Three Years Later: A look at the 3DS’ signature features

March 27, 2014


Today marks three years since the North American launch of the Nintendo 3DS. It’s certainly had its share of ups and downs (though more ups as of late), but at this halfway point in the system’s life, here’s what we’re wondering: has it lived up to the potential of the system itself? We’re naming the games that are the best at what the 3DS can do better than anyone else, and we’ll let you be the judge of whether it’s meeting expectations.


Best use of 3D: Super Mario 3D Land

Most impressive 3D visuals: Paper Mario: Sticker Star

Paper Mario games always use their style to great effect, and the pop-up, diorama-style affectations of Sticker Star make great use of 3D. – Lucas White

In many stages, you would have to find a large coin hidden among blocks. Usually, these coins would be behind some of the blocks you would need to traverse in the small room. With the 3D turned off, all these blocks would look like they smashed up against a wall and there was no way around them. With it on, the blocks would either fly out of or into the screen, giving the room some depth. You would easily be able to navigate the screen and get yourself one step closer to game completion. The 3D didn’t just make the game look pretty — it actually used the feature to give some mechanical depth to level designs. – Eric Albuen

Runner-up: Mario Kart 7

One of the most obvious implementations of 3D is with a game that is all about judging depth and speed, so it’s no surprise that the 3DS’ best racing game shows it off well. It’s the underwater levels that really give it that extra kick, though; perceptions of speed and distance change completely, but with 3D on, it isn’t jarring at all. – Graham Russell


Best use of StreetPass: Fire Emblem: Awakening

Coolest Play Coin implementation: Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Integrating play coins as currency is a no-brainer, but connecting it with all of the Nintendo items and making it a little random kept people coming back for another chance every day. – Jeff deSolla

Fire Emblem: Awakening earns this award from the sheer number of options each StreetPass tag represents. When you encounter a passed team, you are allowed to survey their statistics and then make one of four choices. If you have the spare gold, you can recruit their team leader (avatar) and add them to your ranks, although they will join up without their items. Need more experience or want to test your skills? Challenge them to a fight! Or you could just purchase additional weapons and items from them. (This would be more awesome if they actually received your cash, but hey.) Finally, you always have the option to just dismiss them from your map without further interaction. – Chris Ingersoll

Runner-up: Animal Crossing: New Leaf

The best part of any Animal Crossing game is showing off your house to your friends. Thanks to StreetPass and the HHA Showcase, now you can show it off to total strangers too! As a bonus, anything that catches their eye that isn’t rare (or modified) can be ordered directly. That’s some service! You can hold up to 48 houses in your showcase, and mark any you want as favorites to make sure they don’t get erased. With your ID card you can even share your Dream Suite address, allowing you to also show off your whole town for those who are interested. – Chris Ingersoll


Best use of SpotPass: Bravely Default

Most interesting free or built-in app: AR Games

During the usual post-launch software drought, there was nothing like showing off the 3DS’ AR Games. AR wasn’t common at the time, so it was a great hook to get people to notice. – Lucas White

One of the biggest problems with StreetPass content in North America (ed.: at least until StreetPass Relay) is that StreetPasses are rather limited if you don’t attend conventions. And even then, you need people who own the game, not just a 3DS. Bravely Default uses SpotPass to solve this hurdle, allowing you to fill your town of Norende with three or four random players a day as “Net Invites.” In addition, SpotPass also provides Nemesis monsters to fight for bonus rewards. These come from net-invited players or from Square Enix itself. In some cases, Square Enix can also create new ones and send them out for holiday events. Using SpotPass to fix the lack of local StreetPasses is vital for any game that wants to integrate those elements into their game for more than minor side content. – Jeff deSolla

Runner-up: Swapnote

Its time may have come to an end, but while the service was active, Swapnote was basically the reason to leave your system asleep while it charged. Opening up the 3DS and finding a little note from a friend was a treat, one that will be sorely missed. – Graham Russell


Best online multiplayer: Pokemon X & Y

Best use of Download Play: Mario Party: Island Tour

Say what you will about Island Tour, but download play for a Mario Party game is the sort of thing that turns a disastrous release into something considerably more feasible. – Graham Russell

We’ve come a long way since the days of link cables and struggling to find a buddy to evolve that Haunter for you. Pokemon X & Y shows how far we’ve come since those days, and why it’s currently the best online experience for the 3DS. Want to battle someone? Go through the Battle Spot and face a random player online or even participate in a tournament against trainers all over the world. Looking for a Pokemon? Offer up something on the Global Trade System. Looking to spice up your team or get rid of a ton of Eevee that didn’t have the right stats? Use Wonder Trade to find your Pokemon a new home. Nintendo has definitely changed its outlook on online play since its introduction in the franchise’s fourth generation. – Eric Albuen

Runner-up: Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon

Putting a bunch of Luigi clones into a procedurally-generated roguelike tower climb is probably one of the more bizarre angles to approach a multiplayer Luigi’s Mansion, but man, is it great. The different options and power-ups keep going back interesting, and the challenge is on point. Four Luigis scrambling around trying to both compete and work together at the same time was also just a hilarious thing to witness. Luigi makes funny noises. – Lucas White


Best use of AR: The Denpa Men 2: Beyond the Waves

Best use of both screens: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate

Being able to tailor both screens to your personal taste is awesome. What works for me might not for you, but neither of us are stuck with a pre-determined layout on either, so we both win. – Chris Ingersoll

There have been some interesting uses of tilt and camera functions, but the Denpa Men capture function adds everything together for a fun hide-and-seek sort of experience. What makes it better, though, is how it makes you seek out new locations. Denpa Men with different attributes and abilities are generated by nearby Wi-Fi signals, and you have to return and re-capture them if they ever perish. I’ve definitely looked like an idiot in public places with this one. – Graham Russell

Runner-up: Chibi-Robo! Photo Finder

While a more traditional Chibi-Robo! would have been a better overall game, you have to admire how Photo Finder can set you off, searching your surroundings for something interesting to photograph. It doesn’t just have you looking through to things in the area; it has you looking at them. – Graham Russell