The Wii U launches with more than 20 retail games in North America on day one, with many also sold as downloadable games in the eShop. We've had a chance to play several of the more notable options, and here are our impressions on how they perform and how they utilize the system's unique tech.
Nintendo Land is included with the Deluxe Set, and it collects 12 mini-games based on various classic Nintendo properties. It's a slick set of diversions that collectively serve as a Wii U tutorial, introducing concepts like asymmetric play (one GamePad user against up to four Wii Remote wielders) along the way.
With unique mechanics in many of the games, Nintendo Land doesn't have the breezy accessibility of something like Wii Sports, but this light and amusing entry should have been a pack-in for all systems. Sold separately at $60, it's a tougher recommendation aside from wanting a token launch title or to take in the ample fan service.
Nintendo Land may be the pack-in option (at least for one bundle), but the face of the company is well represented in New Super Mario Bros. U, which like earlier "New" entries returns the series to its side-scrolling roots – though this iteration makes good use of the GamePad. It's also the first Mario game in high definition, and finally seeing the colorful stages and characters in HD is really a blast.
Building off of the earlier Wii entry, up to four players can take part in New Super Mario Bros. U using Wii Remotes, plus a GamePad user can help compatriots by placing platforms in the world with a touch of the stylus. NSMBU can also be played entirely on the GamePad in single-player. While much of the template is familiar, it's hard to argue with a large and beautiful new Mario platformer.
Another Nintendo title is Sing Party, which puts a new spin on the karaoke genre by having a microphone-wielding singer read lyrics from the GamePad while friends sing and dance around them. Meanwhile, the Team Ninja's Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge updates this year's ill-regarded violent action game with marginal polish.
Continuing on the third-party front, ZombiU is one of the more interesting options designed around the GamePad, as the deliberate, first-person survival horror game uses the second screen to access inventory, hack doors, destroy barricades, and much more. From what we've played so far, it's a very intriguing take on the horror genre, and on a system headlined by many existing ports, it's a standout release.
Scribblenauts Unlimited finds a perfect home on the Wii U thanks to the pairing of touch screen mechanics and HD visuals. Originally bound to the dated Nintendo DS (with a bite-sized iOS 6 version coming last year), Scribblenauts lets you solve puzzles by typing in words and interacting with the items you spawn. Unlimited is adorably presented and brainy but accessible, making it an easy early favorite. It also features classic Nintendo characters, which can be spawned within the game.
Both of EA Sports' launch titles have been upgraded and enhanced for the system. Madden NFL 13 uses the GamePad to let you flip through and choose plays, which is a very natural-feeling use of the controller, plus you can play entire games using only the GamePad screen. Overall, the presentation in the Wii U iteration is a bit less fluid and polished, and it's lacking a couple features from other versions, but Madden still delivers a great core football experience.
And FIFA Soccer 13 is easily the best entry of the series to land on a Nintendo console, carrying over much (but not all) of the action from this year's Xbox 360 and PS3 versions while adding a GamePad interface that allows a quick look at the entire field, the ability to make defensive alignment changes, and more. You can also raise it up to aim the ball at the goal, shake to shoot, and tap the screen to tackle. They're optional controls, of course; the button-based approach remains intact, as well.
Perhaps the year's biggest release, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, hits the Wii U less than a week after its debut on other platforms, and from what we played, it's nearly identical to the Xbox 360 version. Occasional texture loading issues seemed new, but the overall result is still a huge first-person shooter experience that's a blast to play online. And it features a separate-screen local two-player option, which is a great perk. Even with a Pro controller, though, the revised button assignments and analog stick placement in Black Ops II make for a tough transition between consoles.
Many of the launch games that we didn't play are enhanced ports of top titles from other platforms. Assassin's Creed III is available, while other big-name re-releases include Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition, Mass Effect 3: Special Edition, and Darksiders II – all glossy AAA experiences with added GamePad functionality. Even a game like Just Dance 4 uses the GamePad for creating playlists and having an extra player pick moves on the fly for dancers, who still wield Wii Remotes while dancing.
Since multiplatform games take up such a large chunk of the launch lineup, its success depends a lot on player perspective. If you're upgrading from a Wii, you'll find a large number of fantastic HD experiences that simply weren't possible on that dated hardware. For owners of Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or a capable PC, a lot of the lineup may seem like a retread of familiar ground, with only a handful of titles beyond Nintendo's really delivering fresh affairs.