Sure, the system has been defunct for about half-a-decade now, but it's still worth scooping up for exclusives and before Nintendo shuts its shop down.
I’ve been mulling over the idea of writing a guide to owning a Wii U in the year 2021 for a while now, mostly thanks to how prominent it showed itself to be, as a (or the) point of access, to a significant portion of the top 101 Nintendo games. Now that Nintendo is in the very early stages of making the Wii U’s eShop less accessible and then, inevitably, completely inaccessible, though — they’re removing credit card support for both the Wii U and 3DS in Japan as of January 2022 — it seems like this is a thing I should probably do, before you cannot use a Wii U for any of the things it still can do, even years after it was replaced by the Switch as Nintendo’s primary console.
So, with that in mind, here is that guide. Even though Nintendo has ported most of the Wii U’s exclusives to the Switch, they didn’t get all of the worthwhile ones for one reason or another, and the existence of the Virtual Console on its eShop means it has more to offer beyond just a handful of physical titles, too.
First thing: I’ve seen, in person and online, used Wii U’s ranging anywhere from $110 to more like the price of a Switch Lite. So this isn’t a system you can just pick up for nothing, necessarily, which isn’t a surprise given it sold just over 13 million units, but if you want to be sure to have access to a slew of games you can’t find anywhere else at all or as cheaply, then that $110 or $180 or whatever could very well be worth it. And the system isn’t going to get any cheaper, either, so if you’re in for this, you might as well be in while it’s the price it is now and the eShop is still fully accessible.
The Nintendo Top 101 on the Wii U
If you don’t have a Switch, and don’t plan on getting one because it’s too expensive, or you hate the idea of dealing with the Joy Cons, or you can just never find one on a shelf, whatever, then the Wii U is full of some pretty obvious treasures for you. Of the top 101, 12 of them originated on the Wii U, and nine of those have been ported to the Switch:
Now, granted, it’s unlikely that you would refuse to buy a Switch because it costs what it does but would buy a Wii U and then spend money on much harder to find physical copies of games, or non-discounted digital versions of those same games, when you could spend the same or maybe even less on enhanced games with additional modes and content on the Switch instead, but still. That’s the list, regardless.
In more realistic reasons to buy a Wii U right now, there are four exclusives that are yet to be ported, slash, will probably never be ported over if they haven’t been already: Pushmo World (which is basically just More Pushmo), NES Remix 1+2, the unfairly derided Star Fox Zero, and the jewel of the bunch, Xenoblade Chronicles X. XCX might be an online multiplayer game, but the servers are still running, players are still active, and the entire game can be enjoyed without ever participating in a single bit of its online elements, either. It’s more Phantasy Star Online and Monster Hunter than it is an MMO, in that regard. And did I mention that you eventually get to control a giant mech that works both as high-speed (and high height) transportation, and even later, can even fly over the entire enormous map to get you wherever you want to go? Because you do.
In addition, there are HD remakes of two The Legend of Zelda games: Twilight Princess, and The Wind Waker. This is the definitive version of both games, as they are not only in HD — and in the case of Wind Waker, was completely rebuilt from the ground up for HD, not just given a hi-def coat of paint — but were also tailored in ways that made them make a ton of sense on the Wii U platform. The Wii U Gamepad can play either of the titles in a semi-portable state without the television, but other than that, there is also how useful the Gamepad is as a map and menu when you are using the television. The Wii U was great because it allowed you a sort of proto-Switch at times, but also because it was like having a giant Nintendo DS, too, where your “top” screen got to be as large as whatever size TV you could fit into your room. It helped make for some real clean HUDs and UIs. Anyway, there is constant clamoring for HD releases of those two games that there are already HD releases of: if Nintendo isn’t going to give it to you again anytime soon, there is always the Wii U.
The Other Wii U Exclusives
Paper Mario: Color Splash didn’t make the top 101, but it’s probably the best-written of the Paper Mario games, and is a real looker, too, with colors really popping off the screen in the series’ first go in HD. If I ever expand the top 101 beyond that figure, it’s pretty likely Color Splash would be included.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is coming out on multiple systems this fall, but it was really designed from the ground up for the Wii U. The newer versions might look prettier, but there is always the possibility that the initial release plays the best of the bunch. That’s a hypothetical, of course, but I figured I’d at least mention it.
It took me awhile to warm up to Mario Party 10, because it’s such a massive shift for the series in how the board game elements work, but it’s actually a pretty underrated entry in the series. Especially because of the Bowser Party element that allows for up to five players in a game where Bowser, either controlled by the game or by a fellow human, basically hunts down a team of four working together to escape him and the board in question.
Dr. Luigi is a Dr. Mario variant, released during The Year of Luigi. It’s fun, but only necessary if you’re something of a Dr. Mario-verse completionist. Still, people like that might exist. Similarly, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is a Wii U exclusive: it’s fun, but not vital. Still, there it is, if you’re really into Kirby (like I am). Yoshi’s Woolly World is similarly good, but not great.
There are also some third-party offerings worth paying attention to on the Wii U, specifically. Ubisoft’s ZombiU makes much more sense with the Gamepad it was designed for in use than it does on other systems, and you can get it for all of $5 at Gamestop or what have you. Affordable Space Adventures is a $20 digital-only title that remains a Wii U exclusive because it was built with the Gamepad in mind: the Gamepad is essentially the control panel of a small spaceship, and you need to touchpad your way around your 2D environment. It didn’t get a ton of attention, being a Wii U-exclusive digital game released in 2015, but the attention it did get was praise.
The Wii U’s Virtual Console
Mostly, though, the Wii U is a Nintendo-exclusive and Virtual Console box. While the system’s VC was never as vibrant as anyone wanted it to be, that doesn’t detract from the games that are available, and more importantly, remain available. Do you want to buy expensive Game Boy Advance cartridges off of Ebay for the system’s various Castlevania entries, or do you want to just spend $7 on a digital copy of Circle of the Moon on the Wii U?
Here are the top 101 games you can get through the Wii U’s Virtual Console, which includes games from the NES (typically $5 on Virtual Console), SNES ($8), N64 ($10), Game Boy Advance ($8), DS ($10), and Wii ($20) systems.
Kirby Mass Attack (DS)
Drill Dozer (GBA)
Paper Mario (N64)
Golden Sun/The Lost Age (GBA)
Pikmin 2 (Wii)
Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
Advance Wars and Black Hole Rising (GBA)
Kirby’s Epic Yarn (Wii)
Punch-Out!! (NES original and Wii reboot)
Kirby Super Star (SNES)
Sin & Punishment (N64)
Wario Land 4 (GBA)
Metroid Fusion (GBA)
Metroid: Zero Mission (GBA)
Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Excitebots: Trick Racing (Wii)
Star Fox 64 (N64)
Super Metroid (SNES)
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
Roughly half of the entire top 101 is available on the Wii U in some form, be it Virtual Console or as a Wii U game itself. Sure, it would be expensive to get all of them, but it will be a lot cheaper to do so on the Wii U than it would be on the various games’ native systems.
Other Virtual Console Gems
That’s just the top 101 stuff I mentioned above. Both DS-original Zelda games, Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass, are on the Wii U eShop. As are the GBA Castlevania entries, as previously mentioned, and a slew of titles for the NES and SNES that will cost you more than $5 or $8 to find a physical copy of. Games like Bomberman 64 cost at least three or four times as much as their Wii U eShop price on Ebay and the like: I have 17 N64 games on my Wii U, despite having nearly 50 cartridges for the system. There isn’t a repeat game in the bunch. The Virtual Console handled most of the relatively expensive first-party offerings for me.
You can peruse the entire listing of offerings on this Wiki page (the Wii ones aren’t listed there, as they aren’t treated as VC titles by the system itself, but those have their own Wiki). There are 94 NES games, 51 from the SNES, 21 from the N64, 74 Game Boy Advance titles, and 31 DS games, as well as 30 Wii releases. There are also still 33 Turbografx-16 games on the Wii U (seven have been de-listed at this point, like Image Fight and Legend of Hero Tonma), including ones that weren’t even part of the Turbografx-16 Mini that released in 2020. Want to play some Air Zonk, or one of the Bonk games, or Lords of Thunder? The Wii U might not have Ys Books I & II like the TG-16 Mini, but it does have those others and more besides for $6 each.
The Wii U is backwards-compatible with the Wii
Don’t want to spend $20 on a Wii game you think you can find cheaper out in the world? Well, go buy a physical copy, then, and play it on your Wii U, along with all of the Wii games you already have. Your Wii’s entire everything — save data, Miis, Virtual Console and WiiWare purchases — can all be transferred over to your Wii U, which contains a Wii menu within it. As someone who just had to open up their Wii from 2006 recently to make the fan work again and knows that, eventually, the optical drive will be an issue, knowing the Wii U is able to play the same games is a comfort.
Sure, I can see not wanting to buy a Wii U, between the Switch getting most of its best original games and their being almost no third-party support to speak of that you can’t now find somewhere else. However, if you want a window into Nintendo’s past, you can’t find one much better than the Wii U, given its plethora of Virtual Console offerings you can’t find otherwise this side of an ever-expensive secondary market or emulation. If you want to build up a Wii U to serve in the same capacity that my own currently does, you better get moving on it: credit cards won’t work on Wii U systems in Japan come 2022, and that decision will be a worldwide one before you know it.
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