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The 3DS Essentials

by Matt Helgeson on Feb 27, 2012 at 06:30 AM

The Nintendo 3DS shook off its shaky launch with the help of a price drop and some high-profile games. The once-troubled handheld is now riding high at retail, with Nintendo announcing worldwide sales of more than 15 million units at the end of 2011. Recently, the 3DS became the fastest selling video game console in Japanese history, eclipsing the 5 million units old mark in only 52 weeks since launch – a milestone it passed earlier in its life than both the Nintendo DS or Game Boy Advance.

Given its continued brisk sales, we decided to present this brief primer on the essential 3DS games for readers who have recently purchased or are considering purchasing one. Read on to find out which 3DS games are worth your time and hard-earned dollars. Come back tomorrow for a preview of some of 2012’s most notable upcoming 3DS titles.

Note: There are many downloadable versions of classic Nintendo games available on the 3DS’ eShop. In the interest of brevity, we have not included classic games unless they were significantly retooled for the 3DS.

Super Mario 3D Land

As Nintendo’s flagship franchise, Mario games often define the company’s consoles. Super Mario 3D Land is more than up to the task. It’s not only the best 3DS game to date; it’s a great Mario game.

Super Mario 3D Land has a unique place in the Mario canon. It harks back to the original NES games with the classic flagpole-jumping end to each level. However, it has a unique blend of gameplay, from 2D to freeroaming 3D levels. In addition, some novel top-down and isometric sections add a new dimension to the classic Mario gameplay. In many ways, it’s a “greatest hits” of elements from the entire series. It’s also one of the few games to take advantage of the system’s 3D display in a way that’s fundamental to gameplay. You shouldn't play 3D Land with the 3D slider turned all the way down. If you’re thinking of buying a 3DS, this is the first game you should buy.

Super Mario 3D Land Review

Resident Evil: Revelations

Resident Evil: Revelations is a testament to the fact that many have underestimated the technical power of the system. This Capcom game not only matches the standards set by the recent console iterations in the series, it even surpasses them in some respects.

Set between the events of Resident Evil 4 and 5, and starring stalwarts Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield, Revelations tells one of the best stories in the series in the style of an episodic television show, complete with cliffhangers between episodes and plot recaps.

The gameplay is drawn largely from the well of 4 and 5, but makes some improvements – especially if you have the Circle Pad Pro attachment for the 3DS. With the use of the second analog stick, you can finally move and shoot at the same time! Revelations has a ton of great content, including a deep system of weapon perks and two-player local co-op. This is definitely one of the stars of the 3DS software library.

Resident Evil: Revelations Review

Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars

Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars was virtually ignored during the launch of the 3DS, which is a shame. The game is still one of the best original titles for the system. Instead of doing a butchered version of the usual Ghost Recon gameplay (as it did with Splinter Cell 3D), Ubi wisely created a well-designed real-time strategy title akin to Square’s Front Mission series. Designed by industry veteran Julian Gollop, the creator of the X-COM series, his experience shows in the game's well-made mechanics.

While it doesn’t make much of the system’s 3D capabilities, it’s an enjoyable strategy title that balances accessibility and depth. If you’re looking beyond the 3DS blockbusters for a sleeper hit, Shadow Wars should serve you well.

Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars Review

Mario Kart 7

While some criticize Mario Kart for failing to evolve over the years, you could make a strong case that the franchise simply knows its strengths and plays to them. Mario Kart 7, as expected, relies on series traditions while providing some subtle innovation.

The tracks are the expected mix of the new and classic, and much of the gameplay falls right in line series conventions. However, a retooled powerslide mechanic places a greater emphasis on skill and the new glider and underwater segments add some variety to the mix. Even the first-person gyroscope controls manage to impress. It’s also a decent 3DS online title, though we wish it had a better overall structure. Sill, Mario Kart 7 executes kart racing well enough to be considered an essential purchase for 3DS owners.

Mario Kart 7 Review


Venerable Japanese developer Intelligent Systems (Fire Emblem, Advanced Wars) created a real gem with Pushmo, a downloadable title that offers a unique take on the puzzle genre. Casting the player as the diminutive Mallo, you must traverse hundreds of puzzle stages by moving parts of the block-like levels by pushing or pulling them into the foreground or background. It’s a clever design that makes a real asset out of the system’s 3D effects.

This game should have long legs, as Intelligent System’s gave players some easy-to-use level creation tools and the ability to share their levels with other players via the 3DS’s QR code scanner.

Pushmo Review

Super Street Fighter IV

Capcom’s reinvention of the legendary Street Fighter series helped bring about a fighting game renaissance on consoles, and the company did not hesitate to bring the commercially successful game to the 3DS. Thankfully, it didn’t take the easy way out with a quick-and-dirty port. Super Street Fighter IV for the 3DS is an example of how to port a game in a way that plays to the strengths of the new system.

The core of what players loved about Super Street Fighter IV is here. The graphics are surprisingly close to the console versions (even if some of the animated background details had to be taken out in favor of a smooth running presentation). All the hardcore, complex fighting mechanics are present as well, and in some ways even better thanks to the 3DS’s circle pad. While hardcore fans may scoff, new players can take advantage of a “lite” mode that allows them to pre-program complex combos to single buttons. Capcom also had the foresight to take advantage of the 3DS’s StreetPass sharing ability with a minigame where players use the 3DS pedometer to unlock Street Fighter figurines and battle them against their friends’ collections.

Super Street Fighter IV Review

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D

I don’t have to tell you that Ocarina of Time is worth a purchase. Widely regarded as one of the greatest games of all time, Nintendo’s 64-bit masterpiece was an early highlight of the 3DS catalog. It retains everything that made the original great, but also makes some small improvements that help to update the experience.

The most instantly noticeable changes are the improved graphics, which give the aged exterior a much-needed polish. However, hardcore Zelda fans will be pleased with a number of new tweaks that make this version of Ocarina a more pleasurable experience than the original. Nintendo now gives players four item slots and one dedicated to the Ocarina, which are customizable to give you greater flexibility in dealing with dungeons like the Water Temple. It also uses the gyroscope for aiming, which – amazingly – works great. 

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D Review

Star Fox 64 3D

Star Fox 64 3D is another excellent translation of an N64 classic to the 3DS. However, its place on this list also points out a weakness of the 3DS catalog to date: It’s already home to more than its share of enhanced ports.

This misgiving aside, we can’t knock the quality of Star Fox 64 3D. Like Resident Evil: Revelations, it’s one of the more technically impressive games on the 3DS, giving the fuzzy, old-school Star Fox visuals a crisp update while adding 3D effects that add a layer of depth and immersion to the experience. While not much has changed (the new gyroscope controls barely work) the core game shouldn’t be missed by gamers of any age.

Star Fox 64 3D Review

Notable Mentions:

Once you’ve played our 3DS essentials, here are some other games worth checking out.

Cave Story 3D
Zen Pinball 3D
Tetris Axis