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With the Wii U turning four years old in North America just recently, and with the system soon to be supplanted by the Nintendo Switch, we've been reflecting on the console's qualities and failings. One thing we've consistently argued, however, is that there's a core of excellent games on the system, many of them exclusives, that are well worth experiencing. With that in mind we decided to bring together a list of the best of these - some are standout entries in popular franchises, some are new IPs, and others are just marvellous gaming experiences. We're focusing on retail games here, with a separate list planned for the eShop.

In any case, with exceptions such as the upcoming The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and a few games that narrowly missed out - this writer fought and lost over the inclusion of Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director's Cut - we think this list identifies games that, for one reason or another, are must-play titles. It was originally going to be a list of 20 but, well, some just couldn't be ignored. It should also be noted that the order is alphabetical; we're not opening the can of worms that involves rating them, not yet anyway.

Please also note that there are Amazon affiliate links underneath each entry; purchasing via these buttons will bring a small percentage of the sale to Nintendo Life.

So, let's get to list of essential Wii U games.


Bayonetta 2

When this was announced as a Wii U exclusive plenty of fans of the original took to the internet to complain loudly. Yet the fact is that without Nintendo's investment and publishing commitment this game would not have happened, and that would have been truly regrettable. A fantastic action title that demands sharp reflexes, it's also a visual delight on the system. There's nothing else quite like it on the Wii U - apart from the original Bayonetta, of course - and it shows PlatinumGames on top form.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

There was understandably a little bit of concern when Nintendo confirmed it was spinning off a side-level design from Super Mario 3D World for an entire game. Toad and Toadette, unable to jump and tasked with working through diorama-like stages that act as giant puzzles, also had the task of carrying a game on their own for the first time. The end result is an absolute delight, however, packed with charm and clever designs that make smart use of the console. This one is perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon, and it's impossible not to smile when playing it.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Truth be told, when this game was announced (early in the Wii U lifespan) we were a tad disappointed, as we'd hoped to see Retro Studios produce a HD Metroid Prime. Nevertheless, that shouldn't detract from the quality of this platformer - visually outstanding, and with David Wise back on soundtrack duties, it delivers a tangible evolution on its brilliant Wii predecessor. Also it has waggle-free controls, which is nice.

Hyrule Warriors

Though The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo's most treasured IPs, the company isn't afraid to experiment with the brand. Teaming up with Koei Tecmo / Omega Force for a Warriors crossover was hot news at the time, and the end result delivers just what you'd expect. It's button-tapping hack-and-slash with elements of strategy thrown in, all within a timeline-busting (and bonkers) plot. Updates have helped smooth out some performance issues, and this is a game complemented by huge amounts of DLC.

LEGO City: Undercover

A Wii U exclusive from TT Games, this was at the heart of a lot of early messaging around the system as a major third-party release. It offers a large open world to explore along with some clever touches to make use of the GamePad. Despite some choppy performance on occasions, this is arguably still the standout LEGO experience on Wii U, with a whole lot of humour to amuse older players as younger gamers enjoy the physical comedy.

Mario Kart 8

If Mario Kart 8 had a good Battle Mode, it'd arguably be the undisputed King of the series. It doesn't, but what it does have is a lot of fantastic tracks, gorgeous visuals and deliciously smooth 60fps racing. Online racing runs well, and Nintendo's DLC offerings should be continually held up as standard bearers, offering both quality and quantity. Throw in some free extras and cool amiibo outfits, and this is one of the true top-tier Wii U games.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted U

This one pushed out Deus Ex after a bit of a debate in the team, but regardless of that this port by Criterion Games deserves a place in the list. Given little hope on the market (probably due to EA's decisions as publisher), it's nevertheless arguably the best version of one of the strongest Need For Speed games of recent times. Racing game enthusiasts in our team enjoy this one, and it throws in some neat GamePad ideas along with excellent gameplay.

New Super Mario Bros. U

A launch title on the Wii U, the timing for this one was poor as a result of some 2D Mario apathy brought on by New Super Mario Bros. 2 on 3DS. Nevertheless, it can be argued as the best of the 'New' 2D Mario games, utilising the system's capabilities for handsome visuals and including some lovely stage designs. Multiplayer and some alternative modes add a little more to the experience, and New Super Luigi U is a fun DLC add-on likely to make our eShop list.

Nintendo Land

The Premium system bundled game at launch, it failed to cause the same fervour and excitement as Wii Sports the generation before, but it's still a standout multiplayer (and single player, to an extent) game for showcasing the potential of dual screen and asynchronous play with the GamePad. Some of the included minigames are still regularly played in this writer's household, and those that didn't get this bundled with the system can find it cheap nowadays.

Paper Mario: Color Splash

A recent arrival on the system, and aside from Breath of the Wild quite probably the last major release on the Wii U. It adopts some ideas from the divisive Paper Mario: Sticker Star, but it does make a number of key improvements. It's also undoubtedly charming, with visuals that show just what Nintendo can achieve on its HD system; it has some delightfully crazy items to use, too.

Pikmin 3

A title that had been long in the making, previously rumoured for Wii and then (briefly) 3DS. A project clearly dear to Shigeru Miyamoto's heart, it depicts the small Pikmin and their perspective on the world in beautiful detail, and also throws in some DLC for good measure. With varied control options, including some neat GamePad usage, it's a thoroughly enjoyable experience on the system.

Pokkén Tournament

Originally released in arcades in Japan, with some units making their way to the West, fan demand was fulfilled with the Bandai Namco-developed fighter heading to Nintendo's home console. It not only provides a relatively fun brawler for Pokémon fans, but it also has a presence in the competitive scene; it's not up to the Super Smash Bros. level yet in eSports, but it has its place.

The list continues on page two.