March 27, 2023 marks the closure of the Nintendo 3DS eShop. With its closure, many games will be lost in the digital ether until the day they get another release… and that is if they get a second release.
There is no guarantee if anything on the eShop will get ports or revivals. With the shoddy state of games preservation in the industry, gamers are better off acting now and getting what they can, as soon as they can.
Where to begin? The 3DS eShop is not the easiest to navigate and it is not especially well organized, so finding anything worth saving before the eShop apocalypse happens is needlessly tedious. Thankfully, Niche Gamer’s team of scientists have scoured the 3DS eShop and curated some of the best and most interesting titles available.
3DS eShop Originals
Level-5’s Guild 01 is a compilation of smaller, experimental games from different game designer visionaries. This was originally released in Japan only and included four games, but when it came time to localize it, each game was separated and sold individually on the 3DS eShop for $7.99.
Weapon Shop de Omasse is an interesting twist on RPGs where players assume the role of a merchant and blacksmith and has to sell gear to heroes. It plays out with charming graphics, but the gameplay is not that deep and is over before you realize it.
Aero Porter being the simplest of the four games and is also the only one with lower price point of $4.99. This is the only Guild 01 game that is not especially interesting. Its gameplay involves sorting out color-coded luggage as they move on conveyor belts and ensuring they get to the right air liner. There are some lite-sim elements and players can also customize an airplane, but the game is not recommended.
Crimson Shroud is what you’d get when Yasumi Matsuno is dungeon master during a game of Dungeons & Dragons. This is this ultimate dice n’ dungeon game one would hope for and it is full of the wonderful little touches and flourishes that gamers expect from the man who made Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story.
Every aspect of the game is decided with a roll of the dice and players manage characters and stats while trying to explore a dungeon. Everything is done in the style of miniatures- even the heroes and monsters resemble figurines and are impressively lit and dialogue is done with Shakespearean flair that fans have come to associate with Matsuno’s work.
Of all the Guild 01 games, Crimson Shroud is the longest; clocking in at around six to eight hours. This is a bite-sized 3DS eShop RPG that is worth its small asking price and looks incredible.
In the future, the President is more than just a politician; she is also a mecha pilot. There are some cues taken from Metal Wolf Chaos, but without the over the top and hammy acting. As impressive as Liberation Maiden is; it is also intensely brief and clocks in at a little over an hour.
Gameplay revolves around attacking islands that are armed to the teeth with anti-air rockets and gunning down bogeys. The assaults don’t stop until players liberate every archipelago and destroy the enemy cores which blooms massive trees.
Liberation Maiden is a joint from Suda 51 and it is every bit as outrageous as his large-scale console projects. This is a high flying and frantic 3D shooter with a lot of fast action and explosive battles. The presentation is utterly slick and has high quality English anime-cutscenes.
Not long after Guild 01, Level-5 did a second anthology of experimental games. Just like before, Guild 02 was a Japan exclusive and the titles in the compilation were sold separately in the Western eShop for $7.99 each.
Instead of spreading the talent across four games, Guild 02 features three entries and there was a bigger attempt to make each one more fleshed out than in Guild 01. The games in Guild 02 are all winners as a result of there being a focus on delivering more substantial (but still brief) experience.
Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale
Attack of the Friday Monsters is a Kaz Ayabe joint and until Shin-chan: Me and the Professor on Summer Vacation – The Endless Seven-Day Journey, this was the closest the West ever got to getting one of the Boku no Natsuyasumi games. Ayabe’s panache for making nostalgic “summer vacation life-sims” was in full force with Attack of the Friday Monsters and the wistful childlike yearning is palpable.
The beautifully rendered 2D backdrops are timeless. There is a great sense of time and place within the setting of backwater Japanese town with he constant chirping cicadas and cawing crows. The magical realism makes you question the mundane and you think back to your own childhood’s active imagination, wondering about the times you think you saw something extraordinary.
Gameplay revolves around exploring, talking it up with other kids, doing adventure game stuff and collecting cards to battle with other NPCs. It is nowhere near as fleshed out as Shin-chan or any of the Boku no Natsuyasumi games, but you won’t find anything else like this on 3DS.
Starship Damrey is the only horror game in the Guild series. This game is from the duo Takemaru Abiko and Kazuya Asano; both are primarily writers and they concentrate their efforts on story-telling through gameplay. This is a creepy mystery set in space and players will find there is a lot to interact with to gleam insight from the narrative.
This is a very moody game with a cold and metallic setting. Character models are nicely detailed and the player always feels like a voyeur. Even though it is not a challenging game, there is always a forbidding atmosphere of death. Anyone who enjoys sharp writing and detailed flavor text will agree that Starship Damrey is immersive.
Bugs vs. Tanks!
Before Keiji Inafune ruined his name with a string of failures, he was the creative force for one of the better Guild games; Bugs vs. Tanks!. This was the last quality product he was involved with and what you get is exactly what the title promises. Mysteriously shrunken World War II tanks with simple and responsive controls, take on missions with regular sized (enormous) bugs.
The micro-sized setting looks incredible for such a low-cost game. Every tank and bug looks very convincing and the action feels satisfying. There are plenty of missions to participate in that give players a lot of bang for their buck and to top it all off; Bugs vs. Tanks! supports multiplayer and has a lot of customization options for gamers to craft their dream micro-tank.
It looks and plays great with easy-to-pick-up-and-play controls. The charming miniature visuals and macro view of nature makes a statement and of all the Guild entries, Bugs vs. Tanks! is the one that was most deserving of getting a more fleshed out sequel that should have become its own franchise.
3DS eShop 3D Classics
The 3D Classics or series of 3D remakes for the Nintendo 3DS were not emulated. In most cases they were very faithful remakes with a lot of extra bells and whistles that added and incredible 3D effect. Even if you are gaming on a 2DS model, these versions are well worth your time for being the definitive version of these classics via the 3DS eShop.
It all comes down to SEGA and Nintendo going into their catalogs and choosing some of their all-time greats. It does not matter which one you choose; they’re masterworks all, you can’t go wrong. For this feature, the absolute best are being highlighted.
3D Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
Shinobi III is one of the best action platformers on the SEGA Genesis. This action-platformer has Joe Musashi take on cyborgs and massive robots with game mechanics that give a surprising amount of range. Joe is able to throw shurikens and has a contextual sword attack when foes are within reach. He can wall-jump, cast devastating spells and even shimmy on ropes or go surfing.
With M2 at the helm of this conversion, they artfully added a lot of depth with the various sprite layers to create an impressive illusion when you have the 3D slider cranked. As per usual with most of M2’s 3D conversions, Shinobi III comes with several modes and options to tweak the gameplay for the definitive experience.
There is not much in terms of QOL features; Shinobi III was very ahead of its time with its carefully designed difficulty balance. It is a very fair game despite its hardcore sensibilities and is very modern by today’s standards. SEGA got this one perfect on the first try.
3D Gunstar Heroes
Like most Treasure joints, Gunstar Heroes is a fast paced action game with a lot of shooting and explosive visuals. Gameplay is similar to Contra: Hard Corps‘ fluid running and gunning. Characters can slide, grapple foes and aim in eight directions. What made Gunstar Heroes special was its wide range of gimmicky levels, huge boss battles, imaginative visual style and its weapon combinations.
Being able to mix the various weapon properties was a stand out feature and has rarely been copied since. This was such an integral aspect to the Gunstar Heroes experience that this version on 3DS has an exclusive mode where players can carry all weapon abilities and combine any of them on the fly instead of being limited to only two.
Gunstar Heroes has several versions available across several platforms like PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and is included in a few SEGA Genesis game compilations, but it is best on 3DS. 3D Gunstar Heroes runs smoothest and has no flickering. The 3D effect is marvelous- it makes the game look brand new and players are given the choice of fall-in or pop-out style 3D effect.
3D Classics: Kirby’s Adventure
Kirby’s Adventure is a common NES game, so why would it this 3D conversion be special? The original game pushed the NES hardware to its limit and as a result, the game was prone to slow-down and aggressive sprite flickering. The NES could barely handle Kirby’s Adventure, often having the sides of the screen appearing to be scrambled as players moved through the stages.
3D Classics: Kirby’s Adventure is the definitive version of this game. It is not emulated- it’s a full native port with a ton of fixes that makes the game run flawlessly for the first time. No flickering at all and no slow down ever. It is a revelation and shows how strong the foundation the original game had when it plays and runs so smoothly as the way Sakurai envisioned it.
The 3D effect gives Kirby’s Adventure a story-book like quality. The elements that pop out have a tangibility about them that is unreal. If you grew up with this game, it is surreal to see it in this light and to experience it running in a way that was no possible on original hardware.
3D Classics: Kid Icarus
Kid Icarus may not have been for everyone, but it is a classic 2D action platformer that holds up well today. Of all the games in the 3D Classics line, this entry has the most extensive revisions to its graphics. The original game’s background was completely black, but in 3D Classics: Kid Icarus, all new art was created to facilitate the 3D effect.
Useful additions like restoring the Famicom Disk System’s save file function makes replaying and continuing more convenient. Just like in 3D Classics: Kirby’s Adventure, Kid Icarus‘ technical aspects have been refined; all instances of troublesome slow-down and sprite flickering have been addressed, as well as bug-fixes.
Being able to save progress, the improved backgrounds and the technical fixes make this the definitive version of Kid Icarus. The simple gameplay manages to have that undeniable retro Nintendo challenge, while becoming a more fair game thanks to the the fixes.
3D Streets of Rage 2
The original Streets of Rage was a proof of concept for the superior sequel; Streets of Rage 2. Characters got bigger sprites with more expressive poses and the combat was made more fluid and technical. It’s a perfect sequel and its 3DS edition took the ground work and made the perfect edition of what most consider to be the best beatem-up of all time.
Both English and the uncensored Japanese version (Bare Knuckle 2) are included. On top of the various fine-tuning to the frame rate that comes with all 3D ports; 3D Streets of Rage 2 has new modes added to spice up the replays. There is a one-hit kill mode, CRT filters and character relay mode that switches the playable character between lives.
The only draw-back with 3D Streets of Rage 2 is playing co-op. Player two will also require a 3DS and a copy of the game in order for friends to take on the gangs and battle the thugs of Mr. X. In spite of this quibble, having a perfect port of the uncensored version of this classic game is worth the $7.99 asking price.
3DS eShop Must-Haves
Between the Guild games and 3D ports of classics; the 3DS eShop was dense with beleaguered digital only titles. Some might have gotten a physical release in one region, but were digital only in another. Others might have gotten lost in the shuffle due to sloppy naming conventions or general confusion.
There were 3DS eShop exclusives that were releasing even as recent as June 2022; a time when almost nobody was supporting the console outside of a few insanely brave enthusiasts. What else lies in the bowels of the 3DS eShop?
Dementium: The Ward was originally a DS title that was originally in development as a Silent Hill game. Konami passed and Renegade Kid reworked the project into an original idea. The Silent Hill DNA in the first two Dementium games for the DS is undeniable, though the gameplay sits somewhere in Quake territory than a survival horror.
In the dankest, darkest pits of the eShop, Dementium: Remastered can be found. This is one of the few horror games on the console and it is a technical marvel. Running 60 fps, with fully detailed 3D visuals is not common on this platform. It is also the smoothest controlling first-person game on the 3DS and supports various control options like stylus+touch pad or New 3DS analog nub.
Dementium‘s sequel did get a HD port on PC, but only the 3DS eShop has Dementium: Remastered. If you like the idea of Quake meets Silent Hill and a touch of Hellraiser, then this is the first-person shooter for you.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice
The console generation of the 3DS was a rough time. Lots of quality Japanese games would sometimes skip localization or in some cases; get a digital only release. This was the case with Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice. These weren’t off-shoot spin-offs either; these two games were the fifth and sixth entries in the franchise that continued the story.
If you’re a fan of Phoenix Wright‘s high-octane visual novel and shonen-style imagery; getting these games is an obligation. New characters are introduced, existing characters get further developed and the gameplay transitioned to fully 3D models and expressive animation.
These entries were a turning point for the series moving forward. They paved the foundation of things to come in later installments and sadly, the west can only get them in the narrow timeframe when they are available on the 3DS eShop.
Cave Story has a ton of versions out there and the 3DS eShop has two. One is a 2.5D remake (Cave Story 3D) which looks awkward and has ugly visuals. The other is a very faithful port of Pixel’s enduring action-adventure, with added features.
Gameplay is a simple run and gun affair with a surprisingly fleshed out story and characters. For years its been billed as a “metroidvania”, but it really isn’t. Replay value is high due to the multiple endings and being able to steal Curly’s panties never gets old.
The faithful port of Cave Story is the one to get and is a mere $9.99. What makes thus iteration so desirable is how comprehensive it is: original and widescreen modes, original soundtrack, boss rush mode, time attack and Curly mode. It is the most complete version of Cave Story, baring the co-op from Cave Story+.
Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword
Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword stands out by not just being one of the very few hack n’ slash games on the 3DS eShop, but also because of its emphasis on precision. Battles can become unbelievably tense; not because the action is frantic, but because the way the game makes players pace themselves and pay attention to their opponent.
Players will have to buckle themselves in and master not just the gameplay, but also master themselves and learn to become diligent. The battles are thrilling ad they reward those with a calm spirit. Replay value is high and gamers will want to play it again and again. It may be short, but it only feels that way because it is so satisfying.
Dark Void Zero
Remember when Capcom released Dark Void in 2010? Probably not, but it did get an amusing companion retro-inspired game called Dark Void Zero. This open-ended action platformer ended up being better than the AAA HD game and most of it is because of the simple, yet satisfying gameplay.
The NES inspired pixel art does look faithful to the limited pallet of the 80s hardware, but without all the horrible sprite flickering and slow-down. Dark Void Zero is best described as a “lite metroidvania”, it is fairly open ended and the little jet-pack guy has to run around three big levels for keys. The distinction here is that power-ups are temporary pick-ups and replace one another.
Dark Void Zero is a fun, yet brief distraction. It runs about two hours and the story is forgettable. The main draw is blast 8-bit bugs and rocking out on a jet-pack. There was a version on Steam which has been delisted- so anyone who wants to buy Dark Void Zero will have to get it while it is available on the 3DS eShop.
Automaton Lung is truly a bizarre anomaly. Not just because it is a surreal and wordless open-world adventure game that refuses to explain itself, but because of the circumstances of its release. Automaton Lung released in June 2022 for the New 3DS; making it one of the last games made for the 3DS eShop.
There is almost no words that can describe Automaton Lung. It feels like a more fever dream version of Anodyne 2– a game that was already a polygonal fever dream. It is controlled in the third-person and the protagonist gets a hoverboard, shoots at things and can fly a ship in an overworld map like in Final Fantasy VII, but expect to wander around trying to figure out what to do for most of the game
Automaton Lung‘s developer, Luke Vincent, among other small developers stuck around releasing various oddball games in the eShop. Yet, only Luke’s vision stands out due to his outrageous ambition. It definitely does look and play like an open-world game made by one man for the 3DS eShop, but that is why it is so fascinating.
3DS eShop Retro Virtual Console
The Virtual Console was an experiment that began with the Wii and ended with the 3DS and Wii U. Players could buy digital versions of emulated games at varying prices and that was the end. With the Nintendo Switch, NSO requires players to be online if they want to access a library of classic games.
For many, requiring a internet connection to Nintendo’s servers is counter intuitive to being able to play on-the-go. Having the game installed on a 3DS proves to be a more graceful portable option due to form-factor and not needing online connectivity.
The Virtual Console via the 3DS eShop had its own games that were distinct from the Wii and Wii U. It’s always good to have a few classics ready to go at any moments notice. While some people prefer to acquire roms by other means; the scientists at Nichegamer curated a few quality titles in the 3DS eShop Virtual Console that are typically overlooked.
Gargoyle’s Quest is connected to the Ghosts n’ Goblins franchise; instead of playing as the hapless Arthur, players become the bad guy, Red Arremer. This demon was a constant thorn in Arthur’s side as one of the more ruthless foes encountered and playing as him, gamers get a taste of that power; being able to hover, wall-climb and spit fire-balls.
Gameplay is a mixture of RPG and action-platformer. Overworld is presented as a overhead POV with players roaming around maps and talking to NPCs or collecting keys. Encounters are done in the form of 2D platfroming. It may not look like much by today’s standards, but its old-school charm is strong and its rare to play a Nintendo game where players are a demon.
Gameboy games in the 3DS eShop run cheap and for good reason; most of the offerings are incredibly simple games with very little substance. Gargoyle’s Quest stands out from the rest for its ambition and impressive visuals that only Capcom could deliver.
Gargoyle’s Quest II
Gargoyle’s Quest II is a sequel that improves upon the original in every way. This was a very late NES game; released in 1992, more than a full year into the Super Nintendo’s life. Thanks to the years of developing NES games, the boys at Capcom were able to fully utilize every aspect of the NES, making Gargoyle’s Quest II one of the most polished games on the console.
Like its predecessor Gargoyle’s Quest II combined RPG and platforming gameplay. This time around, there is more to see and do and can upgrade his abilities. The experience feels modern for something so old and holds up very well by today’s standards.
Red Arremer is a large and detailed sprite and levels are luridly colored. The challenge is much more fair than some of the more typically obtuse NES games out there. Getting a real NES copy of this will expectedly cost an arm and a leg, but it is only $4.99 on eShop and plays great on 3DS.
Wario Land 3
Wario Land 3 is a rare instance of a Mario game playing with “metroidvania” conventions. This is a really unique game where the protagonist is effectively invincible and the core gameplay revolves around intentionally getting hurt in order to “power-up” with an injury.
Levels are divided up by a world map and each stages has different times of day. Different times will alter stages and enemies slightly. The core objective a collect-a-thon, but figuring out what to do and where to go is pure old-school “what do I do now”, Metroid-style gameplay.
This is a perfect game to have on-the-go. 3DS features like sleep mode and save-states make it more convenient than having to leave a Gameboy Color on for hours. It has creative gameplay and the graphics look awesome- Wario is especially expressive and wide range of states he can be in was an achievement for the Gameboy Color hardware.
Blaster Master: Enemy Below
After the original Blaster Master, but before the Blaster Master Zero trilogy; there was Blaster Master: Enemy Below. Not quite a port of the NES game, but also not a remake either; Enemy Below was a remix of ideas and an effort to take the concept of tank-based “metroidvania” and overhead Zelda-style dungeons and refine it.
Blaster Master: Enemy Below is actually a sequel, but you’d never know it since so many themes and ideas are recycled from the NES original. Not that the story or premise matters much in this series; the main draw is exploring and fighting aliens.
The mechanics are solid; players alternate between playing as Jason or driving Sofia, the tank. The dungeons are a bit more involving than they were in the prior game. This time there are keys to collect and the overall challenge is much higher. On the 3DS eShop, players can save-state and have a much easier time overcoming a tough but awesome Gameboy Color classic.
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons
A Nintendo console’s quality can always be assessed by the Zelda titles on it, and Gameboy Color had three. Of the three were two companion titles: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons. This was not a case of one game with subtle differences like Pokemon; these were two very distinct Zelda games with their own gameplay gimmicks.
Oracle of Ages had an emphasis on puzzle solving and tricky dungeons. Oracles of Seasons had more intense gameplay and focuses on combat than anything else. Both games compliment each other and having them both, players can link the games. This makes the experience into one big adventure with choices through out that change the outcome.
Nintendo is not likely ever to do anything like this again. Making Zelda games is already takes almost half a decade and making two at the same time under one developer is absurd when considering expectations these days. The oracle games are a must-have for anyone who enjoys top-down view Zelda style games. These are hard to get on original hardware, but 3DS eShop has them for cheap.
To be a Pokemon fan is to suffer, especially if you have nostalgic pang for the older games which fetch insane prices in the second hand market. Many consider the 2nd generation of Pokemon to be its absolute peak and even the developers aimed to make it the “ultimate pokemon experience”. Gold and Silver versions have a lot going for them, but Crystal would be the refined revision of gen two.
The addition of color, battle animations, the vast world that has Johto and Kanto regions and the robust endgame content; it’s hard to disagree that Crystal is the ultimate Pokemon game. Locations have had improvements and additions to enhance the story as well as increased challenge.
Pokemon Crystal may not have much on the later iterations from the Gameboy Advance or DS eras, but there is an old school charm to the Gameboy Color’s presentation. It is from a simpler time when the internet didn’t spoil the magic and gamers could use their imagination in the world of Pokemon. It also helps that this version on 3DS eShop is affordable and won’t need a save battery replacement.
The 3DS eShop has a lot more that exceeds the scope of this feature. New 3DS has access to Super Nintendo games and almost every single one is worth getting. There is nothing quite like being able to play Breath of Fire 2, Super Metroid or Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble! with the incredible form factor and reliability of Nintendo hardware.
There are also many more 3DS eShop games that are digital only on top of the wonderful Virtual Console options. If not for the digital only options, but digital versions of retail games that have become rare. Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past and Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King are incredible RPGs that are over $100 in the second hand market, but only cost $39.99 on the 3DS eShop.
There is a lot of reason to check out the 3DS eShop before it closes forever. What about you, the readers at home? What 3DS eShop games did we miss? Are there any that you recommend? Sound off in the comments section and tell us!