What are the best Nintendo 3DS games to own forever?

September 3, 2014


The Best to Own Forever series isn’t about what’s great right now. It’s about what will be great in 10 years, even though there will be better-looking games and later sequels, and what will keep you pulling that dusty old console out of the closet every once in a while. In this edition, we cull the 3DS’ library so far to the best of the best.

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon

The original Luigi’s Mansion was a clever GameCube launch title, but Next Level Games’ sequel, Dark Moon, managed to improve on it with remarkable success. Splitting the game into multiple mansions allowed for more variety, the clever puzzles always kept you guessing and the core gameplay felt like a major improvement over the first. The most surprising addition is the multiplayer, giving you and three friends the opportunity to traverse a mansion together and compete in various challenges. It’s an excellent follow-up to an already pretty solid game and deserves a place in every 3DS owner’s collection. – Andrew Passafiume


Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

The original Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a great rhythm game with a variety of different play modes (something of a rarity in this genre) that also manages to utilize RPG-style parties, items and abilities to make the game even more dynamic. All of this being set to some of the best OST productions of their respective eras, from chiptunes to orchestral arrangements, is just icing on the cake. Theatrhythm was already a slam-dunk inclusion on this list… but everything we’ve seen for Curtain Call so far suggests that it will be everything Theatrhythm is and more. There’s no sense in recommending that you own the previous edition “forever” when we know there’s an improved version coming mere weeks away, so here we are. – Chris Ingersoll

Super Mario 3D Land

It doesn’t take too much insight to know that a Mario game is built to last, but what sets 3D Land apart from something like New Super Mario Bros. 2 is just how well it shows off the 3DS hardware. It’s not a gimmicky way, either; it simply feels at home on these screens and with these hardware features. It has the thoughtful design of its 3D brethren like Super Mario Galaxy, but with the proper ambition and scale of a smaller title. It’s comfortable as a bite-sized experience, and embraces this smaller scope by focusing on whimsy over wonder. – Graham Russell


Etrian Odyssey IV

If you’re looking for a brilliant and rewarding old-school dungeon-crawler, you’ll be happy to know the Etrian Odyssey series is still going strong and the series’ fourth entry is the best of the bunch. Complete with the turn-based battles and map-making dungeon crawling from the previous games, EOIV also includes a casual mode which allows newer players to dip their toes into the challenging adventure without losing much of the experience. Even if you think it might not be for you, give it a shot! Be warned: you might just lose dozens of hours in the process. – Andrew Passafiume


One of the best uses of the 3DS’ unique display capabilities is in the racing genre, where objects coming at you head-on really gain impact. Kersploosh! twists that concept into an object falling down a well filled with improbable obstacles, but it’s still a race to the finish at heart. Navigating your way through ten crazy obstacle courses with ten different stones, each with their own unique properties, is a great time-waster for short bursts (like waiting in line) and you can even share your high scores via StreetPass. The best part? This eShop title only costs three dollars. You can literally pick this up for the change left over after you buy a more traditional eShop release. Do so if you haven’t already. – Chris Ingersoll


Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars

It may have started life as a DS game and been since displaced in the 3DS’ strategy genre discussions by Fire Emblem: Awakening, but those factors merely make Shadow Wars overlooked. It embraces more X-COM-like mechanics than most games of its type — that makes sense, as the same designer made both games — but uses the context of a story with limited characters and scripted missions to make each map memorable and tactically distinct. The result is a launch title that stays fresh much longer than any of its peers. – Graham Russell

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Despite putting this arc of the series off for almost 23 years, Nintendo managed to do something magical to this entry that not a lot of companies would have pulled off nearly as well. The game added plenty of new features to maintain a level of freshness. Merging into walls to solve puzzles, dealing with a new item system and exploring a whole different side to Hyrule, as well as conquering dungeons at your own discretion, gave players a ton of control in their experience with the game. The best part of it all? Revisiting this arc took nothing away from the gameplay and only improved upon it (aside from a couple of light control issues and a lack of quick-saving). If you have any interest in the Zelda series, you’d almost be crazy not to have this in your collection. – Eric Albuen



While it may have recently seen a port to the Wii U’s eShop, Pushmo is still fundamentally a 3DS experience: a puzzle game designed to take advantage of the system’s depth-emphasizing screen to further its own brand of problem-solving. Thinking-heavy puzzle games were already a great fit, as we saw in full force throughout the DS era, but Pushmo is bright and friendly in a way its predecessor couldn’t manage, and it keeps the challenges flowing through puzzle-sharing features. It may have been followed by the also-compelling Crashmo, but it’s the first title that seems like the true stroke of genius. – Graham Russell

Shin Megami Tensei IV

The Shin Megami Tensei series’ long history and notorious difficulty may seem overwhelming, but there’s no better way to jump in than with Shin Megami Tensei IV. It’s still a SMT game, complete with demon negotiations, fusions and many difficult battles, but it feels more welcoming to newer players than previous entries thanks to its customizable difficulty and ability to save anywhere, among other things. On top of that, it’s simply an excellent (and addictive) entry in this long-running franchise that will provide you a good 40-plus hours of gameplay to keep you busy. – Andrew Passafiume


Fire Emblem: Awakening

Awakening managed to hit a lot of things out of the park when it came to this release, most of which were for the better. Making the game even more challenging for veterans and introducing Casual Mode to those new to the series showed that Intelligent Systems was willing to cater to both audiences. Being able to play the game in your image for the first time (for Western audiences anyway), expanding upon relationships, as well as providing a ton of post-game content showed how much love was put into this. During development, Awakening was prepared as the swan song of a franchise with declining sales, but pulling out all the stops not only saved the series but also made this game one of the best RPGs ever made. – Eric Albuen