The Wii U may have its haters, but if there's one thing Nintendo seem to unanimously do well, it's handhelds - from the original GameBoy to the megaton selling DS, it's the one area that's stayed steadfastly strong for them over the years. And with their current handheld, the 3DS, approaching its fifth year, it's certainly the defacto device for anyone looking for games on the go - but with such a huge library of games to choose from, it can be a little bit daunting when it comes to knowing what to buy for that 3DS player in your life this Christmas. If you've been perusing the shelves, wondering which game's worth picking up for your kids, though - don't worry! Our team of experts have hand-picked the best of this year's batch for each age group - 3-5, 6-10, 11+ - along with our top picks for the adults in your life, and a special pick that'll get the whole family playing together!
So, without further ado, here's our top family games on the 3DS, 2015!
Age 3 to 5
Thomas & Friends: Steaming Around Sodor
For the youngest children, Thomas & Friends: Steaming Around Sodor is a great pick. Fully voiced by the narrator of the show, it's a simple mini-game collection that sees little ones helping out their favourite anthropomorphic tank engines as they get ready for a very important visit from a duke and duchess. With nine different touch-controlled mini-games included, from the already familiar pairs and connect four, to a tank engine-y take on a match three game or a pipemania-esque rotate-the-track-pieces-to-make-a-path game, there's plenty for kids to be going on with, and plenty they'll likely play over and over again.
Full Thomas & Friends: Steaming Around Sodor Review
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Buy Thomas & Friends: Steaming Around Sodor from Amazon.co.uk
Fireman Sam: To The Rescue
In a pretty similar vein to Thomas, but this time with everyone's favourite Welsh firefighter, Fireman Sam: To The Rescue sees Sam and the gang tackling all kinds of important rescue missions in and around Pontypandy. With a fully narrated story mode, which takes in everything from animal rescue to saving someone stuck at sea to an obligatory fire-fighting emergency at a campsite, it's nine mini-games will keep little ones entertained for a while, as they help all their favourite characters from the TV show.
Buy Fireman Sam: To The Rescue from Amazon.co.uk
Age 6 to 10
Hello Kitty & Friends: Rockin' World Tour
Part beat-matching music game and part match three puzzler, Hello Kitty: Rockin' World Tour takes Kitty and friends on a whistle stop tour of the world, playing to crowds from New York to Rio to Tokyo, in a title geared more towards the lower end of this age group. Whether you choose to play guitar, bass or drums, you'll need to tap, slide and hold the Touch Screen in time with the music, matching your actions to the notes as they move across the screen - the more on beat you are, the higher you'll score, and the more medals you earn at the end, which can be exchanged in the store for new instruments. Likewise, the match three portion of the game, where you swap different coloured blocks around to make matches of three or more, rewards you with 'points' which can be spent on new clothes, accessories and more for Kitty so you can create the perfect stage outfit too.
Full Hello Kitty & Friends: Rockin' World Tour Review
Parental Review: Hello Kitty & Friends: Rockin' World Tour
Buy Hello Kitty & Friends: Rockin' World Tour from Amazon.co.uk
Hello Kitty and the Apron of Magic: Rhythm Cooking
Another one geared towards younger players, this musical Hello Kitty entry, mixes the touch screen controlled cookery of Cooking Mama with a beat-matching music game for the titular 'rhythm cooking' experience. Essentially, you'll be chopping, mixing and frying up everything from hamburgers to tempura to curry, to the beat of a song - and the better you match the tune, the more points you'll score. The more you cook, the livelier your Apron Town will get, with new Sanrio faces moving in with new recipes to tackle and spot the difference-style mini-games for you to try. The recipe selection is a little limited, but the odds are an ardent Hello Kitty fan will be more interested in the chance to cook with Cinnamoroll than the fact they're making yet another burger variation.
Full Hello Kitty and the Apron of Magic: Rhythm Cooking Review
Parental Review: Hello Kitty and the Apron of Magic: Rhythm Cooking
Buy Hello Kitty and the Apron of Magic: Rhythm Cooking from Amazon.co.uk
Skylanders Superchargers Racing
A spin-off from the usual Skylanders collectable figure adventure games, this one sees the titular Skylanders taking to land, sea and sky to settle their difference, Mario Kart racing style. A totally different game to the PS4/PS3/Xbox One/Xbox 360/Wii U bigger brother, SuperChargers Racing is exclusive to the 3DS and Wii, and is a pure racing experience. Tied together into a number of different races and challenges per 'cup', you'll be racing across Chompy-filled swamps, flying through a circus/theme park and boating across a frozen tundra as you battle for first place as your favourite Skylander. Even better, this starter pack contains one of the coolest Skylanders out there - Hammer Slam Bowser, a dual purpose Skylander and amiibo, that can be switched between the two modes with a simple turn of his base, letting you use him in compatible Nintendo 3DS and Wii U games too! Coming with everything you need to get going, there's no need to buy anything else to complete the main story, as the game will "lend" you a basic car water/land car if you don't already have one, although some optional side areas are locked off to certain elemental vehicle types. But seeing as much of the charm of Skylanders is collecting the figures themselves, the odds are you'll soon find you have a vehicle or two for each race type anyway.
Buy Skylanders Superchargers Racing from Amazon.co.uk
Buy Skylanders Superchargers Racing from Amazon.com
Lego Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin
A Christmas gift guide wouldn't be complete without at least one Lego game in the list - and this year's pick is a distinctly ninja-y take on the traditional puzzle-solving, brick-smashing-and-rebuilding, bad guy bashing we've come to know and love. On a quest to take down the titular Ronin, who's been wiping everyone's memories, our ninjas Kai, Cole, Lloyd, Zane and Jay, under the watchful eye of Sensei Wu, need to track down their legendary obsidian weapons, regain their memories and put a stop to Ronin's antics before it's too late. With a heavy dose of slapstick humour, and characters lifted from the accompanying TV show, it's sure to be a hit with any ninja-loving boys and girls this festive season!
Full Lego Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin Review
Lego Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin Parental Review
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Buy Lego Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin from Amazon.com
Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy +
An accessible, yet authentic flight sim for on the go, Ace Combat Assault Horizon + revolves around an elite squadron, known as Scarface squadron. As its newest recruit, you find yourself flung into the midst of a war against a group of rebels, and plonked into the cockpit of a range of multi-million dollar fighter jets. Putting your abilities to the test across a wide range of missions, from precision flying chases down narrow canyons, to dogfights over snowy mountains, to ground attack missions where you just have to blow up everything in sight, there's plenty to be going on with here. Sat in the cockpit of a high tech jet, you have all manner of homing missiles, cannons and advanced fire power at your disposal too, many of which make dogfights a breeze - for the most part, whatever your target, you simply need to lock on, fire and forget. It's simple, easy, and makes you feel like a flying ace at the same time.
Full Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy + Review
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Buy Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy + from Amazon.com
Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley
Set in a town stuck in an eternal winter, it falls to you, as a person who just happened to wonder into town lost in a snow storm, to save the day and return the lost seasons to the valley - in the only way Harvest Moon games know how. By farming the flip out of it, basically, and befriending the local villagers. Like previous Harvest Moon games, it's all about growing crops, tending to your animals and cultivating friendships with your townsfolk, perhaps even starting your way on the road to romance with a certain eligible bachelor/bachelorette in the process. Think Animal Crossing, only with more farming, and the ability to form (purely platonic) relationships, and you're on the right track. With its laid back pace, no time limit and focus on forging friendships and helping others out, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley makes a great gift for those who prefer their games more relaxed - perfect for fans of Animal Crossing or Tomodachi Life!
Full Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley Review
Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley Parental Review
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Buy Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley from Amazon.com
Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX
A cutesy music rhythm action game starring everyone's favourite vocaloid (read: computerised voice pop star popular in Japan) Hatsune Miku, Project Mirai DX marks her first foray onto the 3DS. Essentially, notes appear on a note track on the top screen, and you need to press/tap the corresponding buttons in time with the background music, scoring more points the more in time you are. With a jam-packed and catchy setlist, and two different control schemes to master, which lets you play by either tapping, swiping and holding down on the Touch Screen, or by pressing various buttons in time with the music, it's the kind of game that'll keep you coming back for more for months to come, thanks to it's addictive beat-matching that's easy to pick up but difficult to master. Add in a massive wardrobe of new outfits, furniture and presents to purchase, which can be used to dress your idol up for songs and deck out their room respectively, replaying songs for cash to buy new stuff is similarly addictive too!
Full Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX Review
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Buy Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX from Amazon.com
Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition
Part match three and part Pokemon-style monster collecting, this one's actually two games in one - the more fantasy-orientated Puzzle & Dragons Z, and the Mario-themed Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition. Both work in pretty similar ways though, with you taking your party of elemental dragons/Mario characters into various dungeons, and battling with enemies via a match three game. By matching like-coloured gems into lines, and triggering combos of more matches, you'll do elemental attacks corresponding to the colour of the gem you matched - and each enemy has a specific element it's strong or weak to, adding a layer of light strategy to the proceedings. As you complete battles, your party members get stronger, and can be evolved into new forms, a la Pokemon too, making for a rather addictive gotta catch 'em all style puzzle game.
Full Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition Review
Parental Review: Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition
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Buy Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition from Amazon.com
Jewel Link Double Pack: Atlantis Quest and Safari Quest
Another match three double pack, this one packs over 200 levels onto one tiny cartridge, as you match like-coloured gems to clear away oil after an oil tanker spill or search for the legendary White Lion in the middle of the desert. Both games work in much the same way, in that you need to make matches across the whole of the grid to turn the background from one colour to another to finish each stage - but there is a twist. Across both games there are several ways in which you can match gems, and you'll likely need to switch between each in order to complete each level - whether you're swapping adjacent gems, chaining link gems by joining them with a line or matching three in an L-shaped group, it adds an interesting new twist to the traditional match three-ing.
Full Jewel Link Double Pack: Atlantis Quest and Safari Quest Review
Parental Review: Jewel Link Double Pack: Atlantis Quest and Safari Quest
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The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes
Generally speaking, handhelds tend to be more solo games consoles, save the odd game of Mario Kart with friends - but a recent addition to the 3DS library, in the form of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes, proves that they can do more substantial multiplayer games too. Letting three people - and by this we mean ONLY three, not two - join forces to puzzle, battle and explore their way through a series of dungeons as a team, Tri Force Heroes is a blast with the right group of people. Unlockable outfits for your hero give you additional abilities, like extra bombs or more frequent health pick ups, while the new totem pole stack move plays a part in many a puzzle too, whether it's piling three of you up to hit an enemy's weak point, stacking high enough to reach a switch or chucking each other up onto higher cliffs. If you're after a more substantial co-operative adventure this Christmas, then Tri Force Heroes is your game! With full support for single-cart download play, three players with their own 3DSs can get in on the action even if only one of you owns the game - it's just important to remember that the game can only be played either in single player, or as a group of three - there's no way to play it with just two players.
Full The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes Review
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes Parental Review
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Buy The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes from Amazon.com