The Best of the Best of the Nintendo 3DS.

It may have got off to a bit of a slow start, but the Nintendo 3DS library has grown to feature an enormous range of outstanding games since its release in 2011. After much contention, the Vooks crew have decided on our 10 favourite Nintendo 3DS games. It pained us to leave out some amazing entries such as Luigi’s Mansion 2, Fire Emblem: Awakening and Shovel Knight which just missed out on top honours, but with a software library as great as this, some tough calls had to be made.

10) Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward – Chris Button

Funnily enough, my very first article for Vooks was about the Zero Escape series and the important place it holds in the Nintendo handheld library for telling mature-themed stories.

Widely regarded as the pinnacle of the Zero Escape series, Virtue’s Last Reward sees a seemingly-unrelated group of people trapped in a facility forced to play a game reliant on trust. Unfortunately, betrayal looms as an incentive for those seeking to escape first, which leads to some genuinely heart-wrenching moments. Beyond the diabolical game the participants endure, a grand sci-fi plot simmers away in the background – while managing to make quantum physics fun!

Additionally, the Nintendo 3DS version of Virtue’s Last Reward remains the best experience. Whereas the PlayStation Vita version featured crisper visuals, the 3DS’ dual screens made for a significantly smoother time, considering the number of notes you needed to take throughout the complex fight for survival. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of the Vooks crew had also played and enjoyed Virtue’s Last Reward, confirming our status as a gang of weebs. Except for Daniel V, who claims to be too old to understand various game genres such as visual novels, roguelikes and any Fire Emblem game. (Get off my lawn – Daniel V)

Virtue’s Last Reward’s legacy continues to this day, inspiring others to make visual novels of their own – such as the Australian-developed Quantum Suicide currently in alpha testing. Plus, AI: The Somnium Files, the next mind-boggling game from Kotaro Uchikoshi – the brains behind the Zero Escape series – will be coming to Nintendo Switch this September to mess us up all over again.

9) Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS – Daniel Worthington

Super Smash 3DS proved that even without the controller people were used to or console level graphics, you could have an incredibly solid and faithful Smash Bros experience on the go. This wasn’t a watered down, lesser version of the Wii U game – it had the same large roster of fighters, basically the same extensive soundtrack (barring a small selection of songs) and a large variety of stages to play on (many of which weren’t on the Wii U version).

Now granted, the game was a bit bare-bones compared to previous Smash games – there was no adventure mode, and the event mode was exclusive to the Wii U. However, it still has Classic & All-star modes to spend hours trying to play through with each fight. Exclusive to the 3DS version is Smash Run, which sees you and up to 3 other fighters (either friends locally or CPUs) exploring a massive stage trying to collect as many upgrades as you can within 5 minutes before a final fight to see who will win the game. It’s a pretty fun side attraction to the main game and something I spent many hours playing through.

I completely understand why many people looked down on Smash 3DS as the lesser game in the series. It didn’t have the controls people were used to and the graphics weren’t up to par with what some wanted, but for me this was my main Smash Bros game up until the release of Ultimate. I put well over 130 hours into this, most of that just playing solo. I got so used to it that if I was playing others on the Wii U, I’d have to hook up my 3DS just to use the controls from that. While it’s been replaced now as the best Smash Bros to play on the go, it’s still one of the best games on the 3DS and easily the best fighting game on the system.

8) Mario Kart 7 – Paul Roberts

Another Nintendo console/handheld means there is, of course, another Mario Kart. The massive success of the Wii and Mario Kart Wii would be hard to follow up. Turns out Nintendo still had places for Mario Kart to go as MK7 introduced hang gliding and underwater racing. Being able to hit a ramp and take to the skies opened up tracks. The same goes for racing underwater – no longer does everybody of water need Lakitu waiting around to fish you out. While it didn’t reinvent the wheel, Mario Kart 7 brought some changes that would carry over to MK8. Kart customisation was introduced and for fans of tilt controls you even got to put the 3DS’ gyroscope to use.

Honestly it would be weird to have a top 10 list of any generation of Nintendo system without a Mario Kart. They’re always fun solo and even better multiplayer game. Playing online or on multiple 3DS’ in the same room was a step up from the DS. If you weren’t a big fan of how uneven MK Wii felt then MK7 seemed a bit more balanced (well, as balanced as Mario Kart can get).

7) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – Paul Roberts

Way back in the day Majora’s Mask used to be pretty divisive, then it became a surprisingly common thing for Zelda games. Majora’s Mask had a tough act to follow after Ocarina of Time blew people’s minds, then comes the follow up without any Zelda and Link is stuck in a Groundhog Day situation with constant time constraints. Worse is that in three days the angry looking moon is going to crash and wipe out everything if you can’t get the titular Majora’s Mask off Skull Kid. Fortunately, you can rewind time back to the start of the three days. No matter how many times you go back again it always feels tense getting the most out of those three days when there’s so much Link needs to do to save the world.

With the 3DS we got some upgraded visuals along with some much-needed quality of life improvements. It would’ve been great just to be able to play this Zelda classic on a modern system (I know it came out on the Wii U but I mean a system people owned), but Nintendo went and smoothed out some of the more tedious parts of the original. It only took 15 years to get the best remaster of Majora’s Mask, and you don’t even need an Expansion Pack.

6) Super Mario 3D Land – Daniel Worthington

Nintendo did something really interesting with Super Mario 3D Land. They took the look, feel and basic gameplay of a 3D Mario game like Super Mario Galaxy and made it work with the more linear style gameplay you’d see in the 2D games. By doing this I feel they made the perfect 3D Mario game for a portable system.

One of the key points I feel to making a good handheld game is that they should be easy to play in bite-sized chunks, something you can play a few quick levels of and then put down again. That’s something that traditionally isn’t what the 3D Mario games were about. Most of them are designed with a large open world to explore and some goal you’d need to hunt around and find. 3D Land got around that by having its stages just be about getting from start of the level to the end, just like the classic 2D Mario games.

I fell in love with 3D Land the minute I started playing it. It was exactly what I had wanted in a Mario game at the time. It was a fun and brisk level-to-level adventure full of some really enjoyable stages. The stages may not have had the creativity of the Galaxy games and the difficulty for the first half of the game may have been on the easy side, however the game is just an absolute joy to play and easily one of my favourite games to feature Mario. Something about how focused and approachable it is gels with me in such a strong way.

I really want to gush on about how much I love this game – the amazingly solid soundtrack, the bright crisp graphics, the solid use of 3D in being able to judge your jumps, the insanely difficult stages in the back part of the game. In place of all of that, I’ll just say this isn’t just one of the best games on the 3DS, it’s also one of the best games to feature Mario. Heck, I might even be bold enough to call it the best Mario game out there.

5) Pokémon Sun & Moon – Ollie Brandt

What do you do with a series that’s been solidly pumping out hits for 20 straight years? Well, you change everything. And that’s exactly what Pokémon Sun and Moon did. Gyms were gone, replaced with Island Trials. HMs? Scrapped, replaced with Ride Pokémon. Z-Moves gave every Pokémon a chance to shine, no matter how powerful they were. The lines between good guys and bad guys were blurred for the first time since the series’ inception. And intergalactic wormholes and alternate dimensions took the centre stage, with what might be remembered as Game Freak’s most substantial shake-up to the Pokémon series ever. If X and Y were a tiptoe into new ideas, Sun and Moon were a leap.

Sun and Moon are often remembered for their heavy focus on storytelling, for better and for worse. A nuanced, fascinating tale filled with small moments and large, it’s those small moments that really tie everything together. Hau’s journey to become recognised as more than just the grandson of a Kahuna, Lillie’s journey to become her own person, Gladion’s struggle between what’s right and wrong. It’s in these moments that you, the player, take a bit of a back seat. You’re not there to solve problems or influence these events, you’re just along for the ride, witnessing this living, breathing world. After 20 years, series developer Game Freak finally found a way to make the Pokémon world feel alive, and that’s a huge achievement.

4) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D – Andrew Searles

If your new system needs some new quality software, porting what is arguably the best game of all time is a good way to quickly bolster your stocks. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time remains as remarkable as it was nearly 20 years ago. The moment you step out onto Hyrule Field and the iconic music begins to play, the nostalgia rushes through you like its 1999, but now it looks prettier than ever. The screen may be smaller, but the improved character models give these familiar faces new life.

The game itself is still a joy to play. The intricate dungeons, engaging puzzles and fun combat is all still here, and there’s an intrinsic thrill about remembering where to go, what to do and how to solve situations all these years later. In addition to the new visuals and the excellent stereoscopic 3D, the use of the bottom screen for the map and quick items works well, and the addition of gyroscopic controls for first-person aiming was extremely welcome. Most importantly, the change of Iron Boots from gear to an item makes getting through the infamous water dungeon a far less frustrating experience. Ocarina of Time 3D is still a masterpiece, and it is hands down the best way to play one of the best games every made.

3) Pokémon X & Y – Ollie Brandt

Pokémon X and Y were special games. It was the series’ first real step into 3D presentation, and while some could argue X and Y were more of the same, just in 3D, it’s difficult to look back on these games and not see the threads of experimentation. X and Y, beyond being the series’ first step into 3D, shook up the formula of Pokémon in surprisingly large ways, with mechanics like Mega Evolution, Pokémon Amie, character customisation, and rideable Pokémon. These mechanics were an interesting insight into a series that was, for the first time in a while, looking to evolve. 

They also saw a heavier focus on storytelling than ever before, and while the story of Pokémon X and Y is a little bit forgettable, it’s surprisingly nuanced and full of charm. X and Y set a foundation, a solid base for future games to build upon. This was our first glimpse at a new era, a new way to describe what Pokémon is, and what it could be. And while not everything was a hit (see: Inverse and Sky Battles), as a whole, it’s hard to look back on the games as anything but enjoyable. A large part of that is down to the 3DS, the power of which enabled Game Freak to go bigger and better than ever before while still sticking to the familiar of the DS era. It was an ideal transition point for the series, and its effects have continued to ripple into the Pokémon series ever since. 

2) The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds – Andrew Searles

The debate over whether the best Zelda games exist in 2D or 3D will likely remain contentious for many years to come. There are generally a few different options for people’s favourite 3D Zelda – whether it be Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker, Skyward Sw- Breath of the Wild or even Twilight Princess, but the 2D champion is normally A Link to The Past. When Nintendo announced a new top-down Zelda that would take heavy inspiration from that timeless classic, expectations were high. And boy did Nintendo not disappoint.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is my personal favourite Zelda game of all time. The world itself may be familiar, but everything else around it felt as fresh as Zelda ever has. The top-down perspective combined with the 3D visuals for an added layer of verticality to the world and dungeon design. The puzzles are challenging, inventive and rewarding, and the mechanic that allows Link to turn into a painting and travel along walls adds another dimension to the dungeons. The big change of having items available for rent instead of found in dungeons opens up the world and allows for a sense of adventure and exploration in a series which had fallen into a somewhat restrictive design in the preceding entries.

It’s all wrapped up in gorgeous and charming aesthetic, it’s perfectly paced, and it’s one of the mostly sublimely designed entries in the series to date that thoroughly deserves a spot amongst the best Zelda games of all time.

1) Animal Crossing: New Leaf – Daniel Vuckovic

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a tremendous game, but you don’t need me to tell you that. Instead I want to tell a story about Animal Crossing.

Animal Crossing: Wild World on the DS was a terrific game, and it was the first to have online and be portable. It meant you could take your wonderful little village anywhere, and then have your friends over to play in it. It was the first time a lot of DS owners went online too with the old Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. We had Wi-Fi nights, we played with friends, organised turnip trades and it was an extension of your friendships.

New Leaf for me was this as well but in another way. I played it with friends as I did before, but it’s also a game I introduced my girlfriend to, and it helped us bond and play games together. We both obsessed over it, making our towns the best they could be, helping each other pay off a mortgage – it’s a microcosm for real life as we’re now married paying off the mortgage. There aren’t as many turnips, however. Animal Crossing isn’t just a game series for everyone, it’s a game series that celebrates and brings everyone together. My wife and I combined have played over 1,000 hours of New Leaf, the majority of which are hers.

Animal Crossing was meant to be portable, it was meant to be played whenever, wherever, and New Leaf is still (so-far) the best example of this.

That’s what the Vooks crew thought of the 3DS and their favourite games. What were your favourites? Tell us below!

We’ve been saying goodbye to 3DS this past week, if you missed our articles here they all are:

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When more than one of the Vooks team writes something together we use this account to publish it. No mere single account can hold us all.

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