Wii U Round-Up 14

NES Remix 2

More or less the same as the first NES Remix, which is a very good thing. I love this concept as both marketing for older titles and testing people in their game skill with some genuine challenge. If I have one complaint about both of these games it’s that the wee video clips that can be found to try to show you the basics of playing these games rarely go far enough, making the challenges often difficult to understand, much less complete. There’s a decent balance of good and bad games here to test your skills, so absolutely give it a go.

Advance Wars (VC:GBA)

Advance Wars is a turn-based strategy game like XCOM or Fire Emblem, though with a slightly larger scale owing to the units representing multiple soldiers, tanks, etc. but local battlefields keep the scope of a reasonable size so you don’t feel like you’re playing a game of Risk. The cartoony characters seem to make light of the idea of warfare, but the colourful allied and enemy commanders with their unique powers and balance of the fighting units makes for a fun single-player campaign. If you’ve never played one of these games it’s quite sedate compared to the usual action game, giving you time to plot your moves and figure out how to overcome your computer- or human-controlled opponent.

Unlike many multiplayer GBA titles in the eShop, local multiplayer is supported thanks to the turn-based nature, though you do need to hand the Gamepad controller around as you would have done with your Gameboy Advance back in the day. GBA games look great even on a 42″ plasma thanks to the SNES-level power in the original console (the smoothing option works well if you like), but playing on the Gamepad like a giant Gameboy Micro is every bit as fun!

Pac-Man Collection (VC:GBA)

I grew up on arcade games so I’m not one to pass any up, even if they are ports like this. Namco’s decision to release GBA titles in lieu of original arcade ones is a mixed bag. The ones they’ve chosen are pretty faithful recreations, but not the real thing; on the other hand you are getting four games for the price of one, so it’s hard to complain. I used to have this on the GBA when I owned a hot pink Gameboy Micro I bought to kill time on the Glasgow to Edinburgh rail commute.

It’s got the best version of Pac-Man you can get on the Wii U (unlike the “arcade” version included as a bonus in Pac-Man Party for Wii, it actually has the intermissions) as well as a special remix version that appeared in arcades in the 1990s as Pac-Man Arrangement, the isometric 3D arcade game Pac-Mania and the SNES puzzler (also oddly released separately for the Virtual Console), Pac Attack.

If you like Pac-Man this is a bit of a no-brainer, however the screen options are worth mentioning. You had the option to rotate the image to play on the side of your GBA and enjoy a full-screen presentation, however on the Wii U this means a rather squished emulation of a sideways GBA image, so not the same as the 3:4 display you’d have in an arcade emulation native for Wii U. It’s playable, but the pixels tend to be funny-shaped. Better visuals are had if you choose the option that was made for holding the handheld normally, though this means a bit of top-to-bottom scrolling as you play. Small trade-off, but could be important to some people. Note that these are in-game options and nothing to do with the display options you get from the Virtual Console menu that gets brought up with pressing Zr. As with other GBA titles there’s a screen smoothing option that is intended to make titles look better on your big HD display, but that’s to be avoided with mouldy oldies like Pac-Man as they just make it look like a smeary mess, so just enjoy it as nature intended in all its pixelated glory.

Swords and Soldiers

This was originally a WiiWare offering (and a pretty successful one), being a unique proposition in the real-time strategy genre by having only two-dimensions to contend with. It has an appealing, cartoony look and humorous story alongside simple controls and accessible unit types to choose from as you plot your path to victory.

This port up-rezzes the graphics and includes newer touch-based controls from subsequent smart device ports along with the Remote+Nunchuk controls from the original WiiWare version. Which you use depends on how you’re playing: if you’re opting for off-TV play then touch is more sensible, but you won’t really want to take your eyes off the TV if you’re playing there, so Remote and Nunchuk is a must for the big screen experience.

Otherwise it’s exactly the same as the original WiiWare game. The price is modest enough that the added visuals and convenience of not launching Wii mode made double-dipping acceptable to me. If you’ve never played the game and like a bit of real-time strategy without the added complexity of 3 dimensions to worry about then give it a go.

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Mario Kart 8

The biggest influence on my decision to get Mario Kart 8 was probably my daughter’s full bloom into a video game fan with the presence of the Wii U in my house. The shared experience has made high-profile multiplayer games much more important to me now and you can hardly get higher profile than this! My memory of playing the original 20 years ago was positive enough to make this game a day-one purchase (and then my partner’s kids made it easy to justify getting extra Wii Wheels and matching remotes) and I have no regrets, though my bank balance may say otherwise…

Mario Kart 8 is a blast to play, it looks beautiful and the motion controls are every bit as nice as those in Need for Speed U, though we’re in Nintendo-themed lands with colourful characters and vehicles. I’ve barely played online, but those matches have been okay; mostly it’s been a drive to get all the unlockables, with loads of vehicles, characters and flying apparatus. When you’re done getting the golden kart and the rest there’s some nice (and reasonably-priced) additional content to buy in the form of a couple of track packs (with hopefully more to come). I just can’t imagine not having this game if you have a Wii U unless you really hate racing games – join the fun!

Kirby’s Adventure (VC:NES)

Nintendo’s early gaming bread-and-butter was platforming games with Kirby adding the twist that the main character can inhale enemies and fire them at other enemies or use them like power-ups to gain an ability.

I haven’t finished it, but I can’t say I find it terribly challenging: Kirby’s floaty jump ability and lack of tricky jumps means that enemies are your main hazard and inhaling them makes them easy to neutralise. There’s a quasi non-linear level progression where you often have more than one choice of level to complete and periodic boss battles punctuate the “find the exit door” level progression.

It’s okay, but didn’t light my fire enough to keep me engaged. Worth a look if you’re curious about Nintendo’s b-list titles, but otherwise the Mario games are more accessible and tough to beat.

Super Dodge Ball (VC:NES)

I generally dislike sports games, but I enjoyed the arcade version of this title. The NES version isn’t as good as the PC Engine one, graphically, but it is a lot easier which is its downfall: on the default difficulty I beat all comers in less than an hour. Given the PC Engine version was never released outside of Japan it’s likely this is the only way you’ll ever play it, but probably one to skip unless you can get a friend to challenge you.

Wario Ware Inc. (VC:GBA)

One of the first Gameboy Advance titles to gace the Wii U Virtual Console and one of the best. If you liked Game & Wario then this is a no-brainer. Loads of micro-games that can be played in seconds; often with a single button press. There’s more to unlock as replay incentive, with additional play modes and extra difficult versions to tackle – if you can rise to the challenge!

Legend of Mystical Ninja (VC:SNES)

A combination of side-scrolling brawler and RPG. Although the RPG bit differentiates this game from the typical beat-em-up like Final Fight, it also makes it less pick-up-and-play due to it not being always obvious which way to go to progress if you put the game down for awhile. Given the lack of inspiration from repeated enemies throughout, that’s likely to be a problem. I could have passed on this without feeling I’d missed out on anything, but if you’re looking for something different from the SNES catalogue, you could do worse.

Wii U Round-Up 12

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

As noted repeatedly on this site, I’m not a huge fan of platform games. I seem to remember taking a shot at the original Donkey Kong Country on a friend’s SNES when it first came out, but other than being initially impressed by the visuals I was unmoved due to the typical run-and-jump affair and pronounced difficulty (as I saw it then).

Having come to appreciate the latest 2D Mario game, I was more open to the latest Donkey Kong Country game. Although not as big a fan of this entry as I was of the Mario games on Wii U, I do appreciate it. Visually, it’s quite beautiful and has loads of detail and charm in both settings and character design. Make no mistake though – it may have power-ups for purchase that can help, but this is a serious 2D platformer that lacks any kind of handholding “Luigi walkthrough” like New Super Mario Bros. U. You’ll have to have the button-pressing skills and endure frustration if you want to get through this. I’ll probably never be a fan of this kind of game generally, but Nintendo definitely knows what they’re doing!

Mr. Driller 2 (VC:GBA)

You cannot beat a Mr. Driller game and this is no exception. The sequel to the original arcade title marks the first time you can play as a character other than Susumo Hori: Anna Hottenmeyer, though the play is the same: run back-and-forth along the giant wall of blocks, drilling down to the target depth whist trying to avoid being crushed by the blocks above you. Great puzzling/platforming fun. I think between my Wii U and my Japanese Wii I must have three Mr. Driller games and they’re all great, so get it!

Scram Kitty and His Buddy – On Rails

An eShop exclusive, this shooter is brutally hard at times, but looks and plays great if you can stick with it. The premise is straightforward enough: rescue the space cats from the space rats by shooting enemies and traversing a closed level riding the walls and collecting your wayward charges. Having your gun stick to walls with a limited “hop” function to help avoid hazards changes things up a bit. Recommended for fans of shooters who want something a little different!

Stick It to the Man

An adventure game at heart with some basic platforming (largely easier than that found in “The Cave”) that sometimes gets in the way of the story, this game echos some of the classic adventure titles from Lucasfilm games in tone and humour. The look is an interesting 2D with a “sticker book” effect (hence the title) where your character has a hand coming out of his head that can take stickers out of the thought balloons of random characters you encounter and put them into the thoughts of others after you read their minds.

The only issue I had was with the Gamepad implementation. This was originally a PC game, controlled with a mouse and keyboard, I imagine. The Gamepad-specific feature is used in “look mode” to find the thoughts of others by pointing it around and checking the screen for people to mind-read. In some ways this makes the game easier; in other ways harder. Sometimes characters are grouped together or moving and you only see their brains floating on the screen of the Gamepad, not the surrounding platforms so targeting specific characters can be a challenge occasionally. Definitely not a game-breaker and not as annoying as evading baddies by running around and jumping can prove in later episodes.

It’s hard to explain without ruining the thing, but it’s funny and weird and worth the modest price in the eShop if you’re a fan of the adventure game style and can put up with the odd bit of running away from baddies.

Wii U Round-Up 11


One of the nice things about the eShop is that developers can set their own prices; consequently there are a number of inexpensive, fun little games like this that can be had for the price of a portion of chips. In Abyss you control an undersea probe that looks like a three-legged cyclops octopus and you’re trying to avoid walls and collect all the gems before leaving the level. The manual is so bare-bones that, combined with the lack of a tutorial, it’s as if you found this old game in a car boot sale and are giving it a go. That might make it sound bad, but it’s actually kind of fun figuring everything out, given the amount of hand-holding most modern games give you.

It controls very much like Atari’s classic vector acade game Lunar Lander, but thankfully isn’t as punishingly hard as that. Nevertheless it is quite challenging, using a “tap tap tap” method of applying thrust to your little guy with one button and rotating left and right to try to skim over rock walls and into gems through twisting caverns.

The 2D presentation is very bare bones and mostly black, reflecting the deep sea setting with a graphical filter creatively used to convey the murkiness of the depths. Your probe emits a dim glow that only just reveals your immediate surroundings, but every time you grab a gem the glow temporarily flares up to allow you a quick bearings check. The soundtrack features a nice electronic score and there’s a voice that shouts out if you crash into a wall or die, but there’s nothing too special to note otherwise.

Although there’s no time limit (best clear times are recorded) I’d hardly call this a relaxing game due to the tension of trying to navigate through narrow passages, but it’s nice to have a go on occasion and it’s dead cheap so give it a try.

Colour Zen

Another budget release, this game started out on a mobile platform. Consequently it’s ideally suited for Gamepad-only play, with the TV essentially being for spectators. That diminished role is further underscored by the soundtrack only coming out of the Gamepad speakers (use headphones for best quality) and the inability to play without looking at the Gamepad itself (be sure to check your display settings to confirm the Wii U image isn’t too big for your TV screen, too).

Watching a video of this game in action is a bit confusing because the goal is a bit abstract in keeping with the title. There’s a bunch of coloured shapes on the playfield surrounded by a coloured border and the goal is to drag movable shapes into other shapes to change the colour of the playfield until it matches the surrounding border. It needs to be played to be fully understood and though it seems trivially simple at first glance, becomes quite tricky in later levels. There is no score, no time limit and no statistics: just lots of levels that gradually introduce new rules and mechanics for combining and removing increasingly complex coloured shapes to reach the same goal over and over again.

The ambient electronic soundtrack and the gentle nature of play make for a relaxing, but stimulating experience. A kids version with fun animal shapes and a simpler rule set is also available so the whole family can chill together – do give it a look!

Earthbound (VC:SNES)

When this game hit the eShop there was an outpouring of almost religious ecstasy from certain quarters. Many old-time gamers had thought it would never see release due to copyright or other concerns, and after years of hoping for a release on the Wii Virtual Console, were left frustrated. Naturally I had to see what the fuss was all about, though the Japanese Role Playing Game is not one of my favourite genres, historically. Xenoblade Chronicles changed my perceptions so I thought maybe I could really sink my teeth into this game, but ultimately it only reinforced my original view of RPGs as ultimately unrewarding time sinks.

If you’re receptive to the idea of a story-based game with turn-based combat and no demand of button-pressing skills then Earthbound will likely hook you initially as it did me. The cute “Charlie Brown”-looking characters and silly tone are quite endearing and make you want to see where the story will go next. Underlying the absurdity of the monsters you face and character dialogue are positive messages about friendship and self-sacrifice for the good of others, but sadly in the end you’re faced with a bit of a slog thanks to needlessly annoying back-tracking and limited save opportunities before the most ludicrous gauntlet and final boss battle I’ve ever seen.

Money is plentiful as are bonus items to buy, but inventory management can be a wee bit annoying given the limited slots of your party members and the need to phone up a service to come and take away a paltry number of items to store or retrieve for later use. Travel between cities can be a bit of a chore until you discover how to teleport, but the requirement for space around the characters to perform the accompanying animation makes it more annoying than it should be to use a short cut like this. It’s a bit surprising considering other things the game designers did to make things a bit easier like have a house in many towns where you can buy a hint of what to do next if you get stuck.

The ability to create a save point anywhere thanks to the Virtual Console interface is great, but doesn’t make random monster encounters that drain your party’s health at inopportune times any less annoying or the epic length final boss encounter any less tedious. I can’t say I regret playing it, but it definitely suffers from the idea that length is what makes a journey epic rather than the scope of the story. Xenoblade is epic in scope and length, but unlike Earthbound the length is controlled by the player to a large extent, the world is fun to explore and the story pays off in spectacular fashion without making you pay a price in tedium to make it feel like you’ve earned the right to see the end.

If you’re new to the genre I’d strongly suggest trying something lighter and more fun like Opoona instead. I’m sure Earthbound fans would be perfectly happy to tell me how I’m wrong and that this is a brilliant game, so if you’re a fan of JRPGs and haven’t tried this do give it a go – just don’t be afraid to call it quits after 15-20 hours of play!

F-Zero (VC:SNES)

This is another classic Nintendo franchise I couldn’t be bothered to try previously on the Wii. I think I may have played it on a friend’s Super Nintendo along with Super Mario Kart, but it clearly didn’t leave as lasting an impression as the latter.

I’m not a huge fan of lap-based racing games, but anything with a twist gets my attention and being a sci-fi racer with a great soundtrack was enough for me to give it a go. The graphics are pretty impressive for their era, with the low-set racers providing a nice sensation of speed accentuated by using the shoulder buttons for hairpin turns that would be impossible in vehicles with wheels. I have yet to win a cup, but I’m getting there – if only I can drag myself away from Mario Kart 8! Fans of the old school should give it a try, but I doubt you’ll have much luck selling the kids on this one over more modern racing games on the Wii U.

Wii U Round-Up 10

Donkey Kong (VC:NES)

Ordinarily I frown on console ports of arcade games because with rare exception they’re inferior in visuals/sound or are altered in some way from what I remember. Normally I’d content myself with the MAME emulation on my Mac, but I recently learned that the reason for the difference comes down to a lawsuit over copyright on the code for the arcade game all those years ago.

See, Nintendo apparently contracted the work out on Donkey Kong and when they produced Donkey Kong Jr. themselves and re-used some of the code, the company that programmed Donkey Kong sued them and won. So the character animations in this port differ slightly, as does the level transitions and we’re missing an entire stage (not that I was ever good enough to see it in the arcade), but it’s close enough and I can’t be bothered playing MAME most of the time anyway.

Donkey Kong Jr. (VC:NES)

See above for a rundown on why this isn’t the arcade game, but note that unlike Donkey Kong – which just switches the order of a couple of stages (and omits one entirely), Donkey Kong Jr. is very different from the arcade after the first stage in both the order of the levels and their structure.

To be honest I was never good enough at the arcade game to tell you what the differences are in detail, but it feels fresh and that keeps me from griping about it not being closer to the arcade. I think it’s worth a look for fans of the classics or if, like me, NES Remix piqued your curiosity about these old NES arcade ports.

Donkey Kong 3 (VC:NES)

Unlike the first two Donkey Kong games you’re not controlling Jumpman or Donkey Kong Jr. in this game. No, instead you’re just some guy trying to protect his flowers from bugs stirred up by Donkey Kong. It’s much closer to the arcade than Donkey Kong Jr., but not terribly compelling, so no surprise there wasn’t a fourth one in the series. It’s kind of fun in its own way though, so fans of ye olde arcade games might want to give it a try.

Darksiders II

I have to caveat this review by saying this game was a gift and isn’t a game I would have given a second thought to otherwise, given my general lack of interest in big-budget multi-platform titles. I did enjoy it overall, however it does flag up some major issues in the state of gaming generally that I think are worthy of addressing.

Firstly let me say that the visuals and much of the character design (bar our hero, who looks like something a teenage Iron Maiden fan might have sketched on a school book cover thirty years ago) is quite good and the environments are (for the most part) equally detailed and interesting. The storyline, though not brilliant, is again interesting enough that I wanted to keep playing to see what would happen next; indeed the main problem with this game is the video game aspect itself.

Given the prominence of the story and the expense taken to write dialogue and hire quality voice actors to execute it, you’d think this would be a game more driven by story events – a point-and-click adventure certainly wouldn’t have been inappropriate – but instead we have a mash-up of Legend of Zelda exploration and Ninja Gaiden-style “RPG” levelling and fighting. It’s both uncreative and pretty tiresome with a seemingly never-ending series of dungeons where you’re navigating by climbing walls via convenient handholds, occasionally fighting baddies and looking for the exact same key to unlock a big door on the way to another boss fight: wash, rinse, repeat.

As with Ninja Gaiden 3 there are loads of fighting moves possible, but none of them are really required and they’re too hopelessly complicated to remember anyway, so best to just stick with combinations of pressing basic attack buttons as needed. The spell trees are interesting and depending on your choices can result in quite different approaches to fights, but they only really come into play in boss battles.

Dungeon exploration dominates play: running from chamber to chamber, scurrying up walls and leaping from ledge to ledge to access new areas and figure out how to open locked doors. All the while you’ll have the ageless problem of any 3D game with a crappy camera: manual re-positioning of the camera (often with a combination of analogue stick and buttons) to figure out where to go next or occasionally how to fight enemies – don’t remind me of the boss fight on horseback that concludes the first major section of the game!

In fact there’s so much dead air in what could otherwise have been an interesting gaming experience that I’m left thinking that the story came first, followed by a struggle to figure out how to tell it within the confines of a game (or worse no thought was given to that and they just pulled this structure out of a hat). The amount of dungeon navigation seems to be down to padding the game out so people feel like they got their money’s worth. Zelda has a long tradition of doing dungeon exploration, but the story isn’t quite as grand and the level design is far more varied and interesting. Darksiders II feels like the team ran out of steam creatively, but had too much invested to give up – pretty much how I felt after my fifteenth hour of play!

I can’t help but wondering if big-budget titles like this might benefit from scaling down a bit to focus on the best way to tell the stories they seem to want to tell. The best parts of Darksiders II are the story bits, with plot reveals providing the motivation to continue on to the next major game objective. The journey through vast lands to find individuals who you then need to battle are pretty well-executed, so why pad things out with half-assed door-opening puzzles that have nothing to do with the story and give the impression that the entire cosmos is arranged just to test our hero on his key-finding ability?

Ninja Gaiden 3 was a silly action title spawned from a story-less arcade game, so I can forgive it just being an endless stream of meaningless carnage – let’s face it, that game fails hardest when it tries to get serious! Zelda games are an evolution of an old 8-bit dungeon crawler: thinly veneered exploration games that do what it says on the tin. But Darksiders and its sequel here appear to be doing something different: they’re trying to tell us an interesting (if muddled) story, but come off as a bloated mess: falling back on a mediocre execution of videogame tropes simply because the audience isn’t expected to require more than that to fork over their cash. Honestly if big budget games are going to continue to be made they’ll need to be better than that – especially if they have no coattails to ride.

I sincerely hope that if a third Darksiders game is produced by the current rights-holder they’ll be brave enough to abandon what’s come before and do something that’s a lot tighter, focusing on maintaining the storytelling momentum with engaging connecting game sequences – surely that can’t be too difficult?

Wii U Round-Up 9

Contra III – The Alien Wars (VC:SNES)

Indulge a little background if you will: back in the 8- and 16-bit eras games could be brutally difficult. In the arcade this was to ensure a machine had decent “revenue generation” – after all you can’t get more quarters if a kid can sit on a machine for fifteen minutes a go. For the home market higher difficulty was used to provide some longevity to a rather substantial purchase – after all you don’t want people feeling ripped off because the game they just blew fifty bucks on only takes fifteen minutes to finish!

Contra III is a home-based sequel to a rather difficult run-and-gun game called Contra, famed for being quite difficult, but fun. It was one of the earliest arcade games to include the concept of continuing your play by inserting additional coins. Like its arcade predecessor, this home game features checkpoints with the ability to continue, but unlike the arcade game there’s a limited number of continues to prevent you sailing through the game in an hour.

Plot-wise the two games are the same: you control a bandanna-wearing one-man-army out to fight off an alien invasion with an upgradeable assault rifle, running from left to right through a devastated cityscape. Contra III mixes it up a bit with a top-down view for some levels, but otherwise it’s just like playing one of the old arcade shooters, so if you’ve ever played an arcade game of this type you’ll know what to expect.

It’s amazingly hard, regardless of whether or not a second player is helping you, but in a day where games have multiple difficulty settings and internet walkthroughs, it’s nice to have a blast of old-school action wherein reflexes and perserverance are the only thing that can get you through (the ability to create a checkpoint via the Wii U VC menu might help a little, too). Just remember to watch your blood pressure and try not to break too much furniture!

NES Remix

An idea so brilliant it’s amazing no one thought of it before (okay some of the earlier Warioware games did cover this ground a bit): take classic NES games and devise objectives around some of their more challenging aspects. It’s not only fun to play little bite-sized bits of classic NES games, but does a good job of selling the games themselves; all of which can be found in the Wii U eShop.

Whilst the core mechanics of having groups of challenges based around individual games is great, the “remix” idea takes it to another level. Playing a level of Donkey Kong as Link from the Legend of Zelda, who cannot jump, proves quite challenging and there are other examples such as trying to do a bonus round in Balloon Fight whilst the screen gets steadily smaller.

The icing on the cake is the best Miiverse integration this side of Super Mario 3D World: playing challenges earns bits which unlocks access to stamps that can be used in Miiverse posts. Postings can be made in connection with challenges for expressing frustration or bragging about a great score.

A must-have for retro-gaming fans – once you finish this don’t forget the sequel!

Dr. Mario (VC:NES)

I briefly owned an NES in the early 90s thanks to an old friend who gave it to me with one game: Dr. Mario. At first glance it isn’t much, but this game stands alongside Puyo Puyo and Tetris as one of the defining games of the puzzle genre.

The goal is simple: clear primary-coloured “viruses” from a bottle-shaped playfield by rotating and dropping like-coloured “capsules” into place in order to build columns or rows of four. It’s simple to grasp and quite addictive. The challenge is provided by the speed and the number of viruses increasing as you progress through the levels.

Being able to save progress and pick up where you left off is the reason to get the VC version over dusting off your NES copy – can’t beat that classic puzzle action!

Dr. Luigi

An update to Dr. Mario & Germ Busters on WiiWare, this game was released towards the end of Nintendo’s “Year of Luigi” promotion and is the only original standalone Luigi game on the Wii U.

Unlike Dr. Mario, the default mode features falling capsule pairs arranged in an “L” which split apart after being placed; which makes clearing viruses more tricky in many cases. You can still play Dr. Mario or Germ Buster (offered under the banner of “Classic Mode”) which are ported from the WiiWare game with the ability to swap out the virus visuals for the newer look featured in Dr. Luigi. Another major change is that you no longer play Germ Busters with the Wii Remote, but using the Gamepad touchscreen for manoeuvring capsules – which I can’t say I enjoyed as I’d rather play on the big screen. Consequently the only reason I fire this up is to play Dr. Luigi as I enjoy Dr. Mario in its original NES form.

There’s also online play or local multiplayer, but I was unable to get an online match going when I tried it. Whether this was due to it being a weekday afternoon and/or the smaller install base of the Wii U isn’t clear, but given the death of the Wii online game network if you want to play Dr. Mario online this version is now your only option.

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Two Tribes has visited the eShop with a sequel to their successful WiiWare launch title Toki Tori and two games from a disc-based compilation of 3D puzzle games using the Rubik’s (of Rubik’s Cube fame) brand (apparently subtracted because the license wasn’t worth renewing). The first of these is Edge, a game in which the player directly controls the movement of a cube through a floating obstacle course from beginning to end.

Later levels where you need to hold and release the d-pad to get your cube to momentarily roll up a wall to cross gaps get a bit frustrating, but every time a new mechanic is introduced players are treated to a wee illustration of what’s required that helps A LOT in navigating the path.

It’s a fun little game to blow a few minutes a stretch on and it’s packed with levels so well worth the modest asking price if you enjoy a little puzzle action.


The second cube-themed puzzler from Two Tribes, Rush was previously sold as Rubik’s Puzzle Galaxy: Rush for WiiWare and is almost exactly the same as the WiiWare/disc version with the exception of the replacement of Wii Remote controls with touchscreen controls. This decision is likely because Rush is played exclusively on the Gamepad screen with the TV merely telling you to play on the Gamepad. I cannot see a reason why touchscreen controls for Gamepad-only play couldn’t sit side-by-side with play on the big screen using a Remote, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a quality puzzle game.

Play consists of placing directional tiles on a series of paths floating in space, with the goal being to get self-propelled cubes from source to destination. From very early in the game you’ll need to study how the directional pointers interact with the environment to clear levels and there’s plenty of levels to clear. Like Edge it’s available at a budget price so skip the crisps and work your mind instead!

Pokemon Rumble U

This was a gift for my daughter as I’m not a Pokemon fan; nevertheless this is a fun little beat-em-up featuring a team of toy Pokemon battling other toy Pokemon as they try to return to the toy store. As you progress you collect more Pokemon toys to rotate into your team of four (any not controlled by humans are controlled by the computer); each of which have two abilities to use in an arena full of waves of toys to break.

It’s a quick bit of fun which supports use of the Near Field Communication rectangle on the Gamepad for linking a figurine Skylanders-style. Unlike Skylanders the figures are only five quid and they’re not required to use the characters in the game (you also don’t know what you get until you open the capsule), but they do let you level up a character and take it to a friend’s house for away from home play.

Super Mario 3D World

2013 was my Mario year – the year I finally “got” Mario via New Super Mario Bros. U. The reason I decided to re-visit (update my review of) that title was because of getting hyped for Super Mario 3D World: the first 3D Mario outing on the Wii U and a wonderfully crafted entry in the seemingly-unending Mario game train.

Peach is finally playable and there’s another surprise female character to unlock alongside Luigi, Mario and a blue Toadstool person. Although there are challenging levels in the core game they’re all doable by weak platform players, with an option for an invulnerable white tanooki suit appearing if you experience a series of deaths and need some extra help. The real challenge ends up being the collection of green stars to unlock access to the end-of-world boss levels and stamps to use in Miiverse posts.

Miiverse integration is the best we’ve seen yet on the Wii U with displays of others’ posts greeting you in the end of level screen and ability to post your own as well as add to other threads. This allows for easy comment on posts by people looking for help or requests for assistance of your own without completely exiting the game. Such posts are linked to specific levels so they’re always contextually correct – brilliant! The stamps appear to be Nintendo’s version of achievements only a lot more fun and a brilliant driver for the Wii U’s built-in social media application. We’ve seen stamps appear in another Nintendo game, NES Remix (subject of a future review) and I hope we’ll be seeing 3rd parties doing stamps of their own before long.

Level design in this game is a fine art and the accessibility means all can enjoy these lovingly-crafted levels. For the hard-core platforming fan the addition of a few-dozen bonus levels will satisfy that desire for Super Mario Galaxy-level challenges. I’m proud to say I was up to the challenge, though the final three may task me for some time to come and I ended up having to use continues for the first time to keep getting all the stars, gold flags and stamps. Even someone like me who isn’t the biggest platforming fan will marvel and smile – who knows, you might even become a convert to the genre!

Wii U Round-Up 7

Wii Sports Club

I put a lot of time into Wii Sports, but once Wii Sports Resort came out I stopped playing it and got rid of it. Although Resort included Bowling and Tennis varients, I have missed the Boxing and Baseball so it was a pleasant surprise when Wii Sports Club was announced last year.

It marks the first time Nintendo is experimenting with a timed-play experience as we’ve seen in the Joysound Karaoke game on the Wii U, wherein you can “rent” one or more events on a limited-time basis for a small fee. If you’re really keen though, you can buy unlimited time via a typical in-app purchase as we’ve seen with the eShop release of Tank Tank Tank.

Events are being released gradually and in addition to being upgraded to require Wii Motion Plus controllers, include online play (although you can only communicate via a few canned expressions rather than text or voice chat). I can understand leaving out chat with anyone for fear of abusive talk, but the ability to use voice chat with people in your friends list would have been nice.

I’m hoping we’ll see all the Sports Resort events as well as the Wii Sports ones in time (in a nod to Resort there’s 100-pin bowling matches in the bowling game), but for now I’m digging the improved controls for Tennis and Bowling and looking forward to Baseball and Boxing this year.

Wii Fit U

Like many I had thought this was going to be a launch title so I unloaded my copy of Wii Fit Plus prior to getting my Wii U. Needless to say it was a looooong year waiting for the new release, but it was well worth it. It’s just chock-full of entertaining mini-games and expanded aerobic exercises in addition to the events from previous entries. Most improved is the ability to use any events when building your routine (you can save three different ones), more charts and graphs and an online community. You’re also able to do all but a handful of events using only the Gamepad rather than a TV and there’s a new accessory in the form of a wearable meter to track calorie burn when you’re out and about.

People new to Wii Fit should note that you’ll need a Balance Board, two motion plus remotes and a Nunchuk to get the most out every exercise in this collection. If you’re unable to get to a gym or prefer not to, I think it’s a great way to get some exercise at home. I’ve made it a part of my regular morning exercise regime and I find it helps keep me aware of my weight so I can address the consequences of seasonal excess in a targeted fashion. It’s nice to see video games providing a benefit you can see!

Wii Party U

I can’t say I’ve ever been interested in party games before – I certainly didn’t get any for the Wii, but having a daughter who’s started to play games and a partner and her kids who play games has changed that.

One of the great things about the Wii and Wii U is the focus on gaming in the living room with games that anyone can enjoy regardless of skill level. Game & Wario and Spin the Bottle are both great party game collections which make use of the Wii U’s Gamepad and Wii Remote’s features to great effect and I’m happy to say that Wii Party U completes the trifecta.

There’s a few game modes available which naturally assume at least two players are present, however there’s also a fun single-player “last man standing” mini-game gauntlet and the ability to just fire up any mini-game you like for play against computer-controlled opponents (the CPU also fills extra seats by default in games with less than four players, but that’s an option that can be switched off). The best games are the virtual board games. There are a few of these which all feature the core mini-games as well as an over-arching goal like reaching a finish line or getting a high score in a fashion show. Lastly there’s some table-top games that only use the Gamepad for play between two players in games that harken back to a bygone era of simple mechanical diversions you could carry about with you.

There’s no online play, however interestingly you can rate individual games which suggests that improvements or additions may be possible in the future. You can also display the average rating for the different games based upon what others have voted in Miiverse.

It’s a nice collection and the “game shows” involving drawing on the Gamepad as well as the dice-driven board games are the most-played in my house. Fans of social gaming should definitely give it a go!

Wii U Round-Up 6

Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes

I had hoped the “open world” setup and “DC Heroes” monicker would mean there was more happening here beyond Batman smashing bricks, but it is Batman 2 and it is a Lego video game, so Batman smashing bricks is what you get.

Even if I cared deeply about Batman and the rest of the Justice Friends I wouldn’t be able to get around the fact that it’s pretty much like all the other Lego games: navigate simple puzzles in order to get from point a to point b using a mixture of special abilities (in this case provided by special Bat Suits) and breaking Lego objects to build other Lego objects. As always you need to find special bits (which look like the canisters from the Lego Star Wars games), gather a certain number of studs and finish the level to collect the gold bricks for building mini-kits – if you’ve ever played one of these there’s no surprises in store.

There are other DC Heroes in the game, but they end up functioning like special Bat Suits for replaying Batman-themed levels to access more unlockable content (see gold bricks above), rather than having their own stories.

Voice work is good and makes the cut scenes more interesting, but it still feels too much like all the rest of the franchise and I feel like I saw everything this series had to offer after I played Lego Star Wars a decade ago.

Lego City: Undercover

Now that I’ve slated Batman 2 here’s a Lego game that I enjoyed for once, though that’s probably because it marks such a departure from the rest of the series. This is a Wii U exclusive and other than New Super Mario Bros. U, Lego City was arguably the star launch title for Nintendo’s newest home console.

It’s a single-player affair taking place in a massive open-world environment comprising a mix of city and outlying forest and farmland. One of the more impressive aspects is the lack of loading times whilst running around in this over world, though I suspect that’s one of the reasons this game is plagued with such extreme loading times every time you enter and exit a story level that I’m painfully reminded of the original Playstation and playing games using double-speed CD-ROMs. I’m not kidding either: it takes 20 seconds just to get to the title screen and then nearly TWO MINUTES to load the city properly and start playing. Great for eating lunch and playing, but poor if you have a low attention span.

Lego City is largely your typical Lego game when it comes to playing the story levels: point a to point b, collect studs to get a gold brick, collect shield bits to get another gold brick, etc. The things that set it apart are an interesting storyline rather than a “cute” miming of scenes from a feature film and tooling around town in vehicles commandeered for “official police business.”

Rather than using two characters and combining their special abilities to get past obstacles like every other Lego game ever made, this is a single player affair with one character, Chase McCane, swapping mini-fig wardrobes with different abilities to get past obstacles. This strikes me as a missed opportunity because there are other characters in the game so rather than focusing on the one guy and swapping bodies, a “rashomon” story with different chapters played as different characters would have been more interesting.

Outwith story levels you can freely explore and find Super Bricks to make Super Builds, which are big Lego things that either just look cool (like a fountain), open access to new areas (like a bridge) or allow you to summon vehicles. Smashing Lego objects gets you more bricks to use on these, so playing dodgems with traffic is always advised to keep the flow of bricks steady. Driving is loads of fun as the cars offer a variety of speed and handling, but taking to the air in a helicopter is the best way to appreciate what the developers have done in building this virtual playground.

The humour is juvenile (though thankfully not puerile), but definitely raises a smile and the occasional laugh. It’s a great one for the kids as it’s not too difficult (expect to be drafted for the odd vehicle mission and the mas mental finale) and it’s got a fun, family-friendly feel. Once you’ve finished with the story you’ll have a ton of exploring to do as there’s 65 super builds to make, vehicle speed trials, plants to water and loads of other little side missions to complete. When I finished the story I was told the game was only %33 complete, so don’t think it’s all over just because you get to the credits!

The Wonderful 101

This marks my second retail “dud” alongside Lego Batman 2. I wasn’t impressed with the trailer, which featured a collection of little “wonderful ones” being used in concert to defeat enemies – kind of like Little King’s Story, but without the “sim” aspect that added depth to that seminal Wii game. But Nintendo cleverly discounted it if you downloaded Pikmin 3 at launch, so how could I resist?

It looks great, but it lacks a hook (neither gameplay nor story are that gripping) and the controls and interfaces are a bit sloppy, which only serves to remind you that Nintendo are acting as publisher and another company developed the game.

You notionally control one of up to 100 heroes fighting giant monsters to defend their city (and the world), using the others in the group to either build structures to navigate a level (think bridge, ladder, hang glider) or make a powerful weapon. This involves “drawing” a shape, which you’d think would mean using the Gamepad touchscreen and it generally does except during horrible “QuickTime events” where using the right stick appears to be the only way to register your shape properly. I don’t know why any games still have these annoying “cinematic” sequences, but I can’t believe this got through QA without being fixed. I also found in-game menus clumsy to navigate through and special items more difficult to use during play than they should have been.

The storyline is goofy and over-the-top, but a lot of the humour felt a bit flat. The variety of Wonderful Ones was quite amusing until you realise there’s only a handful of playable ones; only one of which is female – and an annoying stereotype at that. Scratch below the shiny surface and it’s a beat-em-up with an ironic tone along the lines of Viewtiful Joe or No More Heroes – only not as clever.

Spin the Bottle: Bumpie’s Party

After playing formulaic games and franchise entries it’s nice to see a small developer come along with something new and fun for a change. Spin the Bottle is a party game and one that could really only be done on the Wii U. As of this writing it’s one of only a couple of games that doesn’t use your TV screen, but the gameplay all revolves around the venerable Wii Remote.

As you might expect from the title this is a multiplayer game in which a virtual spinner is spun and players are given a task to complete to score points. First you have to choose a character/colour from amongst an array of bizarre-looking creatures and make your mark so everyone knows who is who. Each player then takes turns spinning a spinner to choose a partner before a mini-game is chosen at random and then the fun really begins!

Mini-games use one or more Wii Remotes in rather inventive ways that frankly I’m surprised we haven’t seen before. Some are silly like both players holding a single remote together and “waltzing around the room,” with the degree of movement apparently determining the degree of success. In “Find the Monkey” other players hide Remotes around the room (hence the suggestion to activate as many remotes as possible) and the two active players try to find them within the time limit by trying to follow occasional sounds from the speakers. The use of the Remote speakers is where I think the game’s cleverness really shows and the selection of mini-games puts players in a variety of situations that’s sure to appeal to younger players as well as adults who’ve not forgotten how to be silly.

It’s quite a nice party game and is great in a rotation with Game & Wario, which also has a great design and wacky sense of humour. Do give it a go!

Wii U Round-Up 5

Just Dance 4

Downloading this game only reminded me of how much I enjoyed the second entry in the Just Dance series, which had a stronger and more diverse track listing (check out my YouTube video). The look and feel is largely the same with a speedier front end, tracks that feature up to four players as well as duets and new mash-ups which mix up dance moves from various songs for further challenge (not that this was necessary – even the “easy” song routines are tough!). In addition to playing individual tracks you can opt to play a workout routine and allow the software to select the songs for you based on how much you want to sweat – a nice “hands-off” improvement from earlier outings.

Despite improvements the fact that Ubisoft continues to crank Just Dance games out as standalone releases rather than just giving players a hub and simply making money off an expanding track list is a big disappointment. I was really hoping to get access to the entire back catalogue of dances given the Wii U has better network connectivity and external hard disk support (and the gameplay and graphics are pretty much the same since the original Just Dance), but apparently Ubisoft is strictly focused on selling shiny discs. There’s some nice tracks and I like the dance mash-up, but unless you’re a big fan I’d say skip this, pick up a used copy of the second game and wait for Ubisoft to do the right thing.

Game & Wario

More than Nintendo Land this collection of mini-games shows off what the Gamepad brings to console gaming. All the games make interesting use of it as a virtual camera or motion controller, but the most popular game in my house has to be the drawing one which plays like a time-limited game of Pictionary without the need for pens or paper. Most of the games are single-player affairs, but even many of these have multiplayer play modes, so it’s worth exploring them all thoroughly. The collectable “toys” you unlock as you play offer fun diversions like blowing virtual bubbles using the microphone on the Gamepad or flicking vegetables into a wok and watching them spin like tops.

It’s whimsical, it’s fun and it’s highly polished as you’d expect a Nintendo game to be: a must-have for all Wii U owners.

Pikmin 3

I skipped the GameCube era of gaming so I didn’t play Pikmin until the New Play Control version appeared on the Wii. I found it to have an engaging storyline and I enjoyed the compartmentalised play which meant that someone who has limited playtime could finish the game by playing in bite-sized chunks without losing track of what was happening. Pikmin 2 was a lesser title without a solid storyline and without the time limit of the first game, but it did include new Pikmin types, a “Challenge Mode” and a two-player “battle mode, so it was another worthwhile entry; also given new life on Wii.

Pikmin 3 seems to be a “best-of-both” offering: decent player motivation via story and characters, bite-sized gameplay, a limited duration (though without a fixed deadline) and fun additional multiplayer co-op and competitive modes.

The Wii U’s improved graphics and horsepower are put to great use here: levels are more expansive and the game world is more lush and beautiful than previous entries. The story this time centres on different aliens from Captain Olimar of the previous games, but their quest for a new food supply is a compelling counterpart to Olimar’s desire to see his family again from the first game. Story elements move the game along towards conclusion, whilst achieving the overarching mission of collecting fruit is what allows players to extend the amount of time they have to play out the entire game.

Although a lot of the tedium of Pikmin management has been eased by adjustments to well-known basic controls, you will end up with more than one playable character and trickier areas to navigate so it’s good that there’s loads of fruit to collect to give you that extra time. Progressing the story and opening new areas to explore means boss fights against bigger enemies, which only featured at the end of the first game. Beating these bosses means having a good grasp of your Pikmin’s abilities and it’s this fact along with the juggling of up to three separate squads that means this game isn’t for younger players or those who are easily frustrated.

I found it such a nice experience that I’m looking forward to playing it again, but I’ve been delayed by the “Missions,” which Nintendo continues to build upon with additional paid content. Missions offer a nice bite-sized piece of Pikmin action with simple goals like collecting treasure, defeating monsters or battling bosses. The goal is to get the best score possible within a set time limit and all of them can be played with another player using split screen (not using the Gamepad screen for one player seems like a missed opportunity, but is likely a trade-off for allowing the use of the more-intuitive Remote and Nunchuk controls for all players). Nintendo have released a few add-on packs thus far for less than a fiver each, with a fourth coming out this week (1st week of December for people reading from the future). It’s the best example of quality paid content I can think of given how much the game comes with already.

The cherry on top is a two-player battle mode where you try to collect enough items to complete a row on your bingo card before your opponent does on theirs. For players who find the core game too challenging these extra modes are more accessible and provide a fun shared experience.

It’s a lovely game and a great example of Nintendo software design at its best. If you’re unsure about whether this game is for you, it should be possible to pick up a copy of New Play Control Pikmin for pretty cheap, but rest assured that it’s not necessary to have played that game to enjoy this one. Another must-have from Nintendo!