo ignored the characters for almost two decades before Uprising. Made by many of the developers behind the Smash Bros. games, Kid Icarus: Uprising reimagines Pit, Palutena, and the rest of the angelic cast for an intriguing hybrid on the 3DS. Part on-rails shooter and part action-adventure, Uprising feels particularly fresh for a 20-year-old series.
Made to show off the 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D, Uprising is at its best in the visually brilliant shooter stages, which use a novel approach to shooting that combines the touch screen and shoulder buttons. That interface isn’t as great on foot, but there’s a surprising amount of subtlety to the controls if you’re looking for them. Yes, it can be a little painful after playing for long stretches, but this 3DS original is worth the hand cramps.
17. New Super Mario Bros. 2
Release date: August 19, 2012
2D Mario games stepped into the present with the blockbuster New Super Mario Bros., so it’s expected that the series would continue on the 3DS. Some may have feared that the gameplay would’ve gotten a little rote by the time this entry rolled around, but it found new life by pushing you to collect as much cold, hard cash as you could get your grubby fingers on.
Gold is the theme (and the most prevalent color) in New Super Mario Bros. 2, and the game pushes you to collect as many coins as possible in its many platforming stages. NSMB2 transforms the game into a high-score challenge against friends and strangers over Wi-Fi, making this one of the most wonderfully taxing Mario games in a long time.
16. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS
Release date: October 3, 2014
We shouldn’t have to pitch you on Super Smash Bros. by now. Where else can you find all of Nintendo’s biggest mascots brought together for one big sloppy kiss for fans everywhere? Link fighting Luigi, Bowser flung across the screen by Olimar, and King Dedede, sovereign ruler of all that is Dreamland, chasing down a little boy with psychic powers and a baseball bat – it’s all here, and by golly is it beautiful.
While Super Smash Bros. for 3DS may not have all the bells and whistles you would find in the Wii U equivalent, there’s still something to be said about having one of the best multiplayer games around in your pocket. It may be the smaller package, but it’s easy to see that it’s got just as much love in its code as any game could.