We have arrived at the eve of the 10th anniversary of Wii U’s launch. Yes, it was a decade ago when the hardcore Nintendo fans began queuing outside stores across North America at midnight (12 days later in Europe, and 8th December in Japan) to pick up and take home a shiny new piece of Nintendo hardware. It’s always a special moment — regardless of the platform and the ultimate commercial success of the system — and gamers had quite the selection of launch titles to choose from, too.
Compared to Switch, which launched with just 10 games to its name, Wii U arrived with 25 games right off the bat. Certainly, it lacked a Mario 64, Wii Sports, or Breath of the Wild-style ‘killer app’, and most of these third-party ports were old news for anyone with a PlayStation or Xbox, but there were some big names on the docket here.
In fact, looking at the lists of publishers, it’s astonishing to see the support the console got at launch, no doubt a reaction to Wii’s blistering success and red-faced firms not wanting to miss out on the gold rush again. Alongside the ever-present Ubisoft (who brought not one, not two, but four games to the launch party), Activision, EA, Bandai Namco, THQ, SEGA, Disney, and WB all showed up. The workaday ports they delivered might not have done much to excite Wii U owners, but given Nintendo systems’ reputation as platforms primarily for first-party output, it’s an impressive Day One showing.
But which launch game was the best? Below you’ll find an alphabetical list of all the games that were available for Wii U’s North American release to help jog your memory, and you’ll find a poll at the end where you can pick your favourite from this sizeable bunch of video games.
GamePads at the ready! Let’s dive right into things…
Publisher: Ubisoft / Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
A decent port of possibly the dullest game in Ubisoft’s premier open-world murder-fest franchise, Assassin’s Creed III explored new directions for the series, and while a degree of these go sideways, the title still managed to pull off one of the most impressive and immersive game worlds we’d seen at the time. Smart GamePad support offered a genuine enhancement over other platforms and set the standard for this genre on Wii U. Black Flag is by far the better game, but Wii U wasn’t a bad way for solo players to experience AC III at all.
Publisher: Warner Bros / Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition may not be the definitive version of the game but, aside from some frame rate issues, the incorporation of GamePad controls felt totally natural, and the opportunity to don the Dark Knight’s cowl and cape in one of the best Batman games ever was a considerable boon for Wii U owners.
With a relatively lengthy campaign, loads of extra content, and the opportunity to give Batman’s gallery of rogues a sound thrashing, this was the Batman game to play on Wii U — a console which boasts no fewer than five flavours of the Caped Crusader (counting the LEGO ones, Arkham Origins, and Blackgate – Deluxe Edition).
Publisher: Activision / Developer: Treyarch
Remember when Activision brought Call of Duty games to Nintendo systems? While it was nice to have a “proper” COD on a Nintendo console, Black Ops II’s goofy narrative and arbitrary set pieces weren’t quite series-best. Still, it was a solid port which made simple use of the GamePad, the Zombies expansions breathed new life into the undead, and the robust multiplayer suite was still top of its class at the time — even if a struggling player count on Wii U hampered certain modes.
Publisher: THQ / Developer: Vigil Games
Darksiders II is very, very good. In paying homage to the Zelda series while adding its own unique flavour, the team at Vigil crafted a game to appeal to those looking for a grittier take on an action-RPG dungeon crawler, while also helping Nintendo fans scratch that Hylian itch. ‘Zelda substitute’ would be an unfair label — Darksiders II is a stellar game in its own right that is absolutely worth playing, although the Switch Deathinitive Edition is probably the one to go for these days.
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios / Developer: Heavy Iron Studios
This Wii U version of Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two failed to utilise the potential of the system or its controller. There’s a small mercy in the form of a useful map and hotkeys on the GamePad screen, yet other elements of the controls feel worse than on Wii due to performance issues. The slight advantage of having HD resolution is lost once the engine decides it can’t handle the action, and it says much that we yearned for the relative stability of the Wii version. This isn’t how a port to a more powerful system should be, and if you absolutely have to sample Mickey’s second Epic adventure, we suggest looking to your older system or the Wii Menu.
Publisher: Ubisoft / Developer: Longtail Studios
ESPN Sports Connection’s biggest problem was that it felt slapped together in a matter of months, with seemingly little interest to exist beyond merely existing for Wii U’s launch. Someone had to make motion-controlled tennis, right? Noble perhaps to take one for the team like that, but families looking to replicate that Wii Sports magic were much better off with a ticket to Nintendo Land.
Publisher: Electronic Arts / Developer: Electronic Arts
FIFA 13 for Wii U was a fine simulation of the world’s favourite sport. In footballing circles at the time, the only game to beat it was its own sequel, which was already out for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and was also called FIFA 13. Yes, this was little more than a port of FIFA 12 with a name change.
If you were really into football games, you would have played this edition of the game to death already elsewhere. If you weren’t, then you would have had no interest in FIFA anyway, which makes you wonder exactly who EA was targeting when it drew up the plans for this one.
What’s that? EA got in at launch to make a quick buck with a port of a years-old game thrown together with minimal changes or effort? Scandalous!
Publisher: 505 Games / Developer: Tantalus Media
Published by Ubisoft on 3DS, 505 Games put this farm sim on Wii U. Despite its presentation, Funky Barn was not an entirely bad game. It was far from pretty, but its simple gameplay was quite addictive while it lasted and it controlled well. What really put it out to pasture prematurely was its unjustly high price tag and a general dearth of content, however: it only takes a few hours to see everything, and after that there’s very little reason to return to the fields.
Publisher: Warner Bros / Developer: Phosphor Games
Game Party Champions was – to put it nicely – a bad game. Not “so bad that it’s good”, either. Launched at a more budget-friendly price than other games on shelves on Wii U launch day, you could pick up any other title for just a few dollars more. Alternatively, you could have not bothered buying any games whatsoever, and still had significantly more fun than if you’d walked out of the store with Game Party Champions tucked under your arm. Flipping through the console’s settings and endlessly browsing the eShop felt more exciting than anything this sporty party game collection offered.
Remember the time before Ubisoft started sticking the year on the end of the title?
Just Dance 4 stuck to what the franchise has always done best and delivered another round of bananas party fun for anyone still interested in playing. Even with a few dud covers and themes sometimes at odds with the songs they were supposed to capture, the setlist remained impressively diverse. The GamePad offered a few novel features to make the game worth considering on Wii U and the greatly enhanced ‘Just Sweat’ mode pushed dance workouts in fun new directions.
Publisher: Electronic Arts / Developer: BioWare
Yes, back when EA gave the impression of genuinely caring about Nintendo platforms (well, kinda), Mass Effect 3 was ported to Wii U. Starting with the third game in a series may not make sense much sense (with ME2 arguably being the pinnacle of the series), but it was a quality port from a Bioware series that excelled — at the time — in delivering complex storytelling with engaging gameplay. The ending might have rubbed some people the wrong way, but experiencing the beautiful Mass Effect universe on a Nintendo console was a treat that we’ve missed in the years since.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD
If you loaded up New Super Mario Bros. U with the expectation of playing another genre-defying escapade like Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy, then you may have come away disappointed. Mario’s first game for the Wii U played it safe when it came to theme and concept; like previous titles in the ‘New’ series, this was essentially a colourful rehash of the same old blueprint. The mechanics remained the same, but gilded by decades of subtle refinements and enhancements, ultimately leading to one of the most accomplished 2D platformers ever created.
New Super Mario Bros. U may not have offered a cataclysmic genre shift, but it was a fine Wii U launch game and remains a 2D gem in the Mario canon (now more easily accessed on Switch in ‘Deluxe’ form).
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Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Team Ninja
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge might not be the best of the 3D Ninja Gaidens, but it plays well on Wii U, with fast, fluid combat that’s gruesome and satisfying. You’ll likely wish there was a little more to it than just fighting waves of enemies in predetermined spots, and even with the campaign a little over five hours long (excluding cutscenes) it starts to feel a bit tired towards the end. As an option in the Wii U launch lineup, though, alongside ZombiU it offered something a little more ‘adult’ for early adopters.