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The Switch might be the first thing you think of when you think of Nintendo, but the company’s handhelds have long been one of its most solid bets for sales. For example, Nintendo was still releasing new 3DS games as of 2019.
If your 3DS is gathering dust in the corner or you’re thinking about buying one, you’re probably looking for games you can only find on the 3DS. While we aren’t looking at games of every genre, you’re almost guaranteed to find something you’ll enjoy playing on our list.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds takes heavy cues from A Link to the Past and that’s already a fantastic argument in its favor. Add in the unique puzzles and tweaks on classic Zelda gameplay and you’ve got a game that nearly any fan of games in general needs to play at least a bit of.
Few games on the 3DS take advantage of the actual 3D capabilities of the hardware as well as Super Mario 3D Land. The fact that it would be a great game without those features is almost an aside.
While it’s not as huge and in-depth as Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Fire Emblem: Awakening may be a better place to start. This is the game that showed that the series was beginning to take off in the west, and it’s easier to pick up and play on the go.
While, like Fire Emblem: Awakening, Project X Zone (the X is pronounced as “cross” here) is a strategy game, that’s about all the similarities there are. Instead, this takes a Smash Bros. approach, bringing together characters from across both Namco and Capcom properties including Street Fighter, Dead Rising, Valkyria Chronicles, Tales of Vesperia and many more.
Though Dragon Quest VII was originally released on the PlayStation, the 3DS remake is the way to play it. With an updated graphical style reminiscent of Dragon Quest VII, it’s easier to look past some of the old-school remnants like grinding and aggressive random encounters.
While many prefer Mario & Luigi: Dream Team and that is a great game, the coming together of the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario series is too good to ignore. If you enjoy RPGs but don’t want something as in-depth as Dragon Quest VII, this is a great option.
This may not come as a surprise, but Kirby: Triple Deluxe doesn’t stray far from the Kirby formula. You eat enemies and gain their powers to use against other enemies across level after level of whimsical platforming and combat. It just happens to nail that formula perfectly.
In an odd move, Nintendo released a new Smash Bros. game for both the Wii U and the 3DS, but needed a way to differentiate between them, so we got the imaginative title Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. There isn’t as much pure content here as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, there’s still plenty to keep you busy.
With Bravely Default 2 coming to the Switch, there has never been a better time to play the original. This is an old-school RPG through and through, albeit one with some modern touches that make it well-worth playing, even with the grind-y end of the game.
Unlike Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Switch, Animal Crossing: New Leaf doesn’t bring a whole lot new to the series, but that doesn’t matter. If you’re playing an Animal Crossing game, you know what you’re looking for, and this entry in the series does that thing well.
Need Even More Handheld Goodness?
While there are some undeniably great games on the 3DS, one of the main reasons to buy a Nintendo handheld is, well, Nintendo games. If you’ve had your fill of Mario, Link, and Kirby, you may not be especially interested in the games we’ve looked at here.
The 3DS might have been more popular, but Sony’s PlayStation Vita—released around the same time—also had some great games. Curious? We’ve got a list of the best games that make it worth owning a Vita.