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Late last year, almost exactly four years after its launch, the last Wii U rolled off the production line. During its short lifetime, the Wii U was often misunderstood, not helped by a mangled marketing campaign and general confusion as to how to best utilise its unique second screen. History will no doubt view it as Nintendo’s folly, but despite its small install base and relatively slim catalogue of games, it was home to some of the very best titles of its generation.
We spent a long time trying to come up with a definitive top ten list of the best Wii U games, which turned out to be a surprisingly difficult job. Here’s what we came up with – be prepared for a few surprises…
10. Toki Tori 2+
GreilMercs (review) – The first Toki Tori game (originally for the Game Boy Color) ranks as one of my favorite puzzle games ever, so I had high hopes for its sequel. The game is perhaps a bit too ambitious and sprawling, but the core mechanics are solid. Toki Tori, a yellow chicken who serves as the game’s protagonist, only has two moves, stomping to repel creatures and whistling to attract them. These combine with a menagerie of colorful characters for Toki Tori to interact with (including birds, crabs, and bats) and lead to a surprising amount of variety to the puzzles. The game is at times a bit frustrating and obtuse, but it’s oftentimes relaxing as well, and overall it’s a lot of fun and quite memorable.
9. Mario Kart 8
Lucius – When Nintendo announced Mario Kart 8, I wasn’t too excited. The last couple of entries in the series didn’t set my world alight, and I wondered whether it was time the series was put out to pasture. But my god it’s good. The course design is what makes it so special – swooping, whirling roller-coasters utterly packed with detail, all swishing by at terrific speeds in a whirl of colour. The game barely left my Wii U disc tray for the best part of a year – thanks in part to the generous, excellent DLC, which finally saw characters from other Nintendo series welcomed into the line up. And the music! Such amazing tunes… All in all, it’s by far the pinnacle of the Mario Kart series, only let down by a slightly subpar Battle Mode.
GreilMercs (review) – To be honest, I found Mario Kart 8 to be fairly underwhelming, and I didn’t feel like the HD graphics and anti-gravity mechanics brought much new to the series. Still, it’s a solid multiplayer game (despite its lack of traditional battle arenas), and the weightier physics of the karts added a bit of realism – well, as much as can be said for a game in which you can carry around a Piranha Plant and shrink opponents with a lightning bolt. The DLC, which expanded the Kart world to include other Nintendo IPs, added some variety to the proceedings. The game has only been bettered with its rerelease on Switch, which is certainly the definitive version.
8. Super Mario 3D World
GreilMercs (review) – Super Mario 3D World fulfilled the promise of 3DS’s Super Mario 3D Land, and completely fulfilled the development team’s goal of marrying the straightforward 2D gameplay of the classic Mario games with the variety and freedom of the 3D games, not to mention including a fun and smooth multiplayer experience. The game adds more new mechanics and power ups than most of the games in the series, including the Double Cherry, Goomba Mask, Cannon Box, Light Box, a Piranha Plant you can carry, and, of course, the Cat Suit. Playing as the reunited cast of Super Mario Bros. 2 with their trademark special abilities is a blast, and the secret unlockable character was a great surprise and feels right at home with the rest of the group. The game feels like a successful and satisfying culmination of Nintendo’s 2D and 3D Mario games, and it will be fascinating to see how they top this one.
Lucius – I just couldn’t get into New Super Mario Bros. U, and I feared that perhaps I was falling out of love with Mario games – but then this beast came along and reminded me why Mario is so bloody great. The sheer number of ideas on display is astonishing – it will introduce a new mechanic but then discard it after just one level, before bringing in something entirely new on the next one. You could easily build an entire game around one of the ideas used in just one level of Super Mario 3D World… and in fact they did just that. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is an excellent spin-off game in its own right, but in Super Mario 3D World the Toad levels are just one tiny facet of a glorious whole.
7. Super Mario Maker
GreilMercs (review) – I generally shy away from games that focus on creating levels and such, but of course I had to check out Super Mario Maker. The lack of a story mode or sense of progression is offset by the sheer amount of variety of the official and user-submitted levels, much more than you might first think given the finite number of elements available. Although there are a lot of disposable submissions and boring “don’t move” Rube Goldberg-type levels, it’s not hard to find users whose creations easily rival Nintendo’s own level designers. The best levels are the ones that take the familiar Mario elements and make something new with a distinctly non-Nintendo feel, such as head-scratching puzzle levels. The game is surprisingly fun, and a refreshing change of pace from the Newer Super Mario Bros. series, which has for far too long been the default 2D Mario game experience.
6. Xenoblade Chronicles X
Lucius (review) – I’ve put around 130 hours into this game and finished the main story, but there’s easily enough content to keep me playing for another 130 hours – or more. The game is simply HUGE. And because of this, it nails the feeling of exploration, as you push your way ever further into the depths of unfamiliar and hostile continents. Like its predecessor, the sheer scale of the monsters you face is flabbergasting, and you’ll regularly be dwarfed by dinosaurs the size of buildings. After spending most of the game running away from these behemoths, there’s an enormous sense of satisfaction at returning towards the end of the game and smiting them with suitably souped up weaponry. Special mention should also go to the crazy story, which starts off with the Earth being destroyed – as openers go, it’s a strong one.
5. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
GreilMercs (review) – The lead-up to any Smash Bros. game is full of speculation and ridiculous amounts of hype, and the lead-up to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (and 3DS) was no exception. It would of course be impossible for everyone’s favorite character to be included, but director Sakurai did a great job of adding another batch of new and surprising characters to the roster, many of whom had unique mechanics, such as Rosalina and Luma, Little Mac, Shulk, and Wii Fit Trainer. The game is overflowing with modes, including a surprisingly fun board game type multiplayer experience. Although the game isn’t as much of a step forward as Melee or Brawl, it’s still a game that you could (and people do) easily spend hours upon hours mastering, or just pick up every once in a while for some fun with friends.
Lucius (review) – I had an absolute blast with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U when I first got it. The unimpeachable roster of characters was undoubtedly the highlight, with everyone from Captain Olimar to the dog from Duck Hunt being represented, and there were even a few surprising debuts from non-Nintendo characters, such as Sonic and Pac-Man. The sheer range of playing modes on offer is astounding, and the trophies are brilliant bites of nostalgia, referencing all sorts of long-forgotten Nintendo lore. In the end though, I just found the game wasn’t for me – my interest in fighting games has waned dramatically over the years, and my friends found the multiplayer chaotic and too confusing to enjoy. That said, I can still appreciate that this is easily the pinnacle of the Smash series.
4. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
Lucius (review) – This was my first Monster Hunter game, and it dug its claws in deep. It’s a hard game to get into, but thankfully I had my MH-loving sister on hand to guide me through the game’s complexities and arcane stats. Once I’d got my head around the idea that the only way to ‘level up’ was to make better armour from bits of the beasts you slay, I spent many happy hours gleefully chopping my way through monsters with an eye on the next fancy outfit I had in mind. And speaking of monsters, the sheer variety of them is phenomenal – and they don’t go down easy, either. Each hunt is a tense game of cat and mouse, first tracking the animal down and then gradually learning its attacks, before carefully laying a trap or going in for the kill. There’s nothing else quite like it out there, and I for one am an eager Monster Hunter convert.
GreilMercs (review) – I missed out on Monster Hunter Tri for Wii, so Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was my first real experience with the series. I was wary of the series’ infamously high difficulty curve, but it actually wasn’t too bad, and I spent many an obsessive hour playing the game and then studying up on the nuances of the game’s mechanics online. The gameplay loop, of fighting monsters to gain parts to make better weapons and armor to fight tougher monsters to make better weapons and armor (…) is addictive, and although I definitely feel like I’m missing out on the multiplayer side of things I still had a lot of fun playing solo.
3. Hyrule Warriors
GreilMercs (review) – I was pretty obsessed with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, but that did not even begin to compare with how obsessed I got with Hyrule Warriors. I’d always been wary of the Dynasty Warriors games because every review I’d read of the games stressed how repetitive the gameplay is, but Hyrule Warriors has so many characters and weapons and adds so many other objectives that you hardly notice it. Levelling up characters, defeating enemies in order to collect materials, and working through the story mode is pretty fun, but completing the adventure mode challenges to unlock new characters, weapons, and costumes is where the game goes from fun to seriously addictive. The Zelda trappings are what tie everything together, and the amount of fanservice is simply fantastic, fulfilling fans long-time fantasies of getting to play as series’ favorites, such as Midna, Ganondorf, Zelda herself, and… Tingle?? A complete surprise to me that it ranks so high on my list of favorite Wii U games, but it’s really that good.
Lucius – I only played the 3DS version of this game – Hyrule Warriors Legends – but bar a slight graphical downgrade, it’s essentially the same experience. And what an experience it is. Fusing the musou gameplay of Dynasty Warriors with the Zelda universe was a stroke of genius, and the generous list of characters to play with, along with a massive Adventure Mode that takes place on the original Legend of Zelda map, rounds off an extremely generous package that shows real love for the fiction. Like all musou games, the gameplay can become a little repetitive, but slicing down armies of soldiers with one swipe of the Master Sword always brings a smile to my face.
2. Pikmin 3
Lucius (review) – My only complaint about this game is that there simply wasn’t enough of it. I burned through the whole thing in a few days, all the time with a joyous grin plastered across my face. The move to HD has been an absolute boon for Pikmin, and the sumptuous environments are worth exploring simply to see the detail that’s been put into them. And the fruit! Surely if there was a prize for Best Looking Fruit in a Video Game, Pikmin 3 would win the contest without problem. Seriously, that fruit is beautiful. I actually remember spinning around a 3D model of an apple for about 15 minutes, just marvelling at its pores. Fruit aside though, this game easily bests the previous two in terms of fun and strategy – it’s just a shame we had to wait nine years for it. Hopefully Pikmin 4 will be a little quicker in coming.
GreilMercs (review) – I’d played and really enjoyed the first Pikmin game and had been pretty bored with the slow pace of Pikmin 2, but I got ensnared by Pikmin 3‘s absolutely perfect progression and found myself finishing the game in a ridiculously few number of sittings. The gameplay isn’t much different from its two predecessors, but this is a case where Nintendo’s level of polish really elevates this game to its lofty position among the Wii U’s library. The Wii U’s GamePad is super handy, and this was one of the few Wii U games where I felt the boost in graphics really improved the overall experience. The multiplayer modes are quite fun also.
GreilMercs (review) – The impact of Splatoon can perhaps best be described as doing for shooters what Mario Kart did for racing games: made them fun for everyone. The game is a sublime mix of fresh parts within its core gameplay, including providing multiple objectives (painting turf vs. splatting enemies) and multiple styles of movement (moving as a kid and shooting with your gun vs. hiding or swimming in the paint as a squid, including up walls). There are tons of modes and weapons, and the neon aesthetics, funky music, memorable new characters, and fun and colorful street style combine with the superbly elegant, “just one more round” gameplay to create a fantastically fun experience. Easily the best new IP from Nintendo that appeared on Wii U, or any Nintendo system for that matter. The only weak link was a somewhat ho-hum single-player campaign, although that may be remedied in the forthcoming sequel on Switch.
Lucius – OK, confession here. Despite owning this game, I’ve only played about half of the single-player mode, and I’ve never tried it online. And yet here it is at number one. Why? Well, for a start, Prof. GreilMercs is VERY EMPHATIC that this is clearly the best game ever released on Wii U, and who am I to disagree with him? For another thing, online shooters are never going to be my cup of tea, but I can easily appreciate just how important and ground-breaking this game is – trust Nintendo to come up with a highly competitive FPS with no blood or violence. It can be done! Plus the Inklings are a simply awesome piece of character design – I have two of them in amiibo form sat staring at me on my desk right now. The single-player game is also wonderfully designed, full of ingenious levels and satisfying mechanics – just the act of shooting your ink gun is a joy. So, like Smash Bros., this game may not be my personal favourite simply because of its genre – but I am very, very glad it exists.
We debated for ages about the running order of the top ten. Here are some of the games that got pipped at the post: Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE#, New Super Luigi U, Bayonetta 2, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Little Inferno.
You’re probably wondering why on earth Breath of the Wild isn’t at number one, let alone not even in the top ten. Well, controversially, Professor GM isn’t a massive fan of it, and Lucius hasn’t played it yet, so it was mercilessly chopped from the running early on. We seriously considered a place for Little Inferno in the top ten right up to the end, having both enjoyed it immensely, but finally we decided it was a bit too slight to muscle out the big boys. Lucius also fought for Affordable Space Adventures to have some representation, but it was eventually nuzzled out of the running by Toki Tori 2+.
So what do you agree with on our list? Let us know your own top ten in the comments below!