The Wii U has been out for two weeks, with most of the attention naturally focusing on the console’s tablet-y GamePad and blockbuster titles such as New Super Mario Bros. U and Assassin’s Creed 3.
But $60 games aren’t the only draw on Nintendo’s new system. There are exactly five games on the Nintendo eShop for $20 or less: Nano Assault Neo, Little Inferno, Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition, Chasing Aurora, and Trine 2: Director’s Cut. You could call most or all of these indie games, depending on your definition of an independent developer.
Nintendo isn’t exactly the first platform you think of for indie titles, and five games (some of which aren’t exclusive to the Wii U) won’t change that. But it’s a good start—let’s take a look at each one.
Nano Assault Neo
Developer: Shin’en Multimedia
A follow-up to last year’s Nano Assault for Nintendo 3DS, Nano Assault Neo is a Wii U exclusive that features classic dual-stick shoot-em-up gameplay. You fly a microscopic spaceship around planet-like cells infected with viruses, which of course you must destroy. The music is futuristic and mesmerizing, the landscapes colorful and the action fast-paced. Most of all, it’s fun, and well worth the $9.99 price tag.
There are 16 levels, and difficulty ramps up pretty quickly in the second and third ones. Each level comes to a satisfying conclusion: once you’ve defeated enough viruses, an exit opens, which you must reach within 30 seconds or the whole cell will explode. With both large and small enemies swarming around you, the game is hard but never really feels cheap. Agility is a must, as are the upgraded weapons and defenses you can buy between levels. The local multiplayer mode supports two players working together, and is perfect for taking on the game’s bigger challenges.
Unlike many early Wii U games, Nano Assault Neo makes good use of the touch-screen GamePad. A map on the touch-screen can be rotated to show all the enemies and coins in the level. With regard to multi-player action, the GamePad’s screen allows each player to get his or her own full-screen view. Nano Assault Neo is equally fun in single- and multi-player mode, and a steal at $10.
Developer: Tomorrow Corporation
Little Inferno becomes addictive and fun before you even realize why. There is seemingly almost no point to the game. You put stuff in a fireplace, arrange it a bit, and then set the whole thing on fire.
“Little inferno is not like other games,” a narrator tells you early on. “There are no points. There is no score. You are not being timed. Just make a nice fire.”
You make fire by touching the GamePad screen with the stylus, or by pointing the Wii remote at your television screen. The experience is more fun and intuitive when you’re using a stylus on the smaller screen to control the fireplace. I can’t imagine playing Little Inferno with a PS3 or Xbox 360-style controller. (Little Inferno is also available from Steam for those who prefer mouse-and-keyboard.)
There’s no point in setting fires without stuff to burn, and Little Inferno offers up a variety: credit cards, clocks, spiders, even mini nuclear bombs. Burning stuff nets you coins to buy more stuff, but progressing through the game is only possible by burning items in the right combinations. For example, the “fireworks” combo is found by burning two types of dynamite.
Correctly identifying combos is the game’s only challenge, but the act of making fire can keep you busy. That mini-nuke provides a nice big explosion, and you can burn a school bus full of children and hear their terrifying screams (all in good fun, of course). There’s some semblance of a story, courtesy of letters you receive from a creepy girl with her own fireplace, which eventually force the protagonist to make a life-changing discovery of sorts—but War and Peace this is not.
The game seems aimed more at kids than adults, but it sucked me in for the few short hours it lasted. While you can stretch out the experience by attempting to find all 99 combos, the game’s short length and lack of anything really challenging to do makes it a little hard to recommend even at the low price tag of $14.99.
Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition
An upgraded port of Mighty Switch Force! for the 3DS, this 2D platformer puts you in the shoes of cyborg police officer Patricia Wagon, a cheerleader-esque protagonist with an annoying voice that you’ll just have to do your best to ignore. Each level requires “Patty Wagon” to catch five escaped criminals and then find an exit. You come equipped with a gun to blast enemies, but the challenge lies in using Wagon’s physics-defying ability to turn solid objects into thin air and vice versa.
Changing the physical nature of objects allows passage through blocked off areas, as well as access to booster mechanisms that fling Wagon from one part of the level to another. If one booster is solid while another is transparent, timing the matter-manipulation correctly allows you to shoot yourself from one booster to another (and then another) until you reach the goal. Combined with the matter-manipulation technique, the boosters can be used to send bomb-carrying enemies to new parts of the level in order to blast away blockages.
The puzzles aren’t difficult to figure out. What’s hard is executing them with the proper timing. The GamePad screen doesn’t offer much in addition to the TV, but the ability to play either screen may come in handy if another member of your household is using the television to watch something soul-sucking. All in all, Mighty Switch Force! is fun, but not a must-have game.
Developer: Broken Rules
From the maker of popular indie title And Yet It Moves, Chasing Aurora is an odd game that can’t be properly judged until you’ve played its multi-player mode. Even then, it’s hard to figure out the appeal.
Whether playing by yourself or with friends, you control an origami bird that flies through a paper-like world to the tune of a jazzy guitar riff. In single-player mode, you fly through a racecourse and try to hit a bunch of targets, but that proves too repetitive to keep one’s interest for more than a few minutes. Things get more stimulating in the local multiplayer mode, in which one player controls the GamePad and up to four friends play with Wii remotes (holding them sideways like a traditional Nintendo controller, which isn’t the most comfortable way to play a video game).
The object of the game changes from level of level. In one typical scenario, the players with Wii remotes chase the player with the GamePad. The remote-using players view the TV screen while the GamePad player gets a private view of the racecourse on the handheld. You can flap your wings and perform dive-bombs, but judging the wind’s direction in each course ultimately plays a bigger role in properly controlling your bird.
I couldn’t find anything appealing about the game in single-player mode. I invited friends over to play the multiplayer mode, which has gotten some good reviews, but even that novelty wore thin quickly. The music and graphics are undeniably stylish, but fighting through the wind to chase some birds around just isn’t fun enough to compete with any of the other games on this list. After playing a few rounds of Chasing Aurora, we switched to Nano Assault Neo for a deeper and more exciting time.
Trine 2: Director’s Cut
There’s a good chance you’ve already played the year-old Trine 2 on Windows, Mac, Linux, PS3, or Xbox 360, so there isn’t much to say except that it plays perfectly well on the Wii U. The biggest opportunity for FrozenByte to add something specific to the Wii U’s capabilities was the GamePad’s touch screen, of course, but it offers little except an additional method to switch weapons and characters.
The “Director’s Cut” designation denotes exclusive Wii U content in the form of extra levels and a new multiplayer mode called “Magic Mayhem,” which, once the latter’s actually released, will supposedly take advantage of the GamePad’s touch interface. While Trine 2’s pre-existing multiplayer mode made it onto the Wii U, Magic Mayhem wasn’t ready when the game launched and no release date has been announced.
Trine 2 is a fantastic fantasy-themed puzzle platformer and well worth $20 if you’ve never played it. Visuals on the Wii U are lush, and wouldn’t have been possible on the standard-definition Wii. That means waiting was the right decision—but since the game already exists on every major platform, it’s not that much of a differentiator for Nintendo’s new console.
How much indie is enough indie?
Indie games on the Wii U are definitely something that goes into the “pros” column when evaluating whether the console is worth the price tag. But with only a few indie games so far, it’s hard to say how much they tip the scales in favor of buying the system. Over time, we can only hope the catalog will become significantly more robust.