Nintendo’s Wii U console may be remembered for being the most disappointing hardware that the company put out since the headache-inducing VirtualBoy 3D, but during the five years that it was up for sale, it was also home to some of the best games ever produced on any Nintendo console. The console itself resembled an ugly brick that was devoid of Nintendo flair, the Gamepad was a bulky controller that didn’t translate well to regular gaming experiences, and third-party developers were quick to jump ship in an era dominated by the Xbox one and PlayStation 4. That said, the handheld tablet approach probably influenced the Nintendo Switch’s hybrid design. In that respect, we can thank the Wii U for walking so the Switch could run. But the Wii U at its best is a console that’s still worth celebrating. Here are our picks for the 15 best Wii U games, in alphabetical order. A decent number of these games are easily attainable on Nintendo Switch nowadays, so we’ve included links to the Switch version (if available) below each entry.
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Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition
Busting out of the asylum and into a larger section of Gotham City that had been transformed into a hellish prison, a straight port of Batman: Arkham City was still worth having on the Wii U. The Armored Edition wasn’t content to play it safe though, as this version of the award-winning game added a few Wii U-exclusive features to the package. Battle Armored Tech Mode gave both Catwoman and Batman additional power-ups by building up kinetic energy during combat, and once unleashed, they could deliver brutal amounts of punishment on enemies.
It was the Gamepad functionality though where the game really added extra value, as gadgets were used through the controller and you were given a more immersive system for flexing Batman’s detective skills while investigating crime scenes. Along with a sonar mode, the full game being playable on the Gamepad, and bat-stacks of DLC to play through, the Wii U version of Arkham City was a completely different experience on Nintendo’s home console at the time.
Read our Batman: Arkham City review.
The sequel that almost never was, Nintendo’s fortuitously deep pockets gave developer Platinum Games a chance to continue the story of the studio’s iconic witch. Building on the action-packed foundation established by the 2009 game, Bayonetta 2 dialed up the intensity to 11 and was unrelenting with battles that went from downtown brawls to cosmic throwdowns with all of existence at stake. Not just a fun game to play, Bayonetta 2 also does a remarkable job at fleshing out the story, bringing the series full circle with tying up loose ends from the first game.
Even better, Bayonetta 2 worked surprisingly well on the Wii U Gamepad, never dropping a frame during even the most taxing of action sequences. If your TV was occupied and you were desperate for a combat fix that only Bayonetta 2 could provide, then Platinum Games’ technical wizardry was a showstopper reason to invest in a Wii U. Both Bayonetta games eventually made their way to the Nintendo Switch and Bayonetta 3 lands on Nintendo Switch in 2022.
Read our Bayonetta 2 review.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Super Mario 3D World on its own is one of the best games on the Wii U, but what made that specific tour of the Mushroom Kingdom such a winner were the head-scratching Captain Toad levels. Giving the little fella his own fully-fledged spin-off, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was one of the best puzzle games that you could find on the Wii U. throwing you into a selection of beautifully-crafted dioramas where you had to fight your way past enemies and avoid accidentally wandering off the edge and into oblivion.
For a time, Treasure Tracker was another one of those forgotten classics on the Wii U, but at least a 2018 re-release on the Nintendo 3DS and Switch brought Toad’s treasure-hunting isometric adventures to a wider audience.
Read our Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker review.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Donkey Kong games at their best are B-A-nanas to play–wild and tricky platformers where a single misstep can end a successful run and leave a controller-shaped hole in your wall. To its credit, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze may have been responsible for record Wii U Gamepad sales in the year that it was released, but those shattered hunks of plastic never came from the game being unfair. That despair came from bungling a run through one of the many superbly-designed levels on offer, fumbling that one crucial jump and ruining an otherwise sublime experience of speed and agility.
A handsome beast of a game, brilliantly scored in the audio department, and versatile thanks to the three Kongs that you can play as, Tropical Freeze is a tough but one-more-turn addictive platformer that does the franchise proud. The enhanced Nintendo Switch made this wonderful platformer even better, too.
Read our Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze review.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild regularly makes it into any list discussing the best games available on the Nintendo Switch, and while it’s still one of the best launch games on that platform, it’s also the very best swan song that the Wii U could have hoped for. Anyone who has seen this Zelda adventure in action knows of its wildly-imaginative world, open-ended exploration, and how it successfully broke away from the template that decades of previous Zelda games had established, and much of that is the same on the Wii U.
Barring a drastic dip in frame rate during more intense action sequences, Nintendo’s legendary break from the past is still a killer app on the Wii U. It’s arguable that the best game on the Wii U is far more known as a Nintendo Switch game. That’s actually kind of fitting for a forgotten console like the Wii U.
Read our Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild review.
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD
On the GameCube, The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker established itself as a radical departure from the norm and an all-time classic that has been fondly remembered as time kept moving forward. The best version of Wind Waker can be found on the Wii U, though. Nintendo faithfully updated Link’s nautical adventure with thoughtful tweaks and player-friendly enhancements. The high-definition upgrade was an obvious improvement, one that showed just how strong the 2003’s game’s art direction was, but under the hood was where you uncovered the real magic.
Improved inventory space, a reduced number of Triforce charts to collect, more generous timed event windows, and the inclusion of the Swift Sail to speed up travel between islands removed much of the tedium from the original. With more powerful hardware that could load new locations in more quickly, the core sailing aspect of Wind Waker was drastically improved and made exploring uncharted waters a thrill. With the Gamepad, Nintendo made Wind Waker’s clunky inventory much more organic to sift through, but on the ocean, the controller really came into its own by giving you a map that made for smooth sailing and navigation.
Now that’s what you call a perfect pairing of hardware and software.
Read our Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD review.
Mario Kart 8
Mario Kart 8 was possibly too good for the Wii U, an outrageous celebration of speed and ingenuity that was firing on all cylinders when it first arrived on that ill-fated console. Packing a ton of gameplay tweaks to the formula underneath its hood, this fast and furious kart racer established itself as the best in the franchise with its anti-gravity twists on courses, tricky corners, and superb online offerings. Not just fun to play, it was a gorgeous game to marvel at with its detailed characters and courses.
Clearly deserving better, Nintendo would eventually repackage Mario kart 8 as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Switch, further improving on the game extensively and polishing lingering rough edges to a mirror sheen for its true handheld debut.
Read our Mario Kart 8 review.
Proving that the third time was indeed the charm, Pikmin 3 made a solid case for just how fun a game could be when the Wii U’s potential was realized. Previous Pikmin games had always walked a fine line when it came to taking control of the various critters that captain Olimar encountered during his first expedition, but with the Gamepad equipped, the polished gameplay of the previous games was perfected. Second screen action allowed for a sequel that ably mixed strategy with action, while the world of Pikmin 3 was a joy to explore. Smart and consistently fun, Pikmin 3’s multi-tasking mania was a joy on Wii U. Like many other games on this list, Pikmin 3 was ported to Nintendo Switch with welcome new content.
Read our Pikmin 3 review.
Pokemon battles on console had always been a traditionally turn-based experience, but on television and in cinemas? Each battle was a wild showdown between pocket monsters, thrilling encounters where strategy and elemental advantage played a big role in deciding who the victor was. Deciding to take a page out of the anime playbook, Pokken Tournament wasn’t just a Pokemon fighting game, it was a great one as well thanks to Tekken developer Bandai Namco taking a crack at the franchise.
In an industry with no shortage of fighting games, Pokken Tournament felt unique with its hard-hitting gameplay that had been honed in arcades and polished for its Wii U release, effortlessly mixing three-dimensional battlefield brawling with high-flying special attacks thanks to its field and duel phase mechanics. Thrilling and energetic on the Wii U, Pokken Tournament would eventually make its way to the Nintendo Switch where it added new characters and modes to the ultimate Pokemon battle simulator.
Read our Pokken Tournament review.
The original Squid Game, Splatoon was just what Nintendo needed during a time where the company had been criticized for being too reliant on its veteran intellectual properties. A brand new first-party game with family-friendly action, Splatoon makes it almost impossible to not have a goofy grin on your face while you lob massive blobs of paint at the opposition. Heaps of fun in competitive mode as well, Splatoon is one of those rare digital treasures where you can have a great time, win or lose,
Silly, charming, and brilliantly executed in its original Wii U package, Splatoon currently lives on with an even better sequel on the Nintendo Switch that’s just as much fun to play thanks to the solid foundation that the first game built. Splatoon 3 will release for Nintendo Switch in 2022.
Read our Splatoon review.
Super Mario Maker
Ever imagined yourself making a better Mario game than what Nintendo was capable of? In a put-up or shut-up moment, the big N decided to hand over the access card to several decades of Mario games, condensing the legacy of its iconic plumber into a toybox of intuitive level-building tools. While you had to work for the available assets, what was available was nothing short of staggering. Using the Gamepad, it was ridiculously easy to build stages using the level editor and the touchscreen interface, allowing for classic twists on memorable stages or gauntlets that were clearly designed by masochists.
Super Mario Maker 2 would improve on the first game’s few flaws, but as a laboratory for trying out new ideas and making tough-as-nails stages, the first Mario Maker is still an enjoyable dive into the mechanics of what makes Mario so great to begin with.
Read our Super Mario Maker review.
Super Mario 3D World
Mario’s 3D adventures are usually reliable hits, and Super Mario 3D World was no exception. While it could be argued that it was a formulaic game that ticked off boxes on a Mario checklist (and greatly resembled Super Mario 3D Land), Super Mario 3D World still proved that even an above-average game in that franchise was worth taking notice of. A crowd-pleasing Mario experience that doesn’t take any chances, Super Mario 3D World is still a game with incredibly fun level design, adorable power-ups, and is entirely focused on squeezing every pixel of fun possible out of every image on the screen.
There was no shortage of content either, and while it may not be a revolutionary entry in the Mario series, Super Mario 3D World truly felt evolutionary when it eventually landed on the Switch and expanded on its ideas with massive value-added leaps forward in the gameplay department. Super Mario 3D World’s enhanced port released for Nintendo Switch earlier this year, bringing the great new Bowser’s Fury add-on adventure with it.
Read our Super Mario 3D World review.
Super Smash Bros.
When a Super Smash Bros. game hits hard, it’s an impact that that leaves a resonating effect across the franchise. The Wii U’s take on Smash Bros. is a prime example, as this particular version of the long-running brawler hit all the right notes. Endlessly entertaining even after hundreds of matches, layered with deep gameplay mechanics, and chaotically fulfilling, the Wii U version stuck to the strengths of the Nintendo-branded fighting game to deliver a technical masterpiece in the fighting game genre.
Read our Super Smash Bros. review.
The Wonderful 101
This hero-management title on the Wii U was a superhero numbers game that put Avengers Endgame to shame with the sheer quantity of spandex-clad vigilantes that it threw at you. Platinum Games put together an experience that mixed Viewtiful Joe with Tokusatsu thrills and all-out action, with the Wii U Gamepad serving as the perfect peripheral for corralling all your heroes together to solve puzzles and save the day from various calamities.
Forming giant whips and swords from your gang by drawing the shape on the Gamepad was a novel way to play, and with all the charm oozing out of each pixel, The Wonderful 101 was a terrific adventure that deserved better than the lackluster sales it saw on the Wii U. Eventually making its way to the Switch (and other platforms) like so many of the other games on this list, Platinum’s oddball adventure is a cult classic of the 2010s.
Read our The Wonderful 101 review.
Xenoblade Chronicles X
Xenoblade Chronicles X can be a polarizing game at times thanks to some of its more esoteric gameplay quirks, but when it clicks, it’s the kind of engrossing RPG that will consume dozens of hours of your lifespan. As an amnesiac protagonist looking for answers, this JRPG features a jaw-droppingly massive world to explore, but a challenging one to survive in. Intense but rewarding, Xenoblade Chronicles X is a deep fantasy that oils up the RPG mechanics of its predecessors to deliver a well-tuned experience.
Read our Xenoblade Chronicles X review.