Skip to content

The 7 Absolute Best Wii U Action Games of All Time

The Wii U was a curious console. As Nintendo‘s first HD system, it had so much potential. The innovative tablet-like GamePad controller opened up new gameplay possibilities. And hopes were high that the Wii U would replicate the astronomical success of its motion-controlled predecessor, the Wii.

Sadly, things didn‘t quite pan out that way. The Wii U struggled to gain traction, selling a meager 13.5 million units over its short lifespan – a fraction of the Wii‘s 101 million. The console was discontinued just 4 years after launch in 2017, making it Nintendo‘s least successful home system to date.

Marketing confusion over what exactly the Wii U was (many thought it was just a Wii add-on) and a lack of must-have games, especially at launch, led to the console‘s lackluster reception. The much more powerful PS4 and Xbox One also overshadowed Nintendo‘s underpowered machine.

However, that doesn‘t mean there weren‘t some true gems in the Wii U‘s library, especially when it comes to action games. While it may not have had the extensive third-party support of other HD consoles, Nintendo and its partners still delivered several stellar action titles that showcased the best of what the system had to offer. Games that used the GamePad in clever ways and provided the polished, immersive experiences Nintendo is known for.

In this article, we‘ll be counting down the 7 absolute best action games to grace the Wii U. But first, let‘s define what exactly we mean by an "action" game.

Defining "Action" Games

"Action" is an extremely broad category that encompasses many different subgenres and gameplay styles. Generally speaking, action games are defined by their emphasis on reaction time, hand-eye coordination, and combat. They‘re typically fast-paced experiences that get your adrenaline pumping.

Some common action game subgenres include:

  • Platformers (ex. Super Mario Bros.)
  • Run ‘n guns (ex. Contra)
  • Beat ‘em ups (ex. Streets of Rage)
  • Hack ‘n slash (ex. Devil May Cry)
  • Shooters (ex. Call of Duty)

Many action games blend elements from multiple subgenres or cross over with other major genres like adventure, RPG, or survival horror. The Wii U‘s best action games represent a good cross-section of different play styles.

The Wii U‘s Action Game Legacy

While not typically associated with blistering action games, the Wii U still amassed an impressive collection of them during its short time on the market. Nintendo really flexed their mastery of the platforming genre with the likes of Super Mario 3D World and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Their partnership with Platinum Games resulted in two of the best pure action titles on the system – Bayonetta 2 and The Wonderful 101.

Thanks to the Wii U‘s backward compatibility with Wii software, it also became arguably the ultimate console for action gaming when you factor in that system‘s deep library. You could seamlessly jump from a shiny new Wii U game to a classic Wii title just by swapping discs.

Unfortunately, due to the Wii U‘s paltry install base, many of its best action games were overlooked and undersold. Some saw new life on the much more popular Switch, introducing them to a wider audience. But the Wii U originals still have a dedicated fanbase who swear by the unique dual-screen experience and deeper integration with the Miiverse social platform (RIP).

Without further ado, let‘s get to the list! Here are the 7 action games that defined the Wii U and best showed off its unique capabilities:

#7. Hyrule Warriors

A surprise collaboration between Nintendo and Koei Tecmo, Hyrule Warriors mashes up the worlds and characters of The Legend of Zelda with Koei‘s long-running Dynasty Warriors series. The result is a delightfully over-the-top action game that lets you hack and slash your way through hundreds of enemies as Link, Zelda, and other iconic characters.

While not a mainline Zelda game, Hyrule Warriors lovingly pays homage to the series‘ lore and aesthetics. Familiar items, enemies, locations, and music are all remixed in fresh ways. The rock-solid gameplay and absurd scale of the battles make it immensely satisfying to cut swathes through the colorful hordes. And the Wii U GamePad is put to great use, allowing you to quickly survey the map, give orders to allies, and swap between playable characters on the fly.

Hyrule Warriors went on to sell over a million copies, outperforming many of the Wii U‘s original IPs. Its success led to enhanced ports on the 3DS and Switch, as well as a same-universe sequel set in the world of Breath of the Wild. But the Wii U original is still a blast to play today.

#6. Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director‘s Cut

One of the few meaningful third-party exclusives on Wii U, Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director‘s Cut is an enhanced port of the 2011 sci-fi RPG shooter. Set in a dystopian future where human augmentations are commonplace, you play as Adam Jensen, a mechanically-augmented security officer who becomes embroiled in a global conspiracy.

The Director‘s Cut meaningfully improves on the original release, with overhauled boss battles, improved graphics and AI, and the inclusion of the Missing Link DLC scenario. But the real draw is how it uses the Wii U GamePad to immerse you in Adam‘s augmented world.

You can intuitively manage your augmentations, weapons, and inventory on the GamePad‘s touch screen. The pad also serves as your in-game hacking tool, map, and lore database. Scanning environments and peeking around corners with motion controls makes you feel like a true cyborg supersoldier. The Director‘s Cut is the definitive version of an excellent game, and a prime example of a third-party title that went the extra mile on Wii U.

#5. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a side-scrolling platformer developed by Retro Studios, the masterminds behind the Metroid Prime Trilogy. As the follow-up to Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii, Tropical Freeze had big shoes to fill. Luckily, it more than delivers.

Tropical Freeze boasts some of the most gorgeous visuals on Wii U, with lush, detailed environments and expressive character animations. The platforming action is impeccably designed, with a perfect balance of challenge and creative thrills. The David Wise soundtrack slaps harder than DK‘s bongos. And the ability to play as Dixie Kong in co-op adds some welcome variety.

While it doesn‘t do anything radical with the Wii U hardware, Tropical Freeze earns its spot on this list by being an incredibly polished and fun platformer that pushed the series forward. It‘s a prime example of Nintendo and Retro‘s unrivaled talent for 2D game design. More people experienced this gem thanks to the Switch re-release, but the Wii U version is still top banana.

#4. Super Mario Maker

2015‘s Super Mario Maker is a dream come true for Nintendo fans. For the first time ever, it gave players the keys to the Mushroom Kingdom, letting them create their own Super Mario levels using elements from the series‘ rich history. Want to make a sadistic gauntlet full of Hammer Bros. and Lakitu? How about an auto-scrolling nightmare ride? With Super Mario Maker, your twisted imagination is the only limit.

Intuitive touch controls make building levels a snap, and the GamePad‘s built-in stylus is perfect for sketching out ideas. An in-depth tutorial mode hosted by Mary O. and Yamamura steadily introduces you to the level editor‘s many tools. You can make levels in the style of Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U, each with their own features, power-ups, and gizmos.

Once you‘re done building, you can upload your levels online for other players to try out. This led to an incredibly vibrant community, where creators all over the world tried to one-up each other with devious designs. The Mario Maker subreddit became a hub where users could share level codes, provide feedback, and collaborate on intricate stages.

Nintendo even hosted official level design contests, some judged by Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto himself. This helped keep the game alive long after the Wii U‘s expiration date. As of 2020, over 7 million courses had been uploaded by a community of over 4 million level creators. Not too shabby for a "failed" console!

While Super Mario Maker 2 on Switch has supplanted the original in terms of features and visual style, the Wii U game is still a delightful creative outlet. It‘s a must-own for any Mario fan or budding game designer.

#3. Bayonetta 2

Platinum Games‘ provocative witch made her glorious HD debut in this Wii U-exclusive sequel. Bayonetta 2 is a superb character action game that improves on the original in nearly every way. The angelic enemy designs are more inspired. The ethereal environments are eye-popping. The combat is even smoother and more satisfying. And Bayonetta herself exudes cool with her cheeky attitude and flashy acrobatics.

What really sets Bayonetta 2 apart is its creative use of the Wii U hardware. The GamePad‘s touch screen lets you uncover Muspelheim challenge portals and activate Umbran Climaxes with a quick tap. You can even play the entire game off-TV using only the GamePad. How many PS4 or Xbox One games let you do that?

Sadly, Bayonetta 2 struggled to find an audience on the Wii U, selling just under a million copies by 2020. Nintendo helped fund development of this sequel after the original failed to meet sales expectations. So in many ways, Bayonetta 2 only exists because of the House of Mario‘s generosity.

Thankfully, Switch owners got to experience Bayonetta 2‘s greatness thanks to a belated port. But purists will tell you the Wii U version is the real deal due to its extra Nintendo-themed costumes and slightly faster load times. If you‘re a fan of stylish action games or hair-based violence, Bayonetta 2 is a must-play.

#2. The Wonderful 101

Another Wii U exclusive from Platinum Games, The Wonderful 101 is a one-of-a-kind action game that puts you in control of a whole team of morphing superheroes. By drawing symbols on the GamePad‘s touch screen, you can combine your heroes to create giant weapons like a sword, gun, or fist. These improvised tools are used to battle an invading alien army in frenetic arena brawls.

The Wonderful 101‘s learning curve is steep, but once it clicks, the thrill of commanding your colorful squad is unmatched. Levels frequently switch up the gameplay with side-scrolling platforming segments, mecha battles, and epic bosses. The Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic and goofy sense of humor give it tons of charm.

While critically acclaimed, The Wonderful 101 was the very definition of a cult hit, selling less than half a million copies on Wii U. Many blame the confusing marketing and niche appeal for its commercial underperformance. But fans loved it so much that they crowdfunded a remastered version on Kickstarter, which launched on Switch, PS4, and PC in 2020.

Still, the Wii U original remains the most authentic way to experience The Wonderful 101‘s comic book craziness. There‘s nothing quite like morphing your heroes using the GamePad‘s touch screen and seeing their Unite Hands tower over the TV. With a little patience and practice, The Wonderful 101 is a wonderful time.

#1. Super Mario 3D World

Could the #1 spot go to any other game? Super Mario 3D World is the quintessential Wii U action experience, perfectly blending classic 2D side-scrolling with more open 3D environments. It‘s also the first multiplayer 3D Mario game, allowing up to 4 players to run, jump, and butt-stomp their way through the vibrant levels together.

The cat suit power-up is an all-time great, letting you claw enemies and scale walls with feline agility. Each of the 4 playable characters – Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad – have their own strengths and abilities, encouraging you to swap between them. And the Captain Toad mini-levels, which were expanded into the spin-off Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, are delightful diversions.

But what really elevates 3D World is how it uses the Wii U‘s dual screens. A fifth player can join in by tapping the GamePad‘s touch screen to reveal hidden items and stun enemies. It‘s the perfect way to include inexperienced gamers without disrupting the flow. You can also play the entire game on the GamePad while someone else uses the TV, which is great for families.

Gorgeous HD visuals, catchy music, tight controls, inventive level design, and tons of bonus content make 3D World a knockout. To date, it‘s sold over 7 million copies across Wii U and Switch, making it one of the best-selling Mario games period. But many still consider the Wii U version the ideal way to play thanks to its creative use of the GamePad.

3D World is a Mario masterpiece and the definitive Wii U action experience. It‘s a must-play for any Nintendo fan and a compelling reason to dust off the old GamePad. Here we go!


While the Wii U may have been a commercial disappointment, it still delivered many excellent action games that hold up today. From Nintendo-published classics like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Super Mario 3D World to third-party standouts like Bayonetta 2 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the system had something for every kind of action fan.

The Wii U‘s unique features, especially its tablet-style GamePad, allowed developers to experiment with new gameplay ideas and control schemes. Titles like Super Mario Maker and The Wonderful 101 simply wouldn‘t be the same without the GamePad‘s touch screen.

Even though many Wii U games have since been ported to the Switch and other platforms, there‘s still something special about experiencing them on their original hardware. The Wii U may not have set the sales charts on fire, but it will always be remembered as a innovative console that hosted some truly brilliant action games. Its legacy lives on through the Switch and beyond.

So dust off your GamePad, charge up your Pro Controller, and revisit these classics. Because sometimes, it‘s not about the console‘s power or popularity, but the quality of its games. And in that regard, the Wii U was an absolute winner.