For the longest time, a Nintendo generation meant one console and one handheld. The Game Boy alongside the NES. The Game Boy Advance next to the GameCube. The Nintendo DS and the Wii. In the Switch, Nintendo combined console and handheld into one, seemingly ending the need for a traditional mobile Nintendo system. But the company’s last true handheld, the 3DS, is absolutely still worth owning, even in 2022. If you don’t have one, you should buy one.
The 3DS, like the Wii U, holds a special place in my Nintendo fanboy heart. I was SO excited when the system was announced back in 2010. The screen-based 3D sounded cool (and, also, impossible), but I was most excited about three things; the analogue circle pad, the widescreen display, and the upgraded graphics over the Nintendo DS.
When the system launched the following year, things didn’t seem as rosy. The 3DS itself was awesome; the apps included out of the box were fun tech demos that showed off the 3D effects, AR (Face Raiders, anyone?), and other new bells and whistles. Aside from the incredible remake of Ocarina of Time, however, the library was pitiful. Nintendo sold so few of the things at launch that those of us who had spent the enormous $US250 ($347) entry fee were awarded as “Nintendo Ambassadors,” gaining access to a small collection of virtual GBA and NES titles.
Of course, that’s not where the story ended. As the games started rolling out, the fans came rolling in. Sales spiked, and as Nintendo released multiple different models of the 3DS, it managed to raise the sinking ship, eventually moving some 75 million of the things. These days, the handheld is discontinued, but both the system and its games deserve to be played, even 5 years into the Switch’s reign. Here’s why you should totally get one.
The library is fantastic
When you talk about a Nintendo system, it’s a given the games are going to be good. Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Animal Crossing, Donkey Kong: These are beloved franchises with excellent exclusives on almost every console. However, the 3DS in particular has an expansive library you couldn’t complete if you tried.
Because it’s Nintendo, you’ll find every franchise currently sold new on the Switch, but one generation removed. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate? No, it’s Super Smash Bros. for 3DS. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe? Try Mario Kart 7. Super Mario Odyssey? We’re kicking with Super Mario 3D Land. Surely, there’s no Animal Crossing: New Horizons. No, but there is Animal Crossing: New Leaf! No, there’s no Breath of the Wild equivalent (does one exist?) but on 3DS, you’ll find the delightful A Link Between Worlds, in addition to remakes of two N64 Zelda classics.
From Fire Emblem, to Kid Icarus, to Kirby, to Xenoblade, there are tons of mainline games to explore here, plus an influx of indie titles. Think Shovel Knight, Binding of Isaac, Cave Story, VVVVVV — the indie scene was alive and well on 3DS.
There are simply too many titles to list. The 3DS’ exclusive library is that big.
The 3DS is a virtual Game Boy
It’s not just 3DS exclusives that make the handheld great. Nintendo offers a decent library of classic Game Boy, Game Boy Colour, Game Boy Advance, Game Gear, NES, SNES, and more — and many of these platforms have yet to be ported to the Switch. Relive your favourites, from the Game Boy’s Super Mario Land, to the Game Gear’s Sonic the Hedgehog, to the SNES’ Donkey Kong Country.
Speaking of iconic mobile Nintendo platforms …
It’s a Pokémon machine
The 3DS lets you play more Pokémon games than any other Nintendo console, bar none. Through the eShop, you can download Red, Blue, Yellow, Gold, Silver, and Crystal as Virtual Console titles, experience Gen 3 through the Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire remakes, play the entire DS library (Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, Heart Gold, Soul Silver, Black, White, Black 2, and White 2), as well as the entire 3DS library (X, Y, Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, and Ultra Moon), not to mention any of the non-mainline Pokémon games out there.
If you’re into Pokémon and already beat Legends Arceus on the Switch, the 3DS will keep you busy for a long time.
It’s not a half-bad Zelda machine, either
While the Wii U is the GOAT when it comes to 3D Zelda games, the 3DS might be the goat for 2D and handheld ones. With it, you can play the original two Zeldas on NES, the SNES’ A Link to the Past, the Game Boy’s Link’s Awakening, the Game Boy Colour’s Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, the 3DS remakes of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, the DS’ Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, as well as the fantastic 3DS exclusive A Link Between Worlds.
And, while not mainline Zelda games, you can also play the 3DS’ Hyrule Warriors and Triforce Heroes.
Backwards compatibility with the DS creates an even more massive library
OK, I mentioned the library already, but the 3DS’ backwards compatibility with the DS means you’ll never run out of games to play. Nintendo’s previous handheld, the one that introduced touch controls and dual-screens to the company’s games, had an incredible lineup of its own. With the 3DS, you can enjoy DS classics like Super Mario 64 DS, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, Animal Crossing: Wild World, Mario Kart DS, Metroid Prime: Hunters, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, among so many others, including titles I’ve mentioned previously in this piece. Some have been ported to Switch since, but they are likely to be cheaper to pick up for the ancestor system.
A system for everybody
Nintendo made a lot of 3DS era devices. The original 3DS is a compact classic, but the 3DS XL is perfect for those looking for extra screen real estate. Of course, those models are overshadowed by the New 3DS and New 3DS XL, which come with an upgraded processor, ZR and ZL buttons, and a second analogue stick (although, to be fair, it’s really a nub, like you’d find on a ThinkPad).
There are some 3DS titles you need a “New” model to play, such as Xenoblade and the SNES virtual console titles; while it’s not a large number of games, if you don’t want to worry about limitations in the library, try to find one of those devices.
Of course, we haven’t even touched on the 2DS and New 2DS XL. Nintendo released the 2DS as an entry-level system to the 3DS family, as well as an option for young children who weren’t recommended to play with 3D enabled. The system became an affordable way for anyone to try out Nintendo’s latest handheld, so long as you didn’t care about losing 3D; you could stick with the base 2DS for the cheapest experience, or spend a little more to play every game with extra controls with a New 2DS XL.
In 2022, prices for all systems range, and range they do. You’ll find listings under $140 for a 3DS XL, but then turn around and see an original 3DS above $270. New 2DS XLs hover around $235–$305, depending on what they come with. Unfortunately, unless you get lucky, buying any one of these consoles in good working order won’t be cheap. However, for those interested, it’s well worth it.
The 3D is actually really cool
Sorry, 2DS fans, this one’s not for you. Although a controversial feature, I think the 3D effect is pretty great. In games designed with the 3D in mind, like Super Mario 3D Land and A Link Between Worlds, the gameplay is enhanced by the effect, like in the puzzle shown in this slide’s cover photo. The existence of the 2DS, of course, proves you don’t need 3D enabled to play virtually any game on the console, plus the effect puts a strain on an already tight battery life. So, why use it at all?
In my opinion, the 3D makes everything, well, pop, even in games where 3D was clearly an afterthought. The 3DS, especially the original model, doesn’t have a great display, so turning 3D on gives the system a needed visual boost. It’s a great effect when booting up Ocarina of Time, for example; that iconic opening with the moon in the sky looks fantastic in 3D.
If you opt for a New 3DS model, the 3D effect works much better. With the original 3DS and 3DS XL, 3D only works if you keep the system in the right place in front of you, otherwise you’ll see a blurry mess. On the “New” systems, there’s head tracking, so you can move with the system while still experiencing 3D.
Look, 3D is not the future we thought it might be circa 2010; pick up a 2DS and you’ll enjoy the 3DS’ game library without much sacrifice. However, the 3D effect is simply unique; it’s not something you’ll see on any other gaming console, or, really, any other tech product. It’s impossible to understand from watching videos about it. You need to experience it first-hand to know what I’m talking about.
You can hack a 3DS
You can get your money’s worth by using your 3DS exactly as Nintendo intended. However, for those who don’t mind bending the rules, you can hack your 3DS to go even further. Every model of 2DS and 3DS is possible to hack, allowing you to play emulators, mod your games, and try games never meant for the 3DS in the first place, among other fun things.
If you want to go down this road, consider yourself warned: Nintendo is not friendly to hackers. As such, it can be difficult to successfully jailbreak your device, but it’s not difficult to accidentally brick the thing. Make sure to use an up-to-date guide, such as Blaine Locklair’s guide here.
StreetPass is one of the features that made the 3DS such a fun, passive social experience. With wireless connectivity enabled, your 3DS would search for other 3DSs as you were out and about; if they connected, the systems would exchange Mii information, allowing you to see a collection of the Miis you passed on the street from the Mii Plaza. You’d know they were there without looking, because your 3DS’ indicator light would turn green. There were other perks too, like unlocking the ability to play games with these Miis.
Of course, hardly anyone carries a 3DS around with them anymore. In 2022, you’re way more likely to cross paths with someone carrying a Switch. However, there’s still a community of people who not only bring their 3DS with them wherever they go, they actively check their Mii Plazas to see if they meet anyone new. While you might think the results would be “zero” all the time, there are reports of people finding a new Mii in their plaza every now and then. What a rush!
(Honestly, writing this makes me want to start carrying around my original 3DS more often; it’s small enough to fit unthinkingly into my pocket or bag, and it’d be a fun experiment to see how many people in my area still carry their system with them.)
You can’t beat the 3DS for multiplayer support
Unlike the Switch, the 3DS existed in a time when Nintendo didn’t charge players for online gaming. Whether you have friends who have one or you want to play against strangers around the world, picking up one of these handhelds means you can play Mario Kart, Smash Bros, and other classic multiplayer titles without paying for the privilege, as this Reddit post so succinctly sums up.
Not only that, but the 3DS marked the end of one of Nintendo’s best local multiplayer features, Download Play. If one person has a game, like Mario Kart 7, everyone can join in without needing to buy the game themselves. There aren’t nearly as many Download Play-enabled titles as there are multiplayer titles on 3DS, but there is a decent list.