The Wii U Deserved Better
Nintendo's platform didn't sell very well, but it had a game lineup to die for.
Amidst all this excitement for Nintendo's new Switch console, there is dire, but not unexpected news: The Wii U will be discontinued (although that has apparently been contested). Nevertheless, financially, the Wii U was a pretty big disappointment for Nintendo. After the wild success of the Wii, the oddly-marketed follow-up never seemed to catch on, despite plenty of well-regarded (and instantly recognizable) games in its lineup.
But I'm not here to talk about the cause of death. I'm here to celebrate the console's life. The Wii U, despite a much lighter release schedule than any other modern console, sported some of the finest bigger-budget games of this generation. So much so, that for years, I regularly recommended a decent gaming PC and Wii U as the winning combination for players who couldn't afford every console, for the best available spread of games. I stand by that, even now, because I still think it offers the highest concentration of must-play console exclusives.
Not only did the Wii U sport one of the best 2D platformers of the generation in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, it also had one of the finest 3D(-ish!) platformers in Super Mario 3D World, a strong, creatively designed multiplayer-friendly title that I've played all the way through something like 3 times, with different people in each go-round.That game spawned the incredible Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. A 3D platformer with no jumping, Captain Toad was directly inspired by Super Mario 64's "garden in a box" design ethos, which emphasizes surprises and challenges in a self-contained space.
Couch (and even, in a first for Nintendo, online) multiplayer games were especially strong on the system. 2014 alone brought us Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros for Wii U, games that still enjoy heavy rotation in my house (and, I suspect, in many Wii Us around the world.) Pikmin 3 was an earlier Wii U game that seems to get little attention these days, but the puzzle-strategy series has never been better implemented than it was here, particularly in its multiplayer mode.
Pikmin 3 was part of a larger set of excellent, off-kilter games in the Wii U's catalog. Splatoon made multiplayer shooters, known often for grimdark or bro-y aesthetics, kooky and fun. Mario Maker was one of my absolute favorite experiences on the platform, allowing me to make a bunch of completely wacky levels and play an infinite buffet of Super Mario bros. stages—and then, finally, sit back and watch the community complete feats of unbelievable platforming strength even when I had my fill. Affordable Space Adventures stands out as one of the coolest games that very few people played: an indie sci-fi exploration title that made the gamepad into a Space Team-style engine room.
The console has a reputation for family-friendliness, but some of my favorite horror experiences lived here. It launched with Zombi U, a legitimately terrifying horror game with a unique (at the time) mechanic that allowed you to raid the animated corpse of your previous player character after death. Likewise, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water made smart use of the Wii U gamepad, and I can only wish that more bizarro horror games will use that as a jumping off point in the future.
I even loved the NES Remix titles, which brought a fun spin to older games and taught me, finally, how to actually play Excitebike. They also let me get my very first taste of the original The Legend of Zelda, a series I would come to fangirl all over once the 3D era began.
And there was a lot of Zelda on the Wii U. This year's Twilight Princess HD remake was good (it's a great 30-hour game stuck in a 50-hour game), but Wind Waker HD is a prettier, improved version of one of the series' finest outings. It has just a couple of nips and tucks—with an ability to sail faster and a trimmed down late-game quest—which were enough to elevate it to a kind of Zelda nirvana. I think everyone should play it, unless you have an irrational fear of Tingle.
Among all of these games, and others I've spent less time with (and are well-regarded in the community), like Bayonetta 2, Tokyo Mirage Sessions, and Yoshi's Woolley World; the Wii U offered an embarrassment of riches. It had arguably the best versions of games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Rayman Legends. It had "classic" first party games and wilder new experiments, and god, can we just talk about the Wii U e-shop, which allowed me to play Super Mario 64, Earthbound, and Donkey Kong Country 3 in bed, cozied up with a gamepad in my hands?
It was everything I love about a Nintendo console, and I'm sad that it wasn't as successful as it clearly deserved to be. Here's one for you, Wii U, may you go down in history as the Dreamcast of your time.