Although Nintendo denies it, this past week several reports came out indicating that the last Wii U has rolled off of the assembly line. If true, that would officially make the Wii an out-of-print console, and leave you as surprised as I was to hear that Wii U’s were still being made into October of 2016.
I’ve already written (in my ranking of every Nintendo console ever) that the system cycle that will end with the discontinuation of the Wii U gave us perhaps the best pairing of Nintendo home and handheld consoles we’ve ever seen. Though the Wii U’s sales figures were somewhere between rock-bottom and abysmal, its games deserved a better fate, a sentiment Nintendo seems to agree with. (See: Super Mario Maker, Hyrule Warriors, and Yoshi’s Woolly World making their way to the 3DS and the rumored Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon ports/upgrades headed to the Switch, not to mention the decision to launch Breath of the Wild on a system people might actually buy.)
Additionally, the owner of both a Wii U and a 3DS possesses a dual gateway to the greatest games Nintendo has ever offered. Between the Virtual Consoles for the two systems, gamers were granted access to the best games from the NES, SNES, N64, Wii, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS, leaving only the GameCube unrepresented.
And now, though the 3DS marches on (though for how much longer is anyone’s guess), the book has all but officially closed on the Wii U. That being the case, I thought I’d take a look back and shine a light on my five favorite games for each of the two consoles.
First disclaimer – As with everything I blog here, this is a totally subjective “My Favorites” list, not an objective “Best Of” list.
Second disclaimer – I haven’t gotten to everything I’d like on either console, so I did not take into consideration games such as Bayonetta 2, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Lego City Undercover, or Super Mario 3D Land. I did take Animal Crossing: New Leaf into consideration, but did not include it, as it blows. Please keep reading even though I said that about Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
5. New Super Mario Bros. 2 – I like the New Super Mario Bros. line, which lots of people seem to think isn’t a cool thing to say. My favorite game in the NSMB series is NSMB2, which is a REALLY uncool thing to say. Consider, though: NSMB2 features the first return of the Super Leaf and Raccoon Mario since SMB3, some great new power-ups (there has never been a more powerful SMB item than the Golden Fire Flower), a goal outside of saving the princess in the very simple “collect every freaking coin you can get your hands on!” secondary objective that runs through the game, a great new challenge mode called Coin Rush (run through 3 random levels collecting as many coins as you can without dying), and underrated DLC (special Coin Rush level packs, including some really neat retro ones.) If you enjoy Super Mario Bros. games at all, and unless you hate fun I have to assume that you do, then New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a 3DS must-play. Just don’t think that playing it will make you seem cool.
4. Shovel Knight – This generation, both on consoles and in the world of mobile games, saw somewhat of a retro revolution, a pixelated party of past-pilfering… I’ve run out of P’s. There’ve been a lot of new games that look old, is what I’m saying. None, though, straddled the line between retro and modern as well as Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight, where pure 8-bit platforming meets 21st century spit-shine. It’s quite an achievement that Shovel Knight draws so clearly from so many classic games: Mega Man, Ducktales, The Adventure of Link, Castlevania, etc., etc., and yet still has its own unique identity. And although it’s “just” a 2D action-platformer, Shovel Knight is a game that uses the 3D slider to great effect; pushing the 3D on and up gives the world of Shovel Knight a remarkably pleasing depth-of-field aesthetic. Hell, Shovel Knight even got his own amiibo, and there ain’t no greater stamp of video game superstardom than that!
3. Luigi’s Mansion 2: Dark Moon – I never played Luigi’s Mansion on GameCube, which is odd, as Luigi is one of my favorite Nintendo characters. Why? Probably because he wears green. I like green. Anyhoo. LM2: Dark Moon is almost Nintendo’s answer to the LucasArts point-and-click adventures of the 1990’s, with Luigi’s Poltergust 5000 and flashlight and various other tools serving as mouse cursor and interactive inventory. You guide the brave coward Luigi (another reason I like him; that’s one of my favorite fictional character traits) through a series of five haunted mansions, poking and prodding and pushing and pulling, busting ghosts and other paranormal specters along the way. Dark Moon also happens to be one of the most effective 3D showcases for the 3DS, where the pop-out effect makes the interior of each mansion feel like its own individual haunted dollhouse. I should end this with something like “Spooktacular!” I suppose, but I very much don’t want to.
2. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS – Because Nintendo does what it wants, Super Smash Bros. 4 released for 3DS almost two months before releasing on Wii U. Now they are not exactly the same game; they have different game modes and different stages, but they do have identical rosters. I poured hours into the 3DS version of Smash, while barely putting any time at all into the Wii U version. Why? I’m not sure. I got the 3DS one first, I liked the cel-shading, I simply like playing games on the 3DS… I couldn’t really tell you. What I CAN tell you is, that after a “meh” effort on the Wii with Smash Bros. Brawl, Nintendo returned the franchise to Melee-levels of glory and beyond, somehow managing to cram the insanely huge Smash 4 with all 50+ characters (including DLC), months of unlockables, fighter customization, amiibo support, and everything but the kitchen sink onto a 3DS cart. I main Link, Luigi, and Zero Suit Samus; my alternates are Mega Man and Toon Link. You?
1. Codename S.T.E.A.M. – Codename S.T.E.A.M. is a third-person turn-based military strategy game in which an elite strike force powered by steampunk tech, comprised of some of the greatest characters of American and English literature (including Tom Sawyer, Peter Pan‘s Tiger Lily, and all four main characters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) and under the command of a secretly-still-alive Abraham Lincoln, must save the world from sub-zero alien invaders. Over the course of your campaign you will escort Britain’s Queen Victoria out of Buckingham Palace and to safety, pilot a giant Lincoln-shaped steampunk mech (the Anthropomorphized Battle Engine, or A.B.E.), and save the Emerald City from an alien takeover. If Fire Emblem was a third-person game, it would play a lot like Codename S.T.E.A.M.; if Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six was turn-based, it would also play a lot like Codename S.T.E.A.M. After all that, the only question that remains is: why aren’t YOU playing a lot of Codename S.T.E.A.M.?
Honorable Mentions – The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds; The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
5. Captain Toad Treasure Tracker – Who knew that a game of HD puzzle boxes spun off from Super Mario 3D World and starring a character with zero offensive abilities could be so much fun? Captain Toad Treasure Tracker is one of those “out of left field” games Nintendo specializes in; a thing that maybe SHOULDN’T have worked but absolutely did. Just spinning around the levels and zooming in on Captain Toad as he dutifully trudges along on his quest for Mario’s supplies is fun enough, but then in true Nintendo fashion the game ups the ante by featuring increasingly difficult-but-not-impossible puzzles and boss battles for Toad (and his far braver partner-in-treasure-tracking Toadette) to conquer. Just when we thought we didn’t want any more games in the Mario universe, Nintendo turned the running-and-jumping Mario formula on its head and made a walking-and-standing platformer that is every bit as fun as Mario’s most frantic adventure.
4. Arkham City: Armored Edition – Since at least 2003 or 2004, I’ve been a Nintendo-only gamer. This means I’ve missed out on a few great titles I would otherwise have loved to play, and the Arkham series tops that list. I don’t have to sing its praises: we all know that the Arkham games are the rare superhero games that are not only good, but actual Game of the Year material. So while most people dismiss the Wii U’s early 3rd-party ports (Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, Splinter Cell) as too little, too late, Arkham City was a must-own Wii U title for me. Having now played it (and Arkham Origins) exclusively on Wii U, I have to say I can’t imagine it without the GamePad functionality that turns the Wii U into a wrist-mounted Bat Computer, providing the Dark Knight with maps, item access, and forensic analysis. My only regret is that Arkham Asylum never got a Wii U port, but hey… I can always hold out hope for Arkham Switch.
3. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD – The conversation about the “best” Legend of Zelda game will never end, which is strange, because the “best” Zelda game is obviously The Wind Waker HD. Although it’s about two dungeons away from perfection (if only those mini fire and ice dungeons were at all substantial) the once-controversial cel-shaded cartoon-style artwork has aged like fine wine, the combat system is fluid and fun, and the HD treatment transforms The Wind Waker HD into a current-gen title, not a fifteen year-old one. And this isn’t even taking into account the sailing. Oh, the sailing. Opening up the Swift Sail and gliding across the Great Sea in crystal-clear widescreen HD is as transportive an experience as can be had with a video game, and watching landmasses and weather events pop up on the far horizon and then gradually slide into view gives The Wind Waker HD the grandest sense of exploration in the entire Zelda franchise. Well. At least until Breath of the Wild drops.
2. Hyrule Warriors – Sometimes, crazy ideas work. The crazy idea this time was to take Nintendo’s storied The Legend of Zelda franchise, a game series known for its exploration and puzzle solving, and blend it with Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors franchise, a series known for its purely combat oriented gameplay set during the Chinese Han dynasty, where beefed-up super warriors slay legions of enemies with every swipe of their swords. As it turned out, though, Hyrule Warriors was the shot in the arm nobody realized the Zelda franchise needed. After years of 3D Zelda games that were more-or-less iterations on the two decade old Ocarina of Time, there was something very satisfying about controlling Link or Zelda or Impa or almost two dozen total characters and dishing out gnarly damage and hyper combos. A ton of awesome DLC, a 3DS port, and the best Ganon battle since Ocarina pretty much guarantees that there will be more Hyrule Warriors in our future.
1. Splatoon – I’ve already waxed poetic about my love of Splatoon here, but I can always say more! I don’t even want to look at the gargantuan number of hours I’ve put into Splatoon by now, so instead I’ll say this: Splatoon is emblematic of everything I love about video games. Bright colorful graphics, memorable characters, great art direction, a unique mechanic, tons of customization options, fast-moving gameplay that somehow blends together the best of Call of Duty and Tony Hawk Pro Skater… the list goes on. I’m not big into online multiplayer games, at all. I greatly prefer single-player gaming experiences. Splatoon, though, is the exception that proves my rule. I would not have had half of the fun I had with the Wii U if it had not been for Splatoon, and since Breath of the Wild is coming for Wii U as well as for the Switch, the killer Switch app for me, for once, won’t be the Zelda game. It’ll be Splatoon. (Hopefully branded as Spla2n. Fingers crossed.)
Honorable Mentions – The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD; Pikmin 3; Super Mario 3D World; Disney Infinity 3.0