10. Pikmin 3
Gorgeous greens and subtle blues paint the beautiful world of ‘PNF-404’, an emotionally aggravating planet of wondrous wilderness filled with exotic life forms. As an alien that’s exhausted all resources on your home planet, you visit merely to exploit it. The incredibly cute, but helplessly naive, creatures called Pikmin follow you curiously like you’re their messiah sent from the heavens. They will fight for you, protect you, and sometimes even die for you and your selfish cause. The poignant connection you establish with the Pikmin only make the game more uneasy as you watch them be devoured by the predators of the planet. Your march through the luscious forests and the ponderous ponds, in search of the cosmic drive key to send you and a bountiful of fruit back to your home planet, is a treacherous task; you’ll need the Pikmin help to solve the puzzles. The addition of more species of Pikmin, with new abilities such as flight, create much more complicated puzzles than the previous installments. (James Baker)
9. Super Mario Maker
As the name might suggest, Super Mario Maker allows players to make their own Super Mario Bros. levels—specifically, levels that fit within the aesthetics of four games in the series: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and the recent New Super Mario Bros. U. Creating levels can be a daunting task but what helps Super Mario Maker stand apart from other games, like LittleBigPlanet, is how easy it really is. Super Mario Maker keeps things simple by removing complicated elements like logic programming, and features an incredibly accessible level construction kit that anyone can easily enjoy. The well-designed interface makes learning easy, and once you are finished, you can share your creations online with a passionate community of fans from around the world. And that is what makes Super Mario Maker so great— the play hub, where you can simply enjoy Mario Maker levels made by other people. With such an active and passionate community, Super Mario Maker has provided Wii U owners with countless hours of gaming. Whether creating, exploring, watching others play and create, or just playing other people’s levels, Mario Maker has provided us with an exceptional experience, all while offering insight into three decades of platforming brilliance. (Ricky D)
An untraditional console needs an untraditional standard-bearer, and so Splatoon just may end up being the game that most defines the Wii U. Instead of racking up kills, the goal of regular battles is to cover as much of the area in your team’s ink as possible, while preventing the opposing side from doing the same. Leave it to Nintendo to create not only an online multiplayer shooter where aiming your gun at another player isn’t the way to win, but also generating some refreshing inclusiveness in a genre noted for being harsh on newcomers. Part of this brilliance lies in the game’s accessibility: though some players may not have the precision sniping skills to pick off their half-squid/half-human mutant opponents one by one, reveling in the gurgling death throes, anyone can pick up a paint roller and cover the ground in inky goodness. This doesn’t mean that smart tactics and expertise aren’t rewarded, but instead that no one is useless, coldly abandoned by their mates to simply become stats for the enemy. Technique still reigns supreme on the battlefield, but at least rookies aren’t simply relegated to cannon fodder. Quick matches also keep things moving along, ensuring that those getting painted into a corner won’t have to endure the punishment for long, and a wealth of other modes cater to all skill levels and play types. Anyone can have fun making a glorious mess in Splatoon, and this philosophy is a huge part of what makes it so special.
The rest of the credit goes to some of the most satisfying gameplay found this side of a Mario game. Rarely does the simple act of controlling a game’s avatar feel this good, but the intuitive controls in Splatoon entice players to keep running, jumping, and swimming through globby battle after globby battle long after bedtime. The ability to dive into the murky splatter to cruise underneath fences and up walls, creating one’s own path with nothing more than the standard ammunition, opens up arenas to all sorts of approaches, providing big payoffs to those who ink outside the box. This freedom of movement, coupled with the multiple weapon types with strengths and weaknesses that all feel distinct, leads to a sense of gleeful liberation, turning matches into less a predatory competition than delightful chaos, where surprises lurk under the surface and the restricting rules of “hardcore” gaming are thrown out the window in favor of utter enjoyment. In the end, Splatoon is destined to be looked upon as the hallowed beginning of a (non) killer franchise, an experience that ranks among the best on the Wii U. (Patrick Murphy)
7. Bayonetta 2
Nobody could’ve predicted the story of Bayonetta 2. The first game came out on the PS3 and Xbox 360, introducing the world to it’s loud, proud and unflinchingly provocative protagonist. It definitely came off like the type of game that you’d never find on a Nintendo console, so little did anyone know that not only would the sequel be on the Wii U, but that it would be exclusive to the console.
Had Bayonetta’s second adventure been as watered down as many expected it to be due to Nintendo’s family friendly stance, it wouldn’t have been a true sequel. Luckily, not only did Nintendo allow Platinum Games to make Bayonetta 2 the way they wanted to, but they actively encouraged them to go wild. As a result, Bayonetta returns as her crude, violent, and highly sexual self, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Bayonetta 2 takes everything the original set up and improves it greatly. Comboing split-second dodges and consecutive attacks feel even more satisfying than the original, and the Wii U allows the visuals to shine, making the original look inferior in comparison. Nintendo-based costumes also add an extra visual flare, allowing you to pummel demons with Bowser’s limbs, or slice angels with the Master Sword.
But above all, the greatest part of Bayonetta 2 is its protagonist. Bayonetta is honestly one of my favourite characters of all time. Her unrestrained enjoyment for battle definitely rubs off on the player, encouraging you to utterly destroy and humiliate your opponents. The story itself isn’t breaking any new ground, but Bayonetta’s lovable personality and interactions with other characters never stops being entertaining, and only enhances your enjoyment of the game. Upon release, Bayonetta 2 received rave reviews, making it easily one of the most positively-received games in the Wii U library. We can all thank Nintendo for providing not only the creative freedom, but the funding necessary to bring us this absolute gift of a game. (Ade Adeoye)
6. Shovel Knight
Sometimes an axe is too heavy, or a sword is out of reach, and so you’re left to fight like a peasant with a shovel. Occasionally, the ridiculous can be an utter genius, and Shovel Knight blurs the boundaries of ingenuity. Shovel Knight is equally humble in its celebration of retro gaming and innovative in its fresh approach to game design. Your shovel is a versatile piece of equipment that isn’t just used to defeat foes. Much like in real life, its capability to dig provides opportunities to find treasure which upgrades your equipment. This furthers your valiant mission to defeat the Enchantress and save the Order of No Quarter from themselves. An Indie game published by Yacht Club Games, it began as a successful Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign and has since created a legacy of its own. (James Baker)
5. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Masahiro Sakurai really outdid himself with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, giving fans of the series just about everything they could want and more. It’d be easy to take Super Smash Bros. to task for having changed so little since its debut three console generations ago, but putting aside the problematic online mode, Smash delivers more fighters, more stages, more songs, more moves, more modes, more everything! There is a laundry list of things to love about Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, and topping the list is the game’s confidence, which allows it to cater to anyone who might be interested in duking it out with Nintendo’s beloved character roster. This new Smash Bros. is perfect for beginners and experts alike, and features a lineup of more than 50 mascots from Nintendo, Sega, Bandai Namco and Capcom.
Just as impressive as the character roster is the arena line-up, with over 50 beautifully-crafted stages (counting DLC) from which to choose. These stages provide the perfect battling ground, and in some cases, the arena will fight back. Smash Wii U is the great equalizer of games—a game that embraces the series’ hyper-competitive side, all the while still managing to deliver one of the most enjoyable party games in years. It’s a bottomless toy box, never getting old, and much like the very best Wii U games, Smash is the best game to play with family and friends. And this time around, you can play with up to eight players. What more can you ask for? (Ricky D)
4. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Good things do come in big packages. The trick for any game developer is to find the small game within the big one, which is exactly what Retro Studios did with Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze. Tropical Freeze is the fifth Donkey Kong Country sidescroller, the second made by Nintendo’s Austin, Texas-based studio, and the best of the bunch. The game doesn’t deviate much from the established formula, but Retro Studios has done more with this latest DKC than a simply change of scenery. The most striking improvement is that Donkey Kong is in HD for the very first time, and he looks great. But don’t be fooled by its beauty; Tropical Freeze is a tough platformer, seemingly designed to frustrate even the most gifted gamers. Here is a game made with wit and excitement, boasting plenty of moments of visionary beauty, but also a game that will drive you mad. I lost count keeping track of the number of times I died while playing, but it was all worth it.
Tropical Freeze‘s six islands contain some tense challenges and lots of unique level ideas. Each level delivers a sense of scale that feels bigger than most two-dimensional games, and the constant switches and level variety keeps it fresh and interesting throughout. Tropical Freeze is full of astonishment, thrills, chills, spills, kills and ills. The lengthy boss fights and multitude of well-placed secrets and collectibles stand out as some of the best parts of the game, and like many Wii U titles, Freeze also features a couch multiplayer mode where player two can choose between Diddy, Dixie Kong, and Cranky Kong. Meanwhile, original series composer David Wise returned to create one of the best video game soundtracks of this generation. Brawling, magnificent, heroic: That’s Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. (Ricky D)
3. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
Originally released on both the GameCube and the Nintendo Wii, and helmed by Eiji Aonuma (Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker), Twilight Princess is visually breathtaking, emotionally powerful, downright exciting, and brings you in as close as a whisper for scenes of startling emotion. Like most other Zelda games, Twilight Princess is a retelling of the same basic tale, though this one is not without its twists. The game is unique among Zelda titles because of its pervasive darkness, a theme that informs the aesthetic, the character design, and the overall tone of Link’s journey. The twilight that’s infected the land is an alternate reality of sorts, serving as the game’s equivalent of A Link to the Past‘s dark world. It’s beautiful yet disturbing, vibrant yet bleak, and the events that transpire are equally unsettling and inspiring. Twilight Princess also features Link’s best sidekick, Midna, who is one of the freshest concepts in the long-running series, and the best showdown between Ganon and Link. And yes, Link can transform into a blue-eyed wolf. What more could you want? (Ricky D)
2. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
Of all home-console Legend of Zelda titles, GameCube’s The Wind Waker has perhaps aged the best. Its cel-shaded world, expressive, cartoonish characters, vibrant, simple-yet-beautiful art style, and near-perfect gameplay ensure that ten years after its initial release, it remains as breathtaking now as it was then. Ironically, this is the first Zelda entry Nintendo selected for the full HD treatment, and thank the Fierce Deity they did! Wind Waker HD’s narrative is just as emotionally gripping and swashbuckling-ly engrossing as the original. Rather than cutting straight to the fantasy adventure Zelda is known for, The Wind Waker takes a slower, steadier approach, grounding the story in a familial plight before launching into the expected tropes of the series, this time on the high seas. As a result, Wind Waker, with its charming, expressive characters, is one of the most relatable entries in the entire franchise, while simultaneously carrying some unexpectedly heavy, moving themes that never weigh the game, thanks to its charming exterior.
Speaking of which, Wind Waker HD comes equipped with staggering updated visuals, making this one of the most visually striking games I’ve ever played. The textures look nearly seamless, the vivid colors pop like never before, and above all, the lighting effects bring this gorgeous cartoon world to life in the most appealing way. While the cel-shading of the original game helped preserved that entry for over a decade, the updated HD visuals are certainly the way the game should be experienced. Despite some initial hesitancy on the part of fans, the original was received exceptionally well but wasn’t without some player grievances. Nintendo heard the moans and adjusted aspects of the game. With a new item, sail times are faster, and the infamous Triforce fetch quest has been diminished. On top of that, overall animation speeds have been quickened, making for a smoother experience. Plus, being ported to the Wii U come with its own set of perks, including a hyper-convenient inventory menu on the gamepad, and always open maps on the second screen. Further, with the Wii U comes Miiverse, and The Wind Waker HD features my favorite Miiverse integration yet in the form of shareable selfies utilizing the previously uninteresting camera item. The results are hysterical and entertaining beyond reason; every game should feature silly selfies. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD represents everything an HD remake should be and then some. It features the same exceptional gameplay that made the original so notable, visually it blows expectations of what an HD update looks like out of the water, and the other adjustments are perfectly minimal yet greatly enhance convenience and user experience. The Wind Waker HD is undoubtedly how Wind Waker should be experienced, is one of the most gorgeous games ever made, and will forever be remembered as one of the best experiences the Wii U has to offer. (Tim Maison)
1. Super Mario 3D World
Super Mario 3D World had a lot to live up to at its launch. The previous three 3D Mario titles on N64, GameCube, and Wii had all cleverly innovated on (or in Super Mario 64’s case, even invented) the traditional 3D platformer. As a follow-up to the critically acclaimed Super Mario 3D Land on the Nintendo 3DS, Super Mario 3D World wasn’t the 3D Mario game that gamers expected, but it proved subtly brilliant, providing the Wii U with one of its finest titles in the process.
From the adorable Super Bell, which transforms Mario and Co. into lovable catsuit-wearing adventurers, to the story-book plot involving Bowser kidnapping the Sprixies, every aspect of Super Mario 3D World feels cozy. Expertly-designed landscapes beautifully rendered in high definition complement the charm evident from the game’s inception. Such beautiful design, combined with a spectacular jazz-inspired score, and excellent controls cement what is one of the best 3D Mario games to date. (Izsak Barnette)
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