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Best Nintendo 3DS games for new owners

Must-have 3DS games to jumpstart your library

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Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

So, you're the new owner of a Nintendo 3DS — or Nintendo 2DS or New Nintendo 3DS XL — and you're looking for some games to buy for Nintendo's dual-screen handheld. You're in luck; there's no shortage of excellent games for the 3DS. But where should you start? That depends on what you prefer. Do you like Nintendo's stable of familiar games? Big open-world role-playing games? Puzzles? Platformers? Old-school console classics?

Here's a list of must-haves for Nintendo 3DS, the games that no one who loves gaming on the go should be without.


Nintendo's marquee franchises, like Mario, Zelda and Pokemon, are incredibly strong on the 3DS. There are remakes aplenty, but there are also fantastic original entries on the handheld. Get these five Nintendo-made games first.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds: If you're a fan of Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda series, good news: some of the best Zelda games are on the 3DS. If we had to pick just one, it'd be A Link Between Worlds, a top-down adventure that echoes one of the franchise's greatest entries: SNES game A Link to the Past. Nintendo also has two easily recommendable remakes for 3DS — Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask(Read Polygon’s review | Buy it on Amazon)

Super Mario 3D Land: I can't recommend Super Mario 3D Land enough. It's not only a fun, inventive Mario game, it's one of the best arguments for turning on the system's stereoscopic 3D slider to full. If you even remotely like Mario games, this is one to get. (Buy it on Amazon)

Super Mario 3D Land Nintendo

Super Mario 3D Land

Pokémon Sun/Pokémon Moon: The newest entries in the 20-year old Pokémon franchise shake things up a bit by sending trainers to a new region, Alola, and doing away with — and refining — some longstanding Pokémon mechanics. In our review, resident Pokémaniac Allegra Frank calls Sun and Moon "a wonderful testament to why Pokémon is still so special all these years later." (Read Polygon’s review | Buy it on Amazon)

Mario Kart 7: This enormously popular — more than 13 million sold! — entry in the Mario Kart series is tremendous fun. It introduced hang-gliding and customizable karts to Mario Kart, and is also a pretty substantial package, with 16 playable characters and 32 courses. (Buy it on Amazon)

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D: Retro Studios' side-scrolling platformer was a must-have on Wii, so if you missed it there, this version is highly recommended. It's a little tougher than, say Super Mario 3D Land or New Super Mario Bros. 2, mind you, and might be best for more experienced players. (Read Polygon's review | Buy it on Amazon)


Looking to sink a few days of your life into a single game over the course of weeks or months? Why not dig in to many of the fantastic role-playing games, dungeon crawlers and platformers the 3DS has to offer (and it has quite a few).

Fire Emblem Awakening Intelligent Systems/Nintendo

Fire Emblem Awakening

Fire Emblem Awakening: This grand strategy role-playing game offers immense depth, serious challenge and huge, well-written cast of characters. Be prepared to sink dozens of hours into this excellent entry in the long-running Fire Emblem series. For more, check out this year's follow-up, Fire Emblem Fates, which comes in two separate versions: Birthright and Conquest(Read Polygon’s review | Buy it on Amazon)

Monster Hunter Generations: Not only is it the best Monster Hunter yet, it's also the easiest to get into. The latest 3DS entry in the franchise is something of a greatest hits-style package, stuffing in all the combat, equipment and improvements from the past 12 years. Like most greatest hits albums, it's also friendly to newcomers. If you're down with sinking dozens of hours into an action RPG, where the emphasis lies on the "action," Monster Hunter Generations delivers. (Read Polygon’s review | Buy it on Amazon)

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D: One of the few New Nintendo 3DS-only exclusives, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is for the JRPG fan who prefers their games to last dozens, if not hundreds, of hours. This open-world adventure offers dozens of quests, huge areas to explore and tons of stuff to collect. (Read Polygon’s review)

Bravely Default: If classic Square RPGs like Final Fantasy are your thing, give Bravely Default a shot. This is an old-school, turn-based, traditional Japanese role-playing game through and through. Bonus: Bravely Default is also home to some of the best character design to grace the 3DS. (Read Polygon’s review | Buy it on Amazon)

Monster Hunter Generations Capcom

Monster Hunter Generations

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth: If you want more depth to your dungeon crawling than the Persona games, but crave the stories missing from the Etrian Odyssey series, try Persona Q. This mashup of the two franchises is a perfect fit that offers a deep, seriously hard dungeon experience with all the charm of Persona's best characters. (Read Polygon’s review | Buy it on Amazon)

Shovel Knight: Yacht Club Games throwback to 8-bit and 16-bit action side-scrollers might appeal to the Mega Man fan in you. Shovel Knight may look like it's propped up by old-school nostalgia, but it's actually a tight, modern platformer that brings fresh ideas to the genre. (Read Polygon’s review | Buy it on Amazon)


If you only have 15 minutes or so to game at a time, there's plenty to play on Nintendo 3DS. In addition to the built-in Mii games, 3DS has a diverse lineup of short session games where you won't have to worry about getting to a save point.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf: Looking for a relaxing game to snack on? Then check in with Animal Crossing: New Leaf every day ... for the rest of your life. Be prepared to spend 10 minutes a day socializing with your furry townsfolk, collecting bugs, fishing and making home improvements in this charming life sim. (Read Polygon’s review | Buy it on Amazon)

Animal Crossing: New Leaf Nintendo

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Rhythm Heaven Megamix: Nintendo's quirky, charming and addictive rhythm game franchise gets all bundled up in Megamix. Deceptively simple, but tough to master, Rhythm Heaven Megamix stuffs dozens of musical mini-games into a delightful greatest hits package. (Buy it on Amazon)

BoxBoy!: This minimalist puzzle-platformer challenges you to traverse pits, deadly spikes and other obstacles by building boxes — specifically, boxes that grow out of the eponymous BoxBoy's body. It's easy to tackle one puzzle at a time, though you may find yourself thinking "Well, let's see what the next puzzle's like..."

Picross 3D 2: Nintendo's long-running Picross franchise is great in 2D, but the 3D games, which have players chip away at a bunch of blocks to uncover a sculpted object, are even better. With hundreds of puzzles in Picross 3D 2 to solve, this is a perfect way to kill a few minutes on your commute or just before bed.

Pushmo: Another block-based best for Nintendo 3DS is Pushmo. Players control Mallo as he pushes and pulls stacks of blocks in an effort to climb to the top. There's even more pulling and pushing fun in the sequels, Crashmo and Stretchmo.

Virtual Console and 3D Classics: Thanks to Nintendo's Virtual Console, you can download classic 8-bit games to the 3DS through the Nintendo eShop. And if you have a New Nintendo 3DS, you can also download Super NES games. The 3DS Virtual Console mainly consists of emulated Game Boy, NES, Sega Game Gear titles, but the SNES Virtual Console games are some of the best. A few classics, like Super Mario Bros. 3, Castlevania and the Mega Man series, are worth checking out, and if you have a New 3DS, you can revisit Earthbound, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Super Metroid. For a little more nostalgia, check out the 3D Classics lines, which features stereoscopic 3D versions of games like Excitebike, Kid Icarus, Sonic the Hedgehog and Streets of Rage. (Buy a Nintendo 3DS eShop Gift Card at Amazon)

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