Ah Summer, that time of year when your answer to the question “what would you do for a Klondike bar?” becomes exponentially more morbid. Mine starts with an “m” and rhymes with “girder.” It’s a time for frolicking, swimming, and gaily… oh who am I kidding. All you want to do is hole up in a cool, dark room and immerse yourself in some wholesome, family-friendly NPC slaughter. Tragically, though, summer is also the time of the greatest natural disaster known to man – the annual game drought. The rise of the indie scene has done a little to help the problem recently, but for a whole three months each year, game releases slow to a trickle. It’s literally hell on Earth. (Yes, Californians, I realize your state is on fire. Tell it to someone who cares.)
Some of my coworkers have already offered suggestions for ways to while away your yearly stint in gaming purgatory, but both of their solutions require dropping a few hundred bucks on a last-gen console. Meanwhile, everyone and their mum owns a Wii. That’s a statistically verified fact (source: your mum). In fact, if you leave any console in your family room with a gimmicky peripheral plugged into it, it will transform into a Wii inside a fortnight. This phenomenon is the suspected cause of the great Guitar Hero crash of ’09. It’s also a great way to dispose of your Sega activator. While the spread of Nintendo’s little white family fun box might seem insidious, it has some upsides. Buried under a mountain of shovelware lies a cache of stunning, exotic gems. If you only whip your Wii out for big Nintendo blockbusters (and very special ladies), then a veritable treasure trove awaits you:
What better way to start this list off than with a tale of summer adventure? This Wayforward remake takes the rough concept of the classic NES puzzle platformer and polishes it to a mirror sheen. The titular Boy uses jellybeans to coerce his amorphous alien ally to transform into various shapes, ranging from a ladder to a cannon. New transformations have been added to the Blob’s repertoire, and you’ll need all of them to get through the game’s devious levels. This remake is brimming with new features and showcases some of the most gorgeous 2D graphics of the last generation, but by far the greatest addition is the hug button. At any point, The Boy can take a breather and hug his adorable companion. You might think this serves no gameplay function, but the purpose of games is to make you happy, and in that regard, hot dang, does the hug button ever work. Speaking of Blobs…
For years, Wii owners were tantalized by rumours of a new Jet Set Radio game, but they ultimately amounted to nought. Fortunately, fans weren’t left completely high and dry. Sega’s rocket skating franchise is known for its bright colours, counterculture attitude, and fantastic soundtrack, and while THQ’s de Blob can’t match its blazing speeds, it certainly captures those other elements. de Blob is a revolutionary in a world turned grey by an oppressive regime. He fights back by painting the town red (and blue, and green, and yellow, and… well, you get the picture), bouncing around and splattering paint wherever he goes. It’s a highly enjoyable 3D platformer with a neat aesthetic, but the music really sets it apart. The tunes are catchy and cover a wide range of genres, and they change dynamically based on the colours De Blob uses to paint the world.
In the waning days of summer in a post-apocalyptic future, as cicadas cry, one of the few men remaining on earth breaths his last. His grandson is left to wander the dead world, alone but for the ghosts that haunt it (some of which are none too friendly). In the height of his despair, the young man encounters a living girl – maybe the last in the world – and the course of his life is forever changed. He follows her through the ruins of Tokyo, seeking friendship, maybe love, and an understanding of his place after the world. Fragile Dreams isn’t perfect – it’s let down by clunky combat and some tedious level design – but it is one of the few games that I would truly call beautiful. Haunting, poetic, and eerily serene, Fragile Dreams‘ unique take on the apocalypse will leave you awed.
Equally eerie, but nowhere near as artful, LIT tells the story of a boyfriend and girlfriend who are separated when their school is engulfed in evil shadows. This WiiWare-exclusive horror puzzler challenges you to make a path of light through darkened rooms by breaking windows, hitting switches, and making careful use of limited resources. One such resource is your power supply, which will blow out if you exceed capacity. You’ll need to plan your moves carefully if you want to survive. The story is pretty standard horror fare, but it’s told in a cool way, using the Wii remote speakers to play audio from phone calls. This is a feature it shares with Fragile Dreams, as well as the next two games on our list.
It’s a dark time indeed for Silent Hill. I mean, times are always dark in Silent Hill, but at least the games set there weren’t always terrible. After Silent Hill 4: The Room was met with a tepid reception, Team Silent handed the reins over to western developers, who preceded to make it even worse. Silent Hill: Downpour is an ill-conceived mess, and Silent Hill: Homecoming constitutes a war crime. Between the two of them, they more or less sunk the series, but one American developer, Climax Studios, actually did right by the brand.
Silent Hill: Origins is a decent portable outing that deserves some praise, but Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is very nearly a masterpiece. This reimagining of the series’ inaugural game placed an emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving, and took out combat entirely, over a year before Amnesia put that style of horror in vogue. In a unique twist, Shattered Memories analyzes you psychologically as you play, based off both how you play and how you answer questions from a virtual therapist. This nominally changes the look and feel of the game to mess with you more effectively, but its real purpose is to deliver one of the most ingenious and affecting narratives in gaming history.
This game and its sequel put Suda 51 on the map. While his mainstream success has arguably been detrimental to the quirky design philosophy that earned him a cult following in the first place, it’s hard to find complaint with this particular series. Offering a perfect blend of accessible, generic action gameplay and the no-holds-barred insanity that characterized his earlier work. With a hilarious, high-octane plot and some of the most intense boss battles in the gaming canon, No More Heroes deserves the praise it’s gotten and then some. If you cut your teeth on Suda’s later work like Lolipop Chainsaw or Killer is Dead, you owe it to yourself to go back and give these two modern classics a try. But they’re not the only brutal brawlers on the Wii…
You totally thought I was going to say Mad World, didn’t you? Thing is, while Platinum’s grindhouse gore-fest is fun, it’s in more or less the same niche as No More Heroes, and between the two of them I’d pick Suda’s game every time. Meanwhile, almost nothing is comparable to Deadly Creatures. You might think it odd to make a game about Spiders and Scorpions tearing each other apart – and you’d be right – but this game gets odder still. None other than Billy Bob Thornton stars as a shady criminal searching the desert for lost treasure. As your playable characters – an agile tarantula and heavy-hitting scorpion – battle through their harsh surroundings, they end up following his trail and uncovering an intriguing mystery along the way. With a unique perspective and A-list acting talent on board, this quirky, compelling beat ’em up is like nothing you’ve ever played.
If you’re going to make a Zelda-esque adventure – ESPECIALLY on a Nintendo console – you’d better have a unique concept that sets your game apart. The Crystal Bearers attempts to differentiate itself with combat based around telekinesis, and while the result isn’t the best Action RPG in the world, it’s REALLY fun. As you run around The Crystal Chronicle’s world, you can pick up just about anything that isn’t nailed down and toss it at just about anything else. Instead of punching your enemies you fling them at each other, or knock them around with objects in the environment. The story is sort of forgettable, but it’s quite funny, and blends nicely with the fun, goofy combat system. With quirky humour and an emphasis on psychic shenanigans, this feels like the Driver: San Francisco of the Final Fantasy franchise.
Designed by Tetsuya Takahashi, the maverick behind Xenogears and Xenosaga, this epic JRPG breaks just about every convention set by the genre in the last decade. Whereas JRPGs these days tend to be constricting and linear, Xenoblade Chronicles is bigger and more open-ended than any game this side of Skyrim. Set in a massive world populated by hundreds of unique NPCs (each with their own name and interpersonal relationships), you can spend hours upon hours exploring and tackling sidequests before you even leave the opening area. As you explore, you’ll battle enemies with a fun, unique combat system that combines JRPG tropes with the hotbar-based, aggro-driven mechanics of an MMO. Following the main story is rewarding in its own right, though. Protagonist Shulk and his friends must climb all over the Bionis – an immense, dead titan whose corpse houses millions of life forms – in an effort to stop an invasion from the Mechonis – another titan, frozen in combat with the Bionis, whose body is populated entirely by robots.
The world-spanning story is one of the best the genre has to offer, and the characters who drive it forward are all charming and unforgettable. Moreover, the game’s imaginative setting contains some of the most breathtaking sights in gaming history. This isn’t the prettiest game in the world by a long shot – the Wii can only handle so much, after all – but its design is absolutely jaw-dropping, and with an immense draw distance you can really take in the scope of the masterfully crafted environments. These visuals are accompanied by an inspiring soundtrack that perfectly compliments the tone of every scene. Xenoblade Chronicles isn’t just one of the highlights of the Wii library, it’s arguably the greatest JRPG of the last generation. With a sequel on the way, there’s no better time to get caught up.
Ah, the other Operation Rainfall game. (We’ll just ignore Pandora’s Tower for now). Odd as Xenoblade’s combat is, The Last Story tops it with a strange blend of Gears of War and Dragon Age. Fighting in The Last Story is a lot of fun, and it’s balanced and dynamic enough to support a deathmatch mode (which is sadly defunct now). The story is a little cliche (star-crossed lovers, encroaching war, that whole bit) but well told, and the music (composed by Nobuou Uematsu) will make Final Fantasy fans smile. Moreover, this game looks legitimately stunning, and manages some impressive graphical feats with the Wii’s weaker hardware.
The Fatal Frame games are some of the scariest horror titles to ever come out of Japan. The Wii-exclusive forth game in the series never actually made it out of Japan, but dedicated fans (as dedicated fans are wont to do) worked tirelessly to translate the game’s script. The resulting translation patch is compatible with most Wiis without any modding, and allows you to play Fatal Frame 4 in English straight off your NSTC-J disk. Obviously this is a bit trickier than playing an officially localized game, so I can’t include it in the list proper, but if you’re willing to put in the effort, Fatal Frame 4 will scratch your most powerful horror itch.