On 20th October 2016, Nintendo firmly put the nail in the Wii U’s already well-built coffin, unveiling their new console the Nintendo Switch – a hybrid console combining the joys of both home and portable devices. Perhaps what the Wii U should have been, the Switch has already garnered much interest and appraisal with its unique but simple branding/messaging. Nintendo’s ill-fated console failed to capture the imaginations of mainstream audiences selling a paltry 13 million units, their biggest console flop to date. There’s a myriad of reasons why the Wii U failed the way it did but this isn’t an article scrutinizing corporate strategy or bashing the Japanese giants’ decisions, this is a personal retrospective on my time playing, what ultimately counts: the games.
I feel, much like the GameCube, people will look back upon the Wii U’s era with nostalgic fondness. Focusing on the incredible first party content and all its little quirks, perhaps the history books will be a little softer towards Nintendo’s odd tablet controller experiment. Without further ado, let’s venture into my Wii U games library with me and reminisce.
Nintendoland (2012, Nintendo)
Pitched as the Wii U’s ‘Wii Sports’, launch title Nintendoland was supposed to be the game to entice people to buy the system, showcasing the variety of ways you could play games exclusively on Wii U. Being bundled in with the deluxe package, and being headed by Katsuya Eguchi – the main man behind the Animal Crossing franchise and many ‘Touch Generation’ properties (Wii Sports, Wii Play, Wii Music etc.) – it was clear the aim was to again replicate the success of the Wii by launching with a game that could break the mold by uniting the hobbyist and casual gamer. It failed in its mission, Wii Sports became the global icon of casual gaming whereas Nintendoland fell into obscurity.
Regardless, I feel it demonstrably proved how fun asymmetrical gaming can be and for that alone I feel it’s one of the most under-rated Wii U games. Whilst single-player only attractions were merely flash in the pan distractions, the real fun fair meat would lie in the bigger attractions. Zelda Battle Quest contained a lengthy single-player campaign that could be played cooperatively with different control schemes. You’d battle against hordes of Zelda enemies – one player being an archer and another a swordsman. Metroid Blast also has a similar concept, this time one player is on the ground and the other guides Samus’s ship. Mario Chase pitches every player against the GamePad user who has to sprint around a maze evading capture. All these multiplayer experiences and more were well-crafted and unique, and it’s a travesty Nintendoland didn’t gain traction. Coupled with achievements and hub unlockables to squeeze out more longevity, you might be surprised at how enthralled you’ll become. It’s something so much more than a simple mini-game compilation.
ZombiU (2012, Ubisoft)
Ubisoft’s brand-new IP exclusive to Wii U (at the time) felt like a statement. This console wasn’t just for the family, this was a console for ‘hardcore gamers’. As much as I dislike the us vs them narrative some gamers perpetuate, at the time that’s honestly what it felt like for me. It felt like a fresh change, a shift towards Nintendo entering a more mature market. ZombiU bombed unfortunately, leading them to scrap plans for a sequel and then re-released the game on Xbox One and PS4 titled ‘Zombi’.
ZombiU offers an uncompromising vision of a post-apocalyptic London and as a Londoner myself they definitely nailed the atmosphere. The game is full of little details that really do go the extra mile in constructing the capital, adding a further layer of immersion to proceedings. It’s always a personal highlight seeing my town on a tube map before I batter the undead. ZombiU’s core concept of ‘one bite and you’re dead’ is a smart one, taking survival horror to another level entirely. Waking up as a new character to kill and loot your now zombified previous one is always chilling. It embraces survival horror with sadistic delight, zombies are powerful and fast and resources are so scarce that you’ll count every bullet. The game succeeds in creating a tense experience that sparks relentless panic and, honestly, this is the only video game to ever make me scream with genuine fear. It’s not without its flaws though, exhibiting some schoolboy gaming design errors. Lighting can be poorly judged which can create situations that are unfairly stacked against you. Frustratingly, the same can be found with some of the level design where there’s a few too many ladders – it makes you turn your back and can cause you to become trapped with zombies through no fault of your own. Ironically, like I did, you can flip these flaws into motivation to make you a better player because depending on how you look at it, they do add a sense of psychological unease.
Assassins Creed 3 (2012, Ubisoft)
Assassins Creed 3 was my first full foray into Ubisoft’s open-world franchise having only dabbled in it over the years at friends’ houses and I loved it. I’m aware it’s not the most celebrated by fans but I really resonated with the compelling Native American story-line and playing around in a Pre-Revolutionary American sandbox was fascinating for me. Perhaps being new to the satisfying combat and insane climbing made me appreciate the game more than others. I found strolling (and stabbing) through the open-world both relaxing and tense at certain times. Despite this, towards the end of the game I found the open-world, whilst atmospheric felt a little barren and was open for the sake of it – the often linear nature of AC3 lent itself to an empty world with little much to do after you completed the main story.
The Wonderful 101 (2013, Nintendo & Platinum Games)
I’ll put my hands up right now. I completely overlooked this title when it came out and completely ignored it. I was one of the fools that completely misjudged it. Having got the title for free through Mario Kart 8’s astonishing free title deal I found myself eating humble pie, some of the tastiest humble pie I’ve ever had. After playing through, I began to realise that TW101 was utterly misunderstood by critics that didn’t give it a fair chance.
Once you get past a steep-learning curve, the controls begin to click and the game play becomes fluidly harmonic. Think Pikmin-style control mixed with visceral action that’s become the staple of Platinum produced titles. Dazzlingly impressive level design and smart enemies permeate the TW101 to almost indulgent degrees and topped with zany Saturday cartoon sensibilities . Excellent character design, hilarious dialogue and outrageous cut scenes further add to just how beautifully bonkers it all is. It’s one of the most refreshingly fun titles seen on a Nintendo system in years. Sounds good? Well, that’s because it is. Another classic from Kamiya and his team at Platinum.
Pikmin 3 (2013, Nintendo)
Shigeru Miyamoto’s love child, the Pikmin franchise, was born out of his love for gardening and never before has that vision become so clear. As a huge Pikmin fan, I’d been anticipating the third installment constantly promised for years and the wait was worth it. Despite the arguably short campaign, Pikmin 3 is without doubt the pinnacle of the franchise yet with gorgeous miniature worlds that evoke tender childhood memories, I find it subtly taps into wistful young discoveries that we all made as children. It combines both the tension of the first game and the relaxation of the second – giving you unlimited days to explore whilst also having to find fruit as sustenance to survive. New Rock and Winged Pikmin are worthy additions too, giving us a fresh take on both battling and working out puzzles. The inclusion of multiple characters to play as also creates a greater depth to organising your army and working out how to tackle your surroundings. Pikmin 3 is gorgeous and, just like the previous installments, oozes charm.
Super Mario 3D World (2013 Nintendo)
3D World is the game that 3D land should’ve been. The latter was by no means a bad game but personally I found it lacked a magic spark. Level design was well-crafted but didn’t impact me and it was also ridiculously easy. 3D World fixes all of those issues and more. Offering a wide plethora of different levels, concepts and power-ups – 3D World feels like a greatest hits collection with designers throwing anything they can fathom at the game. Each level is a self-contained experience of pure platforming bliss with an unexpected twist. In terms of design, I believe it to be a much better example of what a 2D/3D hybrid Mario game can achieve. Decent co-op integration and a vast array of collectibles hidden in each level further add to 3D World’s replay value.
Yes, it’s still not the full 3D Mario experience that I wanted nor do I think Mario feels as fun to control and play as, but what I did get was a well crafted game with EAD Tokyo once again proving that they’re the platforming kings.
Mario Kart 8 (2014, Nintendo)
Mario Kart has always been a multiplayer titan for Nintendo, and Mario Kart 8 is no different. With 8 million copes sold to 13 million Wii U owners, not only does it have an insane attach rate it’s also the best-selling game on the system.
Mario Kart 8 could arguably be the definitive Mario Kart (although it doesn’t quite dethrone Double Dash as my favourite). Combining Mario Kart 7’s flying and underwater sections, coins and customisation with Mario Kart Wii’s bikes and 12 racers – MK8 takes all of it and produces a fine racing experience with its own new concept. Anti- Gravity. Anti-Gravity isn’t as in your face as you might think, but that’s not a bad thing. Rather than completely altering the experience we’re all familiar with, it opens the door to more race options, injecting enough fun without being heavy-handed. I believe the new courses themselves are some of the strongest in the series to date – they’re more than just track now. They’re rich and detailed worlds in their own right. Retro courses are also given a modern paint-job, with all the aforementioned features being integrated seamlessly. The courses are complimented by an exhilarating full orchestral score too. The inclusion of coins as items and only being able to hold one item at a time adds a renewed sense of skill amongst the higher positions.
Whilst the item-balance to its credit has fostered a racing environment focused on skill – it’s also flawed with mushrooms dominating the bottom rungs, whereas more powerful items are reserved for the middle of the pack. A terrifically bad character roster filled with clones (who in the bloody hell thought Pink Gold Peach was a good idea) and an abysmal battle mode barely worth the name bring down MK8. However, it’s still incredible despite these annoyances.
Super Smash Bros. For Wii U (2014, Nintendo and Namco Bandai)
As a non-competitive Smash player the fourth installment is not only the biggest, but the best. For me, Smash for Wii U is the ultimate celebration of all things Nintendo, a symphony of characters, stages, items, trophies and music that’s simply stunning. A creative masterpiece only possible through the hard work of incredibly talented developers. The character balance strikes a chord with me and is my favourite in the series (sorry Melee fans) and the inclusion of third-party and DLC characters is the icing on the proverbial gaming cake. The chink in its armor would have to be the lacklustre single player options – Smash Tour was, in my view, dull and ill-conceived. That aside, Smash for Wii U is the crowning achievement of the franchise and a platform showcasing all the fun and wackiness of Nintendo’s illustrious history.
Splatoon (2015, Nintendo)
Nintendo’s take on the shooter genre with brand-new IP ‘Splatoon’ is a risk that paid off. Fresh game play and well constructed controls made for a game that felt and played so naturally. Charming characters the Inklings – who are already among the great pantheon of iconic Nintendo characters – set the stage for a colourful dynamic subversion of a genre that at times feels homogenized. Nintendo hit gold, a new IP selling over 4 million copies on an ailing console is no mean feat. I feel it represents a classic Ninty paradigm – easily accessible but underneath lies depth and nuance. The core game is ridiculously addictive offering a unique take on all manner of shooter genre elements. A compelling but unfortunately short-lived solo campaign offers quirky concepts that are begging to be implemented in a sequel. I’m so happy it captured the imaginations of so many and I’m eager to see how the franchise is taken forward.