This article originally appeared at Den of Geek UK.
The news wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but it was a little sad nevertheless: on January 19, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime announced that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would be the last first-party game for the Wii U.
From a software standpoint, this brings the struggling console’s life to a quiet end, less than six years after its launch in November 2012. The Wii U, it seemed, had the odds stacked against it from the very beginning; with that awkward-sounding name and chunky-looking controller, it lacked the immediately understandable simplicity of its predecessor.
The system offered the HD resolution sorely missing from the Wii, yet the much more powerful PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were just around the corner. The Wii U had the clear appeal of first-party Nintendo games – from the very beginning, Mario Kart, Super Mario, and Smash Bros games were inevitable – yet the support from third-party developers was conspicuously lacking.
A price cut in 2013 helped boost the Wii U’s sales for a while, but the system’s fortunes were decidedly muted when compared to the storming success of the Wii: over the course of its lifetime, the Wii reportedly sold over 100m units. As of 2016, the Wii U sold fewer than 15m.
As we’ve said in the past, sales do not a great console make. And although the Wii U may have been a disappointment for Nintendo in financial terms, its turbulent history has produced some genuinely brilliant games. As Nintendo clears the way for the Switch, out in March, here’s a look at a few of our absolute favorite, system-exclusive Wii U games – titles that deserve a little more love and, we suspect, go on to cult status in the years ahead. So with apologies to the console’s big hitters – sorry, Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World, Splatoon, and Smash Bros – here’s our pick of under-appreciated Wii U games…
One of the earliest games available for the Wii U, ZombiU was a survival horror game aimed at a slightly older audience – possibly to counter the common accusations that the system’s predecessor was squarely pitched at “casual” gamers. ZombiU may not have been a massive system seller, but it was intense, engrossing, and made a really inventive use of the GamePad’s touchscreen.
Putting the player in control of a group of survivors in the midst of a zombie-infested London, the game favors planning and accuracy over thunderous gunplay, making it a game that’s as smart and challenging as it is gory and violent.
The original Bayonetta was one of the best brawlers of its generation, and its sequel is just as ferocious and addictive: the bosses are huge and wildly over-the-top, the action so fast that it’s almost vertigo-inducing. A refinement of the previous game rather than a giant leap forward, it’s still the kind of game you’ll want to keep playing through just to see if you can improve your grades or revisit your favorite combo attacks.
An early printing of Bayonetta 2 came with a port of the first game. For the full Bayonetta experience, it’s well worth trying to get hold of both. If you love fighting games, you won’t regret it.
Like Wii Sports before it, Nintendo Land is a pack-in game designed to show off the console’s unique control scheme. In what could be seen as an ongoing theme for the Wii U, however, Nintendo Land is far more off-the-wall than Wii Sports – instead of boxing, bowling, or tennis, you get a string of mini-games, each based on characters and classic games from Nintendo’s back catalog. To younger players or those less interested in Japanese game history, the references probably won’t mean much – Octopus Dance is based on a half-forgotten Game & Watch title, for example – but for Nintendo fans, they’re thoroughly charming.
There are also some great ideas in here, such as Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, where you have to guide a little cart through an assault course by gently tilting the GamePad to the left or right; or Balloon Trip Breeze, a riff on Balloon Fight, where you indirectly guide your character by “drawing” gusts of wind on the GamePad screen.
Our favorite of the lot is Takamaru’s Ninja Castle: set in a world made entirely of origami objects and characters, the object is to destroy enemy ninjas by throwing shuriken at them. You do this by holding the GamePad in the palm of your hand, aiming it at the screen, and flicking the ninja stars by rapidly drawing your finger across the screen. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s intuitive and incredibly satisfyin – a hint of the kind of unusual control methods that could have been employed by other game designers had the system taken off.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Here’s an example of how Nintendo can take a simple idea and turn it into a small yet perfectly-formed game in its own right. A spin-off from Super Mario 3D World, it’s an action puzzler largely viewed from a remote, vaguely isometric viewpoint. You control Toad – kitted out in an adorable backpack and headlamp – who’s on the hunt for the gold stars hidden on each level.
In Super Mario Bros 2 style, Toad can pull up turnips and throw them at enemies, while that huge hammer out of Donkey Kong also makes an appearance. The main challenge comes from simply navigating your way around the increasingly intricate course designs, some of which can be twisted and manipulated like a Rubik’s cube. Although dismissed as overly simplistic by some critics at launch, Treasure Tracker‘s a game with far more depth, detail, and charm than a casual glance implies.
Dynasty Warriors and the Zelda franchise collide in one of the best pure action games available for the Wii U. The combat has less depth than Bayonetta 2, which thrived on its combos and precision, but Hyrule Warriors nevertheless delivers in terms of its frantic pace and satisfying sense of solidity. Couple this with all the familiar characters, sounds, and locations from the main series, and you have a really great Zelda spin-off. Here’s hoping we get another one of these on Switch.
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse
If we’re being honest, this Kirby spin-off, derived from the 2005 game Kirby: Canvas Curse on the DS, probably would’ve been better served as a lower-budget digital offering than a full-priced, boxed release. But while the action’s simple, it’s beautifully made and full of clever touches. Like its predecessor, the game requires the careful placement of rainbow-colored lines, which function as makeshift platforms for Kirby. As the spherical Kirby barrels uncontrollably through each stage, it’s up to you to guide him away from danger and towards the exit at the end, collecting precious stars along the way.
Rainbow Curse takes advantage of the Wii U’s HD display with its gorgeous art style, where every character and background object appears to have been crafted from modelling clay. This may not be the most challenging game on the Wii U, but it’s undoubtedly one of the best looking.
The Wonderful 101
From the designer of such corking games as Viewtiful Joe and Bayonetta, The Wonderful 101 is delightfully quirky title that mixes the strategy of Pikmin with the action of a beat ’em up. You control an increasingly large crowd of superheroes, who can travel around the map in a busy cluster or can, through a range of gestures, be combined together to create a “Unite Morph,” which can unleash devastating attacks on enemies.
Complaints about the wayward camera system aren’t unfounded, and Wonderful 101 is probably a bit too odd to capture a mainstream audience’s imagination. But if you’re looking for a fast-paced, colorful, and hugely challenging game with plenty of inventive twists, The Wonderful 101 is well worth tracking down.
If you’ve played the earlier Pikmin games you’ll know what to expect here: a real-time strategy game with all the craft you’d want from a Nintendo title. Beneath that fluffy exterior there lurks a heart of ice – as Captain Olimar uses his army of sentient vegetables to defeat enemies and traverse the landscape, the collateral damage is borderline horrifying. Munched by enemies, drowned in puddles, or burned alive – in Pikmin, death lurks around every corner.
Pikmin 3 adds two extra kinds of Pikmin to help you on your missions, and the GamePad is put to decent use, but the best addition is arguably Bingo Battle. A split-screen competitive mode for two players, it’s an enormous amount of fun, and it’s a pity Nintendo didn’t make more of it in Pikmin 3‘s marketing – it’s one of the cleverest and most intense multiplayer experiences this side of Mario Kart.
There are lots of games available from Nintendo’s eShop, but Pushmo World (also known as Pullblox World) is one of the very best. A sequel to Pushmo and Crashmo, the object of the game is to manipulate blocks in order to guide your little feline hero, Mallo, to the end of each stage where one of your friends is trapped.
On early levels, the solution can be as simple as pulling out a couple of blocks to create a makeshift set of stairs; like Captain Toad, the designs grow ever more fiendish. Even when the puzzles get really taxing, however, the charming design of it all means you can’t get too mad at Pushmo World. Oh, and beware: you’ll be humming the catchy music for days…
Yoshi’s Woolly World
The Wii played host to Kirby’s Epic Yarn, a charming platformer set in a colorful world of wool, cloth, and shiny buttons. As its name implies, Yoshi’s Woolly World attaches the same aesthetic to Nintendo’s hungry dinosaur, marking the character’s first console outing since the late 90s. It’s another accessible and effective game, but unlike Epic Yarn, Woolly World gets really challenging in its later stages. The gorgeous level designs and sheer charm will keep you playing to the very end, though, and Woolly World is even more entertaining in co-op mode.
Lego City Undercover
If you’ve played TT Games’ long-running series of Lego games based on movie and comic book franchises – Star Wars, Harry Potter, that kind of thing – you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in for more of the same in Lego City Undercover. Far from it. A sandbox action game with a typically effervescent line in humor, Undercover is vastly more open and varied than Telltale’s more linear collect-a-thons.
Although the game’s about cops versus robbers (with the player cast as undercover lawman Chase McCain), it almost feels like a parody of the Grand Theft Auto series, complete with cars to commandeer and drive at reckless speeds, bad guys to beat up, and missions to complete in whatever order you fancy.
Aside from the entertaining core game, the story is absolutely packed with movie references and parodies – a safe opens to the strains of “Ode to Joy,” as in Die Hard. Another sequence is lifted straight out of Goodfellas. It really is a great game – perhaps the best third-party game ever made for the Wii U – and marred only slightly by the inordinately long loading times.
Honourable mentions: Star Fox Zero (we were never sold on those GamePad controls, but it was still a welcome return for the series), Paper Mario Color Splash (not the best game in the Paper Mario run, but still full of fun and invention).