Nintendo's Wii U started out slowly, but over the last year has begun to build some momentum thanks to its small, but growing library of high-quality games. To help sort out the best from the rest, the USG team has looked at the entire roster of Wii U titles and chosen the ones they think are the most worth the money. We've linked directly to games we've already reviewed, and provided mini-reviews of those we haven't.
We've sorted the games by rating, and below that are the personal picks from each member of the USG team, who also explain exactly why those games are their favorites.
The Very Best - Rated 5 Stars
None: Astonishingly, we have yet to play a Wii U game we rate five stars. Several have come close, but so far, we've yet to hand out a cigar. If push comes to shove and we had to pick a "best" Wii U title, Super Mario 3D World would get our vote. It's a firm favorite amongst the USG team, and missed out on a perfect 5-star rating by only a few fractions.
Highly Recommended - Rated 4.5 Stars
Bayonetta 2: Bayonetta 2 is the high-flying return of everyone's favorite Umbra Witch. Platinum Games pushes to the Wii U to its limit with fast action, magnificent vistas, and huge bosses. The addition of the original Bayonetta just pushes the entire package over the top. If you're a Devil May Cry fan, this is a must-buy.
Donkey Kong Country: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze isn't the most ambitious game, but it throws its characters into unique and clever challenges with each new level. Nintendo would be pushing it if they went for another Donkey Kong game in this style, but for now, Tropical Freeze can sit alongside Super Mario 3D World as one of the finest platformers of this generation.
Super Mario 3D World: A spot-on exploration of what Nintendo really does best: Create varied and surprising twists on concepts and ingredients you thought you knew inside-out. The fact that 3D World remains lively and interesting despite calling back to so many well-loved classics serves as a succinct reminder as to why Mario remains successful after so many years and so many games: At its heart, the series is ultimately just about having simple, unpretentious fun.
Mario Kart 8: Nintendo needed another great game to make the Wii U look as enticing as possible and Mario Kart 8 fits the bill. The anti-gravity gameplay slots in alongside classic kart racing, hang-gliding, and underwater action. All the tracks look amazing and Nintendo has a lot of fun making each track twist, turn, and soar into the sky. Robust online multiplayer, downloadable player ghosts, and Mario Kart TV add a bit of extra muscle. Mario Kart 8 is not the best in the series, but it does stand near the top.
Pushmo World: The 'Mo series has been one of Nintendo's best new properties in recent years, so it's great to see it take a leap to the Wii U. And even if you don't consider yourself a master of puzzles, the game does an excellent job of slowly breaking you into its increasing complexity. If you're willing to toss some money in Nintendo's direction, Pushmo World offers enough cerebral challenges to keep you busy throughout the summer — or whenever you need some time away from Mario Kart 8.
Lego Marvel Superheroes: For families or individuals who love Marvel comics, movies, or cartoons, Lego Marvel Superheroes is the perfect pick-up. Its just packed with fun things to do, and has a great sense of humor. (Link is to PS4 review, but the Wii U version is the same).
Wii Fit U: While the majority of Wii Fit U isn't as "hardcore" as some fitness buffs may like, it does provide an enormously friendly, approachable entry point into the world of exercise for those who may have struggled with motivation in the past. Featuring a swathe of enjoyable games and a wealth of helpful advice, it's a great starting point on a journey towards a leaner, meaner you.
Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker: In many ways, Wind Waker represents a high point for the Zelda series. Its tremendous world, lovely art, amazing combat, and welcome new features have yet to be surpassed by its sequels. For my money, Wind Waker is Zelda at its best. But this time, it's even better than before.
Pikmin 3: This is one of the best pieces of software on Wii U. It's a light strategy game about controlling chirpy carrot-men, which doesn't exactly sound thrilling, but it's one of those games in which everything comes together just right.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Director's Cut): A terrific cinematic first-person sci-fi adventure set in a dystopian future. One of the best adult games for Wii U.
Recommended - Rated 4 Stars
NES Remix 2: The fundamental premise of NES Remix 2 remains sound, but the shift in focus to more complex source material crimps its style somewhat. Thankfully, the bonus modes go a long way toward restoring some of the shine to its star. It's not quite as essential a play as its predecessor, but it offers an amusing, self-referential distraction nevertheless.
Sonic Lost World: It's no Mario, but it's getting there. This 3D platform game is perhaps Sonic's best outing in years.
Nintendo Land: A celebration of a selection of old-school Nintendo games -- including a few more obscure titles -- through the medium of surprisingly compelling, addictive minigames. Particularly good if you have friends around.
Skylanders: Trap Team: While not without its questionable qualities — expect to pay $120 to get something approaching an optimal play experience — Skylanders: Trap Team continues the series' tradition of catering to kids by treating them with respect. And the new trapping gimmick more than justifies itself through the flexibility it offers... not to mention the amusing and diverse role it gives the game's villains.(Xbox One review: Wii U version is fundamentally the same)
Costume Quest 2: Lightweight but inventive, Costume Quest 2 feels like a Pixar adventure masquerading as an RPG. It goes out of its way to keep things simple... perhaps too simple at times. But its simplicity is redeemed by its terrific art and wry sense of humor, and most importantly, the sheer fun of its premise. (PC review: PS4 version is the same)
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate: The hugely popular RPG from Japan has you doing exactly what it says on the box. Its multiplayer mode is superb.
DuckTales Remastered: Almost, nearly, but not quite a great update. While new looks, sounds and design tweaks give DuckTales Remastered modern appeal, spoon-feeding gameplay features and inane cutscenes peg back the enjoyment somewhat. It'll make you feel nostalgic and you'll have fun - but you'll also know that with just a little more attention to detail, it could have been truly great.
Mass Effect 3: Special Edition: A terrific sci-fi adventure that lets you choose how to navigate its rich and detailed story.
Just Dance 2014: The guilty pleasure of millions of gamers is funky great fun.
Shantae and the Pirate's Curse: With this game, a cult favorite comes into its own. Shantae has always been a passion project for WayForward, but this is the first time the series feels like it properly realizes the developer's ambition for it. A fun, funny, and pleasant substantial Metroid-alike boasting phenomenal old-school visuals and a refreshing sense of optimism, it's both an eShop standout and a great (though by no means final) conclusion to a slow-burning trilogy of games. (3DS review: Wii U version is the same)
LEGO City Undercover: A wonderfully accessible take on the open-world genre, coupled with that trademark Lego humor.
Wonderful 101: The Wonderful 101 is a great game tripped up by a drawing mechanic that may prove imprecise for some users. If Platinum's action games are your thing and you have a Wii U, it's a must-own.
Mutant Mudds Deluxe: Very enjoyable and challenging oldschool platform game that feels like it comes right out of the very early '90s.
ZombiU: This one is definitely NOT for kids. It's also not for novice gamers. But if you're an experienced gaming adult, this offers some entertainingly scary fun.
The preceding games are what we believe represent the best that Wii U has to offer right now. But which ones are our own personal favorites? Over to Team USG to reveal all.
Super Mario 3D World
I'm trying to think of a generation when one of the very best games on Nintendo's system didn't have Mario on the box. And I'm going to stop thinking, because I can't. This generation is no exception. I played Super Mario 3D World at E3 as a four-up demo, and immediately fell in love with it. It's an absolutely terrific game, packed with all the usual Mario-esque goodies and tricks to keep you entertained, challenged and - most important of all - having an absolute blast. There's nothing else like it. Phenomenally creative, genius, write-the-book games design.
But is it a system seller? Not quite. Few games are to be blunt. But it's most certainly a must-have if you do have a Wii U, and really does give you a damn good reason to buy one when you combine it with some of the other system-best Wii U games.
Pushmo World is an odd beast of a game. One that, it must be said, doesn't sound particularly exciting. It's all about pushing and pulling blocks, so your little on-screen chap can clamber up the edifice he needs to ascend to complete the screen. It sounds utterly mundane, yet with a sprinking of Nintendo magic, it's transformed into something mind-bendingly entertaining and fabulously addictive.
The learning curve is beautifully ramped up, with puzzles starting out easy, but slowly and surely becoming fiendishly complex. However, while they might make you scratch your head in bemusement, their solution can always be found in what you've already learned. And even if you do run into trouble, you can skip past any roadblocks and return to them later with a fresh mind - and often with more experience that'll give you new ideas about how to complete them.
Pushmo World mightn't look as exciting as many other Nintendo games out there, but unless you really, really hate puzzle games, this is an absolute must-buy.
Ideally, I'd put Bayonetta 2 right here. Having played a preview version of the game, it's looking utterly brilliant. But since it's not out yet, I'm instead going to go with an equally insane, over-the-top game, Wonderful 101 (which just happens to be from the same developer). Few games offer the kind of relentless, off-the-hook craziness that Wonderful 101 does. From tons of little dudes getting smashed all over the screen to bonkers boss monsters leaping about, it's non-stop insanity. The game's combo-generating drawing mechanic seems to be a love-it-or-leave-it kind of thing, but if you get on with it, prepare for some hilarious action that gets more and more mental the further you get into the game.
Wonderful 101 isn't the most challenging game out there, and it's also not the longest. But it's great while it lasts, and does offer some excellent bonus challenges that hardcore completists will really enjoy trying to get. Great stuff!
Super Mario 3D World
Is this too much of a cliché? Too predictable? Yeah, well... deal with it. Super Mario 3D World really stood out this year (and in several surrounding years) for daring to do the unthinkable: It applied HD power and a full-size development budget to craft a game focused entirely on colorful, whimsical fun. Even BioShock Infinite, which at least had the decency to splash vibrant color around its environments, still amounted to shooting guys or beating them bloody with a wrench. But Mario emphasizes the pure joy of play.
I've said plenty about the game already, but I can't speak highly enough of its willingness to stray from the AAA video game mold. Maybe that amounts to business as usual for Mario, but it's a quality that's become tragically rare these days. And the incredible variety of the game! Every stage offers a new and different visual treat; every level introduces new mechanics; fun, interesting ideas show up once and never again. Yet it all manages to feel cohesive and unified. Were there any games this year that managed to pull off that trick? Everything else I played (even stuff I enjoyed) was either endlessly repetitive or else felt like a hodgepodge of incoherent ideas with no unifying soul. Mario 3D World isn't quite perfect, but don't let its rough patches deter you; with this game, Nintendoes what the rest of the industry don't. It's a rare and precious gift in a sea of conservative big-budget monotony, and I can think of no better reason to own a Wii U.
Take your pick; both Scribblenauts entries on Wii U cover the same basic ground. One has more comic book content than the other. Otherwise, they're largely the same thing. And make no mistake, Scribblenauts has never really lived up its potential; even in the most recent entries, the puzzles tend to be tragically shallow and you can bully your way through them with remarkable gracelessness. Don't let that fact get in the way of recognizing all that makes Scribblenauts so fun, though: Like Minecraft, it's as entertaining as your imagination allows it to be.
Yeah, you can solve most puzzles with the same set of tricks, but why would you want to? The appeal of this series is its free-form sandbox insanity -- describe a few things and go hog wild. Last year I decided to see just what would happen if you tried to solve every puzzle with Cthulhu, and it was one of the most amusing game experiences I've ever enjoyed. I suppose the appeal rest primarily on the user, but if you're looking for a break from games that lead you by the nose, constantly telling you what to do, Scribblenauts is a great antidote: A game that wants to respect the limits of your imagination, or at least your vocabulary.
Maybe this is cheating, but this is a huge advantage Wii U has over its competition right now: It can play your old games. Wii U is backward compatible with the Wii's massive library, meaning you don't have to keep a second system hooked up to catch up on the last-gen games you missed. You can also bring the entirety of your Wii Virtual Console collection (which for me is an absolutely massive library of greats; your mileage may vary) and convert them to Wii U native versions as Nintendo allows. It's not perfect -- Wii U's Virtual Console is creeping at a snail's pace, there's no 3DS cross-buy, and the lack of GameCube compatibility is a bummer -- but it sure beats what's available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Which is "bupkis."
Now that we're through the console launch madness, there aren't a whole lot of PS4 and Xbone games I'm dying to play. Those systems will be collecting dust until next year when games like Thief and Titanfall start to trickle into stores. But even if Wii U didn't have a library of solid titles from the past year to spend time with, I'd still have Wii greats I missed (sorry, Xenoblade) and timeless classics like Super Metroid and EarthBound to keep me busy until February. I know Sony has made vague rumblings about streaming the sum total of the PlayStation library, but until they start laying down some concrete details I'll consider that a load of fanciful speculative fiction that exists in a sci-fi future where America's online infrastructure is much better than what we're using now, much like Xbox One's theoretical cloud processor upgrades. Great games in hand now sure beat a forgotten claim of nebulous potential.
Super Mario 3D World
Even at their worst, Mario games are at least mediocre and Super Mario 3D World isn't the series' worst. Is it what I wanted from a Wii U Mario game? No. After New Super Mario Bros U I was hoping for another installment in the Galaxy series. 3D World is pretty damn good, it just wasn't the flavor I wanted; it's like getting the world's best chocolate when you're craving vanilla. On the bright side, Nintendo says they haven't forgotten the Galaxy series so there's hope on the horizon.
For most people this holiday season, Super Mario 3D World will be the right game to pick up. Classic characters, local multiplayer, great level design add up to a great title for the whole family. And you won't want to murder each other like you do in New Super Mario Bros U or one of the Mario Party games. That's a win for everyone.
LEGO Marvel Superheroes
LEGO City Undercover? Feh. If you're going LEGO, go with the superior LEGO game. LEGO Marvel has all the humor, collectibles, and open world of LEGO City, but does LEGO City have Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men? I think not. And who can forget the magical Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool? If I were a child again, I'd definitely agree that more characters equal more awesomeness.
I've reviewed it twice and it was worth playing both times. I called it the best kids game on PlayStation 4, and while the market is more crowded on the Wii U, LEGO Marvel still stands as one of the best. Do yourself a favor and give a loved one a wonderful gateway into the Marvel Universe.
Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
I was going to do Scribblenauts, which is one of the titles that works really well with the Wii U GamePad, but Jeremy already hit that one so I'm going with Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien. I know you're thinking I'm crazy for choosing a download-only title, but if Pete and Jeremy get to point to Wii and Virtual Console games, then I can at least stay on the same hardware platform.
Yes, you can pick it up on Steam, Xbox Live, and PSN, but that doesn't mean it's not great on the Wii U. You get a 3D take on the original Bit.Trip Runner, some great music, new characters, and it's cheap! Instead of the $50 most of these other games will cost you - picking up Xenoblade will set you back $70 at GameStop - Runner 2 is a cool $15. It's worth every penny or whatever your local version of the penny is.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
I can't believe it took me so long to come around on Monster Hunter. I'd watched Capcom's juggernaut from afar for nearly a decade as its style of co-op infected some of my favorite series (like Metal Gear and Dragon Quest), but, based on what others told me about its complexity, I figured I'd never have enough time to learn it. Cue an extended period of employment, where there was suddenly too much time-thankfully, Monster Hunter helped pad out those long, fruitless days with a constant search for thoroughly dependable and ultimately stylish armor made from the parts of humungous creatures.
You don't have to be unemployed and miserable to enjoy Monster Hunter, of course, but it's a game that has to be learned-though it doesn't care all that much about teaching. If you're willing to stay diligent and come to terms with its many spoken and unspoken rules, Monster Hunter will give you a sense of mastery that feels extremely rare in the world of gaming. It probably shouldn't surprise you that most people jump into Monster Hunter with an experienced teacher nearby, or with some handy outside documentation provided by fellow hunters. Even if it's only an expansion of a Wii game released three years prior, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is the Wii U RPG-at least, until Xenoblade Chronicles X lands in 2015.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
I've never been the biggest fan of the Donkey Kong Country series -- after the first one, I was pretty much all Konged out. So the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze came as a complete surprise. I can't imagine what I would have said 20 years ago if you told me I'd prefer a Donkey Kong Country game to a Mario one (outside of questions about possible brain injuries), but here we are. Astoundingly, Tropical Freeze outdoes Super Mario 3D World in my book -- which isn't to say Super Mario 3D World is bad, or even mediocre. While 3D World goes for laid-back, multiplayer-focused platforming, Tropical Freeze focuses on deviously designed challenges that put your running and jumping abilities to their ultimate test.
Tropical Freeze isn't intent on hurting you like Super Meat Boy and the like, though. It's true you'll end up dying a whole lot, but the game feeds you lives like candy, and always telegraphs the next obstacle that could send you plummeting to your doom. The bosses are also extremely inventive, and your encounters with them play out like proper levels, as their behavior changes radically with each stage of the fight. Really, there's too much to love about Tropical Freeze, and I'm hoping people (AKA Nintendo snobs like me) won't turn up their noses at the ugly, mid-'90s mugs of DK and his pals. In terms of quality, Tropical Freeze is a Nintendo game, through and through. And it certainly doesn't hurt that Super Mario Bros. 2 director Kensuke Tanabe had a major hand in its design.
If you want to know the reason I bought a Wii U, look no further than Pikmin 3. My fond memories of Pikmin 2 had me on board for the long-promised third installment, which looked phenomenal every time it popped up at E3. As Pikmin 3 escaped the Wii U's launch window and floated off into late summer, I could only worry about the fate of this far-off sequel. Ultimately, the delay was worth it: Pikmin 3 might dial back on the challenge and sense of urgency, but it's still an amazingly designed game that drops its adorable characters into a stunningly oversized world stuffed with hostile, strange creatures. (And, depending on your perspective, I could be describing the Pikmin.)
Pikmin 3 features the same sort of RTS-lite gameplay as past installments, though with a few additional options. You now have a third party member, which makes for an increase in complexity, and with the help of the Wii U GamePad, you can now send groups off to destinations on auto-pilot-though they made need some human assistance if enemies pop up along the way. I do miss the "dungeons" from part 2, though Pikmin 3's various challenge modes replicate these tense, low-resource situations perfectly, even if they happen to exist outside of the main game. Above all, though, you're not likely to have an experience similar to Pikmin 3 outside of the Wii U-and for me, that was enough of a reason to grab this console in the first place.
NES Remix 2
Nintendo takes a fun and varied dive into their back catalog with NES Remix 2. Less taxing than the sometimes ridiculous NES Remix, it also has much better games, including old favorites like Super Mario Bros. 3, Kirby's Adventure, and Punch-Out!! I've found myself spending a lot of time working through the individual games, unlocking new remixes, and just generally enjoying the trip down memory lane.
The best part of the NES Remix games is just how they manage to capture the essence of Nintendo's 8-bit catalog. Pretty much everyone who grew up with an NES remembers running past the spikes in the World 1 castle in Super Mario Bros. 3, or clobbering Glass Joe with an uppercut. But what's really neat is how they can also teach you new things, like how to get an automatic star from Von Kaiser. And of course, there's the fun of killing Octorocks with Toad (!?). A must own for any old-school Nintendo fan.
Mario Kart 8
I had no idea that I would end up enjoying Mario Kart 8 as much as I did. Even after a relatively strong effort from Mario Kart 7 (no really, it was pretty good), I figured there wasn't a lot of new territory for Nintendo to mine. There would be new tracks, some new karts, and that would be it.
I underestimated the impact of really good design though. Even after all these years, it's still a really fun arcade racer, and Mario Kart 8 is blessed with some exceptionally strong tracks. I also underestimated the appeal of those HD graphics. It's a great looking game, and the remixed tracks of old favorites are especially great. The coup de grace is a surprisingly strong online and sharing mode that makes it easy to get into multiplayer races and upload clips of your exploits.
I've joked that there should be a corollary to Godwin's Law that any mention of Mario Kart invalidates the defense of a Nintendo platform's prospects, but I have to say that Mario Kart 8 makes a really strong case for being the Wii U's best game. A surprise and a delight by any measure.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
After multiple doses of New Super Mario Bros., I kind of wondered if I just wasn't into platformers anymore. I practically had to keep my eyes peeled open to get through New Super Mario Bros. on the Wii U. It made me wonder if I was just missing something. How could it be so good, and yet so boring?
Tropical Freeze neatly answers my question as to whether I'm bored of platformers. I still love 'em, especially when they're this great. As much as I don't like the characters and their faux-3D roots, I really enjoyed Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. It's hard to put my finger on exactly why, except to say that it's fast-paced, with some really dynamic and memorable levels. It was a platformer that actually made me want to compulsively continue, rather than give up and put it away.
It's almost a shame that Retro Studios is stuck working on a third-tier Nintendo property like Donkey Kong Country (yep, I went there), because it's obvious that they are really, really good at what they do. I would really love for them to be unleashed on Metroid again. In the meantime though, Tropical Freeze is a great platform; one that makes me respect both the genre and the franchise that much more.