This is the first of a series of articles that are a reflection of a disappointing reality. The Fall and Holiday line-ups on Wii U and 3DS undoubtedly have some treats and games to be hugely excited about, such as The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes and Xenoblade Chronicles X, yet they're also a little light overall and are a blockbuster or two short. We expect Nintendo marketing to focus on releases like these but also evergreen games and bundles, with DLC for the likes of Splatoon and Super Smash Bros. seeming like potential bets for extra goodies. Selling significant hardware numbers to newcomers will be a challenge, however.
In any case, previous delays to The Legend of Zelda on Wii U and more recently Star Fox Zero, in addition to various big-hitters on 3DS being 2016 arrivals, mean that current system owners may find themselves itching for more new experiences than are arriving in stores this year. The eShop will - as always - be a viable option for some excellent gaming, but there are high quality retail titles that may have been missed in the past; some are available at budget prices, too.
So we begin with ZombiU, a launch title that had well reported sales struggles that seemed to scupper the prospects for a sequel and to begin Ubisoft's relationship of dissatisfaction with the Wii U. A problem it had was that the Wii U was relatively pricey at launch, with New Super Mario Bros. U typically being picked by many early adopters to accompany pack-in title Nintendo Land. As a mature exclusive it did nab some day one sales, but ultimately struggled to provide the smash hit that would have been helpful to both the system and its links with Ubisoft.
In any case, it's the opinion of this writer and various others in the Nintendo Life team that it's a bit of a gem. A rough diamond, admittedly, with bugs, glitches and choppy visuals often expected with system launch exclusives. Nevertheless its aesthetic isn't all bad, with its dreary London setting and grainy filter giving it a B-Movie zombie flick feel.
What matters with ZombiU is that it's still, to this day, one of the most refined exponents of the GamePad's strengths. Not only does perma-death and a single-chance approach to retrieving items - an idea heavily popularised by the Souls games by FromSoftware - bring horror, but item management in the field is in real time. Your character's backpack has limited space for weapons, ammo and all items, and when accessing this inventory your character will crouch down to rummage through this pack. You direct your attention to the second screen on the GamePad, without pausing the game, nervously listening and watching on the TV for any zombie ambushes.
The GamePad adds to the horror in other aspects, too, with simple puzzles and code inputs also taking place in real time, occasionally scripted to apply extra pressure. Precision, speed and awareness are vital, which isn't easy when you're low on hard-to-find ammo or aware that zombies are nearby.
In addition there's a fun local multiplayer mode - one player takes the role of a zombie master, placing and controlling an army of the monsters to target the opponent. Naturally the zombie leader utilise a top-down GamePad touchscreen view, with the second player using the TV and an FPS angle.
This mode is entirely absent in the recent download-only release of Zombi on PS4, Xbox One and PC, which is a re-release with slightly improved performance. It's not a huge upgrade in the new download, which has less content and - for our money - is missing that key second-screen component. ZombiU isn't the greatest zombie survival game produced in terms of its raw gameplay - as mentioned due to its status as a slightly rushed launch title - but the GamePad enhances the experience. It's a simple idea, in practice, utilising the second screen as distraction, but unlike some flawed other efforts in the market it utilises the strategy to great effect.
The great thing about ZombiU is that it can be found very cheaply, especially online. Though it's often reduced on the eShop, it can be picked up for about $10 / £6 with a few web searches, so is even cheaper than a number of new download-only games. For that budget price you get an intriguing, challenging and relatively scary retail title on the Wii U, even if it's no longer eligible for the 'exclusive' tag.
So, that's one affordable entry in the current-gen back-catalogue that's worth considering for those seeking new Wii U and 3DS games over the rest of this year. Let us know which titles you recommend of this type, and we'll be making more suggestions in the weeks to come.