It’s only June, but 2016 has already been an incredible year for games. It started early with the sprawling, puzzling world of The Witness and continued with games like Uncharted 4, Inside, Overwatch, and new takes on Mirror’s Edge and Doom. Even some of last year’s best games have continued, with great new expansions for Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3.
With all of that going on, you’d be forgiven for forgetting about Nintendo’s plucky handheld, the 3DS. But over the last few weeks the device has been host to a number of amazing games with amazingly low-profiles. And it’s perfect timing: as the summer kicks off in earnest, you can take some of the year’s best surprises with you.
Here are four games that will keep your 3DS going until the next Pokemon arrives.
Kirby: Planet Robobot
Kirby is among the most recognizable of Nintendo’s many characters, but the squishy pink ball’s games tend to fly under the radar. It’s a shame, because they are often brilliant: case in point, Planet Robobot, which takes one of the most adorable characters in gaming and straps him into a towering mech suit.
For the most part, the game plays the same as past Kirby adventures. That means that it’s a charming, if not particularly challenging, side-scrolling platform game, where the main hook is Kirby’s ability to eat enemies and steal their powers. It’s bright and colorful, with some clever level design. Planet Robobot has the same basic structure as those older adventures, but the new mechanical theme makes it feel fresh and vibrant.
When he’s in the suit — which, by the way, looks absolutely adorable — Kirby can scan enemies to, you guessed it, copy their powers. This essentially means that all bad guys offer up two powers, one standard and one robotic, and it’s a lot of fun just screwing around with the different powers to see what the mech suit is capable of. If nothing else, Planet Robobot is further proof that mechs make everything better.
Pocket Card Jockey
The Summer of 3DS actually started in May, with the release of a bizarre mash-up from Game Freak, the studio behind a little series called Pokemon. It’s called Pocket Card Jockey, and it blends elements of solitaire and horse racing into a strange and addicting whole. Each race is broken down into multiple parts: you’ll spend your time alternating between playing quick bouts of solitaire — the faster you play, the bigger speed boost you’ll get — and strategically directing your horse around the track.
It’s very weird, and initially incredibly challenging. But once you get the hang of it, Pocket Card Jockey becomes one of those games that’s near-impossible to put down, because you just know you could do better next time. There’s even an equally strange story mode to play through, one that involves being resurrected for the sole purpose of being a jockey, and as you progress you’ll move on to faster horses. Eventually you’ll even be able to breed them in an attempt to find the ideal horse. Pocket Card Jockey is a never-ending quest for equestrian perfection.
Rhythm Heaven Megamix
Rhythm Heaven Megamix is the gaming equivalent of a greatest hits album. If you’ve never played a Rhythm Heaven title before, it’s essentially a collection of music-themed mini-games in the mold of the WarioWare series. Each song tasks you with performing an action in time to the beat, and the games pretty regularly throw you into bizarre situations. One moment you’re translating for a Martian, the next you’re playing badminton with a cat in a plane.
Megamix takes some of the best songs from the first three games in the series, including the Japan-only original, and adds in a handful of new ones along with a brand new story mode to dig through. It’s a solid mix, and it makes the game not only a perfect entry point for new players, but also a great collection to have for fans. It’s pretty handy having most of the best songs in the series in a digital collection you can take anywhere.
The original Boxboy is one the 3DS’ real sleeper hits: a challenging and wildly inventive puzzle / platform game from HAL Laboratory, the same studio behind the Kirby series. Now it has a sequel, which just launched today.
Boxboxboy is fundamentally the same as the original: it’s a game about a tiny box with stick legs who can create groups of boxes in order to get past obstacles. That can mean everything from creating a bridge so you can walk across a pit full of spikes to making a staircase to get to higher locations. The challenge isn’t so much from making tricky jumps, but figuring out the right way to use the limited number of blocks at your disposal.
Very early on, the sequel introduces a very important twist: Boxboy can now produce two sets of boxes simultaneously. It may not sound like much, but the change means that the puzzles in Boxboxboy feel different enough from its predecessor that it really warrants a sequel, even if they may look virtually identical. You have to think in a slightly different way, and once again the cleverly-designed puzzles are the real star of the show.
There’s a good amount of content here too: around a dozen worlds to play through, plus some adorable new costumes to deck out the boxy hero.