After a shaky first year of life, we’re pleased an early time of death didn’t have to be called on the Nintendo 3DS. Otherwise, this five year anniversary would have been a lot more depressing.
In celebration, we’re honoring a few games from the old 3DS’ now extensive library by talking about what makes them memorable. Mind you, not every single game we’ve chosen is a gem. But they all do have one thing in common that makes them fantastic, and that’s their music.
**Some spoilers to follow for the entries below**
Kid Icarus: Uprising (2012)
Track: Opening | Composer(s): Yasunori Mitsuda
Sorry to keep you waiting!
Code named ‘Project Sora’ during its development, Kid Icarus: Uprising is your typical Masahiro Sakurai game or maybe it isn’t because before this title, Sakurai was known for being the creator of Kirby and the Super Smash Bros. series.
The game was first revealed to the public during Nintendo’s press conference at E3 2010, back when Nintendo was still doing live press conferences. The reaction of the audience was one of confusion and bewilderment. Kid Icarus was getting a revival after almost 25 years but instead of being a platformer, the game was a mix of on-rails shooter alla Star Fox blended with Third-Person-Shooter action/adventure portions. Surely Sakurai was just making a huge joke like the ones he loves to do, right?
Two years later the game was released and lo and behold, it retained both gameplay aspects. In addition to the overly ambitious gameplay change, Kid Icarus: Uprising also came with an incredible amount of layers of snazzy, high-quality content… with one huge caveat. The 3DS has an asymmetrical design, thus the controllers suffered for a game that was designed as a twin-stick shooter; think of a bicycle with training wheels, only one of the training wheels is missing.
The game was criticized for having one of the most awkward control schemes ever. The player would have to either had to hold the 3DS with one hand and suffer cramps, or had to play with a weird stand that came packed-in with the game first print. Simply put… a lot of people gave up on the game, and sadly they missed out on a game that is unlike any other, the quality of the presentation, the dialogues, the character interactions, weapons, lore, story, jokes, easter egg, and more 4th wall breaking instances that you could count with your cramped little hands.
Oh and the music…
We’ve been wanting to talk about the music of Kid Icarus: Uprising for months! Unfortunately for you (or maybe you’re lucky) this is not that moment. All we can say is that you should reconsider and just deal with the pain because Pit & Palutena’s epic journey is one you want to listen to.
Track: The Ring of Chaos | Composer(s): Masafumi Takada
No seriously, you would think that having too many cooks would deprive the game of having an impressive soundtrack but the Uprising’s sound team lead by Yasunori Mitsuda accompanied by the likes of Motoi Sakuraba, Yuzo Koshiro, Noriyuke Iwadare, Masafumi Takeda, Natsumi Kameoka and Takahiro Nishi is the richest musical experience of the 3DS, and possibly in gaming (depending on what floats your boat).
Yeesh! Opening the list with a highly unpopular title… What’s next? New Super Mario Bros. 2? Code Name STEAM? Tri Force Heroes? Sticker Star?
Paper Mario: Sticker Star (2012)
Sticker Star again?! That’s what you probably said last time we featured the latest entry in the Paper Mario series in one of our lists. This is our reminder that this game exists, by doing so we are giving you the chance to complain one more time, thus making us benevolent beings. Let’s face it, you’re not going to play this game. It’s been almost four years since Sticker Star was released, and even if the sales of the games are larger than any other Paper Mario title (with the exception of Super Paper Mario), we know that the list of players who actually finished the game is as small as the list of people who genuinely like Digimon.
And to be honest, we are finally running out Sticker Star songs to recommend, which is perfect timing since the 3DS has just entered its last phase as a console. Five years isn’t an easy feat, especially after a terrible start like the one the 3DS had back when it launched — 2011, no one will remember you.
To all three sad humans who played more than five minutes of Sticker Star you may remember that although the game could be described as generic and lackluster, the music on the other hand was designed to invigorate you to keep fighting ’till the very end. Whether it’s an original composition inspired by the sound of the Mario series (rather than the sound direction taken by previous Paper Mario games) or big band re-arrangements of classic songs, if there’s one thing Sticker Star should be remembered for, it should be its soundtrack composed by a team as large as the one who worked on Kid Icarus: Uprising.
Track: Sparkling King, Bowser & Co. Battle | Composer(s): The Paper Mario: Sticker Star Sound Team
Case in point with the music that plays in the battle against the King of all Koopas. Bowser may not have a single line of dialogue in the game but what he lacks in chattiness he makes up for having the best battle themes in Sticker Star, and by battle theme I mean all three phases: Regular Bowser, Megasparkle Bowser and the last phase when Mario himself gets the Megasparkle treatment and becomes a machine whose only goal is to make confetti out of Bowser.
Track: Spectacular Finale | Composer(s): The Paper Mario: Sticker Star Sound Team
In that last phase of the battle the song takes an optimistic turn as we hear an iteration of the ‘Powerful Mario’ song from Super Mario 64 blended in with Sticker Star’s main theme.
you should listen to it.
You should listen to it… and feel bad for missing it because you couldn’t deal with Sticker Star’s first few terrible hours.
Don’t you ever talk to us…
Fire Emblem: Awakening (2013)
Track: Id (Purpose) | Composer(s): Hiroki Morishita, Rei Kondoh, Yuka Tsujiyoko
Some may say there’s lots that’s memorable about Fire Emblem: Awakening. Romantic pairings for a dating sim, leading to furthering your clan’s bloodlines. Nubs for feet. Tharja’s winning personality. Lon’qu. Suuugaaaar. Though, others might say there’s lots that keeps it from being a great entry in the series, namely the plot involving the Risen (zombies are the worst, and now, overused) and time travel. But the game’s popularity cannot be denied, nor should its wonderful soundtrack.
There are those lighter compositions for sillier moments to cushion dialogues and interactions between characters. As an SRPG, the battles are plentiful with varying degrees of intensities dependent on enemy layouts, and situations. Thus, many of the compositions are themed to go hand-in-hand as the backdrop for stressful bits of planning. Dangerous situations and threats to your army are present with each, and are reflected in tracks such as the stunning and memorable opener to “Menace”. In the actual track, it’s time to buckle down for a fight to be won by wit, stamina and fraught with danger. Then there’s “Id (Purpose)“ at the beginning of this section, for that hopeful determination going into battle.
Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy (2013)
As if we didn’t have enough heartache at the end of Unwound Future, Azran Legacy knocks us a few more. It’s so much trauma that I’m not sure how much our little hearts are supposed to take it. And what of the poor Professor? Can that (gentle)man catch a break?! Nope, destined to a life of brilliant puzzle solving, which is the only solace he has to occupy the mind, instead of dwelling on all the terrible losses and revelations involving his personal life.
Interestingly enough, the game also revisit the same themes when it comes to its music - borrowing songs from previous titles to either recall memories from the past - or in the case of the waltzy melody of ‘London 3 (Live Version)’ a glimpse of Layton’s unwound future. Furthermore, these musical references are used to strengthen the sentiments explored in the events that Layton & Co. live through in their last adventure together.
Track: Main Theme | Composer(s): Tomohito Nishiura
The whole experience is augmented via the live renditions of the themes as performed by the ever-enchanting Layton Grand Caravan Orchestra, led by series veteran Tomohito Nishiura. Melancholic and lighthearted at the same time, melodies like the ‘Theme of the Azran Legacy’ best express the sense of adventure the series is known for thanks to its eclectic mix of flamenco and tango. It’s because songs like the main theme of the series that Hershel Layton goes beyond the boundaries of the stories encased within the game and make him such a tangible character.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf (2013)
Track: 3 a.m. | Composer(s): Manaka Kataoka, Atsuko Asahi
After spin-offs that saw refinements to customization in Animal Crossing’s universe with Happy Home Designer, and the misstep of the amiibo Festival board game that was mostly devoid of the series’ signature charm, it’s safe to say we’re ready for a new, full entry of this terrific series.
Animal Crossing is so damned charming for so many reasons. The animals’ humour and realized personalities ranging from sweet, to gruff, to deranged is one aspect of it. The rest is in the designing, and the customization including public works projects to make towns even more personable. The simplicity of Animal Crossing in its laid back nature makes it the absolute best.
New Leaf brought a new level of multiplayer madness, for friendly competitive play in island mini-games, and chilling with friends while fishing into the wee hours of the morning. Club hopping. Emoticons that brought pop culture to the world of Animal Crossing. And of course, a slew of old and new music to usher in every new hour for every new adventure that awaited.
To the quiet, mysterious piano keys settling in at 1 a.m., and the mischievous, second wind feeling in the deliberate plucked guitar chords of 10 p.m., Animal Crossing’s got a moody song to match all hours of the day, and a library of eclectic music playable at home after hearing the live versions from its rock star, K.K. Slider.
New Leaf was so near to perfection for brilliant 2013 summer fun that carried over into the following year—it’s the game that is playable for a full year of new seasonal experiences, in theory, after all.
Pokémon X/Y (2013)
No Nintendo portable list would be complete without Pokémon. Created by Satoshi Tajiri and Ken Sugimori, the series has been a loyal supporter of the Nintendo line of portable consoles (With the exception of the Virtual Boy. One could argue that the Virtual Boy was dead upon arrival, in addition to the fact that Pokémon was released two years after the ill-fated virtual reality acid trip), and the 3DS is no exception to the rule.
The first entry in the portable console moved away from the beloved sprites into the 3D model realms, the creatures had this extra layer of tangibleness never before seen. Of course, visuals weren’t the only thing that changed. While the battle system remained unchanged, training your pokémon was easier than ever, with the inclusion of the EV training and the Pokémon Amie mini games. In short, Pokémon X/Y is the quintessential experience for both Youngsters and Ace Trainers of the series.
Track: Jubilife City | Composer(s): Shota Kageyama, Minako Adachi, Hitomi Sato, Junichi Masuda
Musically the game took a new direction with a cosmopolitan-esque approach to the soundtrack to reflect the fashion-obsessed region of Kalos. While Pokémon X/Y could have used more French-inspired tracks like the fan favorite Route 10 from Black/White, the game still has lots of highlights like the lovely jazz-structured ‘Jubilife City theme’ and its heartwarming melodic piano chords or the enchanting tunes of Snowbelle City.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (2013)
Track: Minigame | Composer(s): Ryo Nagamatsu
Building upon the foundations of what some call the best Zelda title ever, A Link Between Worlds had a huge challenge to overcome right from the get go. In previous iterations, Nintendo always tried to insert a unique gimmick of the console and make it a crucial game changer. The DS titles had the stylus control, while the Wii titles were all about that swag wag.
What did Link Between Worlds bring to the game? Nothing… yeah sure there was the whole stereoscopic 3D to make the game pop out more, but that was optional. Instead the team at Nintendo focused on not messing with the gameplay and just making a solid experience in a familiar world, similar to how Eiji Aonuma took every asset of Ocarina of Time and twisted it to create one of the most unique Zelda experiences ever in Majora’s Mask (simmer down! Giant Moon/time limit haters).
With the big exception that after dealing with three introductory levels, the whole world map opens up for you to explore, similar to how the original Legend of Zelda worked. Simple yet effective game design tweaks improved upon a formula that many have lauded as perfect.
Oh… but that wasn’t the only thing that ALBW experimented with. Ryo Nagamatsu, a relatively young understudy of Kondo, composed and orchestrated the soundtrack, that much like the game itself, appeals to both young and old fans of the series. Old songs like the Dark World Theme have that extra layer of sweet inducing coma that their midi counterparts lacked, while the main antagonist theme made your knees tremble in fear with its vivacious vocal tracks.
And then there’s the Lorule Castle Theme … a song that throws everything and the kitchen sink to your lovely eardrums.
Track: Lorule Castle | Composer(s): Ryo Nagamatsu
PS: Who could forget that Milk Bar Duet who perform various songs of the game in exchange of a few rupees.
Fantasy Life (2014)
Track: The Pirate Ship | Composer(s): Nobuo Uematsu
Fantasy Life may not have the greatest story. It’s also got some pretty run-of-the-mill locales. As far as JRPGs go, those traits are simplistic as they come. It’s also those things that made it so wonderful. It was light, ridiculous and didn’t get hung up on a convoluted plot. It also employed a fun crafting system that sustained its general, good-natured message about the importance of life, and players’ roles as integral parts of a community. But as simple as it presents (which it deceptively isn’t), the razor-sharp wit in its writing and dialogues make it stand out, with multiplayer sessions which we had genuine fun with.
Having Nobuo Uematsu as a composer for a charming Level-5 game also really helped its case. It’s as you’d expect from the famed musical genius, albeit (mostly) without the emotionally driven pieces to characterize key moments of the game, because that’s just not what Fantasy Life is about. The compositions are predominantly atmospheric set pieces, sprinkled with some excitement which set up the absurdity of battles. It’s still an amazing listen despite what’s lacking from a more traditional JRPG as you may get with the likes of a Final Fantasy game, for example. It’s unassuming with a lot heart, much like the game it represents.
Though, it does also have this...
Track: Battle with a Formidable Enemy | Composer(s): Nobuo Uematsu
Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. (2015)
Yikes…. it seems that apart from Fire Emblem and Pushmo, Intelligent Systems can’t catch a break with the 3DS. Everyone hates Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. ran out of *ahem* steam way before its intended arrival.
Was it a good game? That’s debatable. Some consider it brought enough changes to the strategy genre, but its flaws and slow-paced action gathered more haters than fans. Ultimately the game was quickly forgotten… which is a huge shame. Fire Emblem and Advance Wars composer Yoshiko Sekigawa did awesome work of creating a dynamic soundtrack that mixed orchestrated pieces with heavy metal, while dropping basses left and right to give that uncanny invaders of outer space feel.
Track: Intersection: Me vs. You | Composer(s): Yoshito Sekigawa
Oh yeah we forgot to mention… the game is all about Abraham Lincoln hiring a group of mercenaries extracted from classics of the American literature, who fight against invaders from outer space inspired by the works of HP Lovecraft; Cthulhu included.
Link Between Worlds added more elements to a game design that was already perfect. BOXBOY! does exactly the contrary. It withdraws all those extra moving parts that are unnecessary for a game to work and delivers a game that’s designed around single gameplay mechanic. In many ways BOXBOY! is like one of those old games from the Game Boy era which focused on delivering experiences with the little resources the old portable had.
Coincidentally BOXBOY! was created by the same developer who gave birth to Kirby. Bear in mind they’re not the same people who came up with the idea of a pink puffball who eats everything in his path, but the mentality of delivering rich experiences through simple gameplay is still intact in both games. As we said in our review BOXBOY! is minimalistic game design at its best.
Track: OST Shop | Composer(s): Jun Ishikawa, Hirokazu Ando
But while the team who made the game isn’t the same as the one who lead HAL Laboratory back in the 90s, the composers of BOXBOY! Are the same duo who have been creating songs for the studio for over 20 years. The music conveys the minimalist design of the game via its simplistic melodies and muted beats, often using as little as three sound channels and clever use of silence to deliver its message.
Triforce Heroes (2015)
Track: Grass Zone | Composer(s): Ryo Nagamatsu
What a delightful mess of a game. So many hours spent tossing each other off platforms. So many conversations spent blaming each other for poor Linksmanship. Great multiplayer puzzles, and letting our dim dispositions show in trying to figure them out. The hilariously weird humour of Triforce Heroes couldn’t be outdone by the Drablands, but we sure didn’t want to be seen with the Princess in that awful, fashion-backward leotard she was cursed to wear. Oh hell, we didn’t actually finish the game either which really sucks to be you now, Princess.
Those are some of the positives of Triforce Heroes you may never hear about, thanks to it being drowned out by some big negatives: it’s not exactly a good single-player experience, nor does it easily allow for AI support to pick up the slack which Four Sword Adventures mastered. It’s terrible, actually.
That’s the saddest part about Triforce Heroes because it held so many back from trying it (and who could blame them?). And of course, it also means they’re missing out on the Parisian flair and bizarrely fantastic soundtrack. The pieces are mostly upbeat and chaotic, much like the insanity of three Links “working” together (depending on how much of a false hero you, your friends and strangers are). Then they get off-kilter, almost downtrodden eerie versions of the same songs with male and female vocal versions. What? Yeah. It’s pretty amazing.
Track: Grass Zone (Vers. 2) | Composer(s): Ryo Nagamatsu
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (2016)
Track: Where’s Toad? | Composer(s): Yoko Shimomura
You sometimes have to wonder what gets the creative cogs at Nintendo moving. Paper Mario returned to the 3DS earlier this year to accompany his rounded brethren in Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. The game exuded so much happiness, which showed the intrepid Paper Mario on its cover ready to take on the world—maybe to let us forget the ill-received Paper Mario: Sticker Star (which we, apparently, have made our life mission to make sure that doesn’t happen).
The game focused on the humour native to the Mario & Luigi series, with Paper Mario and his paper pals dabbling in papercraft battles, and other paper created shenanigans. The joyous merging of worlds resulted in a lot of Toad drama, in which the hapless citizens of the Paper Mushroom Kingdom showed their lack of bravery by running, hiding and getting tossed around by Bowser’s and Paper Bowser’s minions. Tough, insanely fun boss bottles made Paper Jam a blast, but the game seemingly lacked just one thing—where on earth was Paper Luigi?
The Year of Luigi seemed so far away with this apparent oversight. Save the rioting though, for Paper Luigi was being chill as all heck in the picturesque Twinsy Tropics the entire time. Not only was he soaking in the sun, but smartly enjoying one of Paper Jam’s best features: its soundtrack.
In typical Mario & Luigi RPG fashion, Yoko Shimomura composed another great, balanced, magical, fiery and at times, a grim soundtrack. In other words, a perfect RPG soundtrack. The Snowy Peaks of Mount Brr were characterized with forlorn, defeated notes lingering in its composition. Fights against the jerkface, adorable Koopalings will forever be memorable for their relentless onslaught of timed attacks, and the music that wavered between thrilling hopeful victory and impending doom. Along with its fabulous humour, Yoko Shimomura’s varied soundtracks have come to define all that’s great about the Mario & Luigi series.
Track: Boss Battle | Composer(s): Yoko Shimomura
We couldn’t possibly fit every single great game (or bad game with good music) here but that’s why we’re asking you to share your choices with us! Have some good memories of the 3DS? Feel free to do so, and share with us the games and songs from the 3DS’ library that you adore, too.
You’re reading TAY, Kotaku’s community-run blog. TAY is written by and for Kotaku readers like you. We write about games, art, culture and everything in between. Want to write with us? Check out our tutorial here and join in. Follow us on Twitter@KoTAYku and Like Us on Facebook.
Follow J. Acosta on twitter at @Nach212. When he’s not daydreaming about visiting milk bars all over Hyrule and Lorule, he’s probably tweeting about his favorite music and food. You can read his other articles here.