The 7 Absolute Best Nintendo 3DS Action Games of All Time

nintendo 3ds

The 7 Absolute Best Nintendo 3DS Action Games of All Time

Like the Nintendo handheld consoles before it, the Nintendo 3DS was a shining example of just how good a portable video game console could be. Originally launched in 2011 as the successor to the Nintendo DS, the 3DS would go on to have multiple iterations that would ship more than 75 million consoles worldwide.

Part of the eighth generation of gaming, the Nintendo 3DS set the groundwork for what would become the Nintendo Switch by keeping Nintendo enthusiasts engaged with a powerful portable console. 

Let’s dive into the best action games the Nintendo 3DS has to offer.

What is an Action Game? 

Among the most popular video game genres, an action game requires the player (that’s you!) to really have to focus on hand-eye coordination while playing. Because of that, action games usually fall into a variety of subcategories like platformers, fighting games, and “beat ‘em ups.”

Because action games have such a broad definition, there’s arguably room to discuss whether a first-person shooter is also an action game. However, for the purposes of this list, we’ll be sticking to the more agreed-upon definition that action games fall into the platformer, fighting, or beat ‘em up category. 

Is the Nintendo 3DS Known for Action Games?

The Nintendo 3DS was known for a myriad of popular games and popular game types, action games included. You may not go as far as to say the 3DS was best known for action games, but action games certainly bubble to the top of many conversations around the “best of” games for the 3DS overall.

Games like Super Mario 3D Land, which is very much an action game, are also one of the best-selling games for the handheld console overall. Among the roughly 60 top-selling games on the 3DS platform, around 15 qualify as “action” games, or roughly 25%, so that’s a pretty good sign the console has a strong selection of action games. 

#7: 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2

A Sonic game on a Nintendo list? Don’t worry, it’s not as blasphemous as you might think, as 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a wonderful action game.

Earning a solid Metascore of 87, Sonic is back with his same dashing super speed and a couple of new moves to help defeat Dr. Robotnik. A port to the 3DS from the Sega Mega Drive version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the game was a digital release for the 3DS in 2015. 

Calling this game a standard platformer would be dismissive of just how fun the game is overall. It’s very much a classic platformer albeit one that lets you go down a variety of paths to find the end of every level. The 3D effect enabled both Sonic and Tails to shine a little more in the forefront of the game while the environment crept into the background and, for the most part, it worked well. 

The game is very much a love letter to the classic Sonic games that many grew up with and when it works, it works so well. Sonic has some new powers, there are plenty of rings to collect, and there’s even Super Sonic Mode which is achieved after completing the main game. 

Sonic comes back better than ever with 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2!

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#6: Rage of the Gladiator

An unexpected arrival on a list of best action games, but with a Metascore of 88, it’s hard to ignore that Rage of the Gladiator finds a welcome home on the Nintendo 3DS.

The main protagonist is the son of the king and in this first-person fighting game, your goal is to dodge and block your enemy attacks waiting for the opportune time to strike. Ported over from WiiWare, this game feels very Punch-Out in nature but in a completely unrelated environment. Even without motion controls, the game translates well because of the touchscreen on the 3DS. 

With your shield, weapon, and charms, you have to carefully time all of your attacks, and rest assured you will need to try again and again as your opponents get more difficult over time. Every victory earns you gold which you can use to power up your character and buy yourself everything from new weapons to potions.

3D effects make the game feel a little more original than the Wii version and helped it earn an 88 Metascore. 

#5: 3D Streets of Rage II

Remastered for the 3DS, Streets of Rage II is one of the best beat ‘em up series of all time. With a new character added to the mix, Max Thunder joins Blaze and Axel in their quest to deliver the absolute most Earth-shaking attacks known to man. On your way to fight the big boss, Mr. X, you’ll find plenty of henchmen standing in your way each with a variety of different attacks and weapons. 

The 3DS version not only added stereoscopic 3D effects to this classic but also added two additional gameplay modes. Both Rage Relay and Casual mode added a whole new level of replay value as did the ability to jump into co-op mode and fight level to level with a friend. Whether you pick up this game for its pure nostalgia and 1990s charm or because it’s just a great way to spend some time, it’s a must-play action title on the Nintendo 3DS. 

That’s even more evident when you factor in the 89 Metascore, which includes many critical reviews that properly note that this game is as true to the classic as Nintendo could allow. 

#4: 3D Gunstar Heroes

One of the best run-and-gun shooter games on the Sega Genesis has been ported over to the Nintendo 3DS and the result is a must-play for any 3DS owner. A side-scroller as much as it is a run-and-gun type of action, everything about 3D Gunstar Heroes is pure action.

The overall storyline isn’t nearly as much as the gun gameplay, but you’ll attempt to free your planet from an evil dictator who has kidnapped your brother. 

Everything about this game just screams “keep shooting and keep running” and that’s about all you need to know before you dive in. Of course, there are weapons and plenty of them to keep you busy while also offering a few that can provide a few well-placed explosions to help you move from level to level.

The artwork is a true testament to the quality of the 16-bit era, and between that and the fantastic sound, the 89 Metascore is no surprise at all. No matter what type of action game you like to play, make sure to add 3D Gunstar Heroes to your library. 

Nintendo Selects: Super Mario 3D Land - 3DS
  • Nintendo Selects highlights a variety of great games at a great price, including this One.
  • The Super Mario 3D land game reinvents everything fans love about Mario gaming with a platforming environment in true 3D.
  • Use Parental Controls to restrict 3D mode for children 6 and under.
  • Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) Content Description: Cartoon violence
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
12/01/2023 01:27 pm GMT

Arguably the greatest Mario game on the Nintendo 3DS (sorry Mario Kart), emSuper Mario 3D Land/em is the game to own for any Mario-loving action fan.

A 3D platformer, emSuper Mario 3D Land/em is the unique combination of a side-scrolling game while taking advantage of the stereoscopic 3D effects, no special glasses required. The highlight of this game is Mario’s new “Tanooki suit” which gives him a tail to both attack and float around each level. 

There’s very little about this game that isn’t Mario-like as he will shrink if it gets hit by a goomba or Koopa Troopa and find powerups along the way. Colorful visuals that the Mario series has long been known for are all present as is a level design that was unlike anything Mario fans had ever seen to date. What really stood out about this game was how well the 3D effect worked even if it wasn’t required to finish the game. 

This is every bit of a Mario game that 3DS owners should add to their collection if they haven’t already done so. The 90 Metascore is almost too low for such an iconic title but still strong enough to make it the third-best action game on the Nintendo 3DS. 

Pick up your copy of emSuper Mario 3D Land/em from Amazon here

Super Mario 3d land
Super Mario 3D Land brings everything you love about Mario to the Nintendo 3DS.

©Logan Bush/Shutterstock.com

Shovel Knight - Nintendo 3DS
  • 8-Bit, Evolved: With Shovel Knight, handcrafted pixel art meets the tech of today: detailed animation, multilayered parallax backgrounds, and evolved game design
  • Perfect Platforming: Flip enemies! Leap over gaps! Duel with foes! Dig up treasure! Find secrets! Upgrade! Shovel Knight is simple to learn and play, but challenge lies everywhere.
  • StreetPass Battle Arena - a crazy StreetPass battle game where anything can happen!
  • Eye-popping Stereoscopic 3D display support
  • More on the Way!: Every copy of Shovel Knight will be updated for FREE with new content. 3 New full Campaigns starring familiar foes, Challenge Mode, Battle Mode, Body Swap Mode.
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12/01/2023 04:51 pm GMT

It’s almost hard to believe that developer Yacht Club Games crowdfunded funds for the release of emShovel Knight/em, and by doing so, gave the world one of the most iconic platformers of all time.

Released in June 2014 for the Nintendo 3DS, it’s been ported to a dozen or so systems since then, much to the delight of gamers the world over. 

Every bit of the 2D side-scroller, the 8-bit graphics are a testament to the gaming world of the 1990s, but that’s okay because everything just comes together and works beautifully. The game is essentially about a character who is the emShovel Knight/em, also known as a knight with a shovel, and his explorations and evil boss fights. There are hints of other classic platformers included within the emShovel Knight/em universe, like Castlevania, Mega Man, and Zelda, and it does a great job of borrowing ideas from classics. 

Regardless of the developers’ inspiration, emShovel Knight/em is simple, yet refined for gamers of all ages. Every boss fight and stage is worth playing again and again and downloadable content to expand the universe is welcomed, as is the 90 Metascore. 

emShovel Knight/em is available for the Nintendo 3DS right now from Amazon here

Shovel Knight
Shovel Knight does a fantastic job of incorporating other loved games, like Zelda, into the gameplay.

©Glitch Ray / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license – License

#1: Cave Story 

Released for the Nintendo 3DS in November 2011, Cave Story 3D took everything about the original Cave Story game and redesigned it for the 3DS.

Not to be confused with Cave Story 3D, this game is very much the eShop port of the original Cave Story+ Steam game which lacks the “2.5D” graphics of its remake but keeps the original game modes of the original. 

Ultimately, this works well and it lands the game at the very top of the best action games on the Nintendo 3DS with a Metascore of 93. What helps achieve this score for Cave Story is the high level of replayability plus the updated resolution and screen size for the 3DS screen. That means seeing more enemies on screen at once and that’s going to help you more easily progress through the game. Also, helping you advance through each level is just outstanding controls making every bit of use of the 3DS hardware. 

There’s a bevy of additional game models included carrying over from Cave Story+ and they should help drive this game right onto your 3DS console if it’s not already downloaded. 

Final Thoughts

The Nintendo 3DS is full of wonderfully fun action games that made choosing the top seven incredibly difficult. Thankfully, Metacritic has done most of the hard work and provides you with the basis for appropriately ranking these games.

Still, there are some notable titles left off that deserve an honorable mention. Games like Super Smash Bros., Super Street Fighter IV, and Donkey Kong Country Returns are not only iconic names but well-deserving of your time.

Frequently Asked Questions

When did the Nintendo 3DS release in North America?

The Nintendo 3DS was released on March 27, 2011 in North America. 

What is the best action game for the Nintendo 3DS?

Earning the number one ranking for the best action game is tough, but a surprising challenger has entered the building, as Cave Story is the absolute best action game for the Nintendo 3DS.

What is the highest Metascore rated game for the Nintendo 3DS overall?

Coming in with a 94 Metascore, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is the highest-rated 3DS game according to Metacritic. 

How many 3DS consoles did Nintendo sell?

Between the various versions of the Nintendo 3DS (3DS XL, 2DS, etc.), Nintendo sold over 75.9 million units between 2011 and 2020. 

What is the best-selling game in Nintendo 3DS history?

Selling just shy of 19 million copies, Mario Kart 7 is unsurprisingly the best-selling Nintendo 3DS game of all time. All totaled, more than 57 3DS games sold over one million copies. 

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