Feature: Wii U Blockbusters - What to Play While You Wait

If in doubt, go retro

The start of a new Nintendo generation is always cause for excitement for many, with the promise of new entries in the company’s greatest franchises often enough to convince many to buy the system on day one. But with Wii U, Nintendo kept very quiet about its big franchises, and when the system arrived we had little idea of what to expect beyond the launch window. That all changed with Wii U Direct, Nintendo’s recent online broadcast, where President Satoru Iwata announced the proverbial megaton of gaming reveals – this wasn’t just one big franchise making a return, this was five.

While we’ll see more from these at E3, many of you are surely counting down the days until you can play one of Nintendo’s new blockbuster games on your new Wii U. Thankfully, Nintendo has continually provided an alternative to waiting in the form of the Virtual Consoles for Wii, 3DS and, soon, Wii U. For under £10, many of Nintendo’s greatest creations are available to download, so while you wait for the next big entry in your favourite franchise, why not get prepared with a selection from the Nintendo vaults?

The Legend of Zelda

Perhaps the biggest announcement of all from Wii U Direct was that of two Zelda games currently in production. While the highly anticipated bespoke Zelda game for Wii U is some way off and promises an evolution of the classic franchise, Nintendo will also be releasing an HD remake of the GameCube’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, one of the most unique and beloved entries in the entire series. Along with the recent release of Hyrule Historia, there has never been a better time to be a Zelda fan, and for those just jumping in there's one title that seems like an ideal place to start.

Considered by many to be the game that transformed 3D adventure games forever, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time took the established formula of A Link to the Past and brought it crashing into the modern era. Filled with innovations and game-changing features, such as Z-targeting and the fully realised 3D overworld, Ocarina of Time truly is a landmark game for the games industry, and a title that every gamer should experience.

That alone is reason enough to spend your hard earned rupees on it, but its position in the wider Zelda timeline makes it the most important of them all. Thanks to its clever time travel mechanics, the story ultimately can resolve itself in three different ways, one of which leads directly into The Wind Waker, and proves to be crucial in the understanding of the plot. With the new title potentially being set after Ocarina of Time, and The Wind Waker being a direct sequel, there really isn’t a better place to enter the Zelda universe.

While Ocarina of Time is a somewhat serious affair, chronicling the battles of Link against the evil Ganondorf, it underplays the eccentricity of the franchise. And with The Wind Waker featuring a talking fish that draws maps, it is important to acquaint yourself with the crazy designs that the collective minds of Aonuma and Miyamoto can come up with. So why not start with the craziest of them all, Link’s Awakening?

Originally released for the Game Boy and then on the Game Boy Color for this DX version, Link’s Awakening sees our titular hero shipwrecked and washed up on Koholint Island, where he is tasked with waking the mystical Wind Fish. While this doesn’t sound too crazy, it’s instantly obvious that this isn’t your typical Zelda game – various Mario enemies appear throughout, including friendly Chain Chomps kept as pets, and classic Nintendo character cameos that we’ll let you find for yourself; you can even steal items from the shop (at your own risk). It’s Nintendo eccentricity at its best, and it’s also one of the most beloved Zelda titles ever made.

Super Mario

Hands up everyone who saw this announcement coming. Everyone? Yes, us too, but the fact remains that a new 3D Super Mario game is massive news, and something to be very excited about. We know that Nintendo’s consoles are designed with Miyamoto’s projects in mind (the N64 controller being an obvious example), and with Super Mario Galaxy arguably perfecting 3D platforming, the next entry in the series is sure to be something special. While we’ve been inundated with 2D Mario platformers recently, the 3D Mario series has only had a few entries, meaning that there is only one game available to prepare with, but really, it couldn’t be much better.

Many said it couldn’t be done, that Super Mario was a 2D franchise and would always remain confined to two dimensions. Others laughed at his nose. But then the Nintendo 64 launched with Super Mario 64, and suddenly the move to 3D made sense. To say Super Mario 64 was a success would be underselling it. Not only did it transform the Mario franchise and pave the way for almost every 3D platformer since, but it also sold N64s well into the following year, with the console only launching with a meagre four games.

While some of the design choices seem strange now, Super Mario 64 remains a hugely enjoyable entry in the Mario series, and a great lesson in gaming history for anyone who has yet to experience it. From the sprawling Castle grounds to the green grasses of Bob-omb Battlefield to the soaring heights of the Rainbow Ride, Super Mario 64 is an absolute joy to play, and a true example of Nintendo creating something brilliant out of a well-established franchise.

Mario Kart

Another announcement that Nintendo didn’t really need to confirm, Wii U will be unsurprisingly receiving a new entry in the Mario Kart franchise, which will presumably build on the most recent 3DS and Wii releases. While it’s not a huge surprise the game is coming, there’s no doubt that it’s an exciting thought, and with Miiverse potential for racing communities, there is every chance Mario Kart’s HD debut could be the best yet. But before you go out on the track, there are a couple of excellent predecessors to help put you ahead of the pack on day one.

While Mario had appeared in various cameo roles over the years, the 1992 release of Super Mario Kart for the SNES marked the first of what would ultimately be a regular series of games for the plumber; thanks to its use of the SNES’s Mode 7 technology, it instantly became a hit worldwide, becoming the third best-selling SNES releases of all-time. Laying the foundations for the franchise as a whole, Super Mario Kart’s formula of drifting, shells and themed courses has changed very little over the years, and with coins making a return in Mario Kart 7, there really isn’t a better game to practice on.

But while the racing would go on to become the hallmark of the Mario sports spinoffs, it was the Battle Mode in Super Mario Kart that truly captured the hearts of gamers in the 90s, with many still playing it today. Fun, frantic and often brutal, Super Mario Kart remains a great entry in this long running franchise.

While Super Mario Kart offers the genesis of Mario Kart, those looking for a more modern styled karting game may prefer to turn to Mario Kart 64. Taking the concept of Super Mario Kart and applying a 3D finish to it, coupled with entirely new tracks, Mario Kart 64 solidified the franchise as being one of Nintendo’s biggest sellers. While the coins are gone, the on track action is more frantic than ever, and with Nintendo continuing to bring back classic courses, those than can master the originals should have a head-start when they appear again.


When Yoshi first appeared in Super Mario World in 1990, few would have imagined that he would go on to become one of the most popular characters in the entire Mario franchise, and ultimately take the leading role. While we haven’t seen a new home console Yoshi game since 1997, the new stylised Yarn Yoshi has warmed our hearts with its charming woollen approach to platforming. While it borrows heavily from Kirby’s Epic Yarn in style — which we urge you to play — the gameplay shown in stills looks like it could be similar to the previous Yoshi games, so it might be time to brush up on your fruit eating abilities.

Yoshi’s last home console appearance was way back in 1997 on the N64, in the charming side-scroller Yoshi’s Story. Heavily stylised, Yoshi’s Story features a unique blend of Paper Mario-esque cardboard elements, mixed in with stitched and woven backdrops to create an incredibly vibrant and colourful world for the Yoshi characters to inhabit.

Once again, our intrepid band of dinosaurs are out to stop Baby Bowser, who has turned their world into a pop-up book and stolen the Super Happy Tree. Yoshi’s Story is an incredible charming platformer, which while not particularly challenging, can’t help but put a smile on your face.

The SNES follow-up to the phenomenal Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island removed Mario as the lead hero and placed the reins firmly with Yoshi. Tasked with returning Baby Mario to his parents and saving Baby Luigi, Yoshi sets off across the Mushroom Kingdom in this brilliant 2D platformer; the GBA re-make is available for Ambassadors on 3DS.

Heralded at the time as a worthy sequel to Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island remains – in the eyes of some — as one of the best 2D platformers ever made. Stylised with a vibrant hand-drawn style, the game oozes charm and has been the blueprint for Yoshi games ever since; while it’s sometimes overlooked for not being a typical Mario game, this is certainly a platformer that is worthy of your time.

Fire Emblem

While Fire Emblem maintains a core fanbase in the West, the only exposure most Nintendo fans have had is with Marth, Roy and Ike in the Super Smash Bros franchise. Created by the minds behind Paper Mario, Intelligent Systems, Fire Emblem has seen something of a resurgence lately, thanks largely to its new 3DS game, Fire Emblem: Awakening. The new game for Wii U — a crossover with Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series — is shrouded in mystery, but if ever there was a good time to jump into the Fire Emblem series, it’s now.

Fire Emblem’s success in the West has largely been attributed to the Super Smash Bros. series, and as such very few legacy games have been translated into English; even fewer have been made available on the Virtual Console. So much so that the only way to experience Fire Emblem via download currently is to be the owner of a 3DS Ambassador console, and to download The Sacred Stones for free.

And it’s a download worth making the most of. One of the finest entries in this long-running tactical RPG franchise, The Sacred Stones sees you trying to preserve the peace on the continent of Magvel. Fire Emblem is a series famed for its deep gameplay, and while this may put some off, the effort does pay off. Playing along the same lines as the Advance Wars series, The Sacred Stones sees you moving units around a map, attempting to defeat the opposition; it’s a methodical style of gameplay, but one that once mastered is greatly rewarded.

While this may be the only download at present, Satoru Iwata also revealed that Wii U will be getting GBA Virtual Console support in the near future, which may mean that The Sacred Stones, and the preceding Fire Emblem, could be available in the near future.

There’s every reason to be excited about the next generation of Nintendo titles, but until E3 or the next Nintendo Direct all we can do is imagine what they will be like. With the Virtual Console, however, we can still experience the games that helped to shape these brilliant franchises; with the choice greater than ever, there really is no reason not to play some of Nintendo’s finest ever creations.

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