Digital 3DS Games You Need to Buy Before the 3DS eShop Shuts Down

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Digital 3DS Games You Need to Buy Before the 3DS eShop Shuts Down

Chances are good that you already know about Nintendo’s plans to shut down the 3DS eShop on March 27, 2023. This means that more games than we can write about here are going to vanish overnight: since you already know how subscription services ruined digital distribution’s promise and how this all-digital future threatens to erase gaming’s past, we can just move on to a whole bunch of games you should buy before you can’t.

Or, at least, games to remember for later when you have to [a lawyer rushes into the room to stop me right there]. Let’s get to it: the 3DS eShop includes digital exclusives, Virtual Console titles you can’t find elsewhere, backwards-compatible supported DSiWare, and a slew of remastered 3D classics that occasionally made for a definitive version of an old favorite. We’ll be touching on the necessaries from all four of those groups.


Art Style (series): There are four Art Style DSiWare games on the 3DS—three developed by Chibi-Robo! studio skip Ltd., and the fourth by another common Nintendo partner from the day, Q-Games. Skip’s outings first.

In Boxlife’s R&D mode, you use the stylus to cut, fold, and attach specific spots on connected squares laying on the ground, so that the remaining squares fold into boxes. You’re trying to make as many as you can before time runs out, and will be scored on how long it takes to do so. After you succeed at this, you’re promoted to Factory, where you now have to worry about the price of paper in your box-folding enterprise: your score is your money, and more dollars means more little knick knacks to fill out your home. Yes, Boxlife is a game about the tedium of work, but it’s also a clever little puzzler.

Aquia fills a vertically oriented rectangle stretching across both of your screens with colored blocks that you need to match in threes. You work on the outsides of that rectangle, swapping the blocks at the edges—push in from the right, and blocks come out the left, then you have to shove them in from the left and make new ones come out from the right, and so on. If you fail to keep up with the pace of the scuba diving happening on the right of the screen, you’ll lose some visibility of the rectangle and what’s contained within. Like with Boxlife—and every Art Style release, really—it starts out simple enough and then tries to crush you.

And then there’s PiCTOBiTS, which I can tell you without hyperbole is one of the best things Nintendo has ever put their name on. I’ve been obsessed with it for 14 years now, and it’s a shame it never received a sequel or port. You grab individual pixels with the stylus to match them on the bottom screen, which fills in sprites from classic NES and Famicom titles. The blocks fall in patterns you need to discern, and fast, before the entire bottom clogs up: you can wipe entire lines away, but it will use up some of your space for holding blocks, and then it costs coins to get that space back. And you want those coins to unlock new levels—including the much tougher dark world versions of each stage—and the game’s soundtrack, which is, again, no hyperbole, one of the best collections of chiptune tracks going: it’s all arrangements of classic NES songs, and some of them go hard

Digidrive is the Q-Games entry, and the quickest way to explain it is that you control the flow of traffic at an intersection in order to extend your play. Like with many Art Style games, the premise might seem weird or unappealing, but it’s addictive and just flat-out works.

A Kappa’s Trail: Developed by Nintendo subsidiary Brownie Brown before they became 1-Up Studio, A Kappa’s Trail is another DSiWare gem. It looks cute, but it’s wildly difficult: you’re guiding a helpless Kappa through stages with the stylus, and your Kappa is defenseless. The levels are full of enemies trying to kill you, pitfalls and falling rocks and lights that go out and obscure the path, and also a demon hand that chases you through the level and makes you regret doubling back. You need the coins in order to purchase upgrades to make life easier, but going after coins makes stages more difficult. Excellent, underrated game, Brownie Brown’s best after Mother 3.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again!: The best Mario vs. Donkey Kong game and probably Nintendo Software Technology’s best outing. You don’t directly control a character in this, but are instead using the stylus to manipulate stages in various ways to create safe paths for wind-up Mario dolls to safely walk through them to the exit. Collect the coins and cards for a higher score, then face off against Donkey Kong in boss stages. Highly replayable, and worth trying to earn the highest grades in each stage.

X-Scape: Q-Games again, this time with a sequel to the Game Boy’s X, an Argonaut title that convinced Nintendo that it was possible to make a game like Star Fox on the SNES. Dylan Cuthbert worked for Argonaut Games and closely on both X and Star Fox, and Q-Games is his studio. No longer cutting-edge technology, the deployment of vector graphics and first-person perspective are still put to tremendous use here in this tank-based shooter.

Starship Defense: Another Q-Games outing, this one a tower defense game set in space. You defend various bases and arrangements of spaceships against incoming waves of enemies with various strengths and weaknesses: the in-game currency system for upgrades combined with item stockpiling and some true challenge makes this a game worth revisiting every few years just to see if you’ve still got it.

Spotto: If you’ve ever wanted to play a game where you control a duck in a military helmet attacking the ghosts that captured the president’s daughter with bombs thrown to solve physics puzzles, well, Intelligent Systems has you covered.

Flametail: You can’t get MaBoShi’s Arcade on the Wii anymore, since that shop shut down a few years back, but you can still get the game that was broken out of that and released as Flametail for DSiWare. You control a small square whose touch will burn the blocks it touches, but you have to be careful not to trap yourself in your own trail of flames, or move too slowly and see the bottom of the screen catch up to you.

Snapdots: Puyo Puyo originators Compile developed the Japan-only Guri Logi Champ for the Game Boy Advance, and then D4 Entertainment snatched up some of Compile’s properties when they closed down. A sequel/remake Snapdots was born from said snatching, and released worldwide this time. You shoot blocks from a UFO into the empty spaces contained within puzzles, the successful placement of which is also a puzzle. There are 150 levels within, and it gets difficult fast.

3DS Digital Exclusives

BoxBoy! (series): There are three BoxBoy! Games on the 3DS, and you should just get them all. HAL Laboratory made a series of excellent puzzle platforming games that test your brain and pixel-perfect jumping skills—polygon-perfect?—and they’re all inexpensive enough ($20 for the whole set!) for it to be silly to not just get them all if you enjoy even one of them.

Pushmo (series): Intelligent Systems also originated a new puzzle series on the 3DS, and released three of them—Pushmo, Crashmo, and Stretchmo—on the system. The first one is the best of the bunch, but that’s just because my brain understands it the best: maybe the more 3D-oriented puzzle platforming of Crashmo will speak to you instead. You’re basically rearranging blocks in order to build a path to the puzzle’s exit, and regardless of the how of the rearranging, the games are good fun.

Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies and Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice: These are Ace Attorney games, and therefore good, but they aren’t nearly as good as the original trilogy nor the unfairly maligned Apollo Justice: your best bet might be waiting for Capcom to release these in a ported collection (alongside the Professor Layton crossover, perhaps?) on newer hardware like they tend to do, but if you want them now, Capcom has given them a massive 90% discount that’ll last until the store’s closure. 

Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale: An instant classic in the coming-of-age, are-kaiju-real? genre, and it’s a title where a non-optional card game has been inserted into things, and yet, it doesn’t stink. Maybe the best of the Guild series of games published by Level-5, Attack of the Friday Monsters! will only take you an afternoon to complete, but it’ll take you places in that time, and do it with charm.

Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball: A game inside a game, and both games are baseball. Well, one is also about the fear of divorce that a terminally unhip father who is also a dog finds himself paralyzed by, but don’t worry: once you win some nose hair trimmers from the baseball skill competition games for your Nontendo 4DS, the foundations of his marriage will strengthen. Also, you haggle in-game for how much those games will cost you to play in actual United States currency. There’s truly nothing like it, which is why I can’t stop writing about it.

Aero Porter: One of the things that’s great about Level-5’s Guild project is that they’re made by non-Level-5 developers, and they picked a ridiculous slate of studios for the project. Aero Porter is a game about sorting luggage at the airport in a timely fashion, making sure it all gets onto the planes it’s supposed to, and it was developed by Yoot Saito of SeaMan fame. Saito doesn’t make games often, and as of now, 2012’s Aero Porter is his most recent.

Siesta Fiesta: What if you could play a scrolling Breakout that also felt like pinball? And what if the ball was instead a sleeping baby who was able to stay that way as you fire them around to break blocks and build up combos for massive point gains? 

Kokuga: If you’re into shoot-em-ups, you know G-Rev, and Kokuga is a tank-based shmup that was developed in partnership with ex-Treasure legend Hiroshi Iuchi, who had a hand in the development of some of Treasure’s finest works. Kokuga isn’t at that level, no, but it’s a quality game, and unsurprisingly tough, too.

Liberation Maiden: You need to have the patience to handle playing a stylus-based, Panzer Dragoon-esque on-rails shooter, but if you’ve got that, then you get to play one that Goichi Suda’s Grasshopper developed as part of the Guild series.

Crimson Shroud: The “maybe” for Attack of the Friday Monsters! being the best of the Guild games is due to Crimson Shroud, which was developed by Level-5 on a team that included Yasumi Matsuno, whom you know from Ogre Battle and Final Fantasy Tactics. It’s a game that revels in the tabletop origins of role-playing video games, and combines the two into something special. 

Moco Moco Friends: This isn’t actually a digital-only release, but good luck finding a reasonably priced physical copy of a well-received cutesy dungeon crawler with Pokémon/SMT-esque party-building and combat mechanics. You know without looking that there are $100-plus copies of that game on eBay by now, never mind what it’ll cost in five or 10 years. Go digital while you still can.

Kid Icarus: Uprising: Using that logic, you should also just get Kid Icarus: Uprising digitally, too. It took me forever to come around on the game due to its controls, but it’s truly wonderful once everything clicks. The only thing more absurd than Uprising’s whole deal of shoving decades of unused plot points into a combination on-rails shooter and 3D action game is that it hasn’t been ported to the Switch.

Virtual Console

A note: there are far more Virtual Console games worth grabbing than I’m going to include here, in part because I’m hoping Nintendo does the obvious right thing and puts titles like Donkey Kong ‘94 and The Legend of Zelda: Oracles of Ages/Seasons and Pokémon Trading Card Game/Puzzle Challenge onto the Game Boy portion of Nintendo Switch Online. The below, though? Even less likely to happen with their respective NSO channels.

Summer Carnival ‘92 Recca: If you know anything about the capabilities of the Famicom, then you’ll be completely floored by what KID’s Recca pulled off on that system. This fast-paced STG is not as good on the 3DS as it was on the original Famicom, no—there’s lots of extra screen flickering, for instance—but your options are to pay $5 for this, or import a Famicom and a physical copy of Recca for exponentially more than that. It’s a brutal shmup that loads the screen up with what is oftentimes too many bullets and enemies—far more than you ever thought the Famicom could handle—and is one of the early works of Shinobu Yagawa, who would go on to program some serious legends within the genre. 

Catrap: A platform puzzler on the Game Boy with a rewind mechanic. It all feels simple enough until you realize you’ve been playing a very long and very necessary tutorial for one-quarter of the game. The existence of the rewind mechanic means no expense was spared in creating some devilish puzzles to solve.

The Mysterious Murasame Castle: This is a Famicom game from 1986, but its international release came in 2013 on the 3DS. Nintendo localized it like they did with Sin and Punishment on the Wii’s Virtual Console years before. It’s a topdown game about a samurai who has to defeat an alien that’s taken over the titular castle, and Suda named it as the Nintendo property he’d most want a crack at. After Zelda, of course

Wario Land 3: Sure, it’s not obscure, and it’s already on the Game Boy’s NSO channel, but it’s also the best 2D platformer Nintendo has ever made, so you should probably not put your possession of it in the hands of a company whose shop closure is causing me to write this piece in the first place.

3D Classics

Literally everything Sega released under this banner: I’m not kidding. Sega absolutely crushed the conversion of some of their arcade and console classics into 3DS-specific 3D versions. Some other releases in this vein, like Kid Icarus, Kirby’s Adventure, Xevious, TwinBee, and Excitebike are all well and good and enhance the original outings in some way, but Sega put port-and-emulation masterminds M2 to work on making a ton of great games even better on the 3DS, and these efforts blow those of everyone else away.

In some cases, it’s just the sheer volume of options now available to you, like with 3D Gunstar Heroes. This version lets you switch between the run-and-gun or standing in place firing options in-game instead of being restricted to just one style. You can remap the controls, change the soundchip in use (the Genesis’ different models had different soundchips), play the Japanese or international release, and even modify what kind of 3D images—”Fall-in” or “Pop-out”—you’ll be seeing with the effect on. This is just how all of the various Genesis ports on the 3DS work, be it 3D Shinobi III: Revenge of the Ninja Master, or 3D Ecco the Dolphin, or 3D Streets of Rage 2. They’re essentially Sega Ages-quality works, just without that label.

Then there are arcade conversions which are in their definitive at-home forms here. Super Hang-on on the Genesis failed to capture any of what made the arcade hit so incredible: the Sega Ages-caliber 3D release on the 3DS, though, nailed it, and in no small part because the 3D slider helps make that Super Scaler pseudo-3D tech that powered Super Hang-on in arcades sing. The same goes for 3D OutRun and 3D After Burner II. 

And if you grab the 3D Sega Classics Collection for $20, you can get conversions of this caliber of a whole bunch of the titles that are also for sale individually on the 3DS shop, as well as some exclusive to the collection. The pre-Mario Kart kart racer, Power Drift. Compile’s Puyo Puyo 2. You thought you had enough versions of Sonic the Hedgehog, but the 3D effect makes those 16-bit backgrounds pop in a way that justifies playing yet another release of it—and it includes options like turning off the spin dash that wasn’t included in the game until later releases. Galaxy Force II is yet another arcade classic whose presence on a system with stereoscopic 3D makes it work in a way it never was able to outside of the arcade in the past, and Thunder Blade, too, feels the benefit of its platform. The arcade version of Altered Beast was always more revered than the console one, and here, you get a conversion of that. Plus, a couple of extras, like the Master System versions of Fantasy Zone and Fantasy Zone II: The Tears of Opa Opa, and Maze Walker, another Master System game, but one that utilized the system’s 3D Glasses peripheral. No need for special glasses with the 3DS. 

The jewel of the collection, though, is Fantasy Zone II W, which is M2’s remake/reimagining of the one Fantasy Zone game that was just… OK. Originally made for 16-bit hardware in arcades—an improvement on the limiting 8-bit hardware the first version of the game utilized on the Master System—Fantasy Zone II W made its way to the 3DS as part of this collection or sold separately on the shop as 3D Fantasy Zone II W. It went from being the worst of the Fantasy Zone titles, easy, to being arguably the best one. And, like with everything else on this list, is about to go poof in spite of its quality. Too bad Sega never had a shot at their own digital shops, huh?

The Nintendo 3DS eShop closes permanently on Monday, March 27, 2023. So does the Wii U eShop.

Marc Normandin covers retro videogames at Retro XP, which you can read for free but support through his Patreon, and can be found on Twitter at @Marc_Normandin.