Stranded on Wii U: the games worth saving before the eShop closes

The Wii U’s online services are on their last legs. On March 27th, Nintendo will shut down the eShop for Wii U systems, removing the ability to purchase games and download demos, although your existing purchases will still be available… for now. It’s a real shame, because the Wii U is home to top-shelf software, including first-party, cross-platform titles that were never ported to the Switch or rely heavily on the Wii U’s new controller.

So before it’s too late, we’re highlighting some of the most technically accomplished Wii U titles worth picking up before the shutdown – including some that are significantly cheaper digitally. In addition to some big first-party releases, there are some great games from smaller studios that at least deserve to be remembered for what they did with the Wii U hardware.

The obvious place to start here is the two Zelda remasters for Wii U – Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD. These are both essentially rehashed GameCube titles, modernizations that add new textures and effects but largely leave the original visual designs intact. Wind Waker HD is by far the most successful of these efforts, with new textures, a redesigned UI, gameplay tweaks, and reworked lighting with bloom, real-time shadow maps, and ambient occlusion. Even with the original geometric meshes in place, the game holds up brilliantly at 1080p. There are some issues too – there can be noticeable aliasing in ambient occlusion and shadow maps, and the cartoon stylings of the original models are a bit lost in indirect lighting, but it’s still a beautiful looking game.

While words can paint a picture, the video review gives a better impression of these Wii U games in action.

Twilight Princess HD is perhaps a bit cloudy in comparison, with the major visual changes largely limited to texture resolution boosts and a UI overhaul, but there are also tweaks to background scenery, shadows and lighting. We’re at 1080p again here, with usable image quality, but the more realistic style of the visuals means the limitations of the original geometry and lighting are more obvious than in Wind Waker.

I’d still say that both HD versions are the best ways to play these games right now – and the Wii U eShop is the best way to acquire them, as they’re significantly cheaper in the eShop than they are in physical form. Twilight Princess HD is particularly expensive, costing over $100 even for a used copy. With the eShop closed, these games will become prohibitively expensive for many players.

For fans of 2D platformers, Yoshi’s Wooly World and Kirby: Rainbow Curse are two genre bests on Wii U. Wooly World is an absolute joy to play, an effortless little platformer that feels great to control. It presents a stylized world made of wool from a fixed 2D perspective, and despite relatively basic visual techniques – solid blocks of yarn appear to be represented using fairly basic textures, with fabric fringes handled using alpha textures – the game’s look and feel. is really gratifying. Of course, 2019’s Yoshi’s Crafted World takes the concept to the next level, but Wooly World is worth experiencing on its own merits. Image quality here isn’t great, at 720p without AA, but the action is smooth at a near-locked 60fps. This is one of my favorite Wii U titles and is also relatively cheap in the eShop. There is technically a 3DS version of this game as well, but its severe graphical cuts make the Wii U release superior.

Yoshi’s Wooly World and Kirby: Rainbow Curse are two beautiful, colorful games with unique art styles.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is a sequel to 2006’s Kirby: Canvas Curse on the DS, albeit with a much more compelling visual style, as the entire game mimics the look of modeling clay – with careful material work and intricate shading. The game’s animation has a kind of stop-motion style that seems to be largely achieved by swapping models in and out with regular background animations. The title also takes full advantage of the Wii U hardware, with the stylus-based gameplay taking place exclusively on the Wii U GamePad itself. The game runs at 720p 60fps with some form of post-process anti-aliasing. Rainbow Curse is one of the best looking Wii U exclusive titles and it’s well worth picking up.

We’ve covered games in pairs so far, but Xenoblade Chronicles X stands alone as a massive open-world adventure that really packs a punch on the hardware. The sense of scale is fantastic, with large enemies, trees and shadows rendered into the distance. In direct light conditions, the game usually looks excellent, and cities impress with dense, high-quality artwork and plenty of civilian NPCs. Again, there are limitations here – smaller objects can appear close to the player, human characters can have strangely exaggerated proportions for their otherwise realistic faces, and the player can walk through many objects in the game, including NPCs. Still, for a 720p30 post-process AA title, this is easily one of the best-looking open-world Wii U titles.

While some of the games we’ve covered so far have appeared on other platforms, other titles just wouldn’t work elsewhere thanks to their unique use of the Wii U hardware – and some are true Wii U eShop exclusives that will be impossible to acquire through legitimate means after March 27. (There are actually over 100 games that are exclusive to both the eShop and Wii U, although few are of particularly high quality).

Xenoblade Chronicles X is a surprisingly epic game for Wii U, with a mix of wide open areas and detailed urban environments.

One of the most ambitious is Affordable Space Adventures, where you guide a small spacecraft through alien worlds, solving puzzles and overcoming various obstacles. The touchscreen interface allows players to manipulate the spacecraft’s systems in real time and also serves as the ship’s control panel, complete with readouts for fuel, heat, electricity and system status. The GamePad integration here is really impressive – it’s hard to imagine the game without it. Still, it’s one of only a handful of games that really took advantage of the Wii U’s unique functionality and achieved something special.

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is another eShop exclusive title that requires heavy use of the GamePad. Gameplay revolves around using the Wii U GamePad as an in-game camera, aimed using the controller’s gyroscope. The game has been ported to other platforms since, though it really feels designed specifically around GamePad use. Some multiplatform titles also featured effective GamePad integration – Batman: Arkham City and Deus Ex: Human Revolution both pack stylized GamePad implementations that transfer menus and various minigames to the touch screen to good effect. These aren’t game-changing additions, and the games are readily available elsewhere, but they add an interesting element to the Wii U experience.

Finally, it’s worth a quick mention of the Wii U games produced by Shin’en Multimedia, a very capable Nintendo-focused developer. Two of their Wii U efforts – Nano Assault Neo and Art of Balance – are readily available in similar form on other systems, though both impress here as well.

Fast Racing Neo is the key release here, a high-octane racer with physically-based materials, ambient occlusion and a new temporal upsampling technique that looks to build a 1280×720 image from a 640×720 base resolution. Outside of a handful of frame rate drops, it also maintains a smooth 60 fps, a must-have given the blistering racing speeds. It’s one of the most technically impressive Wii U titles ever released, despite being only 829MB after installation. The caveat here is that while the game is technically exclusive to the Wii U, an expanded version called Fast RMX was released as a launch title for the Switch – with improved lighting, better weather effects, higher quality UI elements and a proper 1080p docket / 720p portable presentation with DRS. Content-wise, it includes all the tracks from Neo and also adds six new courses. I tend to prefer the simpler handling of the Wii U release, but both games are worth experiencing.

Fast Racing Neo is technically a Wii U eShop exclusive – but Switch title Fast RMX brings much of the same content to the next generation.

So these are some of the most technically impressive Wii U titles out there – but how do you actually download them on a Wii U account? If you have a Switch and pair your Switch and Wii U Nintendo Accounts, you can add funds on the Switch and access them on the Wii U. Those funds will remain available on the Switch, so there should be no problem if you not using what you add.

It’s just a shame that the eShop itself is essentially being shut down. The Wii U launch was barely over 10 years ago, and the console feels quite modern with built-in HDMI and new game streaming capabilities. There are a ton of games on the service that are worth picking up online, especially with the rapidly increasing prices of some titles on the secondary market. This is also a problem for the 3DS, which will also have its eShop shut down on the 27th.

Wii U conservation in general has hit some worrying markers in recent weeks, with a number of reports of consoles failing. At the moment, this appears to have been isolated to issues with the built-in eMMC-based system storage in early production units, although it’s hard to say for sure. Preservation is also hampered by the relatively low number of units sold for the system, along with the fragility of a few key components like the GamePad. Keeping Wii U systems in full working order feels like a tougher prospect than other machines of the era, which is worrying as the systems begin to fade.

While the Wii U didn’t exactly set the world on fire like its predecessor, it did provide a capable HD-ready platform for Nintendo’s development studios and external partners to develop software on. Even with a low-wattage GPU and bizarrely weak CPU, the system was still far more capable than any previous Nintendo platform, and the visual performance and complexity of first-party Wii U titles often impressed. In some ways, it felt like a test run for the Switch, a system that arrived a few years too early to really make the concept work.

Today, some six years after its Switch debut, there are still a significant number of impressive games stranded on the aging Wii U. My advice would be to pick them up while you still can, because the window of opportunity is closing fast.

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