15. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
The Wii U may not have played host to its own, unique entry in The Legend of Zelda series like every other Nintendo console before it, but it did get two of the best versions of some of the finest games of the series. Twilight Princess HD arrived late in the Wii U's life, but its presence is no less welcome, providing a wealth of improvements and a variety of changes to streamline this fan-favorite's more frustrating elements.
Twilight Princess HD enhances the GameCube version (complete with lefty Link and the non-mirrored world) with improved visuals, the mapping of three items to controller buttons (compared to two in the original game), reducing the amount of Twilight seeds you have to collect during the sections where you play as Wolf Link, and GamePad functionality to allow easy inventory management and map viewing. It's the best way to experience this strange, Tim Burton-by-way-of-Japanese-anime take on the Zelda universe, and it features some of the coolest gadgets in the series by far.
14. Affordable Space Adventures
The Wii U's GamePad was the albatross on the system's back, the promise of innovation that never quite materialized, as most developers simply offloaded their maps or inventory screens onto it. And then a small eShop title from KnapNok Games came along called Affordable Space Adventures, which justified nearly all of the system's gimmicky features better than even Nintendo could.
As the recipient of an all-inclusive trek to an undiscovered planet from the comically capitalistic UExplore travel company, you'll pilot your Small Craft across alien terrain, avoid obstacles, and try to make it through increasingly inhospitable environs intact. To do this, you'll use the GamePad's screen to access your ship's various components like a virtual control panel. Turn your thrusters to maximum if you need to get through an area quickly, adjust your gravity well if you need to make yourself lighter, but be careful, as all of these options affect your noise, heat, and electric levels. Turn everything up too high, and you'll find yourself a smoldering wreck on the side of an uncaring planet. It's a brilliant game that hasn't gotten nearly the kind of love it deserves, and it's absolutely one of the best games the Wii U has to offer.
Splatoon is one of those games that you feel happy just looking at. Whether it’s great globs of colour or adorable Inklings, everything about it is a pleasure to behold. It’s the rarest of all things - a competitive shooter that makes you feel amazing whether you win or lose, that’s more about the simple, tactile joy of splurging paint over every imaginable surface than it is about singular heroics or no-scope headshots.
How many times have you stepped away from an FPS unhappier than when you started? That’ll never happen here. In that sense, it’s the most Nintendo thing ever - a simple concept, done brilliantly well, without a hint of shouty unpleasantness. Add in stacks of collectible loot and genius traversal mechanics, which are simple to learn but difficult to master, and you have the beginning of a timeless franchise in the making.
12. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
The delightfully tricky Captain Toad levels in Super Mario 3D World were so good, Nintendo went and spun them out into their own game. The result is Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, an adorable little puzzle game filled with some of Nintendo's most inventive and clever challenges yet.
As the diminutive Captain Toad, along with his adventure pal Toadette, you'll explore dozens of bite-sized dioramas, manoeuvring each explorer up pathways and past goombas while figuring out how to collect each diamond and make it to the end. You only have a few moves at your disposal (Toad can't even jump like his bud Mario), but Treasure Tracker wrings every last drop of fun out of its levels. It's one of the Wii U's most surprising delights, a game full of boundless joy and charm.
11. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
It’s a thing we’ve said before about the Smash Bros. series, but it’s absolutely worth reiterating here: whether you win or lose, you just want to keep playing. In a very Nintendo-y way, it takes a deeply competitive fighting game and removes the grind and anger that sometimes comes with one-on-one combat. Even after hundreds of matches, you’ll still get that same rush of excitement before a match starts, and this is just as true in the Wii U version.
It’s the sort of wonderful chaos that makes some fighting game fans scratch their heads, but it makes for a wild and brightly entertaining game. The Wii U version improves the familiar gameplay rather than reinventing it, focussing on balanced bouts and technical depth, and it’s a worthy update to an already illustrious and much loved series.
10. Rayman Legends
Few games mix whimsy and challenge as successfully as Rayman Legends, a wholly entertaining platformer that'll simultaneously put your skills to the test and a smile on your face. It all starts with the hand-drawn aesthetic. The cartoon-like visuals are downright gorgeous, and the characters - Rayman, his pal Globox, and the wizard Teensies - have plenty of quirky animations and personality.
Of course, that wouldn't mean much if the gameplay wasn't good, but Legends is one of the best platformers around. Every level is packed with hidden secrets and a slew of obstacles--ranging from deadly pits to equally deadly bad guys--that'll keep you on your toes. And each of its multiple worlds closes out with an incredible music stage, where every jump and action happens to the beat of a song. Don't miss out on this excellent game.
9. Nintendo Land
Much like Wii Sports, Nintendo Land was created to be an inviting tech demo for Nintendo's experimental new console. But that's pretty much where the comparisons cease, because Nintendo Land is made to appeal to both the blue ocean of casual players as well as the millions of Nintendo junkies around the world. And though the 12 core minigames vary in quality, when Nintendo Land gets it right, it makes for great fun for up to five players.
Set in a virtual Nintendo theme park, each minigame is an attraction inspired by a different Nintendo franchise. The standouts of the bunch are intense versus battles like Animal Crossing: Sweet Day and Luigi's Ghost Mansion, in addition to deeper co-op adventures like Metroid Blast and Pikmin Adventure. Even if some of the single-player challenges are too shallow, Nintendo Land is a great party game perfect for introducing your friends to your new console, and will keep you entertained long after they leave.
8. Shovel Knight
Shovel Knight is an indie title that harkens back to the retro stylings of Mega Man and Duck Tales, so it's fitting that its only console outing is on Wii U. This is old-school NES fun at its best, sporting a shovel to swing, platforms to hop on, and colorful opponents to overcome.
Shovel Knight features stages based on elements like fire, ice, and poison, each completely different from the last. Leap and slash your way through these, and you'll cap off each stage in a showdown with the Order of No Quarter - knights with as much personality as the levels they inhabit. If the rush of battling the fire-spitting Mole Knight or the staff-slamming King Knight isn't enough, then how about different types of armor and weapons, extra bosses, and bonus levels? This retro throwback is fun for players of all ages.
7. Super Mario Maker
Nintendo handing over the keys to 30 years worth of Mario level objects and letting you loose with them is a bit like Alfred giving you the access code to the Batcave. Am I allowed to be in here? But once you’ve got over the sheer volume of stuff that you’re allowed to play with here, it’s kid in a sweet shop territory. Thankfully there’s a slow trickle of new toys, so you’re not suddenly so overwhelmed that you need to open a window, but the offerings from three decades of Mario means that you can build whatever kind of level you can dream up.
It’s all absurdly easy too. You can actually draw out the level on the GamePad before dragging and dropping bricks and blocks galore. Just like LittleBigPlanet, half the joy - or all of it if you find out you’re not the level designer you hoped - is going in and trying other people’s creations. Whether you want surreal levels where creators have broken all the rules or ultra-hard Super Meat Boy-esque side-scrollers from hell, you’ll find it here.
6. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
Gaming has come a long way since 2003, but the Zelda series has yet to truly improve upon the brilliance of Wind Waker. The gorgeous, understated art has aged gracefully, as has the action-packed gameplay and mystery-rich dungeons. Wind Waker took all the tropes of the Zelda franchise and reimagined them in a story that's both reverent of franchise mythology while still taking chances with expectations.
When Nintendo returned to the title for an HD remake, the developers did far more than upscale the visual fidelity. Wind Waker HD fixes the majority of the few real problems the game had, such as the spotty pacing near the end and the sometimes-frustrating stealth. One of the best Zelda games ever made just got better, and is worth turning on your Wii U for, whether you played the original or are dying to know what all the fuss is about.