Introduction by Hilary Andreff
When the Nintendo 3DS first became available, it was a pretty big deal. The upgraded dual-screen handheld brought glasses-free 3D to the market, plus upgraded hardware over the original DS. Along with all-new IPs, we ended up with new ways to play some old favorites and some surprising entries that revitalized existing game franchises, from Poké to Shin Megami Tensei.
You'll hear a lot about both of these situations in our list, which was not at all an easy thing to compile. We ran polls. We looked at our review scores. We discussed. Many of these games were ranked closely in our internal polls because they are top games in a variety of unique ways. On the whole, we're hoping you get something out of our personal thoughts on these titles and that we convince you the 3DS can offer a host of wonderful gaming experiences.
[Editor's Note: Unlike when we ran our Top 20 DS Games and Top 20 PSP RPGs features, the 3DS is getting games, albiet at a reduced pace. If we find something new in 2018-2019 that blows us away, we may update this list later.]
The Mario and Luigi series ended up being fairly prolific on 3DS, with four entries as of this writing (including a yet-to-be-released Bowser's Inside Story remake). But Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions deserves special mention for bringing the original Game Boy Advance classic into the modern age. It's a remarkably faithful remake that offers some of the improvements made in later M&L games without diluting what made Superstar Saga so compelling. The writing and humor on display is as sharp as ever, and the updated visuals are impressive even if they aren't quite as striking as the original's spritework. And the Bowser's Minions campaign added to this remake is a fun bit of nonsense, offering a look into what Bowser's goons get up to when the boss isn't around.
Shame about Geno's cameo getting cut, though.
With the Switch dominating everyone's minds in 2017, the 3DS faded into the background. That's a shame, since 2017 still contained a number of good 3DS games like Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon, and Monster Hunter Stories. Arguably the most underrated of them all is Ever Oasis, developed by Grezzo and directed by Koichi Ishii of Mana fame. Released to little fanfare in June 2017, this title was probably on people's minds for under a week, if at all. Ever Oasis is a charming game where you gather people to set up shop in your town, assist them with their projects, and battle creatures possessed by Chaos. Despite the repetitive gameplay, it's addicting to see your town grow and your members prosper.
Neverland's first (and unfortunately last) game for 3DS was the ambitious Rune Factory 4. Producer Yoshifumi Hashimoto has said that the game's motto is "passionate love, sweet marriage." Rune Factory 4 delivers by delving deeper into the romantic side of the game, adding a boyfriend/girlfriend phase of your chosen romance and a side story that you must complete before the two of you can tie the knot. These side stories really give the bachelors and bachelorettes depth far beyond previous games. The rest of the game is full of things to do, and each in-game day that passes is busy. Hours melt away before you as you farm, fight, and woo your way through this game. "Just one more day" will be something you mutter to yourself during each play session.
The 3DS remakes of Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire (the third generation of Pokémon games, originally made for Gameboy Advance) offer an excellent series introduction for newcomers, as well as plenty of bonuses and additional features for those who have already completed the classic games. The graphics have been given an attractive 3D makeover, and a new day and night system has been implemented, giving a whole new look to the Hoenn region.
Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire's battle system is very easy to pick up and get accustomed to, especially if you're a new player or someone who has been away from the series for a while. The many user-friendly features (such as the all-important "save anywhere" function) make these ideal games for those slow and boring trips on public transit. Meanwhile, the charming new mini-games offer plenty of relaxing diversions from the main quest, and Pikachu's various fashionable ensembles are sure to make even the most gruff and serious gamer squeal with delight. Overall, these games provide an adorable and intriguing look into Pokémon history. Definitely worth playing!
Admittedly, there weren't many significant changes from the N64 original to this 3DS port. But if any game from the N64 library deserved a handheld port, this was it. It's hard to understate the historical significance of Ocarina of Time. Few franchises from the 2D era made strong entries in 3D. Because this was Link's first outing in a 3D environment, perhaps it would also demonstrate the value of the 3DS's actual 3D visual hardware. Though the novelty of the 3DS's "top screen" wore over time (2DS, anyone?), Ocarina of Time was a wholly strange and new experience in fuller 3D. Also, pumping Gerudo Valley music from tiny speakers while commuting to work on a subway? Life doesn't get much better than that.
This feature is dedicated to Michael A. Cunningham, former Editor-in-Chief at RPGamer, who passed away in August 2018. Michael — also known as Macstorm, or "Mac" for short — was a pivotal part of so many people's lives. Besides running things at RPGamer for years, he was a dear friend to us at RPGFan, and even appeared on each of our Music of the Year podcasts.
Mac was a huge fan of handheld gaming, and somehow had the time outside of RPGamer to run his own handheld blog, Pocket Console, along with being the founder of the #TeamHandheld tag. So really, how could we not dedicate a handheld feature to him?
Please be sure to read RPGamer's tribute page, which collects memories and thoughts from his friends at RPGamer, RPGFan, RPG Site, and from several other people who valued his friendship. In addition, RPGamer compiled a list of selected works from Mac's career both on- and off-site.