The Nintendo 3DS has a fantastic library of its own exclusive titles, but what makes the handheld even better is the fact that the console has access to games from other classic Nintendo consoles.
What games can the Nintendo 3DS play? The standard Nintendo 3DS, the 3DS XL, and the 2DS can play the following games:
- 3DS games (via cartridge or available digitally for *download)
- DS games (via cartridge)
- Other digital *download-only titles
- Select NES, Game Boy, and Game Boy Color games (*download only)
The New Nintendo 3DS, New 3DS XL, and the New 2DS XL can play all of the same games listed above, along with the following additions:
- New 3DS games (via cartridge or available digitally for *download)
- Select Super Nintendo games (*download only)
*Note: Nintendo's online store for the Nintendo 3DS – known as the eShop – discontinued support on March 27th, 2023, so virtual console and other download-only titles will no longer be available for purchase.
Again, only select NES, SNES, Game Boy, and Game Boy Color games are available for download on the Nintendo 3DS eShop – under a collection Nintendo refers to as the “Virtual Console.” Other than that, nearly every 3DS, DS, and digital game on the 3DS eShop is playable on virtually every 3DS console. However, there are a handful of exceptions.
Does the 3DS play all DS games?
The 3DS plays most DS games. However, there is an exception. Games that require the use of the Game Boy Advance (GBA) slot found on the DS and DS Lite, will not work on any of the 3DS consoles. Additionally, the 3DS is a region-locked console – meaning it will not play games from other territories. i.e. North American 3DS handhelds cannot play games from Europe and vice versa.
Other than that, the entire collection of DS games will transfer over and play just fine on the 3DS.
Does the 3DS enhance older games?
Generally speaking, no; the Nintendo 3DS doesn't enhance older games. DS games play about the same as they do on their native hardware. That being said, the Circle Pad control stick on the 3DS does help with movement in some DS games – as the DS only features a D-Pad for directional control. Games like Super Mario 64 DS, for example, are much easier to maneuver using the 3DS hardware.
When it comes to Virtual Console games, some offer added online functionality, but these games also remain fairly faithful to their original interpretations.
What games are exclusive to the New 3DS?
Aside from digital-only games and the catalog of select SNES titles, the New 3DS library is pretty slim. The most notable (but not the only) additions are Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, Fire Emblem Warriors, and Minecraft: New 3DS Edition. Still, there are several games – like Hyrule Warriors, for example – that perform much better on the New 3DS line of handhelds thanks to its more powerful processor.
Also, the addition of the C-Stick makes games like Kid Icarus: Uprising much easier to control. So, as you can see, there are several reasons to consider the New 3DS line aside from its slim collection of exclusives.
How does the Nintendo 2DS play 3DS games?
As you might have already guessed, any 2DS model can play all 3DS titles – only without stereoscopic, glasses-free 3D. Essentially, it's like playing 3DS games with the 3D effect turned off. That being said, there are some other key differences between the various 2DS models and the original 3DS – like form factor, for example. (Check out our detailed comparison between the Nintendo 3DS, the 2DS, and the New 2DS XL for more information.)
On the other hand, the New 3DS, New 3DS XL, and New 2DS XL come with their own set of advantages. Most importantly, the “New” line of 3DS consoles comes with a beefed-up processor which allows for faster downloads and a more responsive UI. It also allows gamers to play exclusive New 3DS titles as well as SNES games via download. (For more differences between the 3DS, 3DS XL, and the New 3DS XL, check out our complete guide.)
Can the Nintendo DS, DS Lite, or DSi play 3DS games?
No, the Nintendo DS cannot play any 3DS games. And the 3DS' backward compatibility only goes as far back as the DS – meaning the Nintendo 3DS cannot play Game Boy Advance titles like the DS and DS Lite.
And DS games are not available for download like 3DS and New 3DS titles. So, if you want to experience the fantastic gaming library on the Nintendo DS, you'll need to buy the cartridges online or at used game stores as they aren't typically sold in stores anymore. Still, there are plenty of must-have DS games that are worth tracking down if you own (or are considering purchasing) a console in the 3DS family. Please note, however, that regular DS titles will not play in 3D on a 3DS. Only 3DS games (and select digital titles) display in stereoscopic 3D.
Still, if you're looking to get into the DS' incredible gaming library today, the 3DS family of consoles is probably the way to go. Not only do you get access to all of the amazing 3DS titles available, but you also get access to the stellar collection of Virtual Console and download-only games as well.