The Wii-U deserved so much better. That system, on almost every level minus its name and how Nintendo rolled it out, absolutely ruled. Killer menu music, amazing games, a fantastic controller (yes, the Gamepad was good actually), and a litany of backwards compatibility features. It is a shame the Wii name was tied to it because, well, it both confused people and undersold what the Wii-U was. At its core, the Wii-U was an integrated system, much like the Nintendo Switch, and in all honesty, it just seems like a (somewhat failed) test run for the Switch. Hindsight is 20/20, I guess.
It feels like Wii-U games stopped arriving in 2016, minus some virtual console and e-shop stuff. And then the Switch launched in March of 2017. Unlike the Wii-U, the Switch was immediately popular at launch, and its popularity has only skyrocketed in the following years. Where the Wii-U failed to become a popular console, it more than made up for in its lineup of first-party Nintendo titles. The Wii-U has arguably one of the best (and smallest) collections of games ever: Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, Mario Kart 8, two amazing Zelda remakes, Splatoon, Star Fox Zero (which deserves more love), and more. As someone who bought the Wii-U close to launch, it felt like I was enjoying this amazing system in secret. It had so much to offer—hell, it still does in regards to the robust virtual console on it—but it felt like no one really knew about it beyond the fact that it kind of became the butt of a joke. In hindsight, we can look back on the Wii-U and say that it ruled, but what of the games “stranded” on it? Well, Nintendo—a company known for idiosyncratic and often downright bewildering choices—actually made the right choice. They’ve started porting Wii-U exclusive titles to the Switch. The only downside to this is that, Nintendo being Nintendo, these games are often still sixty dollars and probably always will be.
Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze was one of the first Wii-U exclusives to get the Nintendo Switch treatment. One of the big selling points is that these games are now native 1080p which is all good and dandy, but I have a Switch Lite so I only ever see these games through the handheld screen. They look great. What makes this port special is not that anything new was added, but that it happened at all. The idea of porting Wii-U games to the Switch has seemed so obvious from the start, but it is ideas like this that Nintendo often shuns, and yet here they are leaning into it. Another reason is that even by Wii-U user base standards, it seemed like Tropical Freeze came and went. Those who played it knew how downright incredible it was in nearly every regard, but it also seems like it sort of just slipped by. It is a game that I have recommended to so many people now that it is easily available on the Switch (albeit at a somewhat unreasonable price). Having this game on the Switch is so nice because it is legitimately one of the best platformers of the past twenty years, and the music absolutely HITS (cue Dan Ryckert’s passionate defense of it in 2014). Nintendo didn’t stop there. Wii-U games have slowly but steadily continued to find a new home and a second chance on the Nintendo Switch.
Big titles like Mario Kart 8 and New Super Mario Bros U have made their way to the Switch as “Deluxe” versions of themselves—small changes and additions have been added to make them feel newer. Some of these changes are actually cool while others feel like afterthoughts. Funnily enough, two of the titles that have gotten the best Wii-U-to-Switch treatment are also two of the most underrated games on that system—Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Pikmin 3.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was released with a slew of new bonus levels and they are all quite good. Many of them offer more of a challenge than what is there in the base game. While the core game itself can get tricky, the bonus levels reinvent some of the visual language and signifiers that players who’ve played the full game have likely grown used to. They challenge us with thinking outside of the box and outside of what the game has asked of us up until that point. In that regard, the bonus levels are a fantastic addition to an already brilliant game. As a whole, Treasure Tracker is one of my favorite puzzle games of all time. I mean it helps that it stems from the best Mario game ever—Super Mario 3D World. The way that the game emphasizes perspective and avoidance is genuinely beautiful. Toad is not a fighter but they are smart, and so Toad finds their way around encounters. The biggest obstacles are not creatures but the landscape itself. And Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is one of the most “this is a toy” Nintendo games insofar as each level feels like a tangible playset. The Switch’s touchscreen lets us manipulate these small slices of land and in that regard, they feel like playsets that we manipulate to our own ends. There is a serenity to Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker that is rare in games, it rides that perfect line between comforting simplicity and rewarding complexity. Plus, the music absolutely slaps and Captain Toad is the only good being to ever hold a military(?) rank—what does his captain status relate to? Who gave it to him? Does the Toad world have military branches? Why is he a captain? I’ve got some questions.
And then there is Pikmin 3 Deluxe. Pikmin 3 is arguably the best in Nintendo’s over-a-decade spanning weird little hybrid exploration RTS series. It is intimately gorgeous, full of character, has a bumping soundtrack, and is just endlessly fun to play and engage with. That was true for the Wii-U version and that is even truer with the Deluxe version on the Switch because this Deluxe version really does earn that name. There is now a new easier mode that makes the overall experience more welcoming with a longer day cycle and more guide posting which, to be honest, is super welcome! Pikmin 3 has major chill vibes but sometimes the game gets really stressful and genuine challenge of that variety is not really what I look for in a Pikmin game. I am glad the challenge is there if I want it, but I am glad the game can now be experienced in a way more welcoming fashion. And there is the fact that a two-player mode has been added as well as new side story missions and all of the DLC from the original Wii-U release. Cooperative play was really missing when Pikmin 3 first came out so it is more than welcome now, and the game really shines with two players. The new side story missions are fine enough and the DLC is okay, too. They kind of feel like afterthoughts whereas the new difficulty mode and cooperative play feel like genuinely big (and welcome) changes. It also doesn’t hurt that Pikmin 3 is as pretty and inspired as ever. This world of small quirky creatures from a forest-floor-up perspective never gets old and the natural scenery, gonzo character design, and well-composed music all add up to create an experience that is unlike anything else. To think that this game could’ve been lost to a system that was not very popular and quickly moved on from is a bummer. But Pikmin 3, and many other Wii-U games, have been granted second chances thanks to them being ported to the Nintendo Switch.
Well, what about the Nintendo Switch makes it the perfect place for Wii-U titles to find a new home on? The immediate answers are obvious—The Switch is literally just a Wii-U but sleeker and more handheld focused, it has sold a hell of a lot better and is thus more popular, and it is more powerful (whatever that means, console power is a moot point in my opinion). That paints the immediate picture of why these games are being ported to the Switch, but I think that the reason they fit so well on the system runs deeper than those previously stated answers. A big part of why these games work so well on the Switch and seem to be well-wanted and popular is due to the sheer fact that, well, as time has gone on a fondness has grown for the Wii-U. It is by no means a well-loved by all system, but as with all things, the immediate false-nostalgia of bygone memories made commercial kicks in within 3 years of something not being new anymore. That has happened with the Wii-U and the whole concept of “overlooked/underappreciated games” has entered that conversation as sort of a blanket statement. The Wii-U was an underrated console and thus all the Nintendo games for it are underrated by proxy. Uh, no. The Mario Tennis game on the Wii-U fucking sucked and so did a bunch of other Nintendo games on the system. But it also had some truly brilliant experiences that are finally coming into the limelight (behind a $60 dollar price tag). These games played well on the Wii-U and the Nintendo Switch resembles the Wii-U in more ways than one, but it does what that system tried to do, and it does so better than it did. So, yeah these games naturally still feel great and are often better on the Switch. Also, the constant ask for more games on the system means that these ports are treated as Big Deal releases by Nintendo and they are usually met in such a way by games media/consumers. In reality, they are just little HD updates with some changes here and there, but Nintendo would rather sell them as fully new games. In a way, they are. Not many people experienced these Wii-U games to begin with and so they might feel new, but they aren’t new and we honestly should not treat them as such. Our effort is better spent championing new, smaller games instead of relitigating why X and Y Wii-U games are underrated gems and deserve to be played. I spent a few paragraphs above doing just that, but the press cycle doing that as a whole just drowns out a lot of the space in which we can discuss new, smaller games coming to the Switch. In the end, I am glad Wii-U games are making their way to the Switch and they feel right at home on the system, and that all.
But god damn do I really miss the Wii-U. I like that system more than the Nintendo Switch, and while Nintendo’s business practices have never flown into the field of good/kind business practices, what Nintendo is doing new somehow feels grosser. This probably is not the case and I am giving into some nostalgia here, but Nintendo releasing (digital and physical) timed exclusives of old games is just not something that would’ve happened ten years ago. Look at the lineup of virtual console features on the Wii-U. There is an easy way to play some of the best games from every Nintendo console ever made and they just threw it away so that they can repackage these games every few years and sell them to us at a full price under the guise of manufactured scarcity. It plays into the collector mindset of the nostalgia generation (80s and early 90s babies who have never really grown up). What is the virtual console now? Nothing, really, it isn’t even really on the Switch. I mean it is there, but it is behind a twenty dollar a year subscription, and only NES and SNES games are there. And that is probably all that will ever be there. How far are we from an N64 or GameCube Classic? Glorified emulation devices will sell for a hundred bucks, scalpers will sell them for double that, and then in the same breath Nintendo will file a cruel lawsuit against a random person in Oklahoma who wanted to emulate a few Nintendo games on their own because they didn’t have access to older systems or games. The Wii-U’s virtual console was by no means an answer to how cruelly Nintendo treats emulation and the false sense of history that the company promotes to those who will eat it up. But it was something, I guess. I don’t know, emulation is fine. Play games how you want to play them and maybe check out some Wii-U ports on the Switch when you get a chance. See you all in 2021.