The 12 Best Games on the 3DSS

Ah, the Nintendo 3DS. Maybe you've heard it's hit its stride? Or maybe you haven't. Maybe you thought you were done with Nintendo handhelds? Bad move. The 3DS has a ton of good games.

Below, find our 12 favorite games for the system. And of course, all of these games will play on the 2Ds as well, just not in 3D.

The 12 Best Games on the 3DS

In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you'll decorate and expand a house, fish and catch bugs, and assume a number of mayoral duties—all while you make a bunch of new, quirky friends. Who knew that a sleepy town of anthropomorphic animals could be so fulfilling?

A Good Match For: Self-directed gamers with a strong, child-like sense of wonder and a penchant for creativity. You're given a house and a whole town to play with, along with charming villagers. What will you do with it all, how will your personality shine?

Not a Good Match For: Those who want something fast-paced. This isn't a game you'll want to run in, and most of the exciting things tend to happen "tomorrow." Anything worthwhile requires patience in this game.

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The 12 Best Games on the 3DSFire Emblem: Awakening revolves around two things: Complex tactical combat and sweet, sweet romance. It's a turn-based tactical role-playing game like Final Fantasy Tactics or Devil Survivor, but with a twist: As your combatants fight alongside one another, they can fall in love. If you keep them paired up, they'll boost one another's stats, and they can even get married and have kids together. Without all the love and marriage, Fire Emblem: Awakening would be an immaculately designed, rewarding, and difficult strategy game. With all the love and marriage, it becomes one of the best strategy games on any system, and certainly one of the best games on the 3DS.

A Good Match For: Strategy fans, people who like games where loss carries real consequences, romantics, micromanagers, matchmakers.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want-paced action, uncomplicated rules, unchallenging games, or main characters who have feet.

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The 12 Best Games on the 3DS

The latest Phoenix Wright game is the best one yet, and that's saying something, given the generally high quality of Capcom's long-running series of comical lawyer-simulators. One part detective game and one part visual novel, Dual Destinies tells the tale of defense attorney Phoenix Wright and his can-do subordinates Apollo Justice and Athena Cykes as they embark upon zany adventures in the name of justice. The new game is a great entry point for the series, as knowledge of past games isn't required, though there are still plenty of fun callbacks for longtime fans. Phoenix's world may be trapped in a dark age of the law, but Dual Destinies is a 3DS bright spot.

A Good Match For: Wannabe detectives, anime fans, people who like jokes, hawk-enthusiasts.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want a lot of action—Phoenix Wright games involve a lot of reading, and the new one is no different.

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Purchase From: Available digitally from the Nintendo eShop.

The 12 Best Games on the 3DS

There hasn't been an action role-playing game quite like The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds in more than 20 years. What began as a remake of the Super Nintendo classic The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is now one of the most delightfully charming adventures available on any game platform. The perfect melding of the old and new into something better than the sum of its parts.

A Good Match For: Old-school role-playing fans looking to recapture the magic of the 2D era without sacrificing fidelity — and just about everyone else.

Not a Good Match For: Sub-humans. People allergic to joy.

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The 12 Best Games on the 3DS

Sequels don't all have to be bad. Take Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon. It's a follow-up to sequel to the 2001 GameCube game that will make players chuckle, as Mario's skinnier brother suck sucks up ghosts using a souped-up vacuum. More than that, though, it's a new installment that successfully adds multiplayer and new mechanics—love that Dark Light!—in ways that don't ruin an already-fun experience.

A Good Match For: Sidekick lovers. Sure, he's a big ol' fraidy-cat in this game but Luigi gets to amble through an exceedingly clever set of designs in Dark Moon. Whether it's things like pulling away curtains to reveal coins and secret passages or stunning a handful of ghosts to suck them up all at once, Luigi feels resourceful in a way that's not possible when he's playing second fiddle to Mario.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want to leave previously explored environments behind. This Luigi's Mansion makes you backtrack and revisit various levels a lot, without offering up compelling reasons for doing so.

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The 12 Best Games on the 3DS

You know what they say: If it looks like a Final Fantasy, feels like a Final Fantasy and sounds like a Final Fantasy... it's probably Bravely Default. If you've been less than enamored of the direction Square Enix has taken its most esteemed role-playing series, you will likely find a great deal of comfort in their latest release, the fantastic fantasy adventure Bravely Default. It's a Final Fantasy game in everything but name, with all the phoenix downs, limit breaks and crystal hijinks you've come to expect in games like Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light. For all its classic accoutrements, Bravely Default tweaks the classic JRPG formula in some smart ways, easing the bourdon of grind and allowing players to customize their experience to an unprecedented degree. The soundtrack is astonishingly good, the art is just lovely, and thanks to some great writing and acting, the characters will make you laugh—especially Edea. "Unacceptable!" "Mrgrgr!" Play this game.

A Good Match For: Final Fantasy fans, those looking for a meaty 3DS game to sink a bunch of time into, fans of the "fantasy metal" musical genre.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want a game that's easy to finish—the final act of Bravely Default is a slog, and finishing the game becomes something of an endurance test.

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The 12 Best Games on the 3DS

The Mario Kart formula wasn't broken so you can't say that Nintendo needed to fix it. What they did need to do, though, for the franchise's 3DS debut was find a way to add new elements that would tap into the device's key features. Hence, the addition of glider wings, aerial sections, submersible karts and underwater detours. You can steer using the gyroscope while airborne and the will get the benefit of a nice 3D pop when you're soaring or submerged. Just goes to show that your wheels don't have to be in the ground for a Mario Kart to still be great.

A Good Match for: Bumper car addicts. The wild unpredictability of Mario Kart races are what make them so fun. Just like the theme park staple, there's only a loose connection to these vehicles and actual real-world automobiles. Until Toyota includes a forcefield as a standard option, that is.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want customization choice. While the ability to swap out bodies and add on details is a new one in MK7, new parts get doled out to you automatically.

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The 12 Best Games on the 3DS

Battles are essentially mini-games in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team—if you can't hop and dodge enemy attacks with impeccable timing, your plumbers will be burnt, or fried, or trampled. That's just one charming chunk of what is an exceedingly charming game, a hilarious romp through a goofy, gorgeous world. With a killer soundtrack and clever writing, Dream Team ditches the fluff and strikes right at the core of what people love about Japanese RPGs: the allure of adventuring through a surreal and fascinating world. Read our review here.

A Good Match For: Mario fans, RPG fans, and everything in between.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want a tutorial-free experience, or puzzles that require brainpower rather than thumb-power.

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The 12 Best Games on the 3DS

Could the sixth Professor Layton game really be the best one? It's at least the best one on the 3DS, trumping the already-impressive Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask as it caps off the Layton series' prequel trilogy. (In terms of timeline placement, think Star Wars… this game is the Revenge of the Sith, but just way better).

Professor Layton games present a mix of exploration-based, story-heavy adventuring mixed with lots and lots of brain teasers and other puzzles to solve. In this game, which you can enjoy with no prior knowledge of the others, Layton and friends are trying to unlock the power of an ancient civilization and are doing so in a game that actually plays out as a series of short adventures nestled within one grand globe-spanning episode. The game is more open-world than its predecesors—not quite Grand Theft Layton, but nevertheless set in a rich world full of colorful characters with lots of things to do and more player choice regarding in which order you'll do them.

A Good Match For: People who like puzzles and thinking—and who want a game that unlocks new puzzles every day for a year following its release date.

Not a Good Match For: Fans of the earlier Laytons on the Nintendo DS who want a swift-playing 12-hour adventure with minimal chatter. There's a lot of story in this one and at least double the play time.

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The 12 Best Games on the 3DS

Oh, boy! It's a game about pushing blocks. Aren't you glad we're here to help you recommend fresh, wonderful games? Trust us. This one is phenomenal. All you're doing is climbing elaborate piles of blocks—piles that may just happen to resemble iconic shapes and characters. The challenge is to push and pull the right blocks to create a staircase that gets you to the top. It's way tougher than it sounds.

A Good Match For: People who like both solving puzzles and making them, thanks to the game's elaborate level-creator. It's easy to snag new levels by taking photos of special QR codes that Pushmo proponents constantly publish on the Internet.

Not a Good Match For: Triangle-fans.

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Purchase from: The Nintendo eShop

The 12 Best Games on the 3DS

While Pokémon has always been a staple of Nintendo handhelds, Pokémon X & Y are definitely the highlights of the franchise. You'll still play as a kid who catches and raises as many cool or cute creatures as he/she can, and you'll use those beasts in battle against friends and rivals. But the games feel somehow more indulgent this time around. Pokémon can mega evolve into ridiculous forms. You can pet and play with your favorite 'mon. You can dress your character up and be as stylish as you want. You can connect with players around the world and trade with ease, which really helps keep the game from feeling lonesome. And you'll get to explore a country that looks suspiciously like France, all while shredding on skates or a bike.

A Good Match For: Those who don't need a stiff challenge—the new Pokémon is definitely an RPG that you'll play mostly because it's charming, though competitive play does provide good material for those looking for a challenge.

Not a Good Match For: Jason Schreier, aka those looking for a mature, nuanced story—Pokemon likes to keep it simple. Also probably not a good match for people that dislike the idea of owning pets or raising cool/cute things.

Read our review.

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The 12 Best Games on the 3DS

Of course, it's a Super Mario game that validates the decision to base Nintendo's newest hardware around glasses-free stereoscopic 3D. Even with the gameplay as familiar as always, the mid-air blocks and moving hazards seem more dreamlike and surreal than ever, floating somewhere between the device and your brain.

A Good Match For: Folks who need a little bit of help. 3D Land riffs on the play-assisting Guide features that Nintendo's been putting in games for the last year or so with the Super Tanooki Suit, which makes you nigh-invulnerable

Not a Good Match For: Those who want the rug to stay right where it is. If Super Mario 3D Land's rug is warm nostalgia, then it gets ripped out from you once you finish it the first time. A whole new level of challenge opens up for subsequent playthroughs and there's nothing warm about it.

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The 12 Best Games on the 3DS

How has this list changed? Read back through our update history:

4-02-14 Update: We've made a Layton swap, subbing Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy for last year's Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask.

2-21-14 Update: We've retired Project X Zone to make room for the fantastic JRPG Bravely Default.

12-11-13 Update: We've launched a newly redesigned Bests and have taken the opportunity to swap out some old games with some new ones. Resident Evil Revelations, Kid Icarus Uprising and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time have made way for new additions Pokémon X & Y, Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

Update 08/28/13: Today saw the announcement of an all-new Nintendo handheld called the 2DS, which will play all the games in the 3DS catalog without the 3D. In honor of this news, we've given the Bests list for the 3DS an once-over. And what do you know, it sure seems like it's time for one Mario game to take the place of another. Out you go, New Super Mario Bros 2. And hello to Mario & Luigi: Dream Team.

Update 07/05/13: Nintendo's handheld continues to build an impressive library of titles. Two of the latest releases are so good we think they deserve a spot on this Bests list. Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Project X Zone jump onto the list, knocking off Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars and Ketzal's Corridors.

Update 04/18/13: Why should Mario get all the fun? Somebody at Nintendo decided that he shouldn't, because there's a ton of enjoyment to be had in Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, which joins the 3DS Bests list. So, say a fond farewell to Cave Story 3D and shake hands with Nintendo's other adventuring plumber.

Update 02/26/13: The call has sounded! And it says "Fire Emblem is pretty great!" Who are we to ignore the call? Of course, one game has to get the boot to make way for Intelligent Systems' fine RPG. So, wave goodbye to Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and say hello to an addictive new handheld experience.

Update 11/14/12: We've added the newest Professor Layton to our Bests list for Nintendo's stereoscopic portable. Whether you've sporting the original 3DS or the newer, super-sized version, these games will make the most of the handheld.

The 12 Best Games on the 3DS

Want more of the best games on each system? Check out our complete directory:

The Best PC GamesThe Best PS4 GamesThe Best Xbox One GamesThe Best Wii U GamesThe Best 3DS GamesThe Best PS Vita GamesThe Best Xbox 360 GamesThe Best PS3 GamesThe Best Wii GamesThe Best iPhone GamesThe Best iPad GamesThe Best Android GamesThe Best PSP GamesThe Best Facebook GamesThe Best DS GamesThe Best Mac GamesThe Best Browser GamesThe Best PC Mods