Part of the 8th console generation, Nintendo’s Wii U often feels like a missed opportunity given its unique hardware. Of course, I’m talking about the Wii U GamePad which deserves an article of its own. This thing is basically the Nintendo DS turned into a controller.
You can also think of it as a combination of your tablet and controller into one device. With the GamePad, you can play games on a second screen while your family watches movies on the TV. Or you can post memes and drawings on the Wii U’s built-in social media app by using a stylus.
The GamePad lets you access all of the Wii U’s functions- Hulu, Netflix, eShop, etc. while simultaneously acting as a second display. However, it does have a few drawbacks. Primarily the battery life, which is just 3 to 5 hours depending on brightness and volume settings.
Talking of volume, the GamePad has speakers and a microphone unit. It even has a forward-facing camera. Developers struggled to integrate all of this tech into their games, and just used the basic controller portion of the GamePad.
However, certain games let you do fun stuff. Like throwing ninja stars by flicking your palm across the screen. Or using the built-in gyro to turn your Wii U GamePad into a virtual steering wheel within a racing game.
The Wii U’s best games can be found through 1st party Nintendo exclusives. It also managed to attract some 3rd party AAA titles like Watchdogs, Bayonetta 2, etc. However, the processing power of this little console just isn’t on par with the Xbox One or PS4.
Nevertheless, it’s an excellent product for fans of Nintendo who want to play 1st party stuff that takes advantage of the unique controller. And it’s pretty much the only way to play Nintendo exclusives from the 8th console generation. Without further ado, here are the 30 best Nintendo Wii U games of all time that you must play.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Development for this was well underway on the Wii U before the Switch was even announced. Hence, it’s no surprise that the game runs well on the Wii U despite its primitive hardware. Besides, Zelda isn’t exactly hardware-intensive in the same way that some modern AAA games are.
It has a unique art style and shader that give it a “cartoonish”, yet charismatic look. As opposed to photorealistic, but boring graphics that you see on every run-of-the-mill action adventure game these days. Breath of the Wild is the largest, most open-world Zelda game to date, giving its players tons of freedom and choice when it comes to exploration.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
Originally, this game was made for GameCube and was released in 2002. The HD remake breathes new life into this ancient game by updating it with higher resolution, better textures, and modern lighting systems. It introduces an excellent action-adventure to an entirely new generation of gamers, who are accustomed to better visuals and more streamlined user interfaces.
The cel-shaded characters and environments look as good as ever. You can immediately tell this is a Zelda game, just from a static picture- that’s how unique and enigmatic everything looks. The Wind Waker introduced some new mechanics and gameplay elements to Zelda.
Primary among these is its abundance of sailing and exploration through 49 separate zones within “The Great Sea”. You can freely move the camera around Link, which allows for a more dynamic perspective of the action (this wasn’t present in previous Zelda titles).
You control a horde of plant-like sentient creatures called Pikmin who function similarly to a nest of ants. They can be used to build roads and bridges, explore new territory, attack enemy groups, collect resources, etc. Fundamentally, Pikmin is a real-time strategy game with some puzzle sections.
Pikmin 3 has the same gameplay as its predecessors, which were released on GameCube. Pikmin 3 is a Wii game at heart, with development starting well before the Wii U was designed. However, delays and management issues caused it to be revealed in the 2012 E3.
There, Nintendo showcased how the Wii U GamePad is used to control your units in Pikmin. Like before, you have different colors to show the type of Pikmin you have. Red ones are immune to fire and have a better attack, while blue ones are the only Pikmin that can freely move in water without drowning.
The first Bayonetta was intended as a spiritual successor to DMC after Hideki Kamiya left Capcom and created Platinum Games. A lot of the artwork and character designs were heavily inspired by DMC IV, and Bayonetta 2 continues that theme. It has the same fast-paced action-oriented gameplay in which you use both guns and melee weapons to obliterate large groups of enemies.
Bayonetta 2 was a Wii U exclusive until a Switch version was released. It has slightly improved graphics compared to the 1st game, but your abilities and attacks mostly remain the same (with a few new additions). You play the insanely tall Umbra witch who uses her hair as a bodysuit, with pistols attached to her heels, and magical spells that summon demons from another dimension.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Donkey Kong and his family are chilling out on their tropical island home. That’s when a bunch of weird-looking creatures from the northern seas arrive and start wreaking all sorts of havoc. Called Snowmads, they freeze Donkey Kong’s island and turn it into a lifeless tundra.
Now, Donkey Kong must hop from one island to another, trying to reverse this effect. This is a side-scroller with 3D graphics and 7 different levels (islands), each with its own unique visual theme. Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong are also playable, with Dixie acting as a partner to Donkey Kong (she can be controlled by a 2nd player).
In an alternate universe, there is an Earth populated by anthropomorphic sea creatures. The most dominant species are called Inklings (squids) and Octolings (octopuses). They are constantly at war with each other, capable of shape-shifting freely between their humanoid and cephalopod forms.
Splatoon plays like a 3rd person team-based shooter, but it’s far from your generic online multiplayer. You can shoot ink of your own team’s color in human form, which allows you to hold weapons. Then, you can transform into your animal form and swim through the ink (only that of your own color).
Mario Kart 8
For the most part, this is your typical Mario Kart game in which you race specially-designed karts around a track. There are playable characters from all over the Mario franchise, some of the more popular ones being- Peach, Bowser, and Luigi. And we also see characters from other Nintendo franchises like Donkey Kong.
Mario Kart 8 introduced the ability to drive on walls and ceilings with anti-gravity mode. Further advancements include the new boost, which is activated by bumping into another racer. You can also race bikes, hang gliders, underwater vehicles, etc.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
A crossover arena brawler that has gained notoriety for its unorthodox fighting system and a mish-mash of characters from different game franchises. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is also known as Smash 4 and supports up to 8 fighters on the stage at one time. You can also use your Mii avatar as a playable character, this is the first such implementation in any Smash game.
Like in previous Smash games, the goal is to push your opponent out of the ring. As your character takes more damage, it will suffer more knockback and fly further from each incoming hit. Other than basic attacks and special abilities, you can also pick up items that summon assisting characters or give you new powers.
Super Mario Maker
You can tell Nintendo really put their heart and soul into this one, creating a game that wouldn’t be possible on any previous Nintendo console. This is one of the few 1st party titles in the Wii U’s library that takes advantage of the GamePad. In a way, this game is Super Mario Bros. combined with LittleBigPlanet.
Using a stylus, you can draw and add elements into your very own custom Mario Level. Then, you can share this level with other players on the Wii U (users can even participate in online tournaments or challenges featuring these courses). Depending on which version of Super Mario Bros. you use while creating your levels, the gameplay and enemy behavior can vary.
Nintendo Land is a party game collection featuring 12 minigames- each based on a popular Nintendo franchise. The fictional Nintendo Land is structured as an amusement park where you can take rides, interact with talking robots, and view memorabilia/ attractions based on Nintendo characters. It takes you through various sections based on franchises like Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong, Mario, etc.
Nintendo Land is also one of the few games that actually use the GamePad. You’ll need the touchscreen and gyro to play Nintendo Land. Most of the attractions in this fictional theme park are multiplayer, but there are also a few solo minigames based on old 8-bit NES games.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
In 2006, Nintendo released what would become their best-selling Zelda game ever, until Breath of the Wild which was released in 2017. This game was made for the Wii and GameCube, featuring a graphical style more reminiscent of old Zelda games rather than the cel-shaded Wind Waker. Still, the visuals don’t hold up nearly as well today.
Hence, a remake was needed for gamers playing on Wii U- that’s the HD version with improved resolution and textures. It retains the same plot and gameplay as the original. Link is trying to save Hyrule from being overwhelmed by a parallel shadow dimension known as the Twilight Realm.
Yoshi’s Wooly World
A Yoshi game? Now that’s something we don’t get to see very often. Especially when you consider that the last mainline Yoshi title to be released on a home console was Yoshi’s Story (1997).
Sure, there were Yoshi games between 1997 and 2015- but all of those were on handhelds (GBA, DS, 3DS). Yoshi’s Wooly World is a proper full-sized home console release. However, the gameplay itself isn’t unique as a similar theme has been explored before in 2010 with Kirby’s Epic Yam.
In 2011, Ubisoft rebooted its Rayman series with Origins which featured new 3D graphics. It also showcased a seamless local co-op system that let your friends drop in and out of levels at any time. Much like Origins, you and your friends can control up to 4 characters on the screen in Legends.
These characters are Rayman, Globox, and a couple of Teensies. If you free a captive Teensie, you’re rewarded with Lums and new worlds. By rescuing Barbara the Barbarian (a new character) and her sisters, you can play as them.
A 2D side scroller with pixelated graphics in which you control a shovel-wielding knight who’s single-handedly waging war against the Order of No Quarter. It’s a retro-themed action platformer that appeals to fans of the NES, Genesis, and Game Boy era. A lot of gameplay elements within Shovel Knight are inspired by 8-bit games from the 1980s (and some 16-bit games from the 1990s).
For instance, there’s the pogo jump you can do with your shovel- this is similar to Scrooge’s jump ability in DuckTales (1989). The whole theme of digging up treasures and using money to purchase items has been done in games before. But Shovel Knight isn’t a simple copy-paste of existing ideas, for it combines them into a uniquely entertaining package that stands the test of time even today.
Affordable Space Adventures
Hey, have you ever read one of those news pieces about people purchasing their own plot of land on the Moon? That’s a nice conversation starter between friends at a party but holds no legal significance. However, Affordable Space Adventures lets you colonize your own chunk of space in a much more tangible way (albeit in a virtual environment).
The game’s plot centers around a space exploration company that lets its customers buy land on an unexplored planet at “affordable rates”. You can have your own spaceship, and explore the planet- even build research facilities. And while the company claims it has a 100% failsafe system with no accidents in the last 2 decades, things go south pretty fast once you embark on the first mission.
New Super Mario Bros. U
If you really want a taste of what the Wii U can do, New Super Mario Bros. U is a must-play title. This game supports Off-TV play, meaning you can go through it entirely on the Wii U GamePad screen. The objective is similar to that of any Super Mario Bros. game.
You have to get from the start of each level to the end, going from left to right while avoiding enemies and hazards. But the implementation of motion and touchscreen controls really changes how you interact with the world. You can even use your personally designed Mii character within the game.
NES Remix Pack
If you fondly remember your NES days from back when you were a kid but don’t own an NES anymore- this is the next best thing. Want to have a good time with some old 8-bit gems? The NES Remix Pack is a collection of popular NES titles that you can easily play on your Wii U.
The Pack contains NES Remix 1 and NES Remix 2, with a total of 28 NES games (16 + 12). However, it’s not a simple copy job because Nintendo has “remixed” certain stages and gameplay elements to give a unique experience. Plus, there are online leaderboards and challenges for these old games.
One of the best “Metroidvania” games you can play. Axiom Verge combines a futuristic cyberpunk aesthetic with excellent action sequences, resulting in an experience you won’ forget anytime soon. Your main character is a scientist called Trace who suffers from an accident, waking up in an entirely new realm.
This unknown place is ancient, yet filled with technological marvels that don’t exist in our world. After your injury, you keep hearing a voice in your head that directs you to a certain location. On your way there, you’ll encounter mutant-like creatures (each death respawns you inside a machine).
Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition
Prominent characters in this game (like Batman and Joker) are voiced by their original actors from the animated series (Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill). Plus, the story is written by Paul Dini who has worked on several Batman comic books (as well as the animated series). The stellar writing and voice acting combined with a high-budget production mean you get the game of a lifetime as a Batman fan.
Arkham City is a sequel to Arkham Asylum, and it shows Batman as a prisoner within Arkham- trapped alongside the very people he put into jail cells. The prison warden is scheming up a diabolical plot, while Joker is up to his usual mischief. Batman uses his gadgets and stealth abilities to sneak around Arkham, unraveling a sinister scheme that threatens all of Gotham.
The first Steamworld was a tower defense game, the 2nd one was an action platformer, and Heist is a turn-based tactics shooter. You can’t blame the studio for not innovating with this franchise, they literally transform the game from one genre to another with each iteration. But is the 3rd Steamworld game any good?
Well, it places a lot more emphasis on strategy and planning compared to prior titles that functioned like action games. And it’s also set in the same post-apocalyptic steampunk world populated by robots- but with several new characters and plotlines. This time, you play Captain Piper who’s a smuggler and pirate looking to set out on her very own space adventure by recruiting a team of amateurs.
The spiritual successor to Devil May Cry, crafted by Hideki Kamiya himself. Bayonetta boasts even faster and more frantic gameplay than its progenitor, with your main character wielding 4 guns (Dante uses 2). And she is an 8-foot-tall witch with a sassy yet confident attitude who constantly blows stuff up in style while dispensing snarky quips.
Bayonetta is stylish and over-the-top, much like DMC- but it also has an interesting plot underneath all the explosions and cool cutscenes. Not that people play this game for its story. But it serves to draw you in and motivates you to unlock new abilities for Bayonetta by progressing through the narrative.
LEGO City: Undercover
If you like cheesy Hollywood action flicks and pop culture references, LEGO City: Undercover is a game you shouldn’t miss. It blends action and comedy in a fashion that reminds you of old Jackie Chan movies, with references to legendary game and movie franchises all over the place. You play undercover special police officer Chase McCain, who’s hunting down a large criminal syndicate.
Chase is athletic, and capable of holding his own in fist fights (he’s also quite proficient with every type of weapon). He can do backflips off walls and climb parkour style to access otherwise unreachable places. If there is a vehicle in front of him, Chase can drive it- no matter if it’s a car, truck, boat, or helicopter.
Super Mario 3D World
Mario and friends are back in the Sprixie realm, to rescue their colorful little fairy friends from Bowser who wants to wreak havoc in their kingdom. Super Mario 3D World is a sequel to Super Mario 3D Land, which introduced us to the Sprixies and their 7 princesses. The free roaming open-world design of previous 3D Super Mario games is back, with a few neat additions.
For starters, there’s this new power-up called the Super Bell. If you use it, you’ll transform into a cat which gives you the ability to climb walls and scratch enemies with your claws. You can select from Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, and Rosalina- each with unique powers.
Xenoblade Chronicles X
One of the largest games on Wii U in terms of scope and depth, Xenoblade Chronicles X introduces you to the world of Mira and its 5 continents. Mira is home to human survivors who escaped from Earth after it was destroyed by invading alien forces. Exploration and quests can be approached in a true open-world fashion, in any order you like.
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse
A successor to Kirby: Canvas Curse, this is a platformer that retains the same gameplay and graphical style. Everything looks like colorful blobs of living clay, and you can choose from many different playable characters. You cross between platforms by drawing rainbows on the Wii U GamePad, which Kirby then uses to walk across.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director’s Cut
The Director’s Cut for Deus Ex: Human Revolution makes a few key changes to the excellent 2011 sci-fi RPG. First, you have multiple options to deal with each of the unavoidable boss fights. There are alternate pathways in these boss levels and rebalanced damage systems to help you take them down in a less frustrating fashion.
The AI has also been improved, although it still has an aimbot. And enemies will immediately lock onto your exact position if you alert a single one. Lighting has been improved, so you no longer have the yellow “piss” filter that was prevalent in many shooter games of the PS3 and Xbox 360 era.
The Wonderful 101
Another Hideki Kamiya creation, this time in collaboration with Atsushi Inaba. The duo has previously worked on other excellent games such as Viewtiful Joe and Okami. The Wonderful 101 is like a weird combination of the Justice League and Power Rangers.
You control a team of superheroes who can morph into other forms. Morphing depends on the strength of your overall team size, which can be increased by recruiting civilians that you save.
If zombie survival games like DayZ, Into the Dead, and Dying Light interest you, you might want to check out ZombiU. It’s a first-person survival horror game in which you’re trapped inside London after it has collapsed in a zombie outbreak. You’re contacted by a prepper who requests you to look after his safehouse which contains goods and tools essential for survival.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is closely related to Monster Hunter Portable 3rd which was a 3DS game. It develops on the gameplay and combat systems introduced by that game, with new environments and monsters to fight. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate also brings back the underwater levels that were present in Monster Hunter 3 but excluded from the portable version.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
A weird crossover that combines Shin Megami Tensei with Fire Emblem. The result is often confusing, but fun. You’ll find several different and unrelated game genres mixed together in Tokyo Mirage Sessions.
With an underlying talent agency plot in which you’re trying to become some kind of idol. The gameplay borrows elements from high school drama, dancing, fantasy combat, and roleplaying games.
The Nintendo Wii U feels like it was either too late for the 7th gen or too early for the 8th gen. Developers never got around to utilizing its fancy tech like the gyro and camera. And the OS felt extremely sluggish for at least a year after release, with loading times of up to 30 seconds for basic stuff like the main menu and internet browser.
On top of this, you only got 8GB of storage in the “basic” version. To maintain a semi-decent library of games on your Wii U, you had to resort to external storage media such as USB hard drives and SD cards. Now you begin to understand why the Wii U never sold as many units as the Xbox One or PS4.
Sure, it was cheaper than the “serious” consoles. But it also had less processing power, a limited library of 3rd party AAA titles, and less storage for games. Nintendo tried to do too much at the same time, and the end result felt unfocused.
Fortunately for Nintendo, they fixed all that with their successor to the Wii U- the Switch. It’s a product that targets a segment of the market no one else has focused on since the DS and PSP days. And you can think of the Switch as a Wii U gamepad with an integrated console.