The Wii U ended up being a surprisingly forward thinking platform for Nintendo. Although its central conceit of introducing second screen gameplay hasn’t gone very far, it managed to introduce a few exciting new series to Nintendo’s stable that pushed what we all thought the company was capable of. Games like Splatoon and Mario Maker marked incredibly successful forays into online multiplayer functionality and community building, while established series like Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. received a long tail of support and substantial new content post-release.
On the other hand, it’s hard not to look at Wii U as a low point for the company, especially after the obscenely successful Wii. Some of Nintendo’s best series have gone missing or fell flat on the machine. No Metroid, no Animal Crossing, a lackluster Paper Mario game, a Zelda game delayed all the way to the launch of its successor, a Star Fox title that baffled a lot of gamers, sporadic and inconsistent Virtual Console support. The Wii U has definitely had some high-highs, but also some low-lows.
In the end, I enjoyed the Wii U, even if it did sit idle for months at a time. Now with the Switch finally out in the wild, I’ve decided to highlight my favorite 5 games of the Wii U (in no particular order).
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Captain Toad was a smaller Wii U title that doesn’t get as much credit as I think it’s due. This game is a spin-off of the Captain Toad levels from Super Mario 3D World, but I think it actually managed to be something far more interesting and imaginative than the those small bonus stages in its progenitor. Treasure Tracker differentiates itself from 3D World by focusing on puzzle platforming that tasks the player with getting the main characters (Captain Toad and Toadette) across small 3D levels without the ability to jump. The game displays a huge range of imagination across its many tiny but dense levels, similar to the kind of creativity and diversity that you would find in a mainline 3D Mario game.
Super Mario 3D World
Although I think I prefer the Super Mario Galaxy games, Super Mario 3D World (and Land on the 3DS) are undeniably great Mario games. While the sidescrolling New Super Mario Bros. series has gotten stale, 3D World lives up to the imagination and inventiveness of its 3D Mario predecessors. The simple fun and wonderment of this game was a huge source of brightness in my life when I originally played it. I wish I had more thoughtful things to say about it, but it’s just pure, uncompromised Mario goodness, the kind of which is a reminder why this character has been the de facto mascot of gaming for over 30 years running.
Super Mario Maker
I liked the first two New Super Mario Bros. games, especially the Wii one, but like a lot of other gamers, I thought the series quickly started to stagnate, with the 3DS and Wii U games being less than inspiring. I was beginning to think that classic sidescrolling Mario had run its course again, but then came one of the most impressive games I’ve played in many years, Super Mario Maker. For a company as stubborn and old-fashioned as Nintendo, Mario Maker was a huge surprise with its focus on online community and user created content, two things Nintendo rarely exhibits an interest in. I had a ton of fun playing community levels, but also I was surprised at how much my imagination was stoked while creating my own levels in the editor.
Mario Kart 8
Mario Kart 8 may very well be number 1 amongst Mario Kart titles for me. I think in trying to tone down the chaoticness of Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart 7 ended up feeling rather boring and uninspired. Mario Kart 8, on the other hand, managed to find the perfect balance between creatively-designed courses and combat and well-balanced racing challenge. Also, building on what I said about Super Mario Maker, Mario Kart 8 was surprisingly modern and forward-thinking for a Nintendo game and featured a competently designed online mode and DLC packs that actually provided substantial content to the game.
Super Smash Bros. 4
I often drag the Wii U home for the holidays to see family, because we typically plug a lot of time into Mario Kart together (as we did with the Wii before it). All that changed, however, after I introduced Super Smash Bros. 4. At first, my sisters were really unsure about this mess of a fighting game, but it didn’t take long for them to get hooked. Featuring a ton of great characters from across Nintendo’s history, like Bowser Jr., Ike, and Little Mac, but also a few not so great characters, like Villager and Dark Pit, Smash Bros. is an amazing gift to Nintendo fandom, but also just a fundamentally good game for friends and family from one of the few companies that still puts a lot of effort into high-quality local multiplayer games.
Well, after writing this list, I’m suddenly realizing that it’s basically all games featuring Mario or the Mario universe. Of course, there were a few non-Mario games that I came close to adding to the list, namely Splatoon deserves credit. The two Zelda remakes (Wind Waker and Twilight Princess) were also pretty good, but I would rather not count remakes in a list of like this. The releases have been thin over the years, but I’m hoping they’ve been saving up for the Switch. Definitely, I’m excited for Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and Splatoon 2, and I’m curious about ARMS. Even though the Wii U had its troubles, I’m cautiously excited for Switch. Nintendo has its ups and downs, but they’ve always managed to maintain consistent quality over an impressively long history.