Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask achieves its goal of making a successful franchise transition to 3DS, retaining the charm of its predecessors and making subtle changes to improve the series standards. While solving wonderfully engineered puzzles is the meat of the gaming experience, moments of variety and a few new ideas ensure that the franchise maintains its freshness. Its greatest strength, that takes it from a top-notch puzzle collection to something more, is its story-telling. The broad range of characters, the emotional tone of the storyline and the teasing promise of more makes for an utterly engrossing experience. The question is whether this is worth your money; if you enjoy puzzles and charming tales of adventure, then you should already know the answer.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is one of the most attractive, exhilarating, entertaining and outrageously fun titles on 3DS. Uprising provides a substantial amount of content, its own brand of adrenaline pumping set pieces and wonderful humour. Awkward controls aside, it sweeps you along at breakneck speed, and is a must-have title for that very reason.
Wonderfully witty as ever, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies is another excellent entry into the Ace Attorney series. Bursting with humour and new extravagant personalities, Phoenix Wright fans will find much to enjoy, thanks largely to the excellent skills of the localisation and script-writing team at Capcom. The few minor gameplay additions do somewhat polish the investigation and courtroom experience, but — as with any visual novel — it's the story, character developments and gob-smacking plot twists that you really play for, and this one will keep you screaming 'OBJECTION' until the gavel drops.
Squeezing Smash’s frantic brawling onto a handheld seemed like an impossible feat, but Masahiro Sakurai’s team of wizards managed to get practically everything from the Wii U version onto the 3DS while also adding stereoscopic 3D, plus exclusive modes and stages. It even allowed you to use the 3DS as a controller for the Wii U version – of course, the constant tension and rapid button presses mean it’s perhaps not the most comfortable way to play, but back in 2014 3DS owners were treated to an honest-to-goodness, full-fat Super Smash Bros. on a handheld, and over a month before it came to Wii U. It’s still an impressive game to this day and worthy of a place in your collection.
The turn-based series’ debut on 3DS delivered a wonderful feeling of adventure on the handheld. It offers classic, grindy combat in a world of colour that belies the dreariness conjured by the term ‘dungeon-crawler’, and its focus on character classes and team-building means it’s refreshingly light on the tropey narrative arcs you might expect from a game with this subtitle. If you’re after an old-school first person explorer game with a great soundtrack and some modern concessions to convenience and accessibility, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan fits the bill nicely.
Billed as a stepping stone between the 2D and 3D games, Super Mario 3D Land scaled down the grand playgrounds of the mainline titles into smaller courses that worked better on a handheld screen. Beyond a few gimmicky perspective puzzles, this platformer really showcased the console’s stereoscopic 3D by subtly signalling distance and perspective to the player – you weren’t relying on Mario’s shadow quite so much (a fact we more fully appreciated when we first played this game’s ‘big brother’, the excellent Super Mario 3D World on Wii U). Comfortably contained and wonderfully tailored to the hardware, this should really be in your collection already.
As the last Fire Emblem chapter on Nintendo’s heroic handheld, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia delivers a perfect swan song for the series’ 3DS days. This is a satisfying, deeply strategic adventure with an engaging, personal story and beautiful presentation, full of appealing art and lovely details that come alive as you play. But more than that, it’s also just delightfully different from its predecessors, in ways that only broaden its appeal: if you loved Awakening and Fates, this is close enough to be comfortable but with plenty of tweaks and additions to feel exciting and fresh; if you didn’t like those entries and yearn for a more ‘traditional’ Emblem experience, you’ll love Echoes’ throwbacks and unique touches; and if you’re a JRPG fan who’s never understood the appeal of the SRPG chessboard, explorable towns and dungeons make this a perfect point of entry to crossover. Echoes is a phenomenal Fire Emblem and a wonderful tactical title to tuck into.
Fire Emblem may have found itself in a strange spot after the success of Awakening, but Intelligent Systems has found a way forward. Actually, two ways - Fire Emblem Fates does a remarkable job delivering what newcomers and long-time players both could possibly want out of this series. Fans of Awakening will dig Birthright's continuation of that style of gameplay, and Conquest's strategic demands should go over well with series veterans and those looking for more bite from their games. Extensive campaigns, online multiplayer, and spit-shine polish combine to make for some of the most well-rounded Fire Emblem experiences to date.
Each of these games is unique enough to stand on its own accord as an impressive achievement and a whole lot of fun. The writing is sharp and witty, and gameplay is as accessible or as hardcore as you could want it to be. While the story can feel like it's dragging at times, it's tough to hold too many grudges against padding since the core gameplay is so much fun.
Building on the solid foundation of Kirby: Triple Deluxe, this is a game where the pink ball can transform into Mech Kirby. We’d have probably scribbled that in the design doc, given ourselves a pat on the back and gone down the pub for a celebratory pint, but HAL surrounds this central idea with brilliantly designed worlds, trademark rainbow visuals and enough charming moments to make Kirby: Planet Robobot the finest 3DS outing for The Most Powerful Video Game Character Of Them All™ (as confirmed by Super Smash Bros. Ultimate). We always knew he was more than candyfloss with a face.
Another technical marvel, quite how Monster Games fit Monolith Soft’s 3D epic onto a tiny handheld is still something of a mystery. The second screen meant most of the Wii original’s HUD gubbins could be shifted to the bottom screen, but the scope of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D’s world meant it was restricted to running only on the updated ‘New’ 3DS models. It was never going to beat the Wii version in a beauty pageant but having it on a handheld gave busy gamers a better shot at seeing everything this brilliant 100-hour action RPG has to offer, and that’s as true today as it was in 2015.