Contrary to popular belief, the Wii does have a handful of good games. As the gaming industry gears up for the launch of the similarly risky Wii U, let’s take a look back on the best games made for the original Wii.
Let me clear a few things up before I start: I decided to focus on original Wii titles for this list, so that means I didn’t include any ports or remakes. That doesn’t mean that they’re not any good; after all, the Wii versions of Pikmin 2, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and Resident Evil 4 are all fantastic games, and in some cases (RE4 especially,) they manage to be even better than the original versions.
Likewise, keep in mind the date that I’m writing this. While the Wii’s lifespan is more or less over, there’s still a few noteworthy releases in the coming weeks. I haven’t played Mistwalker’s The Last Story yet, as the game hasn’t been released in America, and there’s always a chance that Square-Enix’s risky MMO Dragon Quest X might just be a great game. I apologize if you’re reading this article at a later date and are a fan of these games, but I haven’t played them myself at this time and I sadly cannot predict the future, so for now I can’t include those games on this list.
Anyway, that’s enough fine print for now. On to the list, which is presented in no particular order, since I can’t pick one game out as my absolute favorite:
Muramasa: The Demon Blade
Let’s start with a good third party Wii title, since a lot of people seem to believe that they don’t exist. Small Japanese developer Vanillaware has been making ultra-hardcore 2D action RPG’s ever since the Saturn days, though most American gamers probably didn’t hear of them until they made a splash on the PS2 with the epic fantasy RPG Odin Sphere. Each of Vanillaware’s games always manages to be a substantial improvement over the one before it, and Muramasa represents the peak of the action-RPG formula that the company has been gradually perfecting ever since 1997′s Princess Crown.
Like its spiritual predecessors, Muramasa is a damn beautiful game. The Wii may have been handicapped by some unfortunately antiquated graphical hardware, but you’d never know it by looking at this game: every scene and every character look like a painting come to life, with lots of little details and some very smooth animation. While Muramasa looks similar to Odin Sphere in terms of aesthetics (despite the shift in setting from Western-style fantasy to feudal Japan,) it definitely represents a substantial improvement in terms of gameplay: while previous Vanillaware games were kind of clunky in the action department, Muramasa’s lightning fast and addictive combat manages to put most dedicated action games to shame. The game almost plays like a mix of Capcom’s classic 2D ninja game Strider, mixed with the combo system from Devil May Cry, plus some light RPG elements; the fights in this game are fast and accessible without feeling shallow or ever getting repetitive. Muramasa: The Demon Blade has earned its place on this list for not just being one of the few great third party Wii games, but for being one of the best action games ever made, period.
Donkey Kong Country Returns
Just a generation ago, most gamers and game journalists were labeling the platforming genre dead: it seemed like nobody wanted a decent run-and-jump game anymore, and everyone was flocking towards experiences that were making laughable attempts at being “dark” and “gritty” (Jak, I’m looking at you and your Poochy-esque make-over.) Then New Super Mario Bros. came out for the DS and sold a bazillion copies, and game companies finally realized that was still a market out there for bright, colorful, fun mascot platformers.
There’s been a lot of 2D platformers over the last few years (especially on the Wii) that have tried to cash-in on the public’s rediscovered love of the old hop-and-bop genre, but none have been as successful as Donkey Kong Country Returns. Nintendo’s original mascot hasn’t let age slow him down, and his Wii rebirth is every bit as good (arguably better than) his retro adventures. Despite it’s fun and colorful appearance, DKCR is definitely no baby game: the game is as hard as a classic NES platformer, and even genre veterans will likely have a hard time getting past some of the later stages. Still, despite the high challenge level, the game never feels cheap and frustrating, thanks to tight controls and clever level design. DKCR proves that 2D platformers aren’t dead; in fact, they’re better than ever.
While the NES and SNES were home to some of the best console RPGs of all time, it’s been awhile since a Nintendo home console could be considered an RPG powerhouse: while the N64 and Gamecube both got a handful of good RPG’s, the genre seems to have flourished instead on other companies’ consoles. The Wii unfortunately suffered a similar drought of quality role playing games, but thankfully, it has at least one RPG that’s so good it manages to compensate the otherwise complete absence of the genre on the system.
Developed by Monolith Soft (creators of Xenosaga, Baten Kaitos), Xenoblade Chronicles is probably the most refreshing J-RPG I’ve played since the PS2 era ended. Mixing the best elements of both Japanese and Western RPG design (along with a few new clever ideas of their own,) Monolith Soft has managed to create a game that encapsulates everything that’s great about the genre: a long, involving story, a fun cast of memorable characters, an addictive and strategic battle system, and plenty of loot and gear to collect and customize your characters with. With a massive world that’s packed to the brim with sidequests and secret areas, Xenoblade Chronicles has enough content to keep even the most veteran RPG’ers satisfied until the next great RPG hits a Nintendo console… which, if past experience proves true, might be awhile. Long suffering Nintendo fans had to launch a long campaign to pester Nintendo of America into releasing this game over here, but it was definitely worth the wait.
Sin and Punishment: Star Successor
The Wii never got a proper Star Fox sequel, but it did get a 3D SHMUP that was just as good as any of Nintendo’s furry mercenary’s adventures: Sin and Punishment 2. Developed by the shooter geniuses at Japan’s legendary Treasure studio (best known for creating classics like Gunstar Heroes, Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga,) Sin and Punishment: Star Successor manages to rise above the Wii’s casual reputation and delivers one of the most challenging, hardcore action experiences available on any system. In fact, it might have been a little too hardcore for the Wii audience, because the game sold about as well as sandpaper condoms… but if you were one of the select few that actually bought this game, you probably already completely understand why I included it on this list.
Like Star Fox or Panzer Dragoon, you take control of a character that automatically flies forward through a 3D level. Unlike those games however, your character can independently aim and move in different directions: movement is controlled by the nunchuk, and your attacks are controlled by the Wii-mote’s pointer. Everything controls with absolutely perfect accuracy, and (like some of the other games on this list,) the game’s controls show that motion controls can improve a hardcore experience when implemented properly. You’ll need those pixel-accurate controls too, because like I said before, Sin and Punishment is a very challenging game, and anyone who thinks that the Wii’s library is exclusively made up of shallow, easy, baby games needs to play S&P and realize how wrong they are.
No More Heroes
Okay, now this is a game that’s definitely not for everybody. The works of game developer Goichi Suda and his team at Grasshopper Manufacture are definitely love it or hate it affairs, and while No More Heroes is definitely his most accessible work, it’s still a very divisive game.
No More Heroes puts players in the role of Travis Touchdown, an otaku loser in his mid twenties (something I can sadly identify with,) who buys a lightsaber off of eBay and decides to use it to become the top assassin in the city of Santa Destroy (with the ultimate goal of using the title to get laid, of course.) The game’s bizarre and sadistic sense of humor is definitely part of what makes NMH so divisive, and its gameplay has definitely caused equal derision among gamers: some people see the game’s beat-em-up style combat as repetitive, while I (and many other fans of the game) like to think of the game as a sort of modern update to NES classic River City Ransom: sure, you spend a lot of the game beating up random thugs, but the game’s light RPG elements and fun story provide enough incentive to keep playing. The game also sports some of the most memorable boss fights in history — I’d hate to spoil them in case you haven’t seen them yet, but let me just leave you with this teaser: bag lady with an anime-style beam cannon in her shopping cart. Yes, No More Heroes is far from being perfect, but that doesn’t stop it from being a ton of fun — and that’s why we all started playing videogames in the first place, isn’t it?
Super Mario Galaxy
Platformers have been a staple of console gamers’ diets ever since the 8-bit days, but despite the sheer number of them out there, there are actually very few of them that are actually good. For every quality Mario or Sonic game, there are a dozen Punky Skunks, Dr. Mutos, and Aero the Acrobats out there doing their best to ruin the genre’s reputation. There are probably hundreds of platformers out there, but only a handful of them are good; despite the simplicity in their mechanics, the numbers seem to suggest that making a good platformer isn’t quite as easy it would seem.
Of course, Mario platformers have always been in a league of their own, and while Mario’s formula has been copied many times, there’s still no one who does the genre better than Nintendo’s favorite Italian stereotype. The original Super Mario 64 laid the groundwork for every 3D platformer that came after it, and Super Mario Galaxy takes the formula that Mario 64 established and absolutely perfects it: every aspect of this game represents the absolute best that the genre has to offer: the controls are accurate down to the pixel, the camera generally always gives you the best possible view, the level designs are clever, original, and challenging, and the boss fights are fun and memorable. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to state that Super Mario Galaxy is the best 3D platformer ever made, period.
The best part: there’s two of them! I didn’t list Super Mario Galaxy 2 on this list because… well, that would be kind of redundant and I wanted to talk about as many different games as possible, but the second Mario Galaxy is every bit as perfect as the first. If you were to ask me which one I preferred, I honestly couldn’t give you a real answer. Both SMG’s are amazing games, and both do different things with the Mario formula: the first Galaxy game has a bigger focus on exploration and feels more original, while the second Galaxy game focuses more on tightly designed linear obstacle courses and some clever new power-ups for Mario to play with. Both games are definitely worth your time, and should be considered required experiences for anyone who considers themselves a “true” gamer.
Monster Hunter Tri
Nintendo may never offer the quality online services that their fans have been begging for for generations, but that hasn’t stopped a few brave third-parties from creating quality online-reliant games for their systems. Just as Phantasy Star Online found an awkward home on the Gamecube a generation earlier, Capcom’s Monster Hunter Tri is noteworthy for being a genuinely great online multiplayer RPG on a system that’s usually derided for its crappy online connectivity.
PSP fans probably already understand why this game is on this list: Monster Hunter is simply one of the most addictive experiences in gaming. Sure, its obtuse control scheme gives the game an extremely unforgiving difficulty curve, but once you adjust to MH’s eccentricities, the game is impossible to put down. Hunting monsters and then using their body parts to craft new weapons and armor (which you then use to kill even stronger monsters,) simply never gets old, and the game’s amazingly deep combat mechanics mean that there’s always some new gameplay technique for you to learn and master.
While Monster Hunter will always be more popular on handheld systems (especially in Japan, where the series has a fanatical following,) the Wii version still boasts a pretty healthy online community of mostly friendly players. American players even get to skip out on the monthly subscription fees that their Japanese compatriots have to pay. Capcom has given up on Monster Hunter ever becoming popular here in the West, but thankfully, Monster Hunter Tri still has enough content to keep players busy until Capcom regains their sanity.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl
You probably wouldn’t be reading a list of my favorite Wii games if you weren’t a fan of at least one or two of Nintendo’s staple franchises, and likewise, if you like any of Nintendo’s long running series’, it’s also safe to assume that you probably like Super Smash Bros., which is equally parts casual party game, hardcore fighting game, and an interactive museum for all things Nintendo.
Brawl has gotten a pretty bad reputation over the last few years from people who wish it were more of a “real” fighting game, but as long as you’re not trying to delude yourself into trying to make Smash Bros. into the next SF3: Third Strike, you’ll still probably find a lot to love about Brawl. The game has a roster of characters so massive and all encompassing that you’re guaranteed to find at least a handful of characters who match your play style, and there’s tons of different stages, modes, and unlockable extra content to keep you playing for months. Sure, it may not be as “balanced” or tournament friendly as Melee was, but there’s still a lot of fun and a surprising amount of depth to be found within the game’s chaotic battles.
In addition to the addictive gameplay, part of Smash Bros. appeal comes from the sheer amount of fanservice it unapologetically throws at you ever second: the game’s epic “Subspace Emissary” story mode is pretty much the ultimate Nintendo fanfiction, mixing and matching characters and story elements from every major Nintendo game into one surprisingly long and meaty (*snicker*) adventure. In addition to that, the game’s figurine museum is chock full of tons of little tidbits about Nintendo’s thirty year history in the games industry, and by the time you finish reading every entry in the game’s vast library of trivia, you could probably qualify for an honorary degree in Video Game History.
Smash Bros. may never be the type of fighting game that people play competitively at events like Evo or Tougeki SBO, but it is a game that’s guaranteed to give you dozens of hours of fun and unabashed entertainment.
If you’ve read this blog before, you’ve probably heard me mention Sonic Colors before. I hate to sound like a broken record, but despite my personal crusade to make sure everyone plays this game, I still run into people who refuse to play it because it’s a modern Sonic game. Trust me, I don’t blame you — after playing garbage like Shadow the Hedgehog and the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog for Xbox 360 and PS3, I swore off any games associated with the blue hedgehog forever.
But let me assure you, Sonic Colors is different. The controls are tighter, the level design is generally pretty great, and the game’s biggest addition to the series — temporary power-ups called Wisps — feel like the first idea they’ve added to the franchise since Sonic and Knuckles to actually improve the Sonic experience, not detract from it. With it’s lengthy main campaign and a slew of collectables and unlockable bonuses, I’d even say that Colors is a better game than it’s more popular HD sequel, Sonic Generations.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
As I stated in my old, poorly written and very rambling review, Skyward Sword is the game that the Wii should have launched with. When the Wii was first unveiled, peoples’ imaginations ran wild with the possibility of being able to replicate real-life movement inside of a game with 1:1 accuracy, and it really seemed like the Wii would be the “revolution” that Nintendo promised gamers it would be.
Of course, looking back on it now, things have panned out quite differently, and most of the people who were excited about the Wii back in 2006 have adopted a rather cynical and jaded view of both motion controls and the system that popularized them. I don’t necessarily blame those jilted gamers either: the Wii seemed like it had so much potential to change things for the better back in 2006, and for the most part, it failed to cash in on those possibilities. As I’ve demonstrated in this list, the Wii does have some great games, but in the end, it’s hard to watch Nintendo’s infamous “target” demo videos from 2006 and not feel a little disappointed that 99% of all motion controls eventually just devolved into boring waggle gestures.
Despite all that, Skyward Sword still gives me hope that the motion controlled games of the future will manage to live up to all those wild, grossly unrealistic dreams that people had about the Wii back in ’06. While the game’s controls have a bit of a learning curve and are still prone to the occasional spaz-out, it still manages to show that yes, motion controls can work in a hardcore experience, and not only do they work, but they manage to improve the game significantly. Skyward Sword’s motion controlled sword swings turned previously mundane battles against cannon fodder enemies into epic events, and the controls breathed new life into tired pieces of Link’s staple arsenal, like the bow and arrow. Had the game come out earlier in the Wii’s lifespan, I think the hardcore gaming community would definitely have a far more optimistic and positive opinion about the future of motion controls.
In addition to the controls, the game managed to deliver on all the great features that people have come to expect from a Zelda game: a lengthy quest, brilliantly designed dungeons, and a few absolutely jaw-dropping boss battles. The game even managed to offer a surprisingly moving story and graphics that were pretty enough to occasionally make me forget that the Wii was just “two Gamecubes taped together.” I know it’s become something of a cliche to label a Zelda game as “the best,” but Skyward Sword definitely deserves that label. If you own a Wii, you need to own Skyward Sword, and if you don’t have a Wii, buy one for the sole purpose of playing this game.
Metroid Prime 3 – The final game in the Metroid Prime trilogy is also probably the weakest entry of the three, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game — it’s just… less perfect than the previous two. It’s still definitely worth playing, and MP3 has some of the finest controls and best graphics on the system. If you’re in the mood for a new Metroid game, pick up MP3 over it’s more emo (and generally all around worse) successor, Other M.
Punch Out – Nintendo’s long awaited revival of their boxing classic was every bit as good as the NES game that’s so fondly remembered today. The game features some of the best character animation to appear on any system, not just the Wii, and the game is challenging enough that even Punch Out veterans will have a hard time getting through the game’s Title Defense matches.
Little King’s Story – This painfully overlooked adventure/strategy hybrid was one of the Wii’s most charming games, and it’s a shame more people didn’t give it a chance when it was originally released. Surprisingly, a sequel is being made for the PS Vita, and gamers who own that system would be remiss if they let this quality gem slip through their hands once again.
Zack and Wiki: The Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure – Thanks to TellTale, traditional narrative based adventure games have made a comeback on both PC’s and console’s, but it’s still rare to see a point-and-click adventure designed specifically for a console. Capcom’s Zack and Wiki is one such example of that, and it also happens to be one of the genre’s best. The puzzles are challenging but the solutions always make sense, and the game’s colorful art style will make you forget about the Wii’s lack of horsepower.
Tatsunoko Versus Capcom – There were a surprising number of classic 2D fighters ported over to the Wii, but there were very few original brawlers developed for the system. TvC may not be the most popular fighter in Capcom’s stable, but it is a hell of a lot of fun, and it’s definitely recommended for anyone who prefers their fighters to be a little more “traditional” than Smash Bros. Sure, the cast of old anime heroes may not be instantly recognizable to most gamers (in America, at least,) but the incredibly varied roster is still home to a lot of fun personalities with unique fighting styles.
Rune Factory Frontier – Yes, I’m a guy and I like Harvest Moon. I’m secure enough in my masculinity to admit that I enjoy raising some goddamn adorable cows, but in case you’re not as confident as I am, you could always give Harvest Moon’s burlier spin-off a shot: Rune Factory still casts you in the role of a young farmer trying to turn his fortunes around by building up a successful farm and woo’ing a wife, but RF also adds in some old-school, hardcore dungeon crawling into the mix. The items you grow and make on your farm will help you survive the game’s massive dungeons, and the gear you find in the dungeon will likewise help you improve your farm. It’s an addictive cycle that’s sure to get even the most insecure of bro’s out there hooked on the intricacies of raising cute baby chickens.
Well, those are my picks for the top 10 Wii games. As the Wii’s console cycle draws to a close, I find it difficult to come up with an overall opinion of the system. I mean, it certainly had it’s problems — the lack of HD support and the antiquated graphics hardware certainly crippled the system in terms of “core” games and appeal, and the system was home to more than it’s fair share of shovelware. There were long droughts where there simply weren’t any worthwhile games to play on the system, and as big of a fan as I am of certain Nintendo franchises, even I can’t deny that I spent much, much more time playing games on my Xbox 360 and PS3 than on my dusty old Wii… and of course, perhaps worse of all, is the simple squandered potential of the system: the concept of motion controls seemed so great back in 2006, and now… well, motion controls seem like more of a drawback than a feature. The Wii may have popularized the concept, and it’s undeniable that Sony’s Move and Microsoft’s Kinect wouldn’t exist today if Nintendo didn’t make millions of dollars selling Wii’s, but motion controls (on any system) are still for the most part clumsy, inaccurate, and fail to live up to the hype that those Wii demo videos from 2006 created.
But despite all that, I don’t regret buying a Wii. Sure, there was a ton of garbage games released for the system, but I’m still glad I got to play the handful of genuinely great games that appeared on the system. Sure, for some reason a lot of Wii games manage to look worse than Gamecube and Xbox 1 games that were released 6 or 7 years ago, but the general ugliness of most Wii games doesn’t detract from the beauty of some of the genuinely great looking Wii games, like Muramasa or Skyward Sword. And finally, yes, most motion controlled games were brain-dead waggle-fests, but I still think there’ potential in the idea, and games like Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition and again, Zelda: Skyward Sword proved that motion controls do indeed have the ability to improve “core” experiences.
Is the Wii the best system that Nintendo has ever created? Hell no. Would I recommend that a hardcore gamer buy a Wii over an Xbox 360 or a PS3? Hell no. Have I been completely satisfied with Nintendo’s publishing and business decisions during the Wii era? Hell no. Has my experience with the original Wii made me hesitant to buy newer Nintendo systems at their launch? Yes, of course. Do I regret owning a Wii? No. Quality games may have been much scarcer on the Wii than on its competitors’ systems, but those rare, quality exclusives that defined the system are among my favorite games of all time. Sure, I considered selling my Wii a few times over the course of this generation, but in the aggregate, the Wii has managed to accrue just enough good games to justify its purchase. I still think it’s a damn shame that so many people missed out on those quality games because of their prejudice towards the system that they were made for.
Anyway, as always, I welcome your comments about my picks, and would like to hear your recommendations in case I forgot any hidden gems for the system. I’m always eager to hear about some sleeper hit I might’ve missed. Conversely, if I said something to offend your delicate sensibilities and you want to tell me how I deserve to die and/or get raped because I don’t like the same games as you, feel free to nerd rage in the comments as well. The internet could always use more hilarious examples of fanboy stereotypes.