Happy Fifth Birthday Wii U- Oh, OK Then

Wow, what a nifty device!

Ranking my favourite games on a Nintendo console right around some major multiple-of-five anniversary has been one of the most consistent things I’ve been able to do on this blog, not to mention one of my favourite kinds of post to write. But never before have I been able to so comprehensively make one such list on the first possible milestone. The Wii U is well and truly done and has been for months, but here we are on its five-year anniversary of release in Australia on November 30th, 2012, and I’m already able to count down my ten favourite games on the thing.

I believe it is Animal Crossing: New Leaf that features a reference within Nintendo’s own studio system to the Wii U’s failure. If you obtain a Wii U console in-game and approach it while it’s on display, you get the pithy message “Great artists aren’t always appreciated in their own time.” It’s a chuckle-worthy bit of self-deprecating humour, but it does contain a grain of truth. Due to its terrible opening 18 months, where a combination of hubris, awful all-around marketing and general industry panic resulted in a more-or-less sealed fate, the Wii U’s “time” was short and unimpressive to the masses. Luckily for the few people who did own one, however, not only did the Wii U boast the widest range of first party Virtual Console titles in the retro gaming service’s history and a pretty wonderful social media environment in the form of Miiverse, but when Nintendo’s back was to the wall, the company sure produced some amazing games. These are my absolute favourites.

Just a quick warning: I cheat on this list. Three times. Without regrets. It’s technically a top 13…

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10. NES Remix (1&2)

Right off the bat we start with two games in one entry, but here’s a sobering thought: NES Remix is the only Wii U-exclusive game to see a sequel on the same console. That’s not why they share a position on this list though – That’d be because they are essentially two halves of one package that come with a combined price tag a fraction of what a full retail release costs. The NES Remix twins represent some of the most fun you can have with a group of friends on the Wii U – and without a strict player number cap to boot. Despite an ostensibly single-player presentation, you can lose lives so quickly in these games that they almost beg to be played in a pass-the-controller group setup. That’s almost exclusively how I played it, at least. Chopping up absolute classics with nonetheless dated mechanics and throwing them into a blender with other, perhaps less stellar 1980s games is a surprisingly effective recipe for uproarious chaos, and I really hope we haven’t seen the end of this mini-franchise.
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9. Nintendo Land / Game & Wario

At first glance, this is a devious rule break, but there’s method to the madness. For as long as these two games have been out in the marketplace (so most of the Wii U’s lifespan), I have maintained that if you splice half of Nintendo Land and half of Game & Wario together to make one five-player party game, you get one of the very best and most unique experiences on the Wii U. Though Nintendo Land gets no shortage of hate for its poorly-received launch game status – and Game & Wario tends to get forgotten entirely – there are some genuine gems to be found across these two wacky titles. The Luigi’s Mansion-inspired ghost game in Nintendo Land was played more times in my house than most other entire games, such is its unironically ingenius 4-vs-1 multiplayer slant, and you can say something similar about Game & Wario‘s Fruit – which pits a room of watchful bystanders against one nervous player trying to blend in amongst a screen full of AI characters. Taking into account the Mario and Animal Crossing themed attractions from the former game and the Pictionary-lite mode / insane ring-toss variation from the latter, it really baffles me why Nintendo never officially paired the two collections in some capacity. No first-party release after these two showcased the one-of-a-kind potential that the Wii U’s control setup could offer.  
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8. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

Persona. It’s a word that will make almost any JPRG fan sit up and take notice, and it absolutely should have been found somewhere in the rather confusing title of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. Despite a premature announcement trailer that hyped up a bona fide Fire Emblem crossover with Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series, the gameplay loop and visual style of this buried gem has much more in common with the storied SMT sub-series Persona, which has only recently broken into the wider gaming consciousness this year. Though it was spoken of within gaming circles as the game to play if you just couldn’t wait for Persona 5 on the PS4, it turns out that Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is no mere entree, and despite sharing much of the same structural Persona DNA it has plenty of worthwhile appeal all its own. In fact it is just as effective when played after Persona 5 is over, because its manically optimistic energy seems like the perfect antidote to the melancholy that the 100-hour PS4 epic can exhibit at times. Though Tokyo Mirage Sessions leans into its J-pop industry aesthetic so emphatically that it is bound to put some people off, it has plenty of critical things to say and just as importantly, the battle system, upgrade paths and character arcs are extremely satisfying. And the in-game menus are laced with neon lime green, which is a hearty bonus.

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7. Xenoblade Chronicles X

Yes, there are only two major Wii U-exclusive JRPGs and both of them are on my list. Sue me. Still, seeing this game on a Wii U list at all blows my mind. Xenoblade Chronicles X quite simply has no right to be as overwhelmingly vast as it is or look as good as it does. I rated this game very highly when it released at the very end of 2015, and though I didn’t even get close to finishing the gargantuan role-playing journey, it still makes me smile when I think of my time with it. Though as a follow-up to the original Xenoblade Chronicles it has its haters, mostly due to its passable-at-best interest in telling a coherent or involving story, the game packs so many engrossing interlinking systems and so much open-ended content that it is effectively as deep as it is wide – which is no small feat. The technical and artistic merits on show within Xenoblade Chronicles X paint a rosy picture for Monolith Soft’s standing within the family of Nintendo development partners.
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6. Hyrule Warriors

If you had told me when it was announced that a Dynasty Warriors clone with some Zelda flavouring would be one of my favourite games of 2014, I’d have given you some weird looks. And you’d be wrong. Hyrule Warriors was not one of my favourite games of 2014. However, over the ensuing months and even years, as Nintendo and Tecmo Koei continued to expand the game with generous free and paid content updates encompassing new modes, weapons and additions to the character roster, my brother and I gradually began to look to Hyrule Warriors as one of our favourite co-op games. That adage about the appeal of the hack-and-slash ‘musou’ genre that Warriors inhabits certainly comes to mind: Even if the combat seems repetitive and easy on paper, as long as you keep seeing new characters you like and keep finding new ways to use them, you will probably have a good time. Add in the couch co-op factor and suddenly a weird, unexpected crossover turns into one of the most memorable and long-lasting video games in the Wii U library.
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5. Rayman Legends / DK Country: Tropical Freeze

OK, this one is just a straight-up regular cheat. I have no good excuse to defend this numerical split beyond the sheer strength of my feelings that I could not have made this list without including both of these 2D platforming masterclasses. It is no exaggeration to say that Rayman Legends is my favourite 2D platformer of all time and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze isn’t far behind. The former is balls-to-the-wall crazy and the latter just plain difficult, but both of these Western-developed games share the same wonderful quality: They continuously throw brand-new ideas at you for their entire duration while building on said ideas with the kind of panache usually only found in first-party Nintendo offerings. Rayman Legends may well be on just about every platform under the sun nowadays, but in my opinion no version can match up to its original incarnation on Wii U. The 2-player mode where one person plays on the gamepad and one uses a regular controller provided my brother and I with a co-operative experience we are not ever likely to forget. Tropical Freeze, meanwhile, saw me and one of my best mates endure a grueling gauntlet over several months that ended up in a similar place in my vault of gaming memories (well, he mostly dragged me through it). These two games are the real deal.
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4. Splatoon

Here’s a game that represents more than just an excellent idea executed in a clever way. As the first significant new Nintendo IP in 13 years, Splatoon marked the beginning of a disruptive new era for the Big N that is only now reaping real rewards on the Nintendo Switch. I remember the game’s announcement like it was yesterday, coming at the very end of Nintendo’s best Wii U-era E3 presentation in 2014. The company’s bigwigs made sure to draw plenty of attention to the fact that its so-called ‘next generation’ of development talent would be taking charge of the game, and rightfully so, because Splatoon is one of the freshest console games of the decade. Like all the best Nintendo games, it takes one idea – in this case spreading coloured ink to achieve territorial dominance on a map – and builds on it with movement, stealth and damage mitigation mechanics until you’re left with an award-winning shooter hampered only by the era of Nintendo online baby steps in which it debuted.
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3. Super Mario 3D World

Super Mario 3D World is actually the game on this page I played over the shortest amount of time, as it barely took a weekend for myself and three others to tear through its major content offering. But that was because we could hardly put it down. Super Mario 3D World represents a unique achievement of hybrid game design, managing to take the best elements of a memorable competitive affair and merging them with a co-operative Mario adventure in three dimensions that is covered head to toe in Nintendo polish and packs plenty of those typical ‘Mario moments’. Yes, Super Mario 3D World doesn’t quite stack up to the likes of Galaxy or Odyssey when played alone, but it’s head-and-shoulders above most any other 3D platformers, and when you get four people together to play it, the game is elevated to something magical. I’ll never be able to look at a level-ending flagpole within a Mario game the same way again.
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2. Pikmin 3

These lists are often products of when exactly they are written, and it may just be that Pikmin 3 ranks so highly for me right now because of the lengthy stretch of time since a game in the mainline Pikmin series was released. Or because it remains the game I am least able to convince friends to play. But regardless, in this moment in time I stand by the opinion that Pikmin 3 is not only one of the most unique single-player experiences you can find on any platform, but the very best single-player game that you need a Wii U to play. Especially following its post-release patches, Pikmin 3 is a dream to control and it balances leisurely exploration, combat, resource management and puzzle solving with elegance, garnishing the experience with some lovely environmental music and visuals. Not to mention perhaps the most impressive fruit rendering in gaming history. The game is so good!
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1. Super Smash Bros for Wii U

This one is perhaps a bit boring, but an easy choice. Super Smash Bros for Wii U (also known as Smash 4) is the game that has spent the most amount of time running on my Wii U. As a Nintendo museum it is easily the most complete in the storied series from which it hails. Due to the Wii U’s online patch support it is also the most balanced offering if you want to get serious, despite having the biggest roster in the series by far. It’s one of the best-looking games the Wii U has to offer and thanks to its absolutely insane 8-player mode, some of the most chaotic fun you can have on the console, full stop. It is a triumph, and such a crying shame that it had to exist on such an under-played console. Smash 4 is also to blame for my one and only completed physical collection – the Smash Bros amiibo set. That’s not the reason it tops this list though, I promise.
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Where are the others?

First up, yeah, no Super Mario Maker on this list. It’s a great game, but I completely lack the unique combination of 2D Mario nostalgia, competitive hunger and Wii U community ties to enjoy it as much as any of these other games. Also, no Wonderful 101 or Bayonetta 2. I’m bad at those games. Sorry. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would’ve made the list if they didn’t have better versions available on the Nintendo Switch at the time of writing (though more games will probably come over soon, let’s be honest). Pokken Tournament also falls into this category but wouldn’t have made the list anyway. Since I didn’t want to count remasters, the two HD Zelda games aren’t on the list either, though both are excellent.

As for actual honorable mentions, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker has to come up first. The game’s adorable visuals only add to the joy of solving its clever bite-sized puzzles. Affordable Space Adventures has to get a nod as well, because it’s the best kind of argumentative co-op fun and takes advantage of the television-and-gamepad setup better than almost anything else on the Wii U. Paper Mario Color Splash is, despite the haters, a really good time, not to mention one of the best-looking and funniest games on the console. New Super Luigi U is my favourite game (slash DLC pack) in the ‘New’ Super Mario Bros series, so it deserves a mention, as does Ubisoft jam ZombiU and its clever use of the gamepad to create tension. And what the hell, let’s throw in the nine-player silliness of Runbow, too.

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