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Nintendo showed off some pretty fantastic-looking Wii U games this year at E3. The only problem? Most of them are slated for 2015.
That's great for the system's long-term prospects, but in the near-term it means anyone who owns a Wii U or plans to buy one soon may find themselves twiddling their thumbs while waiting for the good stuff to show up. Ah, but the nice thing about Wii U is that it already has access to a ton of older games for Wii — it's the only current console that's backward-compatible. And then there's Virtual Console.
Despite offering far fewer Virtual Console games than Wii did (so far), the Wii U Virtual Console is denser with quality. We've picked out what we think are the top 10 titles... but these are far from the only Virtual Console games worth owning.
This long-running army strategy series didn't come to America until more than a decade after its Japanese debut, but it was worth the wait — Advance Wars might just be the best of the bunch. Somewhere between a strategy sim and a puzzle game, Advance Wars distinguishes itself from Fire Emblem (developer Intelligent Systems' other strategy series) by dealing with squads rather than individual units and making heavy use of equipment and terrain. Challenging, but so colorful and fun you'll keep coming back for more.
Why does this RPG, which tanked at retail 20 years ago, command undying devotion among certain fans? Probably because there's really never been another game quite like it... not even all those try-hard attempts to rip it off. At once a down-to-earth coming-of-age tale, a satire of role-playing clichés, and a pastiche of American pop culture through the lens of a skewed Japanese perspective, EarthBound is truly unique. The older and wiser you get, the more you'll appreciate it.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Every Zelda game is basically A Link to the Past — but few of them hit all the right notes the way this masterpiece did. Taking the series back to its roots after the experimental but uneven Adventure of Link, A Link to the Past established a formula that would be copied for decades, and not just by a dozen other Zeldas; it's the template for action adventure games, period. With its self-contained dungeon, progression gated through the acquisition of new weapons and tools, and valuable collectibles hidden throughout the expansive world, the only reason A Link to the Past doesn't feel quite as inspired and visionary as it did in 1992 is because it's been ripped off so many times. But it's still fantastic.
Mega Man 3
In our 3DS Virtual Console rundown, I said Mega Man 2 was the best entry in the series... and I'm standing by that claim. But Mega Man 3 is essentially its equal in every way. Good thing you can own both, eh? Adding new mechanics and complexity to the Mega Man formula — including the useful ability to slide to avoid enemies and remixed stages before the end game — Mega Man 3 was basically the NES franchise at its biggest and boldest. Great music, great graphics, and memorable challenges make it an 8-bit masterpiece. It also represented the last time Capcom would manage to improve on the franchise's formula. Well, at least until....
Mega Man X
Once Mega Man's NES adventures began to grow long in the tooth through repetition and annualization, Keiji Inafune and crew shifted their attention to the Super NES and totally reinvented the series — and the character, too, replacing the classic robot with a new model. The Mega Man X games would quickly become as stale as their forebears, but the spinoff series got an amazing start with this 1993 classic. With inventive level design, richer mechanics, better weapons, excellent graphics, and a whole new look and feel, Mega Man X reminded everyone why they'd been so obsessed with Mega Man 2 a few years earlier.
This brisk (and often insanely difficult) ninja platformer defined the concept of movie-like games with iconic interstitial cinematic cut scenes that would become an industry standard. But we like it anyway. Ninja Gaiden doesn't always play fairly — check out the way bad guys respawn infinitely at the edge of the screen! — but it gives you the tools to win. Once you learn the rhythms of the action and determine the best weapon for a given situation, you'll be surprised how far you can make it. And with Virtual Console save states, the absolutely nasty gauntlet of final stages doesn't feel so hair-pullingly unfair....
Super Castlevania IV
It was a toss-up between this and the recently released Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, but on Wii U I'm giving this one the edge... mainly because you can't play Super NES games on 3DS. Castlevania IV is a strange entry in the franchise, a de facto remake of the original NES Castlevania with a style and mechanics that appear nowhere else in the series. With deliberately stiff controls, strange whip skills (including the ability to use it as a grappling hook and shield), and a kooky jazz-tinged soundtrack, this outlier in the Castlevania legacy is all the more fascinating for its atypical style. And it also offers a fun tour through all the Super NES's silly built-in graphical tricks, too.
Timeless. Unrivaled. Perfect. These are words that have been used to describe Super Metroid — and not just by me. Super Metroid did for its series what A Link to the Past did for Zelda: It returned to the style and setting of the original game and greatly expanded on its premise while simultaneously refining and deepening its mechanics. The biggest problem with Super Metroid is that it's so good, so thoughtful, so brilliantly constructed that the series (and the genre!) has struggled to find ways to add onto it without destroying its perfect balance. Sucks for those other games, but it definitely makes Super Metroid an absolute must-play classic.
WarioWare: Mega Microgame$
At some point, Nintendo's R&D1 development team got sick of putting their breakout character Wario in Mario-style platformers and just decided to cut loose and put him into every kind of game. WarioWare takes a manic, high-energy approach to the concept of the minigame collection, reducing nearly every one of its hundreds of challenges to little blips just a few seconds long. You basically have time to read the simple goal (typically a single word), make sense of the scene that flashes onto the screen, and complete a task in the space of about five seconds. It's a testament to the clarity of design and the pervasiveness of the video game "vocabulary" Nintendo has helped establish over the past few decades that this proves to be an intuitive, fun challenge rather than a bewildering or confusing one. Weird and wonderful.
OK, so maybe this version of Yoshi's Island isn't the "real" one; for whatever reason — possibly rights issues to the FX2 chip that powered the game — the Super NES version of Yoshi's Island remains missing in action. Truth be told, despite some moderate downgrades (slightly worse music, slightly less cool visual effects), this is still an absolutely classic platformer, a high point in the already stratospheric Mario franchise. And to make up for those downgrades, this version of Yoshi's Island gets some bonus material as well. Not only that, but it plays better than it did on GBA, because you can remap the control scheme to use the face buttons.
Thanks to VG Museum for the screen shots.