The Nintendo 3DS: A Review in 2024

A while back, a coworker of mine challenged me to a starter shiny hunt in Pokémon HeartGold. This led to me dusting off my old Nintendo 2DS XL and my copy of HeartGold to work on the hunt.

Since then, it's become a regular staple in my pocket, going everywhere I go, and it has gotten more use than it probably did when I actually bought it. Despite Nintendo's best efforts to finish killing it off, I hold that it's still one of the best handhelds you can own. Let's review the 3DS family and break down why I've fallen in love with it all over again.

The Hardware

Given that a modern smartphone can emulate the 3DS with very impressive levels of performance, it's safe to assume that the specs of the 3DS aren't particularly impressive by modern standards. That said, it runs its games with a very respectable level of performance, although there are occasional slowdowns and FPS drops.

The biggest benefit to the 3DS is its size. While definitely portable, none of the many handheld computers currently on the market are what I would consider to be pocket-sized. The 3DS, by comparison, will comfortably fit in most pockets. A smartphone is also pocket-sized, but I find virtual gamepads to be a bit clunky, and I absolutely prefer having physical buttons to work with.

The screens are pretty standard fare for what they are. If you have the choice, I would absolutely go for an XL model; I did a screen replacement on an OG 3DS, and it's remarkable how small the screens are.

The ergonomics on the 3DS aren't particularly great. It's very lightweight, which does help. However, especially when lying down, it's pretty easy to hold it in a position that puts a lot of strain on your wrists and hands. It's a bit easier to hold in a comfortable position when sitting up.

The Software: CFW

The software for the 3DS has been blown wide open numerous times, making it easy to get custom firmware installed. There's a wide variety of homebrew apps, which is the true bread and butter of what makes the 3DS such a great handheld.

Retro Emulation

With homebrew comes emulation, and while the 3DS doesn't have the most powerful hardware, it's capable of emulating a wide variety of older consoles, up to the DSi. With Super Ultimate Injector, you can take advantage of the Virtual Console to emulate Nintendo titles from the NES up to the GBA, and, using TWiLight Menu++, you can emulate an even wider variety of games, including launching DS games directly from your SD card. And, beyond that, there are many more emulators available for download.


A Moonlight client exists for the 3DS, letting you stream games from a PC in glorious 240p. A positive aspect of this is that the stream should take very little bandwidth, meaning you should have a fairly smooth gaming experience. Between the massive library of native PC games and the equally massive collection of PC emulators, Moonlight takes the 3DS gaming library from “a massive collection of retro titles” to “effectively unlimited”.

The resolution limit does make things difficult to see. Text, in particular, doesn't transfer over very well. With that said, I would certainly call the results playable, and physical buttons make for a much better gaming experience than virtual ones.

Reviving the 3DS

The 3DS launched in 2011, and at this point just about all of its online services have been shut down. Fortunately, there's a pretty enthusiastic community trying to keep things going.

As for the eShop, I won't go into too much detail, but there are plenty of ways to get your hands on games if you're willing to be a little clever.

Many games have StreetPass functionality, but the odds of passing by someone on the street with a 3DS are quite slim. That's where NetPass comes in, allowing you to collect StreetPass hits from across the world.

To replace the Nintendo Network and the majority of online games, a service called the Pretendo Network is under active development. At the time of writing, it has revived the friends list, Miiverse, StreetPass Relay, and a small handful of games. If you've already installed CFW on your 3DS, installation is as simple as copying a couple of files.


In 2024, the Nintendo 3DS remains a beloved handheld for many gamers, including myself. Despite its age and the discontinuation of official support, the 3DS offers a unique blend of portability, an extensive library of games, and a thriving homebrew community that keeps the system alive and relevant. Whether you're nostalgic for classic titles or looking to explore new homebrew possibilities, the 3DS still holds its own in the world of handheld gaming. Its compact size, physical controls, and versatile software capabilities make it a valuable addition to any gamer’s collection. Dust off your old 3DS, dive into the rich world of retro gaming, and experience the joy of a timeless classic.

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