The 7 Absolute Best Nintendo 3DS Platformers of All Time

nintendo 3ds

The 7 Absolute Best Nintendo 3DS Platformers of All Time

The successor to the Nintendo DS arrived in the U.S. in March 2011. As part of the eighth generation of video game consoles, the 3DS differs mostly in the inclusion of 3D stereoscopic effects, which can be used without the need for cumbersome accessories or 3D glasses.

While the launch was not as commercially successful as Nintendo anticipated, it was somewhat helped by the console being bundled together with a selection of Game Boy Advance (GBA) games and a price drop. A year later, we would receive the upgraded 3DS XL, with even larger screens, and a year after that, the 2DS, which lacked the 3D displays but was significantly lower in price. The 3DS has a wide collection of great action games to play, and the best 3DS platformers are included in these.

While development for first-party games ceased for the 3DS in 2019, the console is still supported by Nintendo, as well as Nintendo’s newest console, the Switch. Some even consider the Switch Lite version as a successor to the 3DS, although crucially this doesn’t have the dual screens which are an iconic feature of the DS and 3DS. A true sequel to the 3DS isn’t completely implausible, though, as Nintendo does like to delight their fans with upgrades to much-loved systems.

Unsurprisingly, the 3DS is mostly known for games that effectively utilize its 3D capabilities, but this isn’t a requirement to play most of its titles, and it has an excellent game library nonetheless. The console does have some great sports and racing games, such as Mario Kart 7, but for the most part, it was known for its action-adventure and role-playing games.

Let’s dive right into the best 3DS platformers you should get your hands on today!

#7: Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure

As part of the Skylanders series, the 2011 release of Spyro’s Adventure follows a similar storyline to the whole series, where the titular Skylanders work with the Portal Masters to protect the Core of Light, which guards the Skylands against evil forces.

The 3DS version has a slightly different narrative, however, taking place in a realm of the Skylands called the Radiant Isles, and with Hektore leading the forces of darkness rather than Kaos.

Being more of a platformer game than the console versions, this 3DS game centers on the player completing various levels while collecting crystals along the way, which unlocks more levels. Crystals can also be obtained via different means, such as defeating enemies and completing tasks. Enemies awaken once a crystal is found and must be destroyed within a time limit, with extra time being available by collecting clocks. The 3DS game also includes some unique characters, such as Dark Spyro, Stealth Elf, and Skylanders Ignitor.

While the game was somewhat criticized for the cost of buying the figurines, overall it was rated favorably, with GameSpot praising its gameplay and character progression, meanwhile, Destructoid thought the innovative use of the figures helped the game stand out in a saturated market. If you’re after a family-friendly title that still offers a lot of fun for adults, Spyro’s Adventure is one of the best 3DS platformers with a slightly different take on the traditional action game, shown by its 83 Metascore.

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse - Nintendo 3DS
  • The third entry in the acclaimed Shantae series is her biggest adventure yet; sail the seas and discover cursed islands and labyrinths
  • Critically acclaimed, with an 82% Metacritic score for the Nintendo 3DS version
  • Upgrade Shantae's hair, weapons and moves! Master the Pirate Gear, Flintlock Pistol, Pirate Hat, Scimitar, Risky's Boots, and even fly using a cannon
  • Laugh out loud at the weird, wild and wonderfully humorous cast of characters
  • Unlockable Pirate Mode, discover multiple game endings for completionists and speed runners or check out an unforgettable soundtrack and incredible stereoscopic visuals
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11/30/2023 12:12 am GMT

The third game in the Shantae series, emShantae and the Pirate's Curse/em, came to the 3DS in 2014 and follows the titular character as she returns to human life after destroying her genie powers in the previous game.

Life doesn’t remain peaceful for long, however, as her hometown gets taken over by the Ammo Baron and it soon becomes apparent the evil Pirate Master has been using dark magic to try to resurrect himself. To this end, Shantae hesitantly teams up with her rival, Risky Boots, to collect the dark magic and stop the Pirate Master’s plans.

The gameplay is similar to its predecessors, except this time Shantae doesn’t have use of her genie powers and must rely on attacking enemies with her hair and using pirate items she collects as the game progresses. These include a pistol, a scimitar that can break blocks, a hat that allows her to fly, and boots that let her perform a dash move. The game relies on movement between islands rather than an interconnected world and mostly focuses on recovering pirate items from the Dens of Evil and destroying the bosses found within. Shantae’s maximum health can be increased by collecting Heart Squids, while to obtain the best ending, Shantae must extract the dark magic from 20 Cacklebats hidden throughout the levels.

Featured among the best-sellers for the Nintendo 3DS in the eShop, emShantae and the Pirate's Curse/em was rated positively by most publications, with Hardcore Gamer praising the challenging and varied gameplay. Destructoid thought the combat mechanics were a success, as well as the intriguing layout of the dungeons, humorous storytelling, and secret areas. The sprite animations and soundtrack were also received well by many. Fans of the Shantae series will likely love this title, as well as those searching for the best 3DS platformers.

Find out why it got an 82 Metascore when you pick it up from Amazon right here!


The 3DS saw the release of VVVVVV in 2011 and it revolves around Captain Viridian and his mission to rescue his space crew after they were separated due to a malfunctioning teleporter. Viridian has been trapped in a dimension known as VVVVVV and must explore this strange realm to find his crew and discover what went wrong.

Just like the rather strange title of the game, the gameplay is relatively odd too for a platform game; the protagonist can’t jump at all, and must instead rely on manipulating the direction of gravity to move upwards and downwards. This must be utilized to traverse certain obstacles and avoid hazards such as spikes and ghosts. As the game progresses new mechanics are introduced, such as teleporting rooms and moving floors. The game has 8 main levels, with 4 being accessible in any order, all found within a vast open world. This environment contains checkpoints scattered throughout, which save the player’s progress.

Applauded as a great indie release, VVVVVV is noted for its challenging difficulty, which is only somewhat mitigated by its plethora of save checkpoints. IndieGames.com and Kotaku both rated the level design highly, considering it to contain a large amount of variation and virtually no filler content. As a nod to the difficulty, IGN named it the 12th hardest game ever. Retro and hardcore gamers alike will probably enjoy the challenges and graphics of this game, which stands out among the best 3DS platformers as a unique and entertaining title, evident in its 83 Metascore.

Nintendo Selects: Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
  • Over 70 levels of banana-hoarding fun featuring Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong
  • Run, jump, climb and defeat enemies through diverse environments until you retrieve Donkey Kong's stolen banana hoard
  • Lush, layered side-scrolling levels come to life in stunning 3D
  • Rebuilt and optimized for portable play on the Nintendo 3DS system
  • “E”; Everyone w/Mild Cartoon Violence
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11/29/2023 09:03 pm GMT

The 2013 3DS port of the 2010 Wii game is a reimagining of the classic Donkey Kong Country, emDonkey Kong Country Returns 3D/em. Where the original focused on the antagonist King K Rool and his Kremlings, the new version centers around the Tiki Tak Tribe, a group of evil Tikis who steal Donkey Kong’s banana hoard by hypnotizing the native animals. Donkey Kong journeys with his nephew, Diddy Kong, to recover his hoard of bananas and fight off the evil tribe of Tikis.

The gameplay retains a lot of elements from the original, such as the platforming action, the ability to swing from vines, mine cart levels, and the collection of bananas, puzzle pieces, and KONG letters which grant the player an extra life. A difference, however, is that the player can only control Donkey Kong in single-player mode, using Diddy Kong’s jetpack to travel further; two-player mode does allow Diddy Kong to be controlled, though.

Diddy can also pound the ground to damage enemies and reveal secret items, whereas only Donkey Kong could do this in the original. There are only 2 animal companions available in this port, which is a big reduction since the first game. It’s worth noting the 3DS port includes an additional world with 8 new levels, which cannot be played in the Wii version.

IGN gave the title awards for “Most Challenging” and “Best Retro Design,” while X-Play lauded the similarity to previous games as well as its graphics and replayability. GameTrailers also gave high Game Informer calling it one of the “best platformers they’d ever played.” Lovers of the original Donkey Kong Country should definitely check this game out, as it holds on to the aspects which made the original great while bringing a new storyline and adventure. When thinking about the best 3DS platformers, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is a definite contender.

Discover why emDonkey Kong Country Returns 3D/em landed an 83 Metascore on Amazon here.

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
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11/29/2023 09:07 pm GMT

The 3DS rendition of Super Mario came out in 2011 and features a few changes to the traditional Mario style in emSuper Mario 3D Land/em.

While Princess Peach is still abducted by Bowser, he has also stolen the Super Leaves from the Tail Tree and plans to use them for nefarious purposes. After rescuing Peach, there are extra worlds to explore once Mario discovers Luigi has been captured also. In an odd roundabout fashion, once Luigi is rescued, Peach ends up kidnapped once more.

Incorporating elements from both 2D and 3D Mario games, emSuper Mario 3D Land/em takes advantage of the console’s stereoscopic effects. Mario shrinks in size when hit by an enemy attack, with 1 more hit making him lose a life, very similar to older games, but includes some new moves, such as the barrel roll and roll jump; these enable Mario to break blocks and cover horizontal ground. Returning power-ups include the Fire Flower, Starman, and Super Mushroom, as well as the Tanooki Suit and Boomerang Flower. An additional power-up can now be stored in this game, accessed by using the touchscreen. Star Medals are obtainable during the levels, which unlock further levels to be explored.

Famitsu awarded the title 38 out of 40 points, citing its level design, accessibility, and 3D effects as highlights. IGN felt similar about the 3D effects while calling it “brilliant and addictive.” Game Informer even considered it the best reason to own the console, complimenting its level quality for maintaining the excellent standard set by previous Mario games. Winning the Best Platform Game Award and Nintendo 3DS Game of the Year 2011 by GameTrailers, the title was overall a huge commercial and critical success, and it’s clear in its 90 Metascore.

As far as the best 3DS platformers go, Super Mario 3D Land is up there with the best, so get your hands on a copy from Amazon here, particularly if you’re a Mario fan.

super mario 3d land nintendo 3ds
Discover why Super Mario 3D Land is such a raved-about game!

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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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11/30/2023 12:17 am GMT

Inspired by games released for the classic Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), emShovel Knight/em owes crowdfunding to fund its development and saw release in 2014. In this game, the story centers around Shovel Knight, who sets out to rescue his cursed friend Shield Knight and defeat the evil Enchantress.

There were 3 additional campaigns created for the game, all with the Enchantress as the primary antagonist but revolving around different main characters, including the Plague Knight, Specter Knight, and King Knight. There was even a fighting game available as an expansion, known as Shovel Knight Showdown.

Using the 8-bit style common with the NES and SNES, Shovel Knight focuses on side-scrolling gameplay, as Shovel Knight uses his shovel to attack enemies as well as dig up treasure. Relics can also be obtained by finding Chester the merchant, which grants abilities such as projectiles, block-breaking gloves, and a locket that makes the player invincible. These do use a limited supply of magic, however, so most of the time the player will rely on standard attacks.

The stages all culminate in a boss fight, but there is much emphasis on treasure collection, which is accomplished by digging, destroying enemies, and finding chests. Money is used to upgrade Shovel Knight’s magic, health, armor, and shovel, as well as to purchase relics. Dying doesn’t reduce the player’s lives but instead makes them lose some of their money, which can still be collected by finding the point where the player died. Checkpoints are available to save progress, but can also be destroyed to earn more treasure, albeit with some risk.

Receiving universal acclaim, many critics called Shovel Knight one of the best video games ever made. The game won Best Independent Game at the 2014 The Game Awards, and a plethora of awards from IGN‘s Best of 2014; these include Best 3DS Game, Best Music, and Best Platformer. Nintendo Life praised pretty much all elements of the game, such as the gameplay, impressive controls, captivating soundtrack and storyline, and level design. The ratings for Shovel Knight are spectacular, and 3DS gamers should definitely check out the game if they want to play the best 3DS platformers out there.

Find out why emShovel Knight/em earned a 90 Metascore by getting your own copy on Amazon here.

#1: Cave Story

Cave Story was originally a game designed for Microsoft Windows, although would eventually be ported to many other computer systems and a slew of game consoles, including the 3DS in 2012. The game was particularly impressive because it was actually developed and self-published by only 1 person, Daisuke Amaya, over the course of 5 years in his spare time.

The plot begins when a robot called Quote wakes up with amnesia, and he must explore the caves around him to discover his origins and escape. Various endings are available depending on the player’s choices and tasks completed.

The gameplay involves platforming action, where Quote runs, jumps, and shoots enemies with a variety of weapons; these can be upgraded by collecting experience points after defeating all the enemies on screen. Taking damage reduces the player’s health as well as their weapons’ experience levels, so care must be taken. Missile capacity and health upgrades are also available to collect throughout the game.

Cave Story got widespread critical acclaim upon release, with critics such as 1UP.com claiming resemblance to classic Metroid and Castlevania titles. Everything from the artwork, challenging gameplay, and engaging story received very positive mentions from publications such as Game Informer, Inside Mac Games, and Retro Gamer. The game was considered the best freeware game of all time by Super PLAY, and is often seen as the quintessential indie game due to its excellent quality and being developed by only 1 person. As one of the most influential platform games released in recent years and with a 93 Metascore, Cave Story is a no-brainer when it comes to the very best 3DS platformers.

Frequently Asked Questions

When did the Nintendo 3DS come out?

The 3DS was released in North America in March 2011.

What was the first platformer game released for the 3DS?

The first platformer released for the 3DS was Rayman 3D, which came out in March 2011.

What was the last 3DS platformer game?

The last 3DS platformer was Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, released in March 2019.

Which 3DS platformer was the best?

The console had many excellent platformer titles, but Cave Story is often rated as one of the best, along with Shovel Knight, which is quite impressive considering both are independent games. Mario and Donkey Kong fans will want to check out Super Mario Land 3D and Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, while general platformer fans should take a look at Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse as well as Kirby’s Adventure and Rayman Origins.

Which 3DS platformer sold the most units?

The best-selling 3DS platformer was New Super Mario Bros. 2, which sold 13.41 million units.

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