Nintendo’s Wii U: The console’s first must-have games

Nov. 21, 2012 | 6:00 a.m.
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How creative are you? "Scribblenauts Unlimited" will give you an idea. (5th Cell/Warner Bros. Interactive)

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"Scribblenauts Unlimited" can melt hearts. (5th Cell / Warner Bros. Interactive)

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Watch how different objects interact -- and then burn them in "Little Inferno." ((Tomorrow Corporation)

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Burn things! The puzzle game "Little Inferno" is beautifully addictive. (Tomorrow Corporation)

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This is what displays on the TV screen in "Mario Chase," a mini-game from "Nintendo Land." (Nintendo)

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This is what the GamePad user sees in "Mario Chase" in "Nintendo Land." (Nintendo)

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Stats! One glimpse at what the GamePad holder can see in "FIFA Soccer 13." (Electronic Arts)

Shhh … listen. Nintendo’s new home console the Wii U has been out for about two days now, and if everyone gets really quiet you can probably hear someone somewhere fighting over whose turn it is to control the GamePad.

The GamePad, of course, is Nintendo’s new controller, and it’s modeled after a touchscreen tablet. Sometimes, the images on the GamePad are the same as those on the television screen, but more often they’re not. At launch, Nintendo has promised more than 30 games that take advantage of this dual screen technology — some of these are available in stores, and some are for purchase in Nintendo’s online eShop.

So what to play? Now that the launch-day lines are gone, peruse the below while your GamePad battery recharges.

REVIEW: Wii U and its GamePad set a course for gaming’s future

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“Scribblenauts Unlimited” can melt hearts. (5th Cell / Warner Bros. Interactive)

“Scribblenauts Unlimited” (5th Cell/ Warner Bros. Interactive, $59.99)

Picture this: There is a classroom, and your mission is to put a pet in the school’s empty cage. Sure, you can give the kids a hamster, and yes, you can go with a standard-issue caged pet such as a rabbit, but maybe, just maybe, the school deserves a petite dragon that sings opera rather than breathes fire.

“Scribblenauts Unlimited” leaves decisions like these completely up to the gamer. The game presents a puzzle, and the GamePad can be used as a sort of magical keyboard. Type a word, any word (within reason, of course), and — poof! — it exists on screen.

If there’s an old man who won’t let you pick up the baseball on his lawn, try chasing him inside with a storm. Or send a gargoyle after him. Or play “Scribblenauts Unlimited” like you’re a digital Cupid and give him an age-appropriate woman to swoon after.

The puzzles in “Scribblenauts Unlimited” aren’t necessarily hard to solve. A hamster, in the earlier example, will do the job. The world is large — subways, farms, zombie-infested hospitals, you name it — and the challenge isn’t in finding a solution. Time and time again “Scribblenauts Unlimited” asks the gamer a question: How creative can you be?

The “Scribblenauts” experience was initially tailored for Nintendo’s dual-screen DS, and 5th Cell did more than just make it bigger in the jump to the Wii U, fully utilizing the full breadth of the GamePad’s touch abilities. Using the GamePad to type in adjectives and nouns is a breeze, so much so that it’s a wonder this game ever worked on a smaller scale. And for those who really want to test their ability to daydream like they could when they were 5 years old, “Scribblenauts Unlimited” has an object creator, allowing players to use the GamePad to draw whatever mutant creature they can dream.

The relatively free world of “Scribblenauts Unlimited” may initially perplex the uninitiated. It takes a little while, after all, to get comfortable with the idea that yes, you really can create whatever word you type.

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Burn things! The puzzle game “Little Inferno” is beautifully addictive. (Tomorrow Corporation)

“Little Inferno” (Tomorrow Corporation, $14,99 in the eShop)

This downloadable game isn’t a Wii U exclusive, but the Wii U edition is the only one that works as a combination game/living room art piece. The concept is simple: Combine objects to solve a puzzle, and then incinerate them. There’s catalogs of stuff to set aflame, and burning old toys, vintage video games and oddities such as Uncle Sam firecracker dolls is a blast, especially because each one burns differently.

It’s also gleefully fun to look at. The game has a cartoonishly devilish art style that makes everything look slightly off. It’s part Tim Burton, part Ugly Doll and the ’50s style advertising music adds to the weirdly approachable vibe. As items go up in flames, they hoot, howl, glow, meow and, in the case of the low-self-esteem doll, try to drunkenly pick up guys at the bar. Burn a creepy leprechaun, psychedelic cereal boxes and “mommy pills” (no description needed).

What’s more, the game has a sense of humor — the inclusion of a zombie doll contains the admission that you “can’t make a game without one of these” — and as puzzles are solved a surprisingly affecting back story emerges, making it clear that setting fire to corporate goods has an unexpected cost. Playing with fire has never been this safe — or adorable.

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A look at “New Super Mario Bros. U.” (Nintendo)

“New Super Mario Bros. U” (Nintendo, $59.99)

Don’t doubt Nintendo when it comes to platform games. Wii titles such as “Kirby’s Epic Yarn” and the “Super Mario Galaxy” were delightful twists on an old genre. Each boasted graphics that were smile-inducing bright and motion controls that were embedded into the world rather than slapped onto the game. So if there were anything close to a sure bet with the the launch of the Wii U, it was this: Nintendo wasn’t going to fumble its first major platform game for the new console.

“New Super Mario Bros. U” doesn’t disappoint. Now in high-definition, Mario has never been this effervescent. The game is more old-school than up-to-the-minute, and that means the GamePad is actually used relatively sparingly. Yet it still plays a vital role. Control Mario with a Wii remote, and the GamePad becomes a god-like tool. Tap it to create insta-platforms for Mario to jump on to explore new nooks of the Goomba-infested world. The GamePad sits there like a dare. Go ahead, tap me, it teases, tempting gamers to create new surfaces so Mario can jump higher and higher — all while the clock ticks away.

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A look at “Madden NFL 13.” (Electronic Arts)

“Madden NFL 2013” (Electronic Arts, $59.99)

None of the available Wii U sports games will steer you wrong. This genre perhaps more than any other is the one most ideally suited to a bounty of superfluous stats and data on a second screen. Of the sports games sampled — “Madden NFL 2013,” “NBA 2K13” and “FIFA Soccer 13” — all offered an enjoyable experience and all attempted to use the GamePad in creative ways.

In “FIFA Soccer 13,” for instance, one can tap the GamePad to make player substitutions without pausing the action on the big screen. Or, more fun, tap a player or location on the field to pass the soccer ball using the GamePad rather than a button. Also fun, tap a player to use the GamePad to set a route for him to run. Yay for the future! In “NBA 2K13,” you can use the GamePad as a sort of heat-finder Viewfinder. Turn the controller toward the screen and the GamePad offers a biometric scan of all the players on the screen, supposedly to see who is tired, who isn’t, etc. It’s a cute little novelty.

So why does “Madden NFL 2013” get the vote? It mainly gets the edge for ease of use, meaning it offers the cleanest, most simple route to a quick game and the title outlines in its opening moments how to jump a game from the TV to the GamePad. Yet pick your favorite sport. An added nice touch of “Madden” was the ability to use the GamePad as essentially a mini-TV, as multiple players can use old Wii remotes to play on a propped-up GamePad.

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This is what displays on the TV screen in “Mario Chase,” a mini-game from “Nintendo Land.” (Nintendo)

“Nintendo Land” (Nintendo, $59.99)

There’s a game in “Nintendo Land” called “Donkey Kong’s Crash Course.” Like all the games in “Nintendo Land,” it can be learned in seconds. This one, however, stole an entire day from me.

At its core, it’s simply a game of perception. The TV offers a full-fledged view of the “Donkey Kong” course. The GamePad provides an extreme close-up. Neither is 100% optimal for completing the game. To navigate through the course, one largely tilts the GamePad, although occasionally you will asked to huff and puff into the GamePad’s microphone to push your little digital avatar skyward.

“Donkey Kong’s Crash Course” gives the familiar “Donkey Kong” universe an arts-and-crafts makeover, and tilt too much in one direction and your little cart tumbles to pieces. Watch the GamePad and you won’t know what’s ahead of you. Watch the TV, and you will overly compensate and tilt too hard.

“Nintendo Land” is full of addictive little games like this and “Mario Chase.” Some gamers will gravitate toward some more than others. Not everyone, for instance, will spend seven hours on “Donkey Kong’s Crash Course,” but rest assured puzzle fans, something will hook you, and each one of these games highlights a different us of the GamePad. (Read more on “Nintendo Land” in our Wii U review.)

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You can play as Catwoman in “Batman: Arkham City.” (Warner Bros. Interactive)

“Batman: Arkham City” (Warner Bros. Interactive, $59.99)

This will be quick. Everyone who really wants this game likely already owns it for the PS3 or Xbox 360. Those of us, like this writer, who waited a year for the Wii U version are probably in the minority. Yet those who did will be pleased to know that this is the definitive version of the game, and those new to the Wii U and the series looking for an action game would be wise to investigate “Arkham City.”

Players accustomed to Xbox and PS3-style controllers will go through an adjustment period, but one of the reasons to be most optimistic about the Wii U is the way in which the GamePad has the early ability to simplify lengthy, complex action games. Having maps and gadgets on the GamePad neatly compartmentalizes the presentation, and the GamePad, depending on its need, can become fancy goggles, a magnifying glass or a tool for laying bombs. The GamePad’s knobs and eight-plus buttons allow for plenty of sparring and fighting as well, but don’t underestimate the power of pointing and clicking.

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An image from eShop game “Chasing Aurora.” (Broken Rules)

“Chasing Aurora” (Broken Rules, $14.99 in the eShop)

Bird race!  That’s the hook of the game. You race as birds.

Yet the game actually attempts to simulate flight without overloading the user with physics. You flap, you dive and you hopefully won’t crash your bird into cliffs. The single-player game is a straight-ahead race-against-the-clock mode, and it’s a challenge to unlock future levels as bird flight isn’t as easy as it looks.

But the reason to get this game is for its multiplayer options. Think of it as a sort of indie-focused answer to “Nintendo Land.” These are party games for up to five people that take their cues from the simple games of our childhood — hide & seek and tag, for instance — and most of them use the GamePad to provide a different view of the action. And don’t worry about fighting over the GamePad, as “Chasing Aurora” encourages it to be passed around.

Yet even after you’ve played through all the mini-games and completed some of the single-player races, “Chasing Aurora” offers reasons to return. One, the game features a lovely soundtrack. It’s a little indie-pop and a little magical, and the races are full of all sorts of clickety-clack rhythms that fuel the pulse. Two, flying through the game is the digital equivalent of flipping through the pages of a gorgeously illustrated children’s book. Developers aptly describe it as something “between origami and pop-up book,” and it’s as pretty as that sounds.

— Todd Martens


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7 Responses to Nintendo’s Wii U: The console’s first must-have games

  1. Ian says:

    Thanks for the overview. Picked up a Wii U on the weekend but it is waiting in a closet until Dec 25. In the meantime articles like this one are a great help in deciding which games to bundle with it. I like the fact that you have covered a variety of game types as well as downloadable content.

  2. @OdzenSP says:

    If these are the "must have" Wii U games, then I was right in not considering buying the system.

    That being said, for the specific group who are getting Wii U and haven't played the excellent Arkham City – yes, it's a must-have.

  3. Frank says:

    *** HUGE oversight of this article: ZOMBIU – Google it… jeesh!

  4. jack meoph says:

    the Wii left a bad taste in my mouth…………the games sucked and the console was so weak you couldn't even use it as a door stop. I won't being going back for another slap in the face. Nintendo, you are dead to me.

  5. james braselton says:

    hi there nintendo microsoft sony needs wrek it ralph were mario gose halo master chief in mario

  6. Oregon says:

    <—Old School Gammer 30-something. Nintendo has caught my attention with this console. I love the fact I can take old games like The Legend of Zelda with me and have a blast playing the newer Wii games/U-games also. Good job NES, welcome back to gaming!

  7. vlad11 says:

    To not put ZOMBIE U on there is a travesty. ZOMBIE U is a great exclusive to buy for Wii U, that gives the WALKING DEAD a run for its money.

    I guess Ubisoft didn't have enough money to pay off journalist to get their title mentioned this year.. :rollseyes: Gosh, to not mention ZOMBIE U just proves that videogame journalism sucks these days…

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