The 3DS Games That Actually Utilized 3D Well

The 3DS was mostly sunset shortly after the Nintendo Switch began gaining traction. In numerous ways, the Switch is a far superior piece of gaming hardware, with a capacitive screen instead of a resistive one, along with more obvious improvements like the higher processing power and visual resolution. But the 3DS’ namesake–its glasses-free 3D technology–hasn’t been utilized by other traditional systems, and it remains one of the most underappreciated and underused features in gaming history.

Consumers didn’t universally accept the feature, and many actually turned down the slider on the 3DS. Nintendo eventually even released its 2DS lineup that omitted the feature entirely, but many games were better with it enabled. In fact, a few of them used it so well that it makes 3D sorely missed on the Switch. These games didn’t rely on 3D as a gimmick but instead included it to add a greater sense of space and texture to the world. In the best cases, the 3D even made the game more fun to play, and it’s no surprise that Nintendo developed most of those examples in-house earlier on in the handheld’s lifespan.

It’s a shame that Nintendo stopped emphasizing 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D functionality because it was notably unique and awe-inspiring, following closely in step with the company’s always forward-thinking philosophy to expand the way we think about and play games. With that said, we’ve compiled the games that made the best use of 3D to commemorate the 3DS’ 10th anniversary. Below we discuss why they’re still worth picking up or digging out of storage if you’ve retired the system in favor of the latest offerings.

Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario 3D Land (2011)

Super Mario 3D Land is the reason we decided to round up this game list. More specifically, the lack of 3D in its successor, Super Mario 3D World, is the reason for it. One of the first must-have games for 3DS, Super Mario 3D Land finally solved one of 3D platformers’ biggest hurdle: lack of depth perception.

Gauging the perfect jump across a gap in front of you in a standard platformer is often left to your own limited senses, but with the 3D slider cranked up in Super Mario 3D Land, these sorts of jumps became that much easier to manage. The level design took advantage of this gifted superpower by creating obstacles and hazards that toyed with your senses. It challenged you to master your environmental awareness, making each jump from one place to the next utterly thrilling. On Wii U and Switch, Super Mario 3D World certainly improves some things, including larger courses, but the most important Mario mechanic–jumping–can’t touch its 3DS predecessor. — Gabe Gurwin

Star Fox 64 3D

Star Fox 64 3D (2011)
Star Fox 64 3D (2011)

Who would have thought that a remake of a Nintendo 64 game could make such good use of 3D? Star Fox 64 3D certainly benefited from its perspective, as the space shooter constantly has objects and enemies coming directly toward the screen, but these all pop even more in 3D. Explosions look more real, space looks more vast and mysterious, and battles feel more intense. It’s the sort of subtle improvement that the game needed, rather than a drastic overhaul that would lead to something like Star Fox Zero. Nintendo seems intent on reinventing the wheel every time it makes a Star Fox game, but simply making what was already there even better seems to be the wiser move. — Gabe Gurwin

Kirby: Triple Deluxe

Kirby: Triple Deluxe (2014)Kirby: Triple Deluxe (2014)
Kirby: Triple Deluxe (2014)

You can never go wrong playing a Kirby game; they’re such straightforward, breezy adventures that are more likely to charm you with their adorable cast of characters than anything else. But Kirby’s first 3DS outing is a delight set apart from previous entries, brimming with an infectious confidence that makes its tried-and-true platforming feel remarkably refreshing. But as the first Kirby on 3DS, it leverages the handheld’s glasses-free 3D technology to provide a sense of depth that makes its colorful world shine that much more.

As you venture through Kirby: Triple Deluxe‘s simple stages, you might notice the host of creative aesthetic touches that accentuate your constant advance, like wind-swept daisies passing by just out of focus on the screen’s foreground. The dense multi-layered stages you’ll explore often interact with one another. The 3D always stimulates the senses in these cases, instilling a heightened feeling of danger and urgency to the obstacles and projectiles you need to clear. It also helps that Kirby: Triple Deluxe runs so well, keeping all the exciting action and deft maneuvers running at 60 frames-per-second, which only emphasizes how great the game looks with the 3D slider turned up.

In many ways, Kirby: Triple Deluxe’s 3D implementation embodies the design of the Kirby series, itself being so easy to pick up and always a pleasure to look at. Without a doubt, this one is essential to play with 3D enabled. And if you thoroughly enjoy your time here, then be sure to hop into its sequel, Kirby: Planet Robobot. — Matt Espineli

Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars (2011)Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars (2011)
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars (2011)

The 3DS’ launch lineup was not good. In fact, that’s about the nicest thing you can say about it, with a port of then three-year-old Street Fighter IV being the most exciting game of the bunch. However, there was also the massively underrated strategy game Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, which was notably designed by X-COM series creator Julian Gollop. Turn-based tactics doesn’t necessarily sound like the best way to use 3D, but Ubisoft Sofia smartly used the technology to give levels texture and height–almost like they were pop-up books or board games with terrain pieces. It wasn’t mandatory to enjoy the experience, but it certainly added an extra element of novelty on top of the strategic gameplay Gollop has refined throughout much of his career. — Gabe Gurwin

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies (2013)Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies (2013)
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies (2013)

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies might seem like an odd pick when you think about it. This is effectively a visual novel with minimal kinetic action, aside from lawyers dramatically pointing fingers, of course. So what does it even have to offer using stereoscopic 3D? Honestly, it’s nothing overly fancy. Like many games in this feature, what Dual Destinies does so well is leverage 3D to accentuate its existing trademark qualities.

Phoenix Wright is a series known for its over-the-top courtroom drama, but more importantly, its equally ridiculous characters. They’re often memorable for distinct reasons, whether because of their eccentric designs or humorously animated body language. But what Dual Destinies does to push its presentation above its predecessors is use 3D to make its cast feel alive and their visual gags even funnier. An angry, self-righteous professor will throw a piece of chalk directly at your view when you continually accuse him of murder; the lead prosecutor’s pet hawk swiftly swoops in within close distance after the wrong evidence is presented; and a skittish yokai-fearing girl repeatedly smacks a demon charm on your head–that cleverly shows up on the screen’s foreground–because she suspects you’re in league with them. Subtle touches like this serve to endear you further to the larger-than-life personalities on screen.

And you can bet that when the moment does come to point fingers dramatically, Dual Destinies does so with dynamic shots that only carry as much weight as they do because of the 3D. It’s all wonderfully-executed fun that strengthens the series’ already great core, which makes it unfortunate that future games in the series won’t utilize the effect. Still, as we remember it, Dual Destinies’ amusing use of stereoscopic 3D more than makes it a worthy inclusion on this list. — Matt Espineli

Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight (2014)Shovel Knight (2014)
Shovel Knight (2014)

It’s not a 3D game or even a game meant to look like it was designed for modern consoles, but Shovel Knight still manages to make great use of the 3DS’ 3D effect. A retro-style platformer that draws heavy influence from old Mega Man and DuckTales games, its brilliance is in using the 3D effect to create a sense of layering rather than the nebulous “immersion” that 3D games often shoot for. It doesn’t overdo the effect, and it’s perfectly fine to play it without–as we’ve seen from the game’s many ports–but the charm of Shovel Knight on 3DS is seeing everything in a new light. The backgrounds actually look like they’re behind the characters, so despite being on a 2D plane, the game doesn’t feel cramped or compressed. — Gabe Gurwin

Mario Kart 7

Mario Kart 7 (2011)Mario Kart 7 (2011)
Mario Kart 7 (2011)

One of the best games on 3DS, Mario Kart 7 has largely been overshadowed at this point by Mario Kart 8 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which were bigger and prettier takes on the same Mario Kart formula we’ve enjoyed for years. But Mario Kart 7‘s gliders made it the perfect place to experience 3D for the first time. Based on the game’s sales and when the 3DS itself started to recover from its early slump, that’s likely what a lot of players did, too. Worlds from past games made appearances, meaning you could experience them in a whole new light on 3DS. It also means the blue shell looks even more menacing and annoying as it knocks you out of first place. As all true Mario Kart experts know, however, that’s why you stay in second until the very end. — Gabe Gurwin

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater 3D

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater 3D (2012)Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater 3D (2012)
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater 3D (2012)

For Metal Gear Solid fans, the 3DS port of the third game in the series may not seem an obvious candidate for praise. It’s an easy one to criticize for its jagged visuals and lower framerate alone. It’s also not one to instantly recommend to anyone playing through the series for the first time. But that’s a shame because Snake Eater 3D is admittedly a fantastic port of an excellent game, and it leverages the handheld’s stereoscopic 3D with remarkable results.

MGS3’s lush, densely-packed jungles take on a new life with 3D enabled. The trees and tall grass stand out with peculiar detail simply because of the depth the 3D effect gives them. On occasion, the flora will hang within view for a short while as you slowly but steadily crawl across the dirt jungle floor. Compared to the original console versions, the camera hangs in closer to Snake, giving you a more intimate, limited perspective of the environment, which, in turn, challenges you to be all the more aware of your surroundings. It’s all very subtle, but these effects are played up tastefully, with the 3D only used to emphasize the raw tension and thrill of infiltrating enemy territory, pulling you that much deeper into the world that developer Hideo Kojima and his team so lovingly crafted with the original.

While it may not be an obvious recommendation for those seeking to play MGS3 for the first time, Snake Eater 3D is still a worthwhile experience for established fans. We say that not for the quality-of-life improvements the game introduces to the original (though that is another huge selling point), but for the stereoscopic 3D alone. If you have any affinity for MGS3, this port is guaranteed to give you a new perspective on this stealth-action classic. — Matt Espineli

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (2013)The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (2013)
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (2013)

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is often called a spiritual successor to A Link to the Past, but it’s so much more than just a modern take on the same formula. Its use of the 3D effect as Link turns 2D and accesses hidden areas would not work on any other platform, and the dungeons have a sense of scale and depth that we would usually only see in a 3D console Zelda game. The Switch can’t do that, and even the gorgeous Link’s Awakening remake couldn’t capture that same feeling on a traditional 2D display. A Link Between Worlds still avoids using the 3D in a gimmicky way, and though the fidelity of the visuals hasn’t exactly aged all the well since it released nearly eight years ago, there’s a charm to its simplicity that translates excellently to 3D. It helps that the game runs very smoothly, too, as low frame rates can pull you out of a game just as much as well-used 3D can pull you in. Its more freeform approach to items and progression even, oddly enough, makes it a great choice to play before jumping into Breath of the Wild. — Gabe Gurwin

Honorable Mentions

For more 3DS-related features, be sure to read our piece talking about the brilliance of StreetPass and our roundup highlighting the best 3DS games.

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