20. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
It would be a rare Super Mario 3D World fan that didn’t enjoy the clever Captain Toad puzzles, distractions that served as a nice break from the brilliant platforming en route to Bowser’s castle, and those who thought the jump-less little guy deserved his own adorable game got their wish with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Instead of amassing green stars, the leader of the Toad Brigade is out to enhance his personal wealth by collecting the many diamonds tucked away in hidden spots across the various levels. Along the way, he feuds with a giant bird, shoots turnips from a mine cart, and generally runs away from everyone and everything. It’s a grand adventure on a smaller scale, the perfect low-key spinoff for the cowering fortune-seeker.
Nintendo has always been adept at wringing the most out of whatever gameplay concepts they come up with, and though things start out easy enough, to begin with, the puzzle makers come up some devilishly tricky courses for Captain Toad and his lady friend, Toadette, to explore. Most of these are contained within diorama-like stages, each of which must be rotated to gain different perspectives and discover the secrets stashed away in every nook and cranny. The “aha” moments this elicits are satisfying, and finding the best (or sometimes only) way for the stubby-legged Captain to waddle his way through a mess of shy guys or hard-charging Chucks on the way to that precious, precious jewel is never less than engaging. The winsome visuals certainly contribute to the delight, with bright Nintendo colors popping off the screen and fuzzy textures that look soft enough to snuggle up next to. The whole game emits such a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere that even when actual dexterity is required, and the grounded pipsqueak demonstrates why he isn’t the beloved star of the Mario games, players’ smiles are unlikely to fade for long. Hopefully neither will Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. (Patrick Murphy)
19. New Super Luigi U
Constructed from the same assets used to create New Super Mario Bros. U, New Super Luigi U feels instantly familiar to any Mario veteran who plays it. Besides the introduction of Nabbit in multiplayer, the gameplay, enemies, and world themes are all identical. However, one key difference cemented this game as more than just an interesting take on the traditional Mario formula: the introduction of a 100 second time limit.
Not only did this repurpose a criminally underused element in the Mario series, the stage timer, but it also injected a much-needed sense of difficulty into a series more known for placating newcomers than challenging veterans of the series. That key change, coupled with Luigi’s fundamentally different physics, produces a game not seen before and not seen since in the Mario series. The player has to think like a speedrunner, plotting out a path ahead of them and eliminating unnecessary elements of the run in order to successfully complete the level. New Super Luigi U succeeds by teaching Mario players to fundamentally rethink the way they approach levels. Even while reusing the same assets, it manages to craft an experience so ubiquitously Luigi-esque and difficult that it’s a shame such creativity isn’t evident in every entry in the Mario series. (Izsak Barnette)
18. New Super Mario Bros. U
Released as a launch title for the Wii U in late 2012, New Super Mario Bros. U seemed destined to disappoint gamers eagerly awaiting a third entry in the Super Mario Galaxy series. As the fourth New Super Mario Bros. game in six years and with the least amount of new content, New Super Mario Bros. U has faced an uphill battle to gain the recognition that it rightfully deserves. Shunned by the public and decried by gamers as Nintendo simply cashing in on existing assets, New Super Mario Bros. U is well worth the time and energy it takes to recognize its greatness.
While it may lack originality, New Super Mario Bros. U more than makes up for it by executing what is perhaps Mario’s most tightly constructed 2D platforming adventure yet. Balancing expertly the scales of difficulty and accessibility, the game manages to appeal to newcomers and veterans alike, and the Star Coin challenges are some of the finest in the New Super Mario Bros. series. That, coupled with a truly beautiful HD, sixty fps presentation, cement this as not only the best traditional New Super Mario Bros. game, but also one of the Wii U’s best outings. (Izsak Barnette)
17. Yoshi’s Wooly World
Few games are as capable of representing their publishers as well as Yoshi’s Wooly World represents Nintendo. Charm, creativity, and a love for pure fun define this most recent installment in the Yoshi series. Developer Good-Feel delivered on an interesting new Yoshi concept that, instead of attempting to imitate past Yoshi’s Island games, stands out boldly. Despite utilizing the yarn motif previously seen in Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Yoshi’s Wooly World still manages to find means by which to continually impress the player and showcase what is perhaps the most well-crafted, or perhaps well-knitted, art style this side of Paper Mario: Color Splash.
Cleverly challenging levels, brilliant yarn mechanics, and a fun, family-friendly atmosphere all compound what is one of Nintendo’s most well-executed game concepts in recent memory. Running at a brisk sixty frames per second and rendered lovingly in high definition, there is perhaps no other game on the Wii U that looks as good as Yoshi’s Wooly World when it is in motion. From the meticulous design of the enemies to the incredible texture work that makes the game feel like it’s made out of yarn, Yoshi’s Wooly World is a poignant reminder that in the world of squabbles over 4K and graphical fidelity, execution matters more than anything else. (Izsak Barnette)
16. Axiom Verge
A nostalgia-inducing experience inspired by the NES classic Metroid. Thomas Happ Games combined Metroid with elements of other retro games, such as Contra and Bionic Commander, sharpened its teeth with more weaponry, and created amazing boss battles that recrudesce moments from our childhood. A chaotic storyline serves to flesh out an explorational challenge across the high-tech world of Sudra, leaving you sometimes lost and vulnerable, without a clear path to completion. The endless pursuit of more power to find the hidden pathways stumbles you through some beautifully designed settings, that only confirm that retro style games still have a place in the 21st century. (James Baker)
15. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
What makes Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE so special is the fact that it merges two of Japan’s biggest RPG franchises, Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei. Both series have had success on Nintendo consoles, and watching them come together masterfully in one game is something truly special.
The story of Tokyo Mirage Sessions is, at its core, very reminiscent of previous Atlus titles, with a focus on teens, relationships, and otherworldly monsters and demons. However, Fire Emblem‘s hand in the narrative is never put in second place, as both franchises share the spotlight. Fan favorites like Chrom and Tharja make appearances as the protagonists summon, or as they’re called in the game, mirages. These mirages help develop the plot as well as provide an interesting dynamic in combat. What’s more, the game’s focus on pop stars and the entertainment industry means that every attack is attached to some dance move or musical note. This creates a vibrant, exciting, and engaging battle system that is both unfamiliar and oddly reminiscent of previous Atlus RPGs.
As with the Fire Emblem franchise, crafting and acquiring new gear both play pivotal roles in progressing through Tokyo Mirage Sessions. This also allows the player to tailor their team’s combat skills to their liking. Every member of the player’s party fights differently, but by utilizing newfound gear and abilities, the characters can play off each others’ strengths and weaknesses.
As with most Japanese RPGs, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE takes a decent amount of time to get into, but the slog through the first few hours is well worth what comes after. With a diverse cast of characters and the intriguing backdrop of the Japanese entertainment industry, it’s hard for Mirage Sessions to disappoint.
Atlus truly struck gold with Tokyo Mirage Sessions. The combat is intuitive and enjoyable, the story is exciting and intriguing, and the gameplay works just as well as any of Atlus’s other titles. What’s more, the near endless item and ability customizations and team combinations ensure that the player will always have something to draw them back in. If nothing else, Mirage Sessions is a fantastic appetizer to Atlus’s next big release, the long awaited Persona 5. (Carston Carasella)
14. Mario Kart 8
Despite being an old dog with few new tricks, the Mario Kart formula is inherently fun, still consistently entertaining after all these years, and while Mario Kart 8 doesn’t try to shake anything up too much, it refines those elements to create one of the best entries the franchise has to offer. Building upon successful elements of its predecessors, Mario Kart 8 delivers a slew of fantastic courses, half new and half remastered from previous titles, each designed to perfection and shown off via some of the most beautiful visuals to be found on the Wii U, or anywhere else. Thanks to a seemingly endless amount of customization available for karts, power sliding through the deliciously caked roads of Sweet Sweet Canyon or across the neon keys of the Electrodrome feels as smooth as silk, and new anti-gravity boosts help turn an otherwise fairly superficial addition into something strategic.
Any tactical advantage will be necessary when going head to head with the top drivers in Mario Kart 8‘s robust online community, even with the sometimes crazy nature of lead changes the series is known for. Luckily, a local friend can be brought along to help (or fire a red shell into your back), extending the options for couch co-op and highlighting even more what makes Mario Kart so special: local multiplayer. Using lightning to shrink up to three of your pals, then mercilessly running them over and seeing their obscenity-laced reactions because they’re actually in the same room doesn’t get any better. This party aspect remains a huge part of why the franchise has had such lasting appeal after seven sequels, and the near-flawless experience provided here surely guarantees that streak will continue. Gorgeous, precise, maddening, joyous, with one of the catchiest soundtracks around and incredible DLC, it’s no wonder that Mario Kart 8 is one of the best games on the Wii U. (Patrick Murphy)
13. Xenoblade Chronicles X
When Xenoblade Chronicles X was originally announced for Wii U, I didn’t know what to think of it. It struck a chord with me with its open world, sleek mechs, and Monster Hunter vibes, but nowadays you never know if a game this ambitious can match the hype. Little did I know that it would become my favourite game of all time.
Xenoblade Chronicles X has a lot going for it. The world of Mira is as large as it is mysterious. Even after hundreds of hours, I still discover new secrets every time I wonder out into the wilderness. The environments can be breathtaking, oppressive, or utterly confusing; it truly feels like an alien world. The cast of playable characters is large, full of unique personalities and relationships. The soundtrack is one of composer Hiroyuki Sawano’s best and has a distinctly alien feel to it. It crosses several genres and languages, giving a varied box of hits that are great on their own but come together to form an outstanding package. Not to mention, its battle system is incredibly satisfying once you get to grips with it, especially when Skells are introduced.
Sadly, this game isn’t exactly the most beginner-friendly. Anyone new to JRPGs will quickly find themselves lost and confused, and some of the songs take time to grow on you. The game is a great experience if you love to get lost in a world and enjoy figuring things out for yourself, but if you’re into more guided experiences, Xenoblade Chronicles X will rub you the wrong way. The extensive amount of work taken to earn and maintain Skells may also turn off less dedicated players.
There’s a lot of conflicting opinions on whether Xenoblade Chronicles X can be said to match up to or surpass its Wii predecessor, but either way, it is an experience you won’t get anywhere else, and one of the best games the Wii U has to offer. (Ade Adeoye)
12. The Wonderful 101
Few games symbolize the Wii U experience better than The Wonderful 101. Charming in its joyful exuberance, yet occasionally clunky in execution, this gonzo action-spectacular from Platinum Games tries a bit of everything, assaulting the player with eye-popping sensory overload while experimenting with a variety of gameplay options made possible by the gamepad. Inspired by tokusatsu, the story has players in control of an ever-expanding team of color-coded superheroes known as The Wonderful 100 (guess who the extra hero is), each with a special power that allows them all to unite like Voltron into a larger form, usually a powerful weapon of some sort, and take on the bad guys. When a race of hilariously evil lizard aliens (cheesily named GEATH JERK) attempts to invade Earth, the United Nations secret service, CENTINELS, tasks a mild-mannered school teacher also known as Wonder Red with leading the group in defense of a planet under siege.
The main draw of The Wonderful 101 is the sheer zaniness of it all, with epic battles against armies of giant robots laying waste to isometric cityscapes by blowing up everything they come across in truly spectacular fashion, panicked citizens fleeing like ants in every direction who must be corralled and rescued, and outrageous set piece after outrageous set piece, from leading kids through a train of flaming school buses under attack by a mechanized three-headed dragon, to getting shrunk and going full-on Innerspace before squashing a malicious bug atop a keyboard. It’s as weird to describe as it is to play, but the fun Platinum clearly had making this game is infectious. Heroes and villains are portrayed in such slapstick broadness that even silly stereotypes can elicit a grin, and dialogue is a nice combination of stupid and witty. The action suffers some from awkward symbol drawing that doesn’t work smoothly no matter how one does it, and when the camera switches to the gamepad it’s easy to get lost, but at least The Wonderful 101 tries for something new, even if it doesn’t always succeed with flying superhero colors. With a full complement of characters onscreen, the chaos can sometimes be overwhelming, but those having problems with the sometimes finicky touch controls or Bayonetta-like combos can simply tone down the difficulty level and enjoy the dazzling fireworks show. For fans of B-movie inanity it’s completely worth it. (Patrick Murphy)
11. Pokkén Tournament
Whether you’re in it to catch ‘em all, battle to be the best like no one ever was, or simply love the world, the lasting impact of the infinitely popular game series Pokémon can’t be understated. However, the turn-based RPG nature of the games leaves a lot to the imagination when considering Pokémon battles. Don’t get me wrong; I love the turn-based battle mechanics central to the main series titles. However, the concept of a Pokémon fighting game where players could control their favorite Pokémon in bouts for glory has long been dreamed of, and it’s surprising that it took so long for that to appear. The wait, however, was worth it. Pokkén Tournament, from the makers of the popular fighting franchise, Tekken, not only fulfills a long term wish of Poké-fanatics, but is a brilliantly novel new fighter, apart from the Pokémon brand but all the more brilliant for its clever fan service and celebration of the franchise. At the game’s core is a colorful cast of Pocket Monsters comprised of fan favorites and a blend of the franchise’s many types of Pokémon. Each Pokémon has its own unique move set, despite being grouped into one of four categories of fighter: Standard, Power, Technical, or Speed, types assigned to give a general impression of how the character will play. Despite having a roster of fourteen totally unique characters, and two variations of featured Pokémon that play completely differently than the Pokémon they’re based on, Pokkén is remarkable for its overall balance and ease of use. Mastery of its unique characteristics, however, will separate the simple trainer from the Pokémon Master.
Most notably, Pokkén Tournament features two different styles of battle in a single match. The first, Field Phase, is a free range, 3D arena mode where players can traverse the entire map. Dual Phase plays more like a standard 2D fighter. Both phases impact character move sets and play to character strengths differently, and only by landing a heavy hit can a player shift phases. Consequently, mastery means having a handle on a Pokémon’s move set regardless of phase. Fairly unique to fighters, Pokkén Tournament also features Support Sets, duos of Pokémon that can be summoned once a specific meter has been filled. These support Pokémon feature varying charge times and abilities, and provide an interesting level of strategy, as only one Pokémon can be selected per round, while the other will be fully ready for the following round, providing a decent amount of strategy and plotting on the part of the player. The game also features a Synergy Meter that allows Pokémon to unleash a special move or transformation when ready, and feature some fantastically designed cut scenes when these moves are pulled off. The result of all of this is a diverse fighter featuring some of the most recognizable Pokémon around, enjoyable fighting mechanics and gameplay including a sort of rock, paper, scissors take on different move types, exciting special moves, fun supports, and an incredibly unique phase system to keep players on their toes. Pokkén Tournament is a fun fighting diversion for fans of the franchise, and a refreshing fighting escapade for fans of the genre craving something new. (Tim Maison)