With E3 2013 now a little over a week away, we expect a lot of talk to focus on the Wii U and its competitors, as the home consoles prepare for a battle at the retailers this Holiday season. And yet, we feel we should take another opportunity at this juncture to show some love for the 3DS, the handheld that overcame a rocky launch period in 2011 to become what is, today, Nintendo's crown jewel.
The system has become Nintendo's banker, and as we discussed in our recent 3DS round table, the exceptional standard of the games library is establishing the handheld as one that may be regarded, in years to come, as one of the finest. Less flashy in terms of raw processing power and whizz-bang operating system apps than Sony's Vita, Nintendo's portable has nevertheless dominated the dedicated gaming handheld market due to one overriding strength — games. Now over two years old, the system has a diverse and high quality software lineup.
And that's what we're celebrating here. There are some huge titles coming from Nintendo this year — Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, Pokémon X & Y and The Legend of Zelda 3DS are perhaps the most notable examples — which can all play an important role in ensuring that the system maintains momentum.
Before those latest releases, and in keeping with our celebration of two years with our recent 3DS report card, we've decided to hold a vote to determine our favourite 3DS games to date, to reflect on how much the library has evolved since our 12 month anniversary list. There were no limitations — eShop and retail games were both eligible — apart from the exclusion of any titles not yet released, to avoid votes from individuals reviewing a certain title landing this June. Naturally a few region-specific releases made an appearance, but generally this list reflects the games that are dearest to our team's hearts.
In total 16 staff members contributed votes for their personal top tens, with a total of 45 games earning at least one point. A fair number of third-party niche titles made lists, but naturally the most prominent releases earned the most consistent votes across the board. Without further ado, let's reveal the top ten.
A surprise entry perhaps, with some big fans within the team. This arrived in the relatively early days of the handheld, very much fulfilling the role of a "schedule filler". Yet it took a fantastic on-rails action experience from the Nintendo 64 and delivered spruced up visuals with a buttery smooth frame rate. The longevity in this one is in chasing scores and exploring every route in the campaign, and is the definitive version of the game.
The Professor's first appearance on the 3DS, though his finale has already arrived in Japan, and the use of the extra processing power and capabilities of the system are kept to a minimum. There are some minor tweaks to the formula, but this delivers more of what makes the series such a fan favourite — terrific puzzles, charming characters and quirky storytelling are all present and correct.
Though this 2D Mario title can be divisive, it's still — at its core — a fun experience; it's also stacked up against some of finest games ever made when fans debate its merits for the franchise. There's a lot of running, jumping and wahoo-ing, with enough coins to make a banker blush; throw in Coin Rush and co-op play, and this one earned quite a few top 10 spots to place in the overall standings.
A big favourite in the Nintendo Life community and among some of the staff, but there's absolutely no denying the fact that this can be divisive in its own ways. For every gamer or two that loves the control scheme and humour in this title, there'll be another that dislikes those very same features. A game where concensus just isn't likely to happen, its qualities still serve it well, not to mention its insane numbers of collectibles and achievements to chase.
A recent entry in the list, as this 3DS port of one of the Wii's finest games has had an immediate impact on a number of staffers. Though lacking the 60FPS fluidity of the original, it has gorgeous stereoscopic 3D, excellent controls and eight new stages to enjoy. The original was a masterpiece from Retro Studios, and the multi-layered, exceptional level design is a terrific fit with the 3DS.
What do you get when you produce a remastered version of one of the greatest games of all time? A memorable experience, and this did an admirable job of tiding 3DS early-adopters over in the system's early days. The visuals have been re-worked stylishly, it performs wonderfully, while the touch screen and gyroscope of the handheld have been smartly implemented. Throw in the Master Quest, and this is wonderful version of an epic adventure.
It's the Year of Luigi, and his solo debut on the 3DS has had quite an impact, being both critically acclaimed and a commercial success. Adopting a steady, puzzle-exploration approach, this is an experience greatly focused on framing the gameplay to be as charming and fun as possible. Luigi is beyond lovable, and Next Level Games has produced one of the system's most visually appealing games, while the ghosts — particularly the polterpup — are terrifically designed. There's online multiplayer, too, to put the icing on the cake.
Gliding into the Holiday 2011 season to boost the system, this is an excellent iteration of the series on the handheld. It has the usual single player Cups to indulge in, as well as local and download play, but it's perhaps the online multiplayer where it truly shines. The communities are a neat setup for arranging games with friends — we've utilised them for Nintendo Life racing sessions — while there are always plenty of others online ready for some matches. When you also consider the gliding and underwater sections in some of the excellent tracks, this is definitely an "evergreen" release on the handheld.
Recent revelations that a poor commercial performance could have ended the series are thankfully irrelevant, as this title has sold well around the world as well as being a critical smash. This is turn-based strategy at its very finest, with modes to accommodate those new to the series and those that want to punish themselves with permadeath and tough opponents. A lengthy campaign, a ludicrous amount of depth and even paid-DLC if that's not all enough, this has quickly become a big favourite in the team.
And so Mario wins again, as is his way. This arrived alongside Mario Kart 7 in the Holiday season of 2011, and played a big role in reviving the handheld's fortunes. With levels structured for short bursts of play, flirtations with 3D, 2.5D and 3D throughout, this title is full of creativity, tight controls and clean, attractive visuals. While the steroscopic 3D isn't essential it's used in playful ways, with some levels going out of their way to accentuate the screen with clever camera angles; even when you beat the initial story, there's much more to do. This was the most consistent performer among our staff, topping four lists and appearing in an additional nine top fives. For most of our team, it's an indispensable part of the 3DS library.
So there you have it, almost a first-party lock-out, with the only non-Nintendo IP being Professor Layton, though the series has always been published by the big N on DS and 3DS. Of those 45 nominated games the closest third-party efforts to breaking into the top ten were Resident Evil Revelations, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy and eShop title VVVVVV. While a lot of diverse titles earned votes, the issue for them was consistency across the board, with the winner topping four of the 16 lists but, most importantly, consistently scoring well in others. It almost makes us want to do a third-party-only list to give some of these excellent titles their own spotlight...
And yet, the third-party lineup on the system is arguably something to be addressed in the coming year, with many of the most widely anticipated releases coming from the House That Mario Built. We suspect the system has plenty of time to remedy that situation.
This is just our current list, but we do feel that these represent some of the best experiences on the handheld. Let us know your thoughts or provide your own lists in the comments, while you can also vote in the poll below.
What's your favourite 3DS game so far? (562 votes)
Super Mario 3D Land
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Mario Kart 7
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
Kid Icarus: Uprising
New Super Mario Bros. 2
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
Star Fox 64 3D
None of the above
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