2D platformers have gone from the most popular genre in gaming to a small, niche genre for older gamers who want to mainline nostalgia directly into their veins. While the mechanics of these games tend to be pretty simple – run, jump, attack, and try not to die – difficulty has become a staple of the genre. Some of the best remembered 2D platformers were incredibly difficult. While your game doesn’t need to be controller-chuckingly hard throughout, a spike is definitely a selling point; 100% completing a game should never be an easy task.
The Wii U was never the top of the class as far as consoles go, but if you were looking to scratch that itch for tough as nails games from the time before the Z-Axis, it was the system of choice. Here are the five games you need to pick up, if you don’t already have them, before picking up the Switch.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropic Freeze
For a while most, people seemed to believe that Rareware being bought by Microsoft was the end of good Donkey Kong games. While Donkey Kong Country Returns was a sign that other people could make solid DK games, Donkey Kong Country: Tropic Freeze improved on the previous game in almost every way and became one of the best in the series.
Snow and ice have been a part of the Donkey Kong Country series since the first game, but never before have they taken center stage in the same way as in Tropic Freeze. Viking themed arctic animals overthrow the peaceful tropic islands and you take control of everyone’s favorite ape to bring peace back to the islands. The final island is covered in snow and ice, giving it that traditional bump in difficulty we’ve come to expect in the final world of each entry.
While various characters throughout the series have had slightly different controls, Tropic Freeze takes things a step forward. In normal mode you can’t control Diddy, Dixie, and Cranky directly as you could in the original trilogy. They do, however, allow you to alter DK’s jumps to better tackle the stages and find all of the puzzle pieces and KONG letters. Unlocking Hard Mode gives you access to the three sidekicks and their special abilities ranging from jet packs and pogo sticks to hair twirling.
Speaking of Hard Mode, it is an amazing edition to the series that really put your skills at controlling Donkey Kong to the test. While the heart system first introduced in Donkey Kong Country Returns arguably makes the game a little easier than the original by giving you more hits, Hard Mode throws all of that out the window. You still need to collect puzzle pieces and KONG letters, and you can play as any Kong, but you are restricted to a single hit. Ultimately, Hard Mode took an enjoyable return to a classic series and turned it into a quest to master the game by giving you just the right motivation to finish the game 200%.
Rayman’s singular game on the Wii U is a treat for both longtime fans of the series and newcomers. For a while it seemed like the Rayman series would be doomed to Raving Rabbids games, thankfully Ubisoft decided to move in a different direction. Like Donkey Kong, the previous game was a return to form while the sequel is near perfection.
The game starts off easy enough, but is quick to ramp up the challenge. Featuring some of the most beautiful levels in any video game, Rayman Legends also boasts plenty of collectables and diverse characters. The difficulty curve is probably one of the fairest and smoothest of this list, and the skulls on each stage help you pick the levels that are at your current play level. By the time you are playing the final remix levels the game is messing with you by cutting to static, pixelation, and just going completely crazy.
Speaking of that final level, it highlights the amazing level design of the game. The levels set to music are some of the best rhythm levels in all of gaming. Unfortunately, if you are a completionist, the speed runs are required for the final character to be unlocked. This is a big step in difficulty if you don’t spend a lot of time speed running. Luckily for you, if you missed out on Rayman Legends, Ubisoft is bringing it to the Switch with brand new content.
Of all the games on this list, 1001 Spikes is probably the game that is going to have the most niche audience. It’s the least impressive game visually, it’s definitely the most rage inducing, and it’s the most consistently difficult game on the list. That being said, it’s my personal favorite game released on the Wii U.
The control scheme of 1001 Spikes is easy to pick up but difficult to master, and 1001 Spikes is a game that rewards mastery of its controls. Two buttons are used for attacks, one jumps you one unit up and the other two units up. The pixel artwork style is an absolute necessity for this control to work, as pixel perfect accuracy is needed to succeed in levels. Like a true old school platformer, you have only yourself to blame if you can’t master the controls.
While the game is all about mastering the controls of jumping and avoiding obstacles, many small tweaks are available in the form of a rich cast of characters from modern indie classics. Unlocking all of the stages requires mastering your trusty throwing knife and basic jump, but once you complete that you have everything at your control, from a double jumping gun-toting President to a zombie that can keep going without a head to Commander Video and his often useful hang time. Granted, none of the characters are over powered enough to stop you from dying over, and over, and over again. Thanks to a tweet by Nicalis, we know this game is coming to the Switch.
Once or twice during a console generation there is an indie game that breaks through into the mainstream in a big way. This generation that game was Shovel Knight, a beautiful throwback to NES classics like DuckTales and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
The Wii U had two games come out that took the control scheme of DuckTales, one was a very faithful remake of the original game by WayForward and the other was a completely original indie game that was inspired by the original game. If you haven’t played either, you would be forgiven for assuming that the remake would have the tighter controls, but you would be very, very wrong.
Shovel Knight is amazingly fun to play, and a lot of that comes down to the nearly perfect controls great enemy placement, and inspired level design. The pogo mechanic would likely have failed if those things did not mesh as well as they had, the game could have easily been unfairly hard or far too easy.
Shovel Knight has some of the best examples of pixel artwork in recent memory. The game can be everything from bright and sunny romps through a forest or plains to the dark and dreary interiors of a castle. If you have even a small space in your heart for the classic 8-bit aesthetic you will love the art style.
If you couldn’t get enough of a modern classic Yacht Club Games has your back with free DLC. While one Kickstarter funded platformer on the Wii U broke everyone’s hearts, Shovel Knight remains a shining example of the best that can be down with crowdfunding. Like Rayman Legends and 1001 Spikes, Shovel Knight will soon be coming to the Nintendo Switch, with the new expansion Specter of Torment to boot.
New Super Mario Bros U & New Super Luigi U
If this was just New Super Mario Bros U, it would still probably make the cut, albeit probably further down. NSMBU had the solid controls and level design that we’ve all come to expect from a Mario game, and at times was a graphical masterpiece, looking at you Starry Night levels. After NSMBU, it became impossible not to imagine Mario jumping on pipes across a poison lake in front of a Vincent Van Gough painting, even though this wasn’t the first game to feature Van Gough.
That being said, this launch title did not really add much to the Mario formula. Sure, the flying squirrel suit is fun, and challenge mode is definitely worth losing a few hours in to try to master, but it still felt like there was something missing. It took the Year of Luigi to provide that X-Factor.
New Super Luigi U is more NSMBU, but swap out the Mario physics for the vastly different Luigi physics. While on paper this seems like a small change, in practice it flips the entire script.
NSLU shortens the time you can complete each level, and exponentially increases the hazards you face in your quest to grab three gold coins on the way to the exit. As a whole, the game serves to show that Nintendo is the master at insanely difficult but fair 2D platformer level design. Anyone who has spent time on Super Mario Maker knows that these levels are harder to make then you would think.
For Nintendo’s ability to create not one, but two instant classics on the back of a single platforming engine, New Super Mario Bros U and New Super Luigi U join the Just Pause ‘Ring of Honor’ as the Wii U’s Best Platformer. Come back next week as we continue Remembering the Wii U with a look back on the 5 best Indie games of the Wii U.
Think we missed a game or you disagree with our choices? Leave a comment below or shoot us a tweet at @justpausegaming.