Whether you're a new Wii U owner — which, hey, congrats! — or you've had the console since launch, there's one question that people continue to ask: What can you play on this thing? For the Nintendo fan, the answer is easy: The Wii U has plenty of high-quality exclusive content to offer, and you likely already know that if you've made the leap and bought one.
We've compiled our list of the games you absolutely have to check out if you're picking up Nintendo's home console. Even if you're less immediately inclined toward the company's offerings, there's a diverse array of releases here that will hold your attention or even sway you to the other side. (If you own a 3DS, make sure you check out this list.)
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD: Playing through Link's cel-shaded adventure with its new glossy veneer will make you question why anyone balked at the graphical style at first blush: Wind Waker HD is truly a gorgeous game. It's a great game to use in proving to someone (or yourself) that the Wii U offers a significant graphical upgrade over the Wii. Wind Waker remains one of the Zelda franchise's most enduring and entertaining entries over the years, and Wii U owners would be remiss to pass up this classic. (Buy it on Amazon)
Mario Kart 8: Even at its worst, Mario Kart is more fun than almost any other franchise. And Mario Kart 8 is far from a series low point: It combines classic gameplay (items and drifting remain at the fore) with increased customization options, thanks to 30 playable characters and a slew of vehicles and tracks to choose from. There's even more options in the form of DLC based on The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing, making this quintessential party option a Nintendo family affair. (Buy it on Amazon)
Pikmin 3: A lot of the best games on Wii U are sequels, but don't let that deter you; in our review of Pikmin 3, we were taken with how fresh the game felt despite being the third entry in the series. Equal parts exploration, strategy and puzzle game, the endearingly odd Pikmin 3 is in many senses one-of-a-kind. It's a definitive Nintendo franchise, even in its relative youth — the first game launched on GameCube in 2002 — and it's an experience that can truly only be had on Wii U, thanks to the intuitive use of the GamePad. (Buy it on Amazon)
Super Mario 3D World: Every Nintendo home console has its classic Mario platformer (and some, like the Wii, get to have two). The excellent Super Mario 3D World is the Wii U's, taking the concept of the 3DS' Super Mario 3D Land and making it bigger. Sometimes, that's all it takes to turn a good game into a great one, and the four-player madness of 3D World is certainly one of the Wii U's most replayable and rewarding titles. (Buy it on Amazon)
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U: There's not much to say about this fighting game that you don't already know, especially if you have the 3DS version. But let the record show that the fourth version of Super Smash Bros. might be its best yet, thanks to more characters, more stages, DLC, better online and absolute chaos courtesy of a very welcome eight-player mode. You can bring along your Miis or amiibo for the ride, too, and stages like one based on Miiverse are only possible on the superior home console edition of the game. (Buy it on Amazon)
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker: Toad's first starring role is in this Super Mario 3D World spinoff. It's a simple game, an adorable and deliberate puzzler. It's your quintessential Nintendo game: smart level design, highly replayable and with deceptive cuteness in spades. (Buy it on Amazon; it comes with an amiibo)
Splatoon: Not only is this the most stylish game on the Wii U, but you'd be hard-pressed to find something more fashionable than Splatoon on any console. Here's what the game offers in spades: on-point clothing options, fantastic music and the best (and often funniest) integration of the Miiverse in any Wii U release. Oh, and if you care about gameplay (we think you might), Splatoon's unique blending of party game and third-person shooter is a dangerously addictive mixture. (Buy it on Amazon)
Super Mario Maker: It was Nintendo's best showing on our game of the year list last year, ranking at number 4. For those who haven't yet tried out this fantastic game, here's what you need to know: Yes, it's a level designer, in some senses, but it's a brilliant one that will make you re-think what you know, and how you play, classic Mario games. Trying out other players' designs is endless fun, and recent updates have made them even easier to navigate. There's no reason to pass this up. (Buy it on Amazon)
Yoshi's Woolly World: This is likely the most adorable platformer on any console this generation, but don't let the hand-sewn look fool you. There's a real challenge packed inside of this one, as is routine for Nintendo. This game's good for those who love hunting down collectibles and finding new paths through gorgeous levels. And, if you're in love with that charming aesthetic, then you're going to want to invest in its cuddly amiibo, which are easily the best collectibles that line has to offer. (It's available on Amazon with an included Yarn Yoshi amiibo.)
Bayonetta 2: While not everyone was quite so taken with Bayonetta's second outing, in which she sports a new costume and cropped cut, it was universally praised for its fine-tuned combat. The difficulty level is also pared down from the first title, making the sequel an accessible choice for the Wii U owner looking for a unique action experience. Considering you get two great games in this set for the price of one — and that Bayonetta's left a lasting impression on Nintendo, who sought to include her as Super Smash Bros. DLC thanks to fan insistence — Bayonetta 2 is a smart buy. (Buy it on Amazon)
Xenoblade Chronicles X: Even if you haven't played the first Xenoblade game, you should check this one out. It's one of the Wii U's few RPG offerings, and it's by far the biggest. There's fighting robots, seemingly endless terrain to explore and did we mention fighting robots? You should probably play this game. (Buy it on Amazon)
ZombiU: This launch title bears all the signs of your typical weirdo release early in a console's life. That's not a detriment for ZombiU, however; it makes innovative use of the GamePad that adds to the pervasive sense of dread. It's a tough, terrifying game, and it's one of the best third party offerings on a console mostly seen as a Nintendo-only machine. (Amazon has used copies for way, way cheap.)
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE: The basic pitch for this role-playing game is admittedly strange: What if the teen protagonists of Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei series could summon the heroes of Fire Emblem, Nintendo's medieval times-esque tactical franchise? Turns out, these two disparate settings make for one excellent mash-up. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is colorful, charming and challenging, just like a good RPG should be. It's got some great music and a fun battle system that will keep you hooked for a long, long, long time. (Buy it on Amazon)
OLD SCHOOL CLASSICS
The Wii U Virtual Console doesn't have the breadth of the Wii's, but it does give you access to some bonafide essentials. Thanks to offscreen play on the GamePad, you can even play these on the go, in a sense.
The Game Boy Advance titles Advance Wars and Metroid: Zero Mission are must-haves, as is the Super Nintendo's Earthbound; you can even re-buy a few Wii games, too, like Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2. Super Metroid and WarioWare, Inc. are also highly recommended to replay on the big screen, alongside DS games Animal Crossing: Wild World and Kirby: Canvas Curse.
This is just a sampling of what the Wii U has to offer. There's plenty of indies on the eShop, even more older hits to find on the Virtual Console, third-party ports and more to be released this year. Forget about the NX; the Wii U is still an excellent buy.