If you're a Wii U owner, chances are these past few days have been a bit depressing. After the highs of the Nintendo World Championships and new content for Super Smash Bros. (Ryu!), the company's E3 2015 Digital Event (watch it here) merely gave us an Animal Crossing reskin of Mario Party, more amiibo figures and Mario Tennis. Sure, Nintendo have Directs all year long, and express a general disdain for previewing way-off titles at E3, but the total absence of anything due beyond the beginning of 2016 may be telling.
"Experts" keep saying that if Nintendo has sense, everyone at the company right now is working hard to make sure NX – or whatever their next console turns out to be – is a huge hit from Day One, meaning there'll be no new major titles coming for Wii U, or even the 3DS. But Nintendo arguably doesn't have any sense, and so us loyalists read too much into those Retro Studios tweets and the "insider" leaks; we hoped for a new Metroid "proper", F-Zero or true 3D Mario title. Hell, even a few GameCube remasters, in the manner of Wind Waker, would have been nice. But it turns out that unless Nintendo are stupidly holding all of this back for a future Direct, those experts were right and the fans merely deluded.
But the Wii U is a plucky little bugger and wouldn't want our pity. No, if it's going out then it's doing so in style: destined to be remembered, like the Dreamcast and GameCube before it, as an overlooked gem with a catalogue of amazing games people will one day properly appreciate. And if these are the final days of the Wii U, the good news is there are tons of ways in which we can make them a blast.
Splatoon is about to become the best online shooter out there
The form in which it arrived and the drip-feeding of content bemused many reviewers, but join an online lobby and it's immediately clear that Splatoon already has a devout following. And it's easy to see why when playing it: the shooting is addictive, the subtle gyro aiming allows for precise control dual stick shooters struggle to achieve, games turn in a matter of seconds, and player movement and stealthy tactics are a devious joy to behold. But Splatoon is only giving us 80 percent of what it could offer, and its fans need new challenges soon.
Thankfully, the update planned for August will arrive at just the right time. Tower Control mode, where you move a platform towards your rivals by scaling and defending it while being attacked relentlessly, looks brilliant. When you die, it stops moving. When an enemy gets on, it grinds towards the opponents' territory. Another intriguing proposition is the Rainmaker mode. Nothing is officially known of this yet, but the prospect of the heavens opening on an ink-covered map with a minute to go would create moments of pure adrenalin.
But it's being able to set up games with friends that will change the game tactically forever more. Sure, it should have done this from the outset, and there's still no voice chat (though Skype can easily enough solve this), but even knowing who is consistently on your team and what weapon combos you'll have will alter the dynamic of the game entirely. Its clear now that Splatoon is an incredibly deep, tactical shooter, despite its cartoony appearance, and its upcoming tweaks will cement that. So get making friends.
'Xenoblade Chronicles X', E3 2015 trailer
Xenoblade Chronicles X will keep you busy for over 100 hours
So the Final Fantasy VII remake is finally coming? Whatever. Have you guys even played the last few entries in said series? Diminishing returns doesn't come close, so Square Enix has some serious work to do. But as the Final Fantasy franchise has declined, so many members of the JRPG community have found ways to enjoy themselves elsewhere.
Such as in the amazing environments that Tetsuya Takahashi has overseen. His work on Xenogears and Xenoblade Chronicles has moved the genre on leaps and bounds (which is why FFXV is copying much of his style), so a brand-new, truly cinematic HD open world to explore is something to get very excited about. And that's what we're getting with Xenoblade Chronicles X, coming to Europe and North America in December having already been released in Japan.
Your spaceship crashes on an alien world and your job is to go and explore it, however you so desire. You fight huge monsters, rebuild colonies and grow a powerful team on the journey. But the true joy will come via traversing the gorgeously rich world by jumping into huge mechs that fly, float and drive around like Optimus Prime popping his sensors on class-A Energon goodies. Seriously, look at the videos on the other end of those links, and tell me that isn't worth losing a month to? But these games will only keep being made if people support them, so let's make sure we do.
Mario Kart 8's online play won't be around forever
The thing I hate about modern gaming is all this online malarkey. It's all well and good at the time, but the moment a new title comes along the servers for what came before go down, the community dries up, and once-brilliant remote-multiplayer experiences become mere memories. So we must cherish these last few months of Mario Kart 8 online, because it's brilliant. I blitzed the original game and much of that first DLC pack for weeks on end, but I'll be honest, other things have come along which means many of DLC pack two's delights passed me by. I'm going to try and change that now, master Big Blue and come first for a change, rather than way back in seventh. Join an active online community such as Cane & Rinse, who have regular tournaments, and let's toast that Luigi Death Stare one last time.
"Nindies" are giving us the games that bigger studios aren't
It took a while to get going, but indie developers have done well out of the Wii U. Due to a distinct lack of third-party support for the console, getting your smaller release noticed in the eShop is far easier than it is on Steam or rival consoles' stores, and there are some better games lurking in there than on many physical shelves.
We have a lot to be excited about already. Shovel Knight (pictured above) is a great 2D platformer created to look and play like an NES classic. Affordable Space Adventures is a devious title where you (or ideally you and two friends armed with Wiimotes) pilot a malfunctioning ship around an alien planet, using the GamePad to redirect power to its stuttering innards. It's arguably the Wii U title that best showcases the controller. Then there are the games that use the stylus interestingly, such as Art of Balance and Little Inferno, alongside great ports of The Fall, Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition, Master Reboot, OlliOlli, Stealth Inc 2, SteamWorld Dig and The Swapper, amongst many others.
'90s Arcade Racer', Wii U gameplay
More are coming. Weirdly, given the subject matter, The Binding of Isaac is inbound and Nintendo approved. The second chapter of The Fall is in the pipeline. The vibrant Daytona homage that is 90s Arcade Racer is nearing completion. Those of us mourning the prolonged absence of F-Zero and Wipeout continue to be excited about FAST Racing Neo. And Mighty No.9 is coming to the U, from the creator of Mega Man, likewise Yooka-Laylee, from the original Banjo-Kazooie team.
But it's the spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, titled Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, that is most exciting. Partly because early art looks promising and perfect for off-TV play on the GamePad's screen, but largely because Armature Studio, who are converting it for the Wii U, are giving away the Unreal Engine 4 code to other developers for free once they're done. This could unlock 1,000s of other titles for anyone keen to take advantage of a user base hungry for games, and see the eShop blossom further.
'Star Fox Zero', E3 2015 trailer
Many of these remaining games WILL be great
Compared to the exclusives that are actually imminent for PS4, the Wii U's 2015 line-up is actually pretty awesome – and the muted response to Nintendo's E3 Digital Event probably has much to do with us already knowing about said awesomeness. The Treehouse presentation of Star Fox Zero suggested that the Platinum-developed shooter is a bit rough right now, but there's no denying it plays pretty solidly. Nintendo are masters of polish, so expect its final form, like that of Captain Toad and Splatoon before it, to improve greatly before Platinum move on to complete Project Guard.
Yoshi's Woolly World is more or less good to go, releasing in the UK on the 26th of June (American players will have to wait until October), and offers a decent challenge underneath its adorable veneer, providing you don't switch to its mellow mode. Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash will likely also be a lot better than the preview suggested, given the series' past form, and Super Mario Maker could be a genuine game changer. It improves on every Direct, and the levels displayed at the World Championships show enormous potential.
'Fatal Frame: Maiden of the Black Water', E3 2015 trailer
Interesting localisations are looming too, which the Digital Event bizarrely neglected. Devil's Third is an ultra-violent third-person slash 'n' shooter from Tomonobu Itagaki (of Ninja Gaiden fame). The single-player mode has a whiff of the PS2 era about it, from the macho lead to the OTT box art, but the multiplayer looks amazing. Want to be a ninja wearing a watermelon helmet and blow up a castle with a bazooka? This is your game. I hope it revels in its insanity and goes full TimeSplitters on us when it emerges in Europe, Australia and Japan in August (American release date: TBC).
Rodea the Sky Soldier intrigues, a weird hybrid of NiGHTS and Kid Icarus. Fatal Frame: Maiden of the Black Water should also impress. The West hasn't seen recent series entries translated into English, but basically you play a young Japanese girl who uses a camera to see the ghostly forms attacking her. Many people regard the atmospheric titles as far scarier than recent Resident Evil and Silent Hill games, and the ability to use the GamePad as the camera means this could be the series' peak.
Then there's the big question: is Zelda still coming? Miyamoto says yes. Maybe it'll span two consoles like Twilight Princess. Whatever happens, the backlash to E3's Digital Event means the title's future is giving Nintendo plenty to think about.
Music to your ears: NOISEY
The Wii U should keep its place under your TV for years to come
One positive about Nintendo's slow online uptake is that they continue to excel at local multiplayer experiences, which we can enjoy for years to come. Eight-player Smash is a riot if you can make it happen, and four-player Mario Kart, Rayman Legends, New Super Mario Bros. U and Super Mario 3D World are all great fun. I hope my kids grow up seeing how much better it is to game in the same room as other people.
The often maligned Wii Party U is a perfect game to share with people who don't usually go in for such digital distractions, Wii Sports Club is a big improvement on its previous-gen predecessor(s), and launch title Nintendo Land is overdue a reappraisal. Its two-player Metroid Blast mini-game is tremendous, but it's the brilliantly simple Mario Chase that will see the disc get dusted off years down the line.
'Nintendo Land' – dig it out again, get some mates over, and have a laugh
Chances are you still have several acclaimed titles yet to tackle – my list includes Pikmin 3, The Wonderful 101 and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate – so maybe the barren months ahead are an opportunity. And can any of us say, truthfully, that we've mastered a game lately? I'm still to beat Bayonetta on hard, so with nothing amazing on the new-release front, that's something to crack on with. Remember, too, Nintendo games can become collector's items, so snap up the relatively rare Wii and Wii U titles while you can (those old Wii games are compatible with the Wii U). The GamePad also represents a brilliant way to watch YouTube and Netflix or browse the web while a significant other is hogging the TV, so don't be too quick to unplug it.
So then, the Wii U. It's criminal that a console with the best Smash and Mario Kart games ever, the most enjoyable 2D outings of Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. since the SNES years, the definitive version of Wind Waker, the spectacular Bayonetta 2 and the most innovative shooter in years in Splatoon is, quite possibly, getting mothballed in the all-too-near future. That would appear to be the unfortunate reality, but at least was can all agree that if it's going out, it's going out fighting.
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