So you just picked up Nintendo's Wii U, and you're wondering what to buy. That's something we can say now—the "after you bought it" thing—because with the newer consoles, every game is available through the console's e-tail store as a digital download. Or maybe you haven't bought one yet, but you're leaning in Nintendo's general direction. Either way, we think these are hands-down the best games on the platform at the moment.
Bayonetta 2 belongs to a tradition of over-the-top, anime-inspired, mythology-suffused, beat-em-up extravaganzas in which heroes and infernal foes imbued with godlike abilities leap and pirouette with the grace of wuxia warriors, deploying carnage on an epic scale. This is the sequel to what some consider the finest hack-and-slash game ever made, and while nothing's really changed here, you could argue nothing really had to.
Buy this game if... You love expertly finessed battle controls, cathartic combos and elaborate tactical and environmental puzzles.
Steer clear if... You're not prepared to grapple with the conundrum of a female protagonist whose hyper-sexualized realization (by a female character designer) straddles the line between exploitive and worshipful.
What critics said: "...some of the most solid fighting mechanics and phantasmagorically gonzo visuals in gaming to date" (Kill Screen); "The sheer polish applied to every part of Bayonetta 2 is something every major studio should aspire to" (Guardian); "... a masterclass in pure, unadulterated action-game design" (GameSpot).
ESRB Rating: Mature
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
The most visually interesting Zelda yet made, The Wind Waker HD also remains one of Nintendo's most ambitious. The Wii U version remasters the GameCube original action-adventure about a green clad child-hero saving the world to ultra-crisp 1080p fidelity and modifies a few gameplay-slowing activities, allowing you to sail more quickly between locations, trawl for treasure faster and complete one of the game's major quests with less busywork.
Buy this game if... You want to experience the superior version of the best wrought Zelda game Nintendo's yet made.
Steer clear if... You played the GameCube original ad nauseam, or don't like open-world adventures (like Assassin's Creed IV) involving a ridiculous amount of sailing.
What critics said: "...crisp and energetic, spirited and soulful, just a little bit wayward - and it hasn't aged a day" (Eurogamer); "...takes note of the finger-wagging gripes unreasonably lobbed at the original and tweaks details to elevate an already fantastic journey to towering heights" (Slant); "...the definitive version of perhaps the most original Zelda adventure" (EGM).
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Mario Kart 8
Imagine a carnival of race tropes, a grab bag of driver profiles, tactics and race types, a melange of little gameplay iterations and configuration tweaks and “Holy crap, I’m racing up and down that?” moments jammed into a single game. This is the best of all Nintendo’s Mario Karts to date: lavish, kaleidoscopic, gasp-inducing, ingenious, exotic, balletic and something you'll be playing for a very long time.
Buy this game if... You have even the slightest affection for racing games, especially competitive platform-leaping, sky-soaring, fruit-lobbing, kart-grooving ones.
Steer clear if... You have problems with vertigo.
What critics said: "...a reminder that when the company’s firing on all cylinders — even when it’s standing on its own shoulders, gameplay-wise — its creative output remains peerless" (TIME); "Mario Kart 8 embodies what Nintendo does so well. They take something that works well and they eventually make it smooth and great and absolutely irresistible" (Quarter to Three); "What Nintendo's designers do with this new spatial freedom ranges from amazing to even more amazing" (Guardian).
ESRB Rating: Everyone
The best NES game you never played sporting glorious high-definition pixel-block levels and incredible chiptunes and superlative platform-bounding gameplay? Shovel Knight is something like a crowdfunded miracle, the new archetype in gaming (or any other creative medium) for what letting developers who know exactly what they're doing actually do it, unencumbered.
Buy this game if... You miss the 8-bit NES aesthetic, you want to play the apotheosis of the best side-scrolling, platforming games popularized by Nintendo's breakthrough 1980s system.
Steer clear if... You never really went for the whole NES thing.
What critics said: "It deserves wholeheartedly to be on a list of nominees later this year. Play Shovel Knight. It is a damn delight" (Game Revolution); "Shovel Knight is one of the best platformers I've ever played, period" (Destructoid); "...a game that handles like a brick that handles like a Maserati" (Wired).
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Super Mario 3D World
Not quite the Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy followup Mario buffs keep clamoring for, Super Mario 3D World manages to be a rousing hybrid of 2D and 3D perspectives, expanding on the gameplay ideas established by Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS. You get five playable characters (one unlockable, and each with complementary special abilities in a nod to Super Mario Bros. 2), four-player cooperative play and some of the most creative levels to yet grace a Nintendo Mario game.
Buy this game if... You're in the mood for the best of the new-gen Mario platform games.
Steer clear if... You don't like leaping between pedestals, battling nonsense enemies or grooving to bubbly, goofy game music.
What critics said: "...full of virtuosity and richness that combines the tight mechanics of old school games with sophisticated formal experimentation, full of liberty, complexity and mastery that reminds us that art has no limits" (LevelUp); "To some, Super Mario may appear tired: a mascot whom Nintendo trots out every few years to sell another console with repackaged but fundamentally stale ideas. Super Mario 3D World is a fierce rebuttal to the accusation" (Guardian); "...a tightly-designed platformer, raucously fun in multiplayer, and a master's class in level design" (Shacknews).
ESRB Rating: Everyone