The Wii U may finally be coming into its own, an odd turn of events that one might not have predicted several months ago when it had very little interesting software and faced looming competition from the Xbox One and PS4. Game selection has greatly improved, with stellar first-party titles and some creative offerings from third-party devs.
While I understand that most buyers will probably opt for a PS4/XB1 this season, if you have any interest in the Wii U (because it’s cheaper, has flash memory, is family-friendly, and already has many of the overhyped TV integration features of the XB1), here’s a quick primer to the platform’s top games. All of these are exclusive to the platform, though it may be worth your time to look at some ports like Assassin’s Creed 3/4 and Deus Ex Human Revolution Director’s Cut.
- Super Mario 3D World – this is an obvious choice. In much the same way that Super Mario 3D Land illuminated the possibilities of the 3DS, its successor does the same for the Wii U. 3D World carries over the best features of its 3DS predecessor, such as the fascinating use of perspective and lighting, while adding a welcome dose of HD graphics, new power-ups, and excellent co-op play. The cat costume (inexplicably obtained by absorbing a bell…but I’m long past trying to make sense of the Mario universe’s logic) is the funnest power-up since the flying tail/ears from Super Mario Bros. 3 (remember The Wizard?). Levels throw the player for a loop with tricky changes in perspective, sublime usage of shadow, and certain areas/items that require the use of the new cherry power-up, which produces two identical Marios/Luigis/Toads/Peaches. This game was built for co-op play, with its differently optimized characters.
- The Wonderful 101 – I flirted with the idea of putting this at number one, but it’s too weird for some gamers, especially the kids who constitute much of the Wii U’s target audience. The Wonderful 101 is a superhero game in which an expandable group of heroes – each with his/her own distinctive powers – try to ward off an alien invasion of earth. It sounds like a ho-hum premise, but the execution make all the difference. No Wii U game, not even Nintendo’s offerings, make better use of the Game Pad, which is used here for drawing attack patterns, navigating through buildings, and tracking items on radar. No level is like the previous one, and the boss battles are endlessly creative. I compared this game to Battletoads, and I think the comparison still fits – it’s varied, cutting-edge, and often quite difficult. The multiplayer mode is fun and mercifully must less sadistic than Battletoads’ impossible co-op mode.
- ZombiU – it feels like every console gets the obligatory first-person shooter title early in its lifespan, which range from the great (GoldenEye for the N64) to the not so great (Perfect Dark Zero for the Xbox 360). ZombiU is far from a run-of-the-mill launch FPS, however. It blends elements of FPS and horror/survival, resulting in a rugged survivalist game in which the player has to fight off undead hordes with not much more than a cricket bat and the occasional firearm. Ammo is precious in ZombiU, as is life – dying forces you to become an entirely new, totally reset character who is likely to encounter his/her predecessor’s zombified form. Like The Wonderful 101, ZombiU stretches the Game Pad to its limits, using it to open doors, acquire vaccines, scan areas, and much more. Too bad that Ubisoft axed the sequel.
- Pikmin 3 – This game arguably began the console’s turnaround. It’s a bit on the short side, but the graphics, attention to detail, and gameplay show how versatile the Wii U is. The controls are a little wonky since the Nunchuk is more accurate but less informative than the Game Pad. Otherwise, this is a strong and breezy play-through.
- Nintendo Land – Nintendo has always done pack-in titles very well, and Nintendo Land is no exception. It doesn’t really have a story, but it works on several levels. It’s a great primer on the Wii U’s capabilities – each mini game does something a bit different, from co-op play with Game Pad and Wiimote in the Zelda game to Game Pad-controlled steering in the F-Zero game. It’s also a fun game in its own right, with challenging sequences like the ninja gallery shooter game.