UPDATE 4/11/15 - Added a game to make it the 21 Best Nintendo 3DS Games Released on the Market So Far.
The Nintendo 3DS is a beast of a handheld. I don't mean in hardware-- I'm talking solely about its excellent library of games across a myriad of genres. It's without question my favorite platform this generation, and it seems like it's going to take the crown all the way to the conclusion of this era of consoles and handhelds. From Nintendo's sensational first party output to the great games released by third parties, the Nintendo 3DS library is locked and loaded with exquisite titles.
This list of my 21 favorite Nintendo 3DS games is only based on physical releases. If I added in digital-only titles, I don't know if I would have been able to keep the list under 30! That is just a testament to how fabulous the 3DS library is.
After you've given my list a gander, I'd love to read your thoughts on your favorite Nintendo 3DS titles!
21) Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
Sure, the story doesn't make a lick of sense, but when you have action-packed gameplay so good, who cares! The combat and platforming in Dream Drop Distance was something to behold, allowing Sora and Riku to enter much impressive combos and feats of strength, such as spinning around poles to smack right into foes. The music and visuals are high caliber to go along with the strong gameplay, all making for a Kingdom Hearts adventure worth having.
20) Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
Full of unneeded tutorials, yes, but when they're written with humor, it's not so bad. Mario and Luigi's latest quest together brought them from the land of the sleeping to the land of the awake, delivering innovative gameplay, a wealth of intriguing locations, and a humorous story in the process. The timing-based combat featured in past games was as strong as ever, and made each battle engaging instead of a "Mash A to Win" fest that plagues so many other RPGs.
19) Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy
The last chapter in the Professor Layton series as we may as well know it, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy brought a heartfelt goodbye to the franchise's long-standing characters. The amount and quality of the game's trademark brain teasers and puzzles were superb, the presentation was top-notch, and the added modes allowed for an experience that could go on long after the satisfying ending and accompanying credits were over.
18) Mario Kart 7
What it lacked in content, Mario Kart 7 made up for with tight racing action, a grand selection of tracks to race on, and cool new kart modifications that made karts speed around by land, by sea, and by air. The process to unlock kart parts was obnoxious, but at the same time there was always something to strive for, whether online or off. Mario Kart 7 is a sound racer that I still play to this day, and the wonderful gameplay, track design, and online all help me do just that.
17) Kirby: Triple Deluxe
Taking the Triple Deluxe name (3D, get it?) and implementing it to make some highly creative levels, Kirby: Triple Deluxe didn't rework the Kirby formula. In fact, it felt like an offshoot of Return to Dream Land. However, the level design and gameplay in general were both so tight that this didn't matter. Levels stretched from the foreground to the background, showing off the Nintendo 3DS' 3D abilities to great effect. Four new Kirby powers and a host of content make this Kirby game a must-have for fans of the pink puffball.
16) New Super Mario Bros. 2
Many passed on New Super Mario Bros. 2 or relegated it to "just another New Super Mario Bros. game", but for me, the title was a promising look at the future developers within Nintendo. The game's development team was mostly comprised of younger staffers, and these staffers allowed the level design in New Super Mario Bros. 2 to have some very clever and unexpected challenges to it. It's not as surprising or as revolutionary as Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario World were to their respective eras of gaming, but with New Super Mario Bros. 2, it didn't have to be. It was pure, unadulterated platforming fun, and that's all I wanted from the game. It delivered in that regard.
15) Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
What I consider the definitive version of one of the best Donkey Kong Country games, Returns 3D brought with it better controls, eight new levels, and glorious stereoscopic 3D. It also featured an easier mode for those who didn't feel up to the original game's challenge, and boy, was there ever a challenge to be had! Despite a halved frame-rate when compared to the Wii original, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D manages to still be fabulous handheld version of a great game.
14) Resident Evil Revelations
Despite no longer being a Nintendo 3DS exclusive and having console versions readily available now, the Nintendo 3DS original Resident Evil Revelations is still a terror-iffic title that is sort of a compromise between the survival horror of the early Resident Evil games and the focus on action of titles in the series like Resident Evil 4 and on. The story while corny was quite interesting with its episodic structure, cool twists, and fun characters. The action was intense, and Raid Mode kept me occupied for hours upon hours. Overall, it's a really good take on the Resident Evil series.
13) Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
I enjoyed the original Luigi's Mansion on the GameCube, but that game was more of a tech demo, a graphical showcase of what the GameCube could do in its early life. Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon felt more of an adventure with much more depth, creativity, and content. Exploring not one but a handful of mansions with various traits to them was a lot of fun, and the mission-based structure allowed for different objectives in the same mansions. It all equals a grander adventure than the original, incredibly competent Luigi's Mansion. It shows that Next Level Games certainly is an asset to Nintendo and its fans.
12) Fantasy Life
I was finally able to complete the goal that my dad had said to me, and I finally got a life. Actually, I got TWELVE of them! To be truthful, my dad never said to get a life, but that wouldn't have allowed me to make that joke. Anyway, while the story is short and a little monotonous, the main draw of Fantasy Life is taking up one of twelve jobs (or Lives) and completing tasks to earn points that allow you to level up your job. A Blacksmith can level up to forge much better weapons and armor. Throw in some terrific action-RPG goodness, and you have Fantasy Life!
11) Fire Emblem: Awakening
This wasn't my first Fire Emblem game, but it was the first one I actually completed (or even got close to completing, for that matter). It helped that this edition of Fire Emblem was more inviting and welcoming to players thanks to the totally optional Casual Mode. It made a game that would otherwise be very frustrating and unforgiving much less so for those who wanted to go that direction (e.g. me). The killer presentation, engaging tactical battles, and great gameplay created a Fire Emblem that was fit for all rather than just a smaller niche of people.
10) Star Fox 64 3D
I shot, blasted, U-turned, and barrel rolled in this remarkable remake of one of the Nintendo 64's greatest hits, Star Fox 64. This 3D version may have had a weaker multiplayer component to it (especially with no online), but the base game was as fantastic as ever, offering multiple paths, high scoring opportunities, and a massive amount of replay value. It says a lot about this N64 classic that I can still come back to it year after year and enjoy shooting down Andross' army.
9) Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS
While predictably inferior to its big brother, the Super Smash Bros. series' debut on a portable device was a fantastic one. The game's exclusive Smash Run saw a lot of play time by me, and the new stages included were quite well conceived for the most part. My favorite part of the solo side of Smash is collecting all of those trophies, an addicting prospect that I certainly stood up and took the challenge on. Despite being on weaker hardware, the full Smash Bros. experience was available on the Nintendo 3DS in handheld form, and that is mighty darn impressive.
8) The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D
Containing one of the most living, breathing worlds in gaming history, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D was long awaited remake of the now-inferior Nintendo 64 original. Adding helpful tweaks to benefit the gameplay experience to make it a marked improvement over the original, Majora's Mask 3D is the definitive way to play and explore Clock Town and the land of Termina. The lack of dungeons was something I thought I minded, but I found the substitution of venturing in the world and making new discoveries instead of more dungeons to be a highly satisfying one. Seriously though, I don't much care for the new Gyorg battle.
7) Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call
My favorite music game, bar-none, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is a Final Fantasy fan's dream come true. Over 200 songs, multiple playable characters, a wealth of unlockable content that opens itself to players on a steady basis, and new modes like Quest and online battles all add up to a rhythm game that pours out content and lovely tunes. It's a great game even if you don't care for the series it represents.
6) Kid Icarus: Uprising
A fair portion of players had trouble adapting to the controls of this game, and moreover some even felt pain while playing it. I wasn't one of those people, so I fully enjoyed the return of Pit and Palutena in Kid Icarus: Uprising. From the game's humor to its excellent fast and fluid combat, to its excellent soundtrack and voice acting, I loved all that Kid Icarus: Uprising had to offer. Whether playing online or tackling some of the challenges to unlock content a la Kirby Air Ride, Pit's return to glory was one that I was honored to play. I hope Masahiro Sakurai gets time to another project that isn't Smash-related.
5) Mario Golf: World Tour
An odd choice perhaps, but Mario Golf: World Tour somehow outplayed my favorite golf games, the original Nintendo 64 Mario Golf, Hot Shots Golf Fore!, and We Love Golf! If those aforementioned games were eagles, then World Tour was an albatross. The amount of content, unlockable Mii costumes, brilliantly designed courses, challenges, Castle Club solo mode, characters, online tournaments, online play in general, and DLC were all immense and fantastic. All of that easily makes Mario Golf: World Tour not just my favorite golf game but one of my favorite 3DS titles.
4) Animal Crossing: New Leaf
My older brother and I have spent a collective total of over 700 hours. We've since stopped playing the game, but that was after a colossal amount of time. The improvements to the Animal Crossing series were apparent and very much welcomed. The amount of customization to your town was phenomenal, and the addictive nature of the Animal Crossing series was quite apparent within New Leaf.
3) Super Mario 3D Land
A no nonsense 3D platformer that is a brilliant compromise between 2D and 3D Mario games. Has excellent level design with some truly clever hidden secrets, and the special worlds are enjoyable takes on the previous eight worlds with some unexpected twists. In addition to that, the 3D effect is still one of the most pronounced and helpful on the 3DS.
2) The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
I gave this game a rare 10/10. The game isn't perfect, but a 10/10 meant close to perfection. The wall merging mechanic opened up so many ingenious ideas with the world and dungeon design, the freedom of the game was something I hadn't felt since the original NES Zelda (though not as open), and the game overall emanated polish from every legendary orifice. It was a nostalgia trip on A Link to the Past, but it was also its own magnificent beast.
1) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
My favorite game of all time got even better with the additions of improved visuals, touch screen inventory management (making equipping the Iron Boots less of a hassle), and gyro aiming. Still my favorite Zelda game and still my favorite game of all time. There's nothing more that needs to be said. That's just awesome Ocarina of Time 3D is.