The best time to start accumulating games for a non-current system is when the successor is fully in bloom, but the system in consideration isn’t fully in “retro” mode yet. It helps when the game media isn’t backwards compatible on the newer system and a lot of the gems have been ported elsewhere. That scenario is essentially where Nintendo’s Wii U is currently.
With so many games getting ported to the Switch, we’re seeing a much heavier transition away from the Wii U, despite a handful of great advantages to the Wii U originals. So for those that are collectors or just are looking for good bang-for-the-buck, here’s a round-up of Wii U games to hunt down on the cheap. (And you can see more in this Cheapest Games Worth Your Time series here)
To keep Switch owners in mind, I also broke up this guide into segments that make the assumption that your collecting might straddle both consoles and plan accordingly.
Even though we have both a Wii U and a Switch in our household, I don’t have full experience with both deeply, so I welcome your feedback on the first draft of this guide. I’d love to continue to fine-tune it with your feedback as time goes on — so feel free to hit up the comments section below! Now, onward!
Wii U Exclusives
Nintendo Land: $9
In hindsight, the Wii U often gets viewed as a prototype for what became the Nintendo Switch, but the Wii U had the ability to simultaneously utilize the Gamepad’s screen and the console box displaying on your TV. Multiplayer games also utilize Wii Remotes for control. This setup offered a handful of fun experiences that just couldn’t be replicated well on the Nintendo Switch.
The twelve “Attractions” in Nintendo are a nice mix of six “Solo Attractions” (interesting single-player games that often feel like old-school arcade games — including the only 3D F-Zero experience we’ve received since the Gamecube), three “Team Attractions” (can be played as single player or cooperative with up to 4 or 5 players) and three “Competitive Attractions” (requires at least 2 players but up to 5).
All the games are based on classic Nintendo properties and really feel solid. Some may argue that some of the gameplay may feel rather basic, but if you are the type that appreciates classic arcade gameplay, you’ll see the appeal here. The multiplayer games are the long-lasting value in Nintendoland. And if you have kids in your family, I think you’ll find that this ends up being a staple that you can all return to quite frequently. The cooperative Zelda: Battle Quest, Metroid Blast, and Pikmin Adventure are all pretty fun to play as a group — especially good recommendations for playing with friends and family that are more casual or new gamers.
Our family’s favorites are typically the competitive Mario Chase, Luigi’s Ghost Mansion and Animal Crossing Sweet Day. Plenty of laughs and rivalry sparked from those attractions. Specifically, Luigi’s Mansion ghost hunting is an excellent use of the WiiU gamepad as a second screen. It’s up there with a Pac-Man Vs.-type experience if you’re familiar with that classic.
Anyway, for the price and the exclusivity, I don’t think any Wii U owner should be without Nintendo Land.
Arriving as not only a fresh take on the third-person shooter genre, Splatoon was also a remarkably fresh, new IP from Nintendo. In classic Nintendo fashion, it made an established game genre approachable and family-friendly. Splatoon also had a visual and audio style that resonated with gamers like myself that are partial to Sega’s Jet Set Radio franchise.
And while Splatoon 2 on the Switch also has a lot going for it, there’s a few things about the Wii U original that make it still worth picking up. First, the games are actual sequels, so the story mode does actually build on itself and are different adventures.
However, possibly the thing our household misses most from the Wii U version is that we can’t do local multiplayer with a single console. The Wii U’s gamepad made it a great experience with one player using the TV screen with a Pro Controller and the other player using the Gamepad. It was a great bonding experience with my son.
And much like a handful of other games that started on the Wii U, Splatoon made nice use of the gamepad for its maps, travel and gyro aiming controls. Not a dealbreaker going to the Switch, but it was pretty darn nice.
Yoshi’s Woolly World: $20
Yoshi got his first dedicated game since Yoshi’s Story on the N64 and it was a splendid 2.5D experience with a delightful yarn theme/gimmick. (You could also view Wooly World as a spiritual successor to Kirby’s Epic Yarn — both were developed by the team at Good-Feel)
Yoshi retains much of his move set from the Yoshi’s Island series of games, however, unlike other games where swallowing enemies would produce eggs which Yoshi could then throw, Yoshi instead produces balls of yarn. These yarn balls have various uses when thrown, such as tying up enemies or filling in certain platforms and objects.
Wooly World is one of the most highly-regarded Yoshi games out there and is arguably better than the Switch’s Crafted World. But even if you prefer Crafted World, Wooly World is still a great exclusive to have on the Wii U. (It did get ported to the 3DS, however)
Super Mario Maker: $11
As wonderful as classic Mario level design is, you can’t help but want to try your hand at making your own levels and challenges. Super Mario Maker stuck a cord with many fans and was a great introduction for many to parts of game design.
Super Mario Maker 2 arrived on the Nintendo Switch with many improvements and objective advantages, but Mario Maker functions substantially better on Wii U with the second screen — causing many fans to return to the original to spend more time on the Wii than with the follow-up.
An extra killer feature on the Wii U for Amiibo fans was theming levels to an Amiibo costume. The argument can be made that not having the costumes forces people to be more creative when coming up with levels (and not pigeonholing them into using the SM1 style) but they were a popular part of the OG Mario Maker and are missed by many.
Star Fox Zero & Star Fox Guard Bundle : $16
Star Fox Guard : $5
Star Fox Zero: $13
The Star Fox series is one of those Nintendo properties that has always had so much potential but always seemed to struggle to resonate strongly after the wonderful Star Fox 64. The Wii U’s Star Fox Zero (and even the spin-off Star Fox Guard) might actually be the best console version of the series since the N64 (Although I know Star Fox Adventures has some fans out there).
Star Fox Zero went back to the roots of the Star Fox 64 foundation and ditched the on-foot gameplay, sticking to vehicles. It was a much-needed return for the franchise, but it wasn’t completely without its disappointments. There were changes to the Arwing controls that made it difficult to grasp the gameplay. There also wasn’t a lot of innovation, which makes the game often feel more akin to an HD lesser remake of Star Fox 64 with some new levels, rather than a next-gen Star Fox game.
As a kind of bonus that came with the retail version of Star Fox Zero, Star Fox Guard was included. It’s a spin-off is a tower defense game that stars Slippy and his uncle Grippy as they play tower defense with a series of turrets connected to security cameras that are controlled via the Wii U Gamepad. On its own, it’s a solid defense game with different weapons and upgrades. Fortunately, the game is pretty cheap, so it’s well worth the price of admission.
The two games each came in an individual game case but were sold in a cardboard box/sleeve that housed them both on the retail shelf. These showed up on a lot of clearance shelves or discount outlets so they were in high supply. But eventually, the complete boxed set might increase in value.
Games With Superior Versions to Switch
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker: $13
As a spin-off of the wonderful Captain Toad levels in Super Mario 3D World, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a pure stand-along delight on the Wii U. The adorable puzzle game has you exploring pathways, avoiding Goombas and hunting down diamonds while trying to solve some of Nintendo’s most inventive and clever challenges.
This wonder of a game did get a nice Switch port, but the Touch Screen and Wii Pointer controls are objectively better than the gyro emulated pointer that Switch games use.
Pikmin 3: $16
Pikmin fans had to wait a while for a true sequel to the duo of games that debuted on the Gamecube, but Pikmin 3 not only lived up to the reputation but also became a bit of a killer app for the Wii U. The touch screen and dual-screen setup really helped make this friendly real-time strategy game thrive.
The second screen allows for multitasking in a way that is just about impossible on any other platform — including the Switch (which recently got its own port). You can even control all three characters at the same time as you patrol the beautiful alien planet.
Rayman Legends: $13
The game has great multiplayer support with the Gamepad. The segments where you control Murfy and move the environment around while Rayman moves automatically were designed with the touch screen in mind, and obviously, Wii U was the only one where you’d get that. It’s also just plain cool that you could interact with the level at the tip of your finger.
It’s also worth noting that game assets were compressed for the Switch version, leading to some visual artifacts, frame drops and longer load times compared to the Wii U.
High-Profile Games Ported to the Nintendo Switch
Mario Kart 8: $12
The Wii U gave the iconic Mario Kart series its first beautiful HD experience and brought some significant gameplay improvements to the series as well such as greatly expanding the number of races, adding new anti-gravity sections that do a great job of freshening up all the retro courses that return, and finally adding an item that can counter the dreaded Blue Shell.
However, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Nintendo Switch greatly grabbed the attention of mainstream gamers. But there are some changes that might keep diehards coming back to the Wii U version. The original Mario Kart 8 is balanced differently and you can only have 1 item at a time instead of 2 in Deluxe. The result is a more strategic game. MK8 on Wii U also benefits from a second screen which you could use to look at what items people had. I did use that functionality when I was in first, checking to see if others behind had a red shell. As an added bonus, MK8 has free online.
Super Mario 3D World: $13
With cost being a factor, it would be easy to lean towards picking up the Switch version with Bowser’s Fury added on. However, it’s relatively cheap to pick up the original 3D World for the Wii U if you are interested in it.
I’m sure there are some other subtle differences between the two versions, but the standard walking speed (without holding down “run) of the characters is significantly slower on the Wii U version, but it’s more of a personal preference thing.
Super Smash Bros.: $12
Obviously, a cornerstone game. The series is a modern standard in the fighting game/Esports scene and boasts an-ever growing lineup of characters that now extends past the Nintendo universe alone. This game was officially known as “Super Smash Bros for Wii U” but was eventually upgraded a bit further to become Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the Switch four years later.
The Switch version has some graphical upgrades and such. But the Wii U version is pretty darn cheap if you’re on a budget or if you don’t have any immediate plans to get a Switch at all.
New Super Mario Bros. U
The New Super Mario Bros. series, originating on the Nintendo DS (and then the Wii) brought Super Mario Bros. back to the 2D gameplay mechanics while having some benefits of 3D graphics.
The newer installment in this series were Wii U exclusives for a while, but the Switch finally got Super Mario U Deluxe. If you want both the original and Super Luigi U together, you’re not going to save a ton of money with the Wii U, but we’ll leave it here for reference.
Also, it seems that New Super Luigi U’s resale value has been holding as more of a more limited-run collector’s item. Just putting that out there too.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze: $14
Donkey Kong Country Returns, by Retro Studios was an admirable 2.5D resurrection of the DKC franchise on the Wii, but the Tropical Freeze follow-up on the Wii really turns up the dial in terms of attention to detail and refining the gameplay.
In typical Donkey Kong Country tradition, Tropical Freeze is tough-but-fair in its platforming action. In addition, you can utilize the three different Kongs: partnering up with–Diddy, Daisy, and Cranky. Each has a unique ability, providing some variety in the way you approach each challenging obstacle. These aspects, combined with visual polish and a great soundtrack results in an essential piece of a Wii U library.
Additional Affordable Games
- Wonderful 101: $14 – The Wonderful 101 is one of the most inventive, original and deep 3D action games ever made. The second screen moments sort of work on Switch, but not really. Also drawing complex shapes on the Gamepad is sometimes more convenient. I think the Digital Foundry analysis of this one showed the Wii U version had better frame rate, too. (eBay) / (Amazon)
- Lego City: Undercover: $7 – This Hidden Gem as a licensed title, but it’s a solid entry. Some have described it as a family-friendly GTA-type game set in the LEGO World. The Wii U version also has different lighting and it uses the Gamepad for a ton of stuff. Gamepad receives video calls and unique audio comes out of it. You also scan environments, as in a virtual space. Nintendo helped the team use the gamepad in neat ways. (eBay) / (Amazon)
- Pokken Tournament: $11 – Continues the pure Pokemon battling tradition of Pokémon Stadium, Pokémon Colosseum, etc. Fans wanted a Pokémon-based experience that would focus more on diversifying and improving combat and Pokken Tournament answered the call! Similar to a Street Fighter setup, you can string combos, but is less hectic than something like Super Smash Bros. There is now a port on the Switch though (eBay) / (Amazon)
- Hyrule Warriors: $12 – Hack and slash game by Omega Force and Team Ninja that blends Legend of Zelda character and the gameplay of Dynasty Warriors. It did get a port to the Switch and also a more well-received follow up on the Switch in the form of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. (eBay) / (Amazon)
- Animal Crossing Amiibo Festival: $10 – Not a typical Animal Crossing game, but kinda like a Mario Party type setup with extra game modes included. (eBay) / (Amazon)
- Minecraft: $17 – An interesting port of Minecraft that supports Gamepad-only play and also comes with six of the “most popular add-on packs” included on the physical disc. (eBay) / (Amazon)
- Mario Tennis Ultra Smash: $15 – Mario Tennis titles are traditionally a great diversion. Ultra Smash is great fun, but the Mario Tennis Aces on the Switch did improve on a handful of things. But if you’re Wii U focused right now, Ultra Smash is a nice value. (eBay) / (Amazon)
- Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed: $14 – one of the best kart racing games outside of Mario Kart series. (eBay) / (Amazon)
- Mighty No. 9: $11 – Pitched as a spiritual successor to the Mega Man series with Keiji Inafune’s involvement. Received lackluster reviews at launch, but at a bargain price, it might be worth looking into this one. (eBay) / (Amazon)
- Scribblenauts Unlimited: $7 (eBay) / (Amazon)
- Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two: $9 (eBay) / (Amazon)