Ask any longtime gamer or serious Nintendo fan about the Wii U, and you’re likely to receive a wide range of responses. Many players have nostalgic memories of the console. Others view Nintendo’s follow-up to the staggering success of the Wii as a resounding commercial and critical failure. Who’s right on this one?
The truth is that the Wii U was an interesting failure with a lot of very good games in its corner. True, the console sold just over 13 million units worldwide, which makes it the worst-selling Nintendo home system to date. It’s also true that the infamous Wii U launch didn’t have much to offer in the way of top-tier releases. However, when we dig deeper, we find a system that over a period of 5 years became the home to at least a few dozen excellent titles. We also have a system that in many ways established a path for the Nintendo Switch to follow later on, just without the confusing branding and iffy controller tech.
Let’s celebrate everything the Wii U got right with a look at the best Wii U games of all time.
The Best Wii U Games
20. Batman: Arkham City – Armored Edition
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
Some people expected the worst when Rocksteady and Warner Bros brought Batman: Arkham City over to the brand-new Wii U. While arguably not quite as good as the Game of the Year edition that was released to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Armored Edition can’t be blamed for not trying to give Wii U players everything this extraordinary game has to offer.
Set after the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum, players once again took control of Batman (voiced by the essential, late, great Kevin Conroy) and now had an entire chunk of Gotham to contend with. The Wii U included all of the DLCs from the Game of the Year release and did a largely excellent job of bringing Batman’s ferocious, compulsory gameplay against such villains as The Joker, Harkey Quinn, and Two-Face.
Arkham City proved to be a solid investment for Wii U fans, and sadly one of very few instances of good third-party support.
19. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
The Monster Hunter series is not for everyone, and few game franchises emphasize this as intensely as this one does. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is as good a game as any to find out if this is the series for you.
The essentials of Monster Hunter can be found here in a relatively accessible package. Simply put, this game comes down to tracking monsters, spending an inordinate amount of strategy on taking them down, and then marshaling the spoils of victory before repeating the whole formula. This is a game that demands patience and resource management on a dizzying level.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was another stellar release for the Wii U. It offered what was the deepest and most challenging experience with the mechanics of the games to date, but it was straightforward enough that newcomers could at least see what all the fuss was about.
18. Shovel Knight
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Armed with a shovel that can be used for everything from swinging along platforms, to taking out a plethora of bright, memorable enemies, Shovel Knight has been an indie darling for over a decade at this point. The game was praised upon release for recreating a retro vibe that didn’t forget what modern games could also offer. It proved to be a perfect blend of concepts that at its heart was also really fun for virtually anyone to pick up and play.
Shovel Knight looks and plays beautifully on the Wii U and utilizes its control setup in a way that works quite well and feels great. The game was a good fit for the console in 2014. It’s easy to call Shovel Knight one of the best Wii U games ever, with how it brilliantly recreates the best elements of games like Mega Man in its own original way.
17. Need for Speed: Most Wanted U
Developer: Criterion Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
There were a handful of very good racing games released during the Wii U’s relatively short lifespan, and Need for Speed: Most Wanted U is unquestionably one of them. Developed by the same folks who did the Burnout series, Most Wanted U is a lot of fun to play. When you dig a bit deeper than the gameplay, you’re going to find a good thing made even better.
With a visually stunning open world, engaging gameplay mechanics, and an emphasis on, you guessed it, speed, Most Wanted U is the console firing on all cylinders. The sheer volume of stuff to unlock in this game is likely to keep you busy for quite some time. By the time you get every race, car, or mod, you’re going to have a sense of just how big Need for Speed: Most Wanted U really is.
16. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse
Developer: Inti Creates
The Shantae series, which began back on the Game Boy Color, deserves your love and attention, period. The Wii U received several very good platformers in this franchise, and Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse might be the best of the bunch. This is an expansive, truly epic game that provides the essentials of a good platformer. The characters look great, the backgrounds sumptuous in their beauty, and the gameplay easy to pick up but difficult to fully master.
Expect to drop at 10+ hours on this game if you’re a completionist. That’s not too shabby for a game like this, with Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse offering plenty of surprises and additional challenges for players who demand a whole lot of both of those things from these sorts of games. Pirate Mode in particular is a treat for the speed running crowd.
15. Super Mario Maker
The release of Super Mario Maker for the Nintendo Wii proved to be one of the best reasons to own a Wii U console at all.
Super Mario Maker gives you literally everything you need to make your own Mario levels in a swarth of iconic styles. You could mix and match. You could share the results with other players online, and even take part in their creations, many of which would reach nightmarish results that defied explanation or logic.
In short, Super Mario Maker inspired all kinds of fascinating, entertaining results. The simple user interface and relative open-endedness to do what you wanted went a long way. You expect something good out of Nintendo for a project like Super Mario Maker. This would be one of those times when the company surprised us by going beyond what we hoped for.
14. New Super Mario Bros U
It’s true that New Super Mario Bros U is considerably more straightforward than a lot of the Mario games being released at this point (like Super Mario Galaxy). It’s effectively just a very ambitious remake of the best of the early days of the character, and that ambition is the reason why it’s more than just a retread. Besides the fact that New Super Mario Bros U is ridiculously fun to play, it does look for and find several viable enhancements to the experience.
The main story is fun to play through, with just the right increases in challenge. There’s some solid mini-games in New Super Mario Bros U as well, giving us what is essentially an enormously satisfying game that also shows us just how far Mario had come by this point. Multiplayer in particular in Super Mario Bros U produces the best kind of chaos.
13. Xenoblade Chronicles X
Developer: Monolith Soft
Xenoblade Chronicles X was another game that utilized the uniqueness of the Wii U. Being able to access your map on the gamepad screen being just one example. This RPG has proven to be an enduringly popular modern series, with this entry in particular getting a very splashy and spacious release on Nintendo’s follow-up to the Wii.
One of our favorite things about Xenoblade Chronicles X is that you don’t need to have played any prior games. It stands on its own just fine, offering an absorbing RPG experience that also doesn’t overdo inevitable components like grinding. The game will keep you occupied for a very long time, but you won’t find yourself spending half of that time building up your fully-customizable character.
Xenoblade Chronicles basically sets you loose on the planet Mira, but with lots and lots of interesting stuff to do. It’s also one of the last proper Wii U exclusives remaining, with so many big hitters being ported to the more successful Switch.
12. Yoshi’s Woolly World
After working their singular visual magic on Kirby with Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Wii, Good-Feel came back with a similar approach to Yoshi. The result is Yoshi’s Woolly World. Given everyone involved, it’s not surprising that the game was as beautiful and adorable as it was fun to play.
Keeping in mind Yoshi’s abilities and individual strengths as a character, but unafraid to take this character in new platforming directions, Yoshi’s Woolly World is still impressive. You’re never going to be bored with how the game looks and sounds, but running right next to that is the simple gameplay that belies a Wii U hit that definitely gets more difficult as it goes on.
Not a surprise that this is easily one of the best Wii U games ever made, but it’s worth mentioning that Yoshi’s Woolly World is still incredibly fun to play even today.
11. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
There’s something utterly delightful about the sum of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Built around the surprisingly popular Captain Toad segments from Super Mario 3D World, the game continues the basic premise of visiting small, puzzle-based worlds to avoid enemies and obtain diamonds.
Toad doesn’t have the ability to jump, nor does his partner in adventure Toadette. Their backpacks are much too heavy for that sort of Mario business, so they have no choice but to travel their challenging little landscapes as cleverly as possible. It’s still up to you to avoid Goombas and the like.
The cute designs and often perplexing puzzles work well together for Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. The Wii U gamepad is actually a fun addition. Overall, there’s a lot to enjoy here, with Nintendo giving Toad a game unlike anything else in the Wii U library.
One of the most popular multiplayer games on the Switch first came to us via the Wii U in 2015. Among the many competitive first-person shooters on the market, Splatoon established itself as a novel approach to the standard from the very beginning.
Rather than brutality and violence, the game puts you against friends and enemies alike with essentially just paint as your primary weapon. Splatoon gets messy quickly, as you have the ability to cover just about every surface in the game in paint. This makes the game a little more fun to play for the sake of itself than other first-person shooters.
Those other games emphasize winners and losers a little more severely. In keeping with the general spirit of games developed specifically by Nintendo, Splatoon aspires to be fun to play regardless of the outcome. It’s an explosion of color, joy, and memorable character designs that’s had two hugely successful sequels so far.
9. Super Smash Bros for Wii U
Developers: Sora, Bandai Namco
At this point Nintendo could scarcely get away with a new console that doesn’t include a Smash Bros game.
Super Smash Bros for Wii U (otherwise known as Smash 4) was released simultaneously with a 3DS counterpart, and proved to be another excellent game in a series that simply needed to retain the compulsory gameplay, feature a ton of characters, and give you plenty of other things to do. All of these qualities exist in Super Smash Bros for Wii U in impressive form.
Super Smash Bros for Wii U represents gloriously, deeply competitive chaos. This is a franchise notorious for pulling in players with its bright characters and instantly fun gameplay. However, the longer you go on, the more demanding and deep Smash can get, and Super Smash Bros for Wii U highlights this in the best way.
8. Super Mario 3D World
Never one to shy away from evolution and ambition with its iconic mascot, Nintendo released something quite interesting with Super Mario 3D World in 2013. With its own striking style, it managed to bring together the best 3D and 2D Mario elements.
The game proved to be a massive success for fans of either, with a platforming game that provides a degree of challenge and enjoyment unlike almost anything else that was released to the Wii U between 2012 and 2017.
Super Mario 3D World presents the standard Mario story of our hero and his friends trying to stop Bowser but presents this conflict with a dazzling collection of free-roaming worlds that provide ample challenge and opportunity for discovery. Super Mario 3D World never disappoints in fun or gameplay, particularly in letting you play as different characters with differing abilities.
7. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse gave us Kirby in one of his most unique forms. Playing through a world designed to resemble sculpted clay, the game doesn’t forget the mechanics of a good Kirby game.
These two components are brought together wonderfully, featuring just enough in the way of new ideas and cute touches that the result is another excellent title in one of Nintendo’s most beloved series. The game takes full advantage of the power of the Wii U. Although if Rainbow Curse is guilty of anything, it’s the fact that there isn’t as much to do as you might like.
Nonetheless, Challenge Mode and multiplayer are going to keep you enthralled beyond the main story campaign. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is one of the most underrated titles in not only the Kirby franchise, but on the Wii U itself.
6. Rayman Legends
The hand-drawn beauty and cartoony graphics of Rayman Legends is just the start of its many charms and strengths. The cheerful visual style and easy-to-pick-up gameplay are just the surface of what this game has to offer.
As you play on, you’ll find things getting exponentially more difficult. However, that doesn’t mean at any given point that you’re going to stop having fun. Rayman has been an underappreciated platformer series for quite some time now, and Rayman Legends reminds us of that with a title that’s one of the best Wii U games.
Rayman Legends knows it’s not enough to just have a series of fantastically designed fun to play levels. That’s why the game packs in more secrets and surprises than you will likely be able to find on your first playthrough. Like all the best platformers, Rayman Legends is something you’ll want to come back to more than once.
5. Pikmin 3
Being a Pikmin fan can be frustrating, simply for how long it takes to get a new game in the series. Pikmin 3 took 9 years to come out, but fans immediately embraced the newest chapter. It’s still regarded as a masterpiece of level design, quirkiness, and seriously involving game mechanics. There’s also a richer and deeper story than this franchise sometimes gets credit for.
Playing as Olimar, and with the ability to direct and control a veritable army of little beings known as Pikmin, the exploration of Pikmin 3 is vast indeed. However, unlike traditional platformers and similar games, Pikmin 3 challenged players to solve complex puzzles to unlock everything the game has to offer.
There’s something about this game in particular that pulls you in with the promise of something different and yet familiar. Pikmin 3 doesn’t lose its momentum for a second and is absolutely one of the most absorbing games on the Wii U.
4. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Developer: Retro Studios
Retro Studios should be commended for how effortless they make it look when it comes to updating classics for an audience of old fans and new. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze updates the best things about the DKC series, but also remembers what people loved about the original run of games that defined the dying days of the Super Nintendo in the mid-90s.
Some things never go out of style, and for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze that means a vibrant art style, different characters with different abilities, lots of hidden secrets and treasures, and some of the most intensely difficult platforming in modern gaming history.
No doubt about it, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the most difficult platformer on the Wii U, but it’s not impossible at any given point, and the joy of pulling it all off is almost as good as satisfying as visiting a tropical paradise.
3. Bayonetta 2
Longtime Nintendo fans are no doubt still quietly amazed that the most family-friendly game company in modern history is now home to games like Bayonetta. That’s perfectly fine, with Wii U releases like Bayonetta 2 giving console owners a good blast of variety in the types of games they could play on the system. Bayonetta 2 makes no bones about being racy, violent, and absolutely crazed in its action. All of that comes together to make for a very good time indeed.
Bayonetta 2 is a must-play for fans of action games. The sense of humor and art style keep you as connected to the game as the challenge of some very difficult bosses. There’s also a co-op mode that lets you indulge in this fast-paced madness with a friend. Everyone’s got a chance to blow stuff up and look good doing it with Bayonetta 2, one of the most bewitching games on the Wii U.
2. Mario Kart 8
Few games made a better case for the Wii U than Mario Kart 8, so much so that Nintendo remastered it for the Switch and have been coasting on it since.
Not only did the game help to usher in Nintendo’s incredible embrace of HD-level visuals, and Mario Kart 8 is still one of the most stunning Nintendo games ever made, but it also raised the stakes for its other qualities. Namely the massive library of tracks that were fun, challenging, and almost distractingly gorgeous, as well as the host of drivers, the items and weapons available, and certainly the vast and beloved multiplayer. When a series high is reached with the stratosphere Mario Kart 8 hit, it’s a beautiful thing.
Mario Kart 8 could be seen as too little too late for the Wii U. Instead, let’s say the beleaguered console and games like Mario Kart 8 represented the company fine-tuning itself and stepping into the future, while staying on the right track, so to speak.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild isn’t just the best of the best Wii U games. If we were to start ranking the best Nintendo games of all time across the entire span of the company’s history, it’s almost a guarantee that Breath of the Wild would be somewhere in at least the top 5 for a lot of people. Yeah, it really is that good and served as a pretty compelling goodbye for the Wii U itself, with the Switch launching on the same day.
What makes The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild one of the finest gaming experiences of all time is how it retains the look and feel and sheer pleasure of a great Zelda game. It just happens to wrap these essentials around a world that will take dozens and dozens of hours to explore fully. You’re largely left on your own, too, which can almost be an overwhelming sensation when you fire up the game for the first time.
Just relax, breathe, and above all else, get lost in the magic of how flawlessly Breath of the Wild promises and delivers its vast, sprawling world.
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