The Wii U’s library was so small that it was hard not to play most of the best games if you owned one. One of the few I missed out on during the Wii U’s original run was Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, a classic-style side-scrolling platformer that arrived in 2014 to solid reviews. For whatever reason, I never got around to playing. This week the game comes out on the Switch, and while it offers virtually the same experience on a different platform, it’s also a chance for me to rectify that mistake and finally check out the game.
I’m the kind of person who holds onto video game hardware for much longer than I probably should. I keep a DS Lite in my desk for whenever I get the urge to play Final Fantasy V, and my PS2 has remained a prized object if only because it’s still the best way to play Persona 3. But I’m starting to question whether I need to hang on to my Wii U. Since the Switch’s debut last March, Nintendo has been slowly re-releasing some of the Wii U’s best games. And now that I can finally give Tropical Freeze a go, I’m running out of reasons to keep the older console around.
This process of migrating games from the Wii U to the Switch started out fairly early. Switch launch title The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild debuted on both consoles simultaneously, and it was followed by an enhanced version of Mario Kart 8 and a sequel to Splatoon that almost entirely supersedes the original. According to Nintendo, these are the Switch’s three best-selling games after Super Mario Odyssey. The stream of Wii U games includes both straight ports of titles as well as sequels that render the original largely obsolete.
Tropical Freeze falls into the port category. Content-wise it’s basically identical to the Wii U game, which itself was a modern take on the original Donkey Kong Country on the SNES. It’s a side-scrolling game where you collect bananas, stomp on penguins, shoot yourself out of wooden barrels, and try to figure out why anyone would want to play as Kiddy Kong. It’s not an especially inspiring experience, but it’s well-crafted and fun. The main difference in the new version is the addition of a character called Funky Kong, who essentially serves as an “easy” mode for the game; he doesn’t take as much damage and he has a surfboard that somehow lets him float through the air, making jumps easier.
The game is better on the Switch thanks to the sheer nature of the hardware, which is more flexible and powerful than its predecessor. But these kinds of releases are most useful for those who missed out on some of the Wii U’s best games. A little over a year into its life, the Switch is already more successful than the Wii U, and it’s something that looks to continue as Nintendo rides the popularity of initiatives like Nintendo Labo and blockbusters like Odyssey. The audience is simply bigger on the Switch, and that audience is growing. Three years after the game debuted on the Wii U, Splatoon sold less than 5 million copies; in less than a year its sequel surpassed 6 million. The Switch version of Bayonetta 2, a Nintendo-published action game from studio Platinum, similarly managed to outsell its Wii U predecessor in just a month.
The migration doesn’t look like it will slow anytime soon. Nintendo has already announced new versions of Wii U gems Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Hyrule Warriors, and at E3 this year the company will be dedicating most of its attention to a brand-new Super Smash Bros., which will undoubtedly render the Wii U edition obsolete. There are still a few stragglers; somehow Nintendo hasn’t announced a Mario Party for the Switch yet, and I imagine it won’t be too long before the build-your-own-Mario series Super Mario Maker finds its way to the tablet along with the excellent Super Mario 3D World. I’m also holding out hope for a portable version of the largely forgotten Wii U role-playing game Tokyo Mirage Sessions.
When it comes to Wii U owners, the cut-off point will be different for everyone. For some it will already have passed, while others may be holding out for a Switch port of Pikmin 3. But it’s inevitable: slowly but surely Nintendo is erasing the Wii U from existence. (Nintendo even appears to have removed the Wii U version of Tropical Freeze from its digital shop in the US earlier this year.) This isn’t a surprise, since it was the worst-selling home console in the company’s history. But the Wii U was also home to some of Nintendo’s most creative and polished games. The success of the Switch means those games can now find a home where they can reach the audience they deserve — and once Super Mario Maker comes to the console, that’s it for my Wii U.