With the next generation of consoles just around the corner, now is as good a time as any to appreciate what has come before.
And just from reading the title alone, I know what you’re thinking - but hear me out! Even though the Wii U was a commercial and financial flop, and was essentially an HD Wii with a touch-pad; the Wii U curated so many unique and enthralling experiences, that (for now) are exclusive to the console.
I doubt the Wii U could ever reach the level of nostalgic cultural reverence that Sega’s Dreamcast achieved, but the catalogue of gems produced during the Wii U’s era is nothing to be scoffed at.
The lucky ones that did make the switch to the Switch garnered the attention and acclaim they deserve, having these games more accessible on a successful console with a comparatively gargantuan player base.
Titles such as: Mario Kart 8 (Deluxe), The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Pikmin 3 (Deluxe), Splatoon 2, Hyrule Warriors (Definitive Edition), and Pokkén Tournament (DX).
By all means, pick any of them up on whichever platform suits your preference; although it goes without saying that if you own a Switch (or plan on doing so), the games listed above have more to offer in their latest iterations.
And so, here are seven games to help you know where to start with the Wii U.
Nintendo Land (2012)
What should have been the system’s “killer app”, like how pivotal Wii Sports was to the launch and success of the Wii back in 2006; Nintendo Land was primed to be the exemplar for exhibiting the capabilities of the Wii U and its contentious “GamePad”.
The fictional theme park is home to 12 unique “attractions”, comprising Nintendo's intellectual properties - from the obscure to their more beloved and well-known franchises. Those 12 mini-games are divided into three types of experiences: Half of which are single-player “Solo Attractions” (“Donkey Kong’s Crash Course” - presented as a toy obstacle course, being the most replayable and enjoyable out of the lot), plus three other “Team Attractions” (The Legend of Zelda inspired on-rails shooter/slasher having impressive longevity and depth compared to every other mini-game of its ilk).
A majority of the virtual experiences are pretty much “one-and-done” affairs. Nevertheless, the biggest strength that the eponymous amusement park has to offer is in its “Competitive Attractions”: “Mario Chase”, “Luigi’s Ghost Mansion”, and “Animal Crossing’s Sweet Day”. All of which are variants of the 1 v 4 player asymmetric gameplay style, that you can easily sink hours upon hours of enjoyment into - and will always cause a ruckus no matter who you play with.
As an introduction to the system, Nintendo Land is an essential game with a diverse multitude of mini-games that you shouldn’t sleep on!
(1 Player Campaign / 2 Player Versus Mode)
Being the best survival horror & first-person shooter on the Wii U must feel about as validating as being awarded a participation trophy for existing. Although something that may come as a surprise is that the Wii U version of ZombiU is the definitive iteration of the game (having been ported to the PS4 and Xbox One). This is largely thanks to Ubisoft actually using the GamePad, being your integral way of scavenging & managing your inventory.
When looting downed zombies and lockers, you are still always vulnerable to attack, as the game still plays on your TV in the background while you’re busy focusing on the GamePad; manually moving items of interest from their inventory into your backpack. The same goes for hacking computers and picking locks - Moments like these elevate ZombiU from being another generic zombie game to a must-play experience for those even morbidly curious.
And this ain’t a casual stroll through Hyde Park either, the streets of London are stacked with determined undead that are adamant to munch on you - like a pack of mad-lads, peckish for “a cheeky Nandos”. You play as a random uninfected Londoner, smack dab in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. Given set objectives by an unknown voice, you're responsible for aiding those leading the fight to survive and cure the populace.
In hindsight, you can see Ubisoft prepping ZombiU as a proto-Watch Dogs: Legion: Both are set in a dystopian near-future version of London, they don’t have a set protagonist - but a wide variety of playable characters, and their implementation of permadeath (meaning that if your character dies, they’re gone; and you get a new character to use!).
If you’ve been clawing for an interesting take on the zombie-survival genre, this may scratch that itch (even if it’s only for the novelty of it!).
Wii Party U (2013)
AKA the dorkiest game on the dorkiest of modern consoles. You can imagine someone rocking up to a house party with a copy of Wii Party U in one hand, a Wii U in the other, and a cheshire cat smile with a stare as hollow as the void.
Its existence feels fictional - like its natural habitat should only be in Wii U adverts or royalty-free corporate videos. Whenever we do get around to playing Wii Party U, I have to check to make sure that - No, I’m not on a soundstage, Yes, there are four walls around me, and No, I’m not getting paid to say that I’m enjoying this. We are all genuinely having a blast.
Where Nintendo Land had about three or so outstanding multiplayer mini-games, Wii Party U boasts eighty mini-games and four different modes of play:
- You have five flavours of the Mario Party game board formula in “TV Party”, (I’d highly recommend “The Balldozer”, of which is essentially a coin pusher… but with wooden balls!).
- “House Party”, which is a collection of eight 10-20 minute games (a family favourite being “Sketchy Situation”: everyone draws the same object, place, or thing, except for one player who gets a different prompt. Whereby everyone must decide who among them is the odd one out).
- “GamePad Party”, which uses the aforementioned GamePad as a tabletop arcade game a lá Tabletop football, baseball, air hockey, and other simulated mechanical toys (something the switch could just as easily replicate!).
- Lastly, where you’ll most likely be playing the most: the “Minigames” section; comprising seven gauntlet style minigame marathons.
Wii Party U - without a doubt, should be your go-to choice. The volume and variety of mini-games included
Yoshi’s Woolly World (2015)
After almost two decades, Nintendo decided to unearth this dinosaur of a game series and resurrect this fossil back to life. Yoshi’s Woolly World sees the titular T-rex transformed into yarn, along with his entire dimension it seems. I guess that’s not really the main problem in this version of Yoshi’s reality, as all but him and a mate of his have become deconstructed knit kits of their former selves.
As if Yoshi’s Story was preserved in amber, the core gameplay in Woolly World feels just as it once did back in the time that land forgot… 1997 A.D. Even though the threads from the original game are deeply woven into Woolly World, everything about the sequel has evolved far beyond its predecessor - as the yarn aesthetic builds upon the staples of its past so naturally. Not only adding even more charm to a series that is already abundant with character, but also how the blueprints of the past link so effortlessly with the adorable crochet and hand-crafted theming as first seen in Kirby’s Epic Yarn.
Virtual cwtch (hug) simulator Yoshi’s Wooly World is a cosy choice for those looking for a slower-paced, easy-going co-op caper; best experienced on a rainy day, with some hot cocoa, underneath a blanket fort and fairy lights.
Pushmo World [US] / Pullbox World [PAL] (2014)
Essentially “Catherine” for kids, Pushmo World sees you (a marshmallowy sumo abomination) scale a wall made from blocks that can be manipulated towards or away from your perspective. And that’s the game. But from its simplicity, comes its ingenuity from making 250 levels feel fresh and engaging throughout.
The puzzles progressively become more challenging to complete, in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling like a total buffoon, nor that the stage is ever unjustly difficult to solve. It’s quite a relief then, that if you do find yourself staring through your window, wondering how you got so far in life without being nominated for a Darwin Award; that you’re able to skip a level ahead, and return whenever you’ve built up your mental fortitude as to restore your bruised ego.
It’s a neat touch that when you traverse to the mountain’s summit of the 250 trials and master the art Pushmo-Jitsu - you are then granted access to the level editor to create your own stages! It’s a fun, distilled puzzle platformer that could just as well be on the Switch; but for now, it can be found on the Wii U’s eShop.
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse / Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush [PAL] (2015)
We are all suckers for the adorable. It's hardwired in our primate brains to protect, tend to, and squish widdle dinky twee cute things; and by now - I think it’s well established how marketable cuteness truly is. To the point where concentrated “kawaii” can be deconstructed into a ball that barely has any appendages, or a face. It's perfection in minimalist expressionism.
Maybe Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is too cavity inducingly sweet for mere mortals to consume, or perhaps we should have learnt long ago that Play-Doh shouldn’t be eaten. All the same, if you are open and willing to receive Kirby in his full plasticine cuteness, thou shalt be bestowed with what the elders would describe as - “a good time”.
From the gameplay alone, you can tell this would be right at home on a DS, and you’d be correct; as Rainbow Curse is a quasi-sequel to 2005’s Kirby: Canvas Curse - both of which rely heavily on the stylus and touch screen controls.
This particular game sold me on the faint prospect of the Wii U being a home for long-lost DS games; as Rainbow Curse demonstrated how it was possible to take those handheld experiences and bring them to the big(ger) screen. That dream did become somewhat of a reality, having hosted 30 DS titles towards the end of the Wii U’s life cycle. And the concept of the Switch being a combination of both a home console and handheld device, showed that Nintendo did indeed succeed on that front. But I suppose the fantasy of the Wii U being a DS TV console was a tad too far-fetched when hardly anyone bought the damn thing!
Sorry, was I supposed to be talking about Kirby? Yes, it’s a great game, now go away and let me grieve over what could have been.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (2013)
Having a Nintendo console without a Zelda title is about as sacrilege as it gets for most. It’s almost a rite of passage to have a Zelda experience, and have a favourite title.
Although the Wii U didn’t get a Legend of Zelda to call its own, it did offer two stellar remasters in the GameCube’s The Wind Waker, and the Wii’s Twilight Princess - as well as hosting the Switch’s launch day show - ”Epona”; Breath of the Wild. A “Triforce” of choice, each having their own strengths and differences between themselves. That being said, if you had to pick just one - Wind Waker HD is an absolute gem to behold.
It’s no controversial statement that Link as a character is about as dynamic in personality as a cardboard box. It’s intentional that he’s but a vessel for the player to control, devoid of purpose other than to complete the quest that's directly in front of him; and the personality that is lost on him is abundant in the world that he inhabits… but what if we gave him an ounce of sass?
This iteration of Link is so refreshingly expressive and sassy. That this little green mute and his subtle attitude heightens an already wonderful adventure. There was so much enjoyment to be had just by Link’s reactions to things around him, that I found myself taking selfies and making it head-canon that he was an Instagram influencer, documenting his grand swashbuckling escapade as just another inconvenience; indifferent to the world’s impending doom - as he’s gotta take another selfie for the ‘gram.
And you will be taking photos, I don't doubt it! Wind Waker HD has been beautifully adapted from its GameCube origins, although it doesn’t seem like they needed to do much to enhance the visual fidelity as the cel-shaded art style worked so well in its original state. There’s an air of timelessness that permeates the game throughout, and the momentum continues with the additional amenities included in the remaster. Luxuries such as improved quests, streamlined sailing sections, intuitive use of motion controls, and none of that stop/start map and inventory management - as you can access everything from the GamePad’s screen, which allows the game to flow effortlessly.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD aims true to what a remaster should be: everything great about the original, all the while enhancing the experience beyond its original capabilities. A perfect way to bookend your time with the Wii U.
As a side note - It’s also worth knowing, dear prospective Wii U owner; that you are quite spoiled for choice for how many Legend of Zelda games you can own on the console! Implementing the Wii’s Virtual Console, you’re open to eight quintessential classic games from the franchise spanning 23 years: The Legend of Zelda (NES), The Adventure of Link (NES), A Link to the Past (SNES), Ocarina of Time (N64), Majora’s Mask (N64), The Minish Cap (GBA), Phantom Hourglass (DS),and Spirit Tracks (DS) - as well as having backwards compatibility with the Wii’s Skyward Sword.
WII BID U, ADIEU
Those are just seven games that showcased the potential of the Wii U. Was there any titles we’ve missed that found their definitive versions tethered to the GamePad cladded console? What would you like to see ported over onto the Switch?