Was there a better exclusive lineup in 2014?
When you’re talking about the best videogames of the year it’s almost too easy to forget the little old Wii U, and yet Nintendo’s faltering console has easily produced the best range of homegrown hits of any device this side of the PC.
While you might not be able to purchase the latest-and-greatest third party titles on Nintendo’s system, in 2014 that scarcely mattered. There were known quantities, huge AAA franchise titles and numerous indie hits to fill out its high-quality roster, and hopefully the following list will leave little doubt that this is a system worth picking up.
If nothing else, many of these games should do a grand job of just putting a smile on your face, and so without further ado, here are our top Wii U picks for 2014:
There were few games that I enjoyed more than Bayonetta 2 in the whole of 2014, and it’s down to Nintendo’s staunch financial support that PlatinumGames even got to make this successor in the first place. Simply put, there’s no better blend of accessibility, spectacle and depth available within the action genre on any console right now, and the fact you can buy a special edition containing the original game just makes for lavish icing on an improbably-proportioned and deadly cake.
This is *the* best action-combat game of 2014, and if you’ve ever picked up a controller and bashed away furiously at God of War or Devil May Cry, you owe it to yourself to grab a Wii U and experience Bayonetta’s world.
Mario Kart 8
It’s the music. Long after any misgivings about the online mode or disappointment over local multiplayer framerates subsided, I can still hear that orchestra belting out Nintendo’s finest themes as I bumble about my regular business.
Fortunately, the rest of Mario Kart 8 turned out as joyously as their music production. This is a gorgeously-rendered version of Nintendo’s evergreen go-kart franchise, splitting tracks into brand-new and classic categories, then tasking you with skidding around in the pursuit of podium finishes. The track design on all the new content is phenomenal, and features like anti-gravity, slow-motion replays, functional online play, good-quality DLC and Mario Kart TV do just enough to keep things fresh.
Like much of Nintendo’s output, Mario Kart 8 is a box full of happiness. Don’t miss it.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Proving that the side-scrolling platformer market isn’t exclusively dominated by innovative indie games, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is another solid outing for Nintendo’s hairy mascot.
Although it never strays from the blueprint of its forebears and doesn’t offer any hint of innovative Wii U GamePad use, Tropical Freeze nevertheless continually mixes up its challenge and presents players with fresh scenarios and mechanics throughout its devilish array of levels. The controls are tight and the platforming is brutally tough at times, but that’s what makes Donkey Kong such a memorable throwback to the 16-bit era.
Simplistic, charming, and painfully difficult platforming. This is pure Nintendo of old, presented in colourful high resolution.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
When I think back on Super Mario 3D World, Toad’s intermittent Fez-like rotating challenges were some of the most memorable sequences in that game.
Captain Toad is that core concept fleshed out to a full boxed product, presenting players with a sequence of simple levels based on the same hide-and-seek geometric puzzling. You move Toad with the left stick and rotate the camera with the right, looking for new pathways or hidden areas otherwise obscured by the level geometry. These sequences might be a little more grandiose in scale than their 3D World cousins, but searching for new angles and interactive areas with the GamePad maintains the same level of explorative satisfaction.
It might not make you feel super-clever in the way the best environmental puzzle games do, but Captain Toad is a charming, if short, delight.
Super Smash Bros.
You’ll probably already know whether or not you’ll like Super Smash Bros. on the Wii U, but the updates and tweaks to this latest version of Nintendo’s classic series are numerous and well-implemented.
It’s still the quintessential side-scrolling party brawler, encompassing a vast roster of Nintendo stars from past to present, and a huge variety of stages, gameplay modes and control setups. Up to eight participants can join the action on specially crafted larger maps, using a combination of Wii U, classic controllers, Wiimotes and even the Gamecube pad if you’re lucky enough to find one of the super-rare adaptors. No matter which mode you’re in, the action clips along at a smooth and beautiful 1080p and 60fps, and considering the complete carnage on-screen at any moment, that’s no mean feat to achieve.
With a console audience that treats videogame nostalgia as a warm and fuzzy blanket, Shovel Knight’s 8-bit platforming action pretty much has its ideal set of customers captivated on the Wii U.
And sure, while 2014 wasn’t short of independently-developed throwback games, few of them came close to the authenticity and tight control of Shovel Knight. The titular hero bounces around the world dispatching enemies with a Ducktales-inspired shovel-based pogo attack, while the same steely tool is used to destroy barricades, dig up treasure and swipe at creatures as if he were wielding a rapier rather than B&Q special. Power-up relics come into play later in the game to add some variety in attack, while in another well-considered nod to the era, each of Shovel Knight’s levels are made up of single-screen puzzles that are easy to digest.
This is a 2D platformer that controls beautifully, and absolutely nails the early-Nintendo atmosphere it was digging for.
The Pullblox games (or Pushmo, to the rest of the world) have gathered something of a cult following since their initial release as download-only titles on 3DS, and this latest edition for Wii U continued their trend for excellent, gentle puzzling.
You play as a small creature named Mallo, and your job is to reach a set of children stranded at the top of a series of block-based shapes that litter each stage. Your interaction with each shape is as simple as a pull or a push, extending the structure into the foreground or background on a limited grid. You can only jump the height of a single block, so the aim is to corral each of the pieces into a stairway of sorts, allowing you to scale its full height and move on to the next stage.
From that simple premise an entire addictive puzzle game is crafted, and though this Wii U version lacks the 3D of its handheld parent, it lacks none of the charm or addiction. Pullblox games are finely-crafted puzzlers, and this is well worth the download.
NES Remix 2
After a bit of fake-nostalgia in the form of Shovel Knight, why not round out the party with a bona fide collection of some of the greatest games of all time?
NES Remix 2 continues where the original left off, conjuring a sequence of bite-size gameplay segments from Nintendo classics. The selection continues to be fantastic, this time taking in the likes of Super Mario 2 & 3, Kid Icarus, Kirby and Metroid. Each game is broken down into its own sequence of challenges that scale in difficulty, with accompanying three-star skill ratings eventually doling out Mii-verse prizes and unlocking further goodies. Each of the tiny trials is implemented with a unique hook that focuses players on specific mechanics, distilling the action down to the elements that make these games tick.
With that in mind, NES Remix 2 is an excellent way to continue discovering, and rediscovering, some of the best games of all time.
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