So the new Wii U is out, but don’t throw your old Wii into the garbage yet. You already did, years ago? Then buy another one, because we’re about to show you some awesome and relatively unknown games for the dying console that you’ll instantly want to play. Probably.
1. Cave Story (2010)
Cave Story is a pretty descriptive name for a game, but an even more accurate one would be Metroid… WITH A JETPACK!. I had the original NES Metroid as a kid and though I never figured out what I was supposed to do, I enjoyed getting lost in those endless mazes and being constantly creeped out by the pixelated horrors that dwelled within. This downloadable WiiWare title recaptures that feeling pretty well. You should get it, if only for the amazing 8-bit soundtrack.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fd8wf2TntDU]
Cave Story may look like it was made in 1986, but it doesn’t let its retro style limit its potential. The smooth gameplay and fast-responsive controls would make your NES explode. The plot is interesting, at times funny and at times brutal (don’t get too attached to any supporting characters). There are also various story branches, multiple endings and secret levels. Despite all that, unlike in Metroid, I never felt like I didn’t know what I had to do next. Those caves can get pretty labyrinthic, but the emphasis is on action rather than puzzles. In other words, you spend most of the time shooting at monsters, which is especially satisfying for those of us who kept dying in Metroid.
Special Mention: La-Mulana (2012)
Another WiiWare game inspired by those frustrating free-roaming NES games, though this one is a lot more committed to recreating the original experience (by which I mean that it’s fucking hard).[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCTnpFbriLo]
I actually started playing this one a few days ago and love it so far. The controls aren’t as smooth as in Cave Story, which is probably intentional because there are places you’re not supposed to reach just by jumping. Still, sometimes I wish this guy had a jetpack.
2. Xenoblade Chronicles (2012)
Xenoblade Chronicles is HUGE. The map is like the size of ten Zelda games, and that isn’t even an exaggeration. It took me 80 hours to finish it (though I’ve heard of people doing it in 40) and I only completed something like 20% of the side-quests. Eighty freaking hours, and there are still huge chunks of the map I’ve never seen and undefeated enemies that can kill me just by breathing in my direction. I usually don’t bother with RPGs, especially ones that take 80 hours to finish, but the beautiful trailer for Xenoblade Chronicles sucked me in right away.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRGh8Vv7HRE]
Every place you see in that trailer is a vast, detailed area that takes hours to explore, from dense jungles populated by all sorts of monsters to giant futuristic fortresses filled with killer robots. Another reason why I don’t play RPGs is that I don’t like having to go through eleven menus just to punch someone, but luckily Xenoblade Chronicles makes all that boring crap optional — the fight mode is “active”, meaning that you just go up to your enemy and start hitting them (you can still choose between different attacks and stuff while you fight). There are also lots of menus where you can craft gems, link characters’ skills and other stuff that as a non-RPG player I don’t ever hope to understand, but I just ignored all that and still managed to beat the game.
Oh, the story’s nice, too.
Special Mention: The Last Story (2012)
This is an RPG from the creator of Final Fantasy. I haven’t played it, but it looks cool. I like that it has an online battle mode, a novel concept for the Wii console.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJvskA5Hy5Y]
Also, there are pirates in it. Pirates are cool. Speaking of which…
3. Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure (2007)
Zack & Wiki is basically “What if Monkey Island was made in Japan? Also, for the Wii?” If you don’t know what Monkey Island is, then get out. Get out of my house and don’t come back. Anyway, this is a charming point-and-click adventure game featuring pirates and monkeys and humorous situations. Even the bad guy looks like Guybrush Threepwood’s nemesis, the Ghost Pirate LeChuck, as seen about 2 and a half minutes into the trailer.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79sUQyWjVtI]
Zack & Wiki is evidence that there should be way, way more adventure games for the Wii, since the motion controls are perfectly suited for this genre. The game features some of the most creative uses for the Wiimote I’ve seen outside of the trascendental WarioWare: Smooth Moves (trailer here, if you’ve never played that one and thus deprived yourself of one of life’s greatest joys). Apparently this game didn’t sell very well but it remains one of Capcom’s favorites, so hopefully they’ll come up with an equally creative sequel for the Wii U.
Special Mention: The Kore Gang (2011)
This one features similar gameplay, graphic style and sense of humor to Psychonauts, and that alone makes it worth trying if you have the chance. I never have, so let me know how it works out.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q77NM20yzNA]
4. Bit.Trip Runner (2010)
Bit.Trip Runner is what videogames would look like if Atari’s reign had never ended. It’s Pitfall on meth and steroids (metroids?). If you don’t feel like at least giving it a try after seeing this trailer, you are either dead inside or, like, 12 years old. (This is a WiiWare title too, if that wasn’t obvious already.)[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nux9Aq9Fn9I]
Be advised that you probably shouldn’t go anywhere near this game if you feel like throwing your Wiimote at the screen every time you lose, because you’re gonna lose a lot. The gameplay consists of simply jumping, ducking or kicking obstacles as your guy runs through the levels, but if you make a single mistake, you’ll be automatically thrown back to the beginning of the stage. This is a game where the only mode is “flawless speedrun”.
Special Mention: Rayman Origins (2011)
Alright, this one isn’t so obscure, but it’s the only non-Nintendo mascot platformer I could think of and it’s also awesome. I was a big fan of New Super Mario Bros Wii, Donkey Kong Country Returns and even Kirby’s Return to Dream Land (those last levels kicked my ass, man) but I felt like Rayman Origins is the only one of this revival batch that bothered to do anything innovative (no, “shaking your controller to make DK roll” doesn’t count as “innovative”).[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAxf17N7gu4]
If you’re looking for more cool WiiWare titles instead, check out Vampire Crystals (trailer here, and there’s a free demo in the WiiWare store) and the upcoming Retro City Rampage, which is an homage to everything from Grand Theft Auto to the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game for NES (glorious trailer here).
5. Pandora’s Tower (2013)
This is one of those games that looks like an RPG, but isn’t quite one: it’s more of an epic action-adventure deal with some RPG elements. Also, I’m cheating with this one, because this game hasn’t even been released in America yet (it’s coming sometime in the Spring), so how could I have played it? Since clearly I haven’t, I’ll just leave you with the trailer.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6-_-FDR8ZU]
If I had played it, though, I’d tell you that it’s pretty neat.
Special Mention: Rodea the Sky Soldier (2013?)
Another upcoming not-quite RPG to look out for, though this one hasn’t even come out in Japan. What I like about this one is that the gameplay looks like a combination between Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Mario Galaxy (check out the trailer and you’ll see what I mean). It’s about time someone remembered that the Wiimote isn’t just a thing where you hook up the classic controller.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKdoekGz9Z8]
For a cool pseudo-RPG that you can actually buy right now, check out Monster Hunter Tri (trailer here), though if you have a Wii U you might wanna hold out because there’s a remake coming to that console in March.