If you’re an early adopter of the Wii U, odds are you haven’t been using it much. And who can blame you? Somehow, Nintendo managed to make the exact same mistakes launching the Wii U that they made with the 3DS launch two years ago. There was the same montage of excited third party developers, extolling the virtues of the hardware. We saw the same sizzle reel of exciting, ostensibly exclusive games that were supposedly coming at launch or arriving shortly thereafter.
And then, like clockwork, we got hit with the exact same delays and dearth of software right after the Wii U launched. Third parties are backing away from the console en-masse. Once again it’s up to the Big N to pull off some herculean effort to push a bunch of solid first-party games onto their console by the holidays, and sway public opinion back in their favor.
We’re starting to see that support for the fall and holidays—big Nintendo-published titles like Super Mario 3D Land, Wonderful 101, DK Country Tropical Freeze, and even more coming next year like the new Smash Bros, Bayonetta 2 and Mario Kart 8. That’s promising, but what are Wii U owners supposed to do until then? The answer is simple: backwards compatibility.
The Wii U is special in that it’s the only console this generation to be fully backwards compatible with its predecessor, the Wii. While PS4 and Xbox One are dropping that feature, Wii U can survive the lean times by taking advantage of the previous console’s library, and what’s more, it isn’t the first console to make this strategy work. The PS2 didn’t exactly have an amazing launch lineup when it debuted back in 2000, but early adopters could play their massive collection of PS1 titles on it while waiting for the good stuff.
Buying Wii games can be treacherous: for every unsung gem there is a pile of detestable sports, fitness and party games, usually sitting right on top of it in the bargain bin. But with a bit of smart shopping and I hope a little advice from me, you could be enjoying yesterday’s diamonds in the rough and usually at a real bargain. And most importantly, they’re all fully playable on your shiny, new, but currently idle Wii U.
I’ll be running through several categories of games, from the obvious Nintendo classics to the obscure and arcane. Each week I’ll discuss five games that every self-respecting Wii collector should have in their library. I’ll also run down the accessories and peripherals each game supports when notable, along with my personal preference and recommendation on which to use.
Remember, these are just my personal picks from my own collection, or games that are universally acclaimed but almost entirely forgotten or overlooked. I consider myself a connoisseur of Nintendo’s fifth console, but I don’t own or even know of every great Wii title that’s come out over the years, so I’m just as eager to hear your feedback, dear readers, on the game’s that I’ve omitted. Now without further ado, let’s dust off those Wii U’s and get to playing some Wii classics. Who knows, by the time the holiday rolls around and brings fresh Wii U games, we might not even want to stop.
Part 1: Nintendo Essentials
The weekly editions of Backwards Compatible will focus on five games in a specific genre—shooter, RPG, platformer, etc.—but to kick off the series we’re going to start with the essentials. These are five Nintendo first party classics that every Wii collector wouldn’t be caught dead without.
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Now I know what you’re thinking: why not the original Mario Galaxy? To be honest it was a tough choice, but as great as Galaxy 1 is, Galaxy 2 is just straight up better. I always felt the ideas in Galaxy 1—variable gravity, motion controls, crazy level variety—just weren’t taken far enough in that game. In Galaxy 2, it’s clear that Miyamoto took the gloves off. Galaxy 2 puts the “why the hell not?” approach to every concept and idea from the first game.
Galaxy 2’s level structure and progression is a lot more streamlined, letting the developers do crazy random things like make a level completely out of flip-switches or include one of the best levels from Mario 64 just for the hell of it. There are levels with switching platforms timed to the tempo of the music, a new cloud powerup that lets Mario make platforms, and a hub world spaceship shaped like Mario’s head. Oh, and Yoshi is finally rideable again. The difficulty is also cranked way up, letting you get to the end without too much sweat, but tossing in challenge levels that will test the mettle of even the Mario elite.
While every Wii owner should of course have the first Mario Galaxy, they absolutely
must have Galaxy 2 as well. Everything about it—graphics, music, gameplay, challenge—is a stratospheric improvement on an already stellar, paradigm-shifting game.
The game only works with the standard Wiimote-Nunchuk setup, and as both Galaxy 1 and 2 were built around that setup much in the same way Mario 64 was built around the N64 controller, that’s about as fine-tuned a game as you’re going to get anywhere.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
While this game isn’t technically a Wii exclusive because it came out on the GameCube too, the Wii U doesn’t support Cube games or peripherals, so the Wii version is your only choice on Wii U. Luckily, Twilight Princess is just as amazing on Wii as it is on the Cube. This was the game that, as far as I’m concerned, closed the book on traditional Zelda game design. After the toony art style and somewhat tedious gameplay of the experimental Windwaker, Twilight Princess brought the series back to the concepts developed over Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. And in my opinion, Twilight Princess is a master class of that design, the best and last time that classic-style Zelda will ever work again.
Twilight Princess was basically Ocarina of Time but vastly bigger, deeper and more complex, with the unsettling, bizarre story motifs of Majora’s Mask tying it all together. It had Link transforming into an unusual form (a wolf this time), a set of mind-bending sequential dungeons, a lengthy trading sequence, a dark-light world duality, and a positively massive Hyrule for it to all take place in. That Hyrule was also painted in a forbidding but strangely charming mixture of gothic fantasy and manga art styles, and this darker but also more fanciful look remains my favorite take on the Zelda universe.
Twilight Princess was the game that sold the Wii to the core gamer crowd and with good reason. It’s the first and only time there was a Zelda game at launch, and it was the biggest adventure of Link yet realized. This one will take a lengthy, thorough effort to explore and conquer, but the experience is still one of the most worthy in gaming. Miyamoto effectively painted himself into a corner with Twilight Princess; at the time nobody was sure where the godfather of gaming could take his flagship series next. That’s why I personally think Twilight Princess is the definitive capstone on traditional
Zelda. As we would see, five years later the series went in a markedly different, but just as good, direction…
Fans debated for years if Twilight Princess worked better with the GameCube controls it was originally designed for, or the Wii controls it was later adapted to. I personally think each have their pros and cons, but unless you have both versions of the game, it doesn’t matter—the Wii version was delayed a year to be specifically adapted to the Wii remote, so Nintendo made sure it worked very well with those controls. You can’t play the Wii version with the GameCube controller, and Wii U doesn’t even support the Cube pad, so Wiimote-Nunchuk it is.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Nintendo transplanted the Zelda series onto a brand new framework with Skyward Sword, while simultaneously preserving its best elements. Many of the series' enduring gameplay staples--open world, dungeons, adaptive inventory and especially swordplay--were grafted onto a new pacing and control structure, as well as a story that serves as the genesis for the series' twisting, multi-timeline continuity.
The biggest change to the series was the one-to-one Wii MotionPlus sword fighting that completely changed how you approach combat in a Zelda game. I remember that first fight with Girahim knocking me on my ass, and I quickly realized that Wii waggle would only get me killed. Skyward Sword also restructured the longstanding open world/dungeon dichotomy, mixing them together to the point where you often couldn't tell where the overworld ended and the dungeon began. What's more, the landscape of each area changed over the course of the game, forcing you to find new paths and adapt to floods and other environmental shifts, whereas in previous Zelda games simple terrain memorization had sufficed.
Nintendo also listened to the criticisms of Twilight Princess's one-off inventory, where many dungeons-specific items were used for a few puzzles and then forgotten completely. In Skyward Sword you often had to dig into your backpack and use all of the items you'd collected up to that point to solve the latest dungeon, finally bringing Myamoto's ingenious "final exam" gameplay back to the Zelda series.
The whole game was gilded with a lush, painterly art style that combined the manga influence of Twilight Princess with the vibrant impressionist colors and slightly more abstract character designs of Wind Waker. Skyward Sword was the first big step toward a new kind of Zelda game and in that respect it wasn't as perfectly balanced or as deep as previous entries, but it still ranks among the series' best and finally shows where the eternally retold legend of Link and Zelda began. Every self-respecting Nintendo fan should reserve a place of honor for Skyward Sword in their collection.
Whereas Twilight Princess was only retrofitted to the Wii remote, Skyward Sword was built around it, and the Wii MotionPlus functionality. The game’s precision sword combat—not to mention numerous items and gameplay elements—were designed specifically to use MotionPlus, so Wiimote-Nunchuk is the only control scheme on offer. While I wish that a couple aspects, like the skydiving mechanics, were just mapped to the Nunchuk stick, Skyward Sword only works as a game and even more as an idea with MotionPlus.
Mario Kart Wii
While I was tempted to list Super Smash Bros. Brawl as the no-brainer Wii party game, Brawl has some issues holding it back from greatness and if it’s Smash Bros. you’re after, I’d just as soon recommend you scrounge up a GameCube and play Melee, the best game ( so far) in the series. Rather, Mario Kart Wii is a more solid recommendation for go-to multiplayer fun.
While I still consider Mario Kart DS as the best game in Nintendo’s mascot kart racing franchise, the Wii entry is a close second. It introduced bikes to the series, the ability to race as your Mii avatar, and a number of imaginative new courses like the Mushroom Kingdom mall, Maple Treeway and the best Bowser’s Castle since Mario Kart 64. Following suit from the DS game, Mario Kart Wii also included a selection of four retro cups packed with stages from the SNES, N64, GBA and Cube entries, effectively doubling the total number of maps.
There was a lot more to unlock in this one too, and while the AI rubberbanding and occasional item spam made the single player game frustrating at times, it was worth the effort to get all the characters, karts and extra goodies. Mario Kart Wii also expanded on the game’s online component, but I personally had the most fun with local multiplayer. Whenever my friends are over we have to go a few rounds in multiplayer vs. mode or balloon battle, and me and my girlfriend have been playing cooperative grand prix for so long it’s practically an unwritten tradition. Mario Kart Wii isn’t the best or most innovative entry in the series, but its accessibility and ever-addictive multiplayer keep me and my friends coming back for more.
Mario Kart Wii was notable for its wide array of control schemes, and while the Wii U’s unfortunate lack of GameCube compatibility has once again pruned that fine option there’s still some left to choose from. I personally found the Wii remote motion controls obnoxious and floaty, and somehow doubly so when the Wiimote was slotted into that stupid plastic wheel that came bundled with the game. The Classic Controller works surprisingly well however. Remember, though, that the Wii U’s Pro Controller doesn’t work in Wii mode, so you’ll have to have a Wii Classic Controller or the superior Classic Controller Pro handy; annoying, yes, but luckily they’re pretty cheap these days.
Metroid Prime Trilogy
The game industry at large has been using overpriced "limited" collector's editions and preorder bonuses to rip off dedicated fans for years, but Nintendo didn't really do much flagrant fanservice merchandising after the late 80s. All of that changed with Metroid Prime Trilogy.
Nintendo was already re-purposing old GameCube games by tacking on Wii controls and reselling them under the New Play Control label, desperately trying to pad out a serious drought in the Wii's lifespan a few years back. In Japan these re-released, updated ports included Pikmin, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat and the first two Metroid Prime games, but when Nintendo brought the New Play Control Metroid Primes to America, they did something special with them.
Basically they let Retro Studios, the original developer of the Metroid Prime titles, give the upgraded ports the Lord of the Rings trilogy boxset treatment. Metroid Prime and its sequel, Prime 2 Echoes were already modern classics and superb examples of near-perfect game design, but Retro bundled them on one disc with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and refitted them with all of Prime 3's improvements. Now Prime 1 and 2 were resplendent with lush bloom lighting, crisper textures, re-balanced difficulty and the pitch-perfect motion controls introduced in Corruption.
The resulting trilogy collection is a compilation of three of the best games from the last decade, a positively monstrous chunk of gameplay. Each of the Prime games is ludicrously deep, packed with secrets and built around some of the finest progression and level design you'll ever experience in an adventure game. They also serve up some of the tightest action and many of the best, most intimidating boss fights you'll find on any console. The whole thing was served up in a classy steelbook case that included an artbook full of the gorgeous concept designs from the talented artists at Retro. Metroid Prime is one of the highest examples of how to adapt a classic 2D franchise to a modern 3D world, and the Prime Trilogy is one of the best examples of how to do a celebratory collector's edition right.
The problem is that this was a limited
collector's edition. It had a somewhat brief print run, and copies are getting scarce these days. Copies in good shape (no denting in the steelbook case) command high prices on Amazon, but even if you can't find a pristine copy, snag this one while you can. Metroid Prime Trilogy is a lengthy feast of some of the best gameplay ever pressed to a disc, so it should be in the library of every serious Wii collector.
Retro upgraded the first two Prime games to use Wii remote controls, so that’s the only option in Trilogy. There are a few minor tradeoffs from the unorthodox but surprisingly smooth control schemes in the GameCube originals, but overall Retro delivers a precise, comfortable control experience. They were, after all, the first studio to recommend Nintendo put a damn analog stick on the Wii, thankfully leading to the creation of the Nunchuk attachment.
So there you have it, five classic Wii games you can play on your Wii U, and five more to come next week. As I said, this first list is really obvious because these are the five games any Wii collector must absolutely positively own, but I promise next week’s list will be a little more obscure. We’re diving into the broad and exciting action adventure genre, and let me tell you that picking a mere five games was a difficult process. Stay tuned!