Can the Nintendo Switch play 3DS games?

The other day, I was sat in my entertainment room, admiring all my retro gaming loveliness, when my eyes settled on my 3DS XL.

To me, the 3DS XL was the pinnacle of handheld gaming. It was home to some stunning games that worked in perfect harmony with the 3DS’ unique hardware.

As I sit daydreaming a thought floated into the sky of my mind: does the Switch offer backward compatibility with the 3DS? After all, Nintendo does have a history of offering backward compatibility with its handheld consoles. For example, the DS could play Game Boy Advance games.

I dug out my Switch eager to get an answer. This is what I found…

Can the Nintendo Switch play 3DS games? No, the Nintendo Switch can not play 3DS games. The reasons for this include: The 3DS cartridge is bigger than the Switch cartridge. The Switch’s internal hardware is completely different. The Switch’s external hardware is incompatible with the 3DS. Plus, it would cost Nintendo too much money to include backward compatibility with the 3DS.

So sadly, the Switch can’t play 3DS games. In the following sections, I’ll take a closer look at why Nintendo left out 3DS backward compatibility on the Switch.

I’ll also look at what alternatives are open to you for enjoying our 3DS games into the future.

Why the Nintendo Switch can’t play 3DS games out of the box

Differences in card shape and size

The first insurmountable problem when it comes to playing 3DS games on the Nintendo Switch is the fact that 3DS game cartridges are a different size and shape from the Switch cartridges.

But this hasn’t stopped Nintendo from enabling backwards compatibility in the past. After all, Nintendo did include a Game Boy game cartridge port on the Game Boy Advance. And a Game Boy Advance cartridge port was included on the Nintendo DS.

But Nintendo didn’t include the 3DS port. And it was probably because of costs and hardware differences that the 3DS game cart port was cut from the Switch design.

But what about digital games?

Well digital games are not on the system for some of the reasons listed below but largely due to hardware limitations and differences.

The Switch already cost a lot to make

When Nintendo designed the Switch they likely chose every component with the $300 price point in mind.

I think that, in the Switch’s long design process, Nintendo couldn’t find a way of including a 3DS game card port while keeping the Switch’s price down.

After all, the Switch already included some pricy components such as the Joy-Cons, the large touch screen, and the, for the time, and the internal SSD storage drive.

So the 3DS card slot was cut from the design to save cash.

Differences in physical hardware

Another reason why the Switch has no backwards compatibility with the 3DS is because of the vast difference in their physical external hardware.

After all, the 3DS has two screens, both of which have different resolutions. This gives the 3DS screens, when put together, a portrait appearance.

The Switch on the other has a large landscape 720p panel.

Some Switch games are played in hand held mode with the screen held vertically instead of horizontally. However, they only use touch screen controls as the Switch is cumbersome to hold when vertical. Plus, you’d don’t have access to shoulder buttons. which you’d need if you were playing 3DS game on the Switch.

Differences in internal hardware

The Switch, on paper, is more than powerful enough to handle any 3DS game you throw it. After all, the Switch is vastly more powerful from a graphical point of view than the 3DS.

For example, the Switch, in handheld mode, produces over 500 Gigaflops of graphical computing power. For comparison, the Xbox one produces 1,200 Gigaflops of computing power.

The 3DS lags way behind with only 4.8 Gigaflops of computing power. That makes the Switch over 100 times more power. In theory, anyway.

So the Switch has the muscle to power through any 3DS game. So what’s the problem?


You see, the 3DS uses multiple CPUs and GPUs. Because the 3DS has two screens, each screen get’s it’s own mini computer to run it. So each screen has its own CPU, GPU, and RAM.

It would take a considerable investment in people hours and money by Nintendo to find a way of engineering an emulation software layer to mimic the 3DS’s internal hardware without slowing the Switch to a crawl.

Nintendo want you to buy their new hardware

Nintendo, for all their fuzzy Yoshi toys and genera-defining karting experiences, is a business. And like all large businesses, all they really care about is making money.

They want to sell you as many games, Toys, T-shirts, controllers, peripherals, and consoles as possible.

So it makes no sense for Nintendo to make the Switch backward compatible with the 3DS. Nintendo wants you to buy new games at $50 each. They certainly don’t want you buying 3DS games preowned on eBay for pennies to play on their new Switch console.

The 3DS’ screen was a fad and Nintendo want to move away from it

I love the Nintendo 3DS screen. I mean, really loved it. In fact, I loved 3D on TVs and in Cinemas. I felt like it added something novel to the experience.

Sadly, 4K TV’s won through and 3D TVs did the Dodo dance and died.

The 3DS surfed the wave of 3D TV’s popularity. But now, we’re all about more pixels. I’m a big believer that it’s not the number of pixels, but how you use the pixels that matter. A 1080p HDR OLED TV offers a vastly better image quality than a 4K LED screen. Plus, 1080p needs nearly 4 times less computing power to draw a game at 60fps than 4k needs. Anyway, rant over. I’ll save all that for another article.

The fact is, people are obsessed with bigger numbers and higher resolution displays. Nintendo knows this, so the 3D screen was deemed surplus fat to be chopped off.

What are Your Alternatives for 3DS Gaming?

Buy a 3DS XL. I promise you, you will not regret it. If you already own one, love and cherish it because it’s a beauty.

In this section, I’ll touch on a few alternatives routes that are open to you that will enable you to keep enjoying your beloved 3DS games.

Let’s take a look.

Jailbreak your Switch to play 3DS games

The first thing you can do, if you’re really tech savvy or really confident is jailbreak your Nintendo Switch.

Jailbreaking your Switch will let you install unauthorized 3d party apps on the Switch including emulators for other consoles. This includes emulators for the 3DS.

However, I must stress that I do not condone these use of emulators. Not only is it a rather technical procedure to install emulators on a Switch, but it also voids your Switch’s warranty. Also, emulators stand on questionable legal grounds.

Personally, I would avoid emulators and just…

Keep your 3DS

That’s right. Forget about whether or not the Switch can play 3DS games.

Instead, just keep it simple: Keep your 3DS. Keep on enjoying the games on it. There is no need to replace it with a Switch. They can live happily together. Plus, 3DS games can be bought dirt cheap, which is always always a bonus.

Upgrade your 3DS

Another option, if you love your 3DS but are disappointed the Switch doesn’t support the 3DS games, is to upgrade your 3DS.

Nintendo released the mighty and rather magnificent 3DS XL and New 3DS XL. These upgrades double the size of the 3DS screens. And, for me, the XL version of the 3DS easily rivals, and even exceeds the Switch for quality on-the-go gaming.

Buy a Switch Lite if you don’t already have one

Another option open to you, if you are all about handheld gaming, is to buy the smaller and cheaper Switch Lite.

This way you can easily keep your Switch and your 3DS in your backpack ready for multi-platform gaming fun.

Wait for Ports of 3DS games to appear on Switch

Another option, though you place yourself at the whims of Nintendo, is to wait for ports and remakes of classic 3DS games to appear on the Nintendo Switch.

Some games such as Resident Evil: Revelations, The Ace Attorney Trilogy, and Monster Hunter Generations have already been ported over.

However, there are thousands of 3DS games that, sadly, will never see the light of a clear sky’s day on the Nintendo Switch.

So, again, I think your best option is to wait and see what Nintendo release before trading in your 3DS.


It wouldn’t be one of my articles without a handy little summary at the end to reinforce all the best points from the article. So, before I ramble on any more, here’s the summary:

  • There a number of reasons the Switch can’t play 3DS games. these include:
    • The difference in game cartridge size
    • Switch already costs a lot to make
    • Differences in physical hardware
    • There’s a difference in internal hardware
    • Nintendo wants you to move away from the 3DS and buy a Switch
    • 3DS screen was seen as a fad by Nintendo
  • In the meantime, if you love playing games on your 3DS I recommend you hold on to it and keep enjoying it.


What should I do if my 3DS breaks? Well, they can be fixed, depending on what is broken. However, your best bet is to hunt down a used 3DS on eBay.

Nick Sinclair

Nick Sinclair, a gaming aficionado since the Commodore 64 era, studied Creative Computer Games Design in university before founding his own gaming company. Discovering a passion for content creation, Nick now helps gamers squeeze every drop of fun out of their favorite gaming hardware

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